TEDx events provide a unique platform to unleash new ideas, to inspire and to inform. I have always wondered whether the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip could ever organise such an international event one day. I need wonder no longer, though, for last week the TEDx team invited me to participate at an event, and it was in Gaza.
On 13 March, TEDxRemal was organised by young Palestinians who believe passionately that there are many stories in Gaza that deserve to be heard by a wider audience. The theme for TEDxRemal was “Painting Paths” which helps the people in Gaza to explore where they are heading as individuals and provide a proactive setting that inspires them to build new pathways in their lives.
The idea behind TEDxRemal in Gaza City was “to show the world that Palestinians have ideas worth spreading.” Nada Elashi was the lead organiser of the event. She is a physiotherapy student in her final year at university. In 2016, Nada got the first place at the Hult Prize campus.
“In my voluntary work,” she told me, “I have noticed a lot of energy inside Gaza youths, who have no suitable place to invest it. Then, the idea of TEDx came to mind.” She applied for a licence for TEDxRemal from the international TEDx organisation in March 2020, which took four months. “Then I started to build the team and raise funds.”
Along with other volunteers, including Mohammed Hammad, Sarah Lulu, Sarah Hammad, Aya Matrabie, Mahmoud Abu Shawish and Nedal Alkafarna, Nada launched the TEDx journey in Gaza.
From more than 200 people who applied to TEDxRemal, eight speakers qualified for the final stage. From different areas and with very different personalities, they were united by passion, inspiration and experience. Most importantly, they were all from besieged Gaza.
Heba Alagha delighted the audience with her lightness and words. She works as a trainer and creative writer at Qattan Foundation. Heba presented her belief that the geographical impact of the Gaza blockade is exaggerated. “A person can break the physical blockade through his or her own thoughts and experiences. I have never felt restricted by this blockade because my thoughts always take me anywhere I want.”
Video graphic designer Maryam Khadr was another speaker. Born in Saudi Arabia, she has lived in many places, and finally landed in Gaza. She delivered an important message to Gaza youth: they need to understand the self and travel within it before travelling to any place outside Gaza. “As I moved to Gaza, I embarked on a new adventure where I discovered the narrative and the meaning of emotions,” she explained.
Different childhoods, and different experiences, but both Maryam and Heba stood on the TEDx stage and told Gaza and the world their stories.
TEDxRemal was not only a platform for theoretical and philosophical speeches, but also a place to share financial and business experiences. Khaleel Al-Frangi and Hazem Abdelall tackled these aspects of life.
Khaleel works as the Operations Manager at Careem, the first ride-hailing company to open in Gaza despite the fact that the mobile network is still 2G under Israeli occupation, which blocks 3G frequencies. Khaleel has experience in a number of fields and is well known in Gaza. He believes that what has helped him through life’s ups and downs is the essential asset of having the characteristics of the traditional Gazan “mukhtar”: he listens to people’s problems and guides them, especially the youth. This has certainly helped him.
Hazem, meanwhile, is involved in trading and marketing. His life has been one of struggle. “Gaza challenged me and made me a better person, and I wanted to share my experiences through TEDxRemal,” he told me.
Describing the technique that he used to smuggle his thoughts out of his cell during thirteen years in an Israeli prison, Waleed Agha said that he used to write what he was thinking on a small piece of paper, then put it inside chocolate and give it to his family. He was arrested in 2002 on charges of taking part in legitimate resistance operations.
After his release, he founded a project named “Our Vision for Creative Education” from which 7,000 students have graduated. At TEDxRemal, he spoke about his struggle, determination and success, even in that Israeli prison. When he finished speaking he was given a standing ovation. “Gaza deserves to live,” he told me, “and we strive to live a better life which promotes us as Palestinian individuals as well as a nation.”
Three Palestinians from different places in Gaza, with different characters and jobs, Shimaa Al-Rantisi, Nael Qtati and Dalia Younis are all searching for their dreams.
Shimaa has spent six of her 24 years trying to solve a riddle. She used the TEDxRemal platform as a way to search for her brother who disappeared years ago. He left Gaza in search of better opportunities and the family thought that he had died when the ship that he was on sank. Shimaa did not believe it, and she was right, because he was discovered to be alive. However, since that great news, he has been forcibly disappeared and the search for him is still ongoing.
Nael and Dalia Younis were the final speakers in the TEDxRemal programme. Their advice for the people of occupied Palestine, including Gaza, of course, was to take the right path and put yourself in the position of being able to make conscious, informed decisions in life.
This was a day filled with eight inspirational speakers, thought-provoking videos and mind-blowing conversations. It was impossible to be bored.
Young Palestinians in Gaza believe in themselves and the ability of their community to adapt effectively to its growth, change and diversity of ideas and attitudes.
“We have always been perceived as those living in a war zone,” concluded Nada Elashi, “but now we want to show another side, one with hope through the stage of TEDx. I hope that TEDxRemal will continue, because Gaza stories deserves to be heard every year.”