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Portraits of Palestinian youth, Active Stills
Sherine Yassin, 18Photography Mohammed Zaanoun. Courtesy of Active Stills

Powerful portraits of Palestinian youth on the Gaza Strip

Rejecting media misrepresentation, Palestinian youth tell us about their hopes, dreams and determination

Life for Palestinian youth living in the Gaza Strip, under siege and occupation, is intricate and layered in so many ways. Under the suffocating system of violence and cruel politics, its nuances are rarely captured by global media. While a geopolitical struggle rages on, the people of Palestine live their lives, create beautiful things, and have stories to tell. For some, the sea is a constant source of inspiration and escapism. Others master the Dabka, a traditional Palestinian dance, a physical reflection of intense joy on happy occasions. Many young Palestinians are pushing the boundaries of their art in a city, so bombarded by war and chaos, living with no electricity or running water, that makes it near impossible to market themselves to the outside world.

Reportage of the endless human rights abuses happening under Israeli occupation is vital to ensure the world understands the Palestinian’s battle for freedom. What seems to be lacking though, is the light shining on the young, creative Palestinian voices, widely oppressed by political stigmatisation and threats to their lives. In a bid to explore Palestinian youth culture, and to give young Palestinians a platform to shout and be heard, Dazed has teamed up with local photography collective Activestills to produce a portrait series of Palestinian young people on the Gaza strip.

Since 2005, Activestills have been on the frontline of the Palestinian struggle, lensing everything from the bodies of activists to the anguished cries of its refugees, making their work an important marker for photography as a vehicle for social and political change, as well as a snapshot of a ravaging moment in our times. Here, Activestills photographer Mohammed Zaanoun casts an eye on Palestine’s youth culture, asking about their hopes and dreams, in a bid to add textured, intimate details to the conversation around young Palestine.

Below, we hear from 10 young Palestinians about what inspires them, what drives their craft, and what they hope for their future.


“Everyday in the morning, I go to school. After I come back home I go surfing and swimming with my friends, despite the fact we only have one board for all of us. Here in Gaza, you never practice the sport you like, because no one encourages you to do so. However, my friends and I try to learn by ourselves. Here, you do nothing except keep breathing. The political situation is so complicated and nothing has changed since I was young. Death and destruction are everywhere, and there is no haven that makes us feel safe. I’m always afraid of what comes next. I don’t know how the world can help us because I lost hope that anyone will help us, but I wish they wake up before it's too late. My dad is my biggest inspiration, but he can’t work because the situation here is so bad. I wish one day to be a doctor to help people of Gaza. I always dream to work in an international company to make money and help my family. Surfing makes me feel happy when I go to the sea with my friends.”


“My mother is the one who gives me love. Every day in Gaza is a different day. I go to school and come back and just don’t know how to live here. Gaza means that you’ll live in a continuous suffering due to electricity outages for long hours and the inability to do my homework; this is in addition to the sounds of explosions. I think politics is disgusting, they are playing with our souls to get political earnings while we die every day. The world must do something to save our lives, we need continuous support. I’d like to be a doctor so I could save the lives of wounded people. What makes me happy is to challenge our political situation. I confront Israelis on the border, and I’m not afraid of their fire. I dream to be a peacemaker.”


“We are sisters, Dabka and arts is our life. To live in Gaza means that you live in continuous conflict, and your life is full of sadness, that’s why we work to convey our message via folklore dance to the whole world. Politically our case is very much complicated and we need the world to stand by us to solve our problems. They have to support our just cause and to stand by the side of human rights. Our parents are our biggest inspiration as they stand by us and shower us with love and confidence. We hope to be international artists. We have big dreams. We tried to travel out of Gaza, however we couldn’t due to a siege, but we hope to travel to Europe one day. Working in our team is what makes us happy, and our favourite hobby is Dabka.”


“The political here situation sucks. Nobody cares about us. Living in Gaza means you die every day due to blockade, bombardment, and war. Mostly, Israel kills us. There’s also poverty, unemployment, and poor living conditions as well as closures. We try to peacefully resist the situation so we can stay alive. People here are very resilient. I feel strong amongst them. They struggle to live in dignity. I wish I could become an ambassador of love and peace to the world. I do my study now so I can become someone important in the world. I hope I can live in peace. I wish I could see my country free. I go with the marches of return for in pursuit of that. I have never been outside Gaza before, but I dream to go to the USA to meet President Trump and tell him he is making the world a worse place. Nothing makes me happy like feeling safe and stable, however, my family is my everlasting joy. The world has to take a stand to save people’s lives and help them live in dignity. People need protection and support. I wish these words reach everyone in the world.” 

FADI, 17

“I study in the eleventh class. I live as anybody else in the Gaza Strip with my family and I have wonderful friends, we practice parkour, we are a team and we do performances in the streets and camps. To live in Gaza you must be very strong in order to tolerate all the circumstances. Politics are very much troublesome; all we need is to live in dignity. We usually ask the whole world to stand by us as we face killing and devastation, the world is busy with other secondary issues, leaving us to die alone. My family and friends are very inspirational people, I love them and respect them. When I grow up, I hope to be a famous athlete, or to get excellent grades and attain higher education like a PhD and to get a good job. My friends are the source of my happiness.”


“For my own music, I see Adele, Eminem, Tupac, and Sia as inspirations. They fight and sacrifice for their ideas in order to convince the world to accept their music. I wish to be an artist that helps developing art around the world, in Palestine particularly. I hope that someday I will be able to produce my first album with my band. I tried many times to do that, but I faced many obstacles such as lack of technical space to market my album. I hope to find a technical and cultural platform to embrace my ambition to show it to the outside world. I wish to collaborate with artists from all over the world. Singing together and making art is our way of developing as human beings.

Here, no one cares about your hopes or talents. Your work is buried between papers for an unknown amount of time. What the world can do is to stop sending material aid that helps to freeze the Palestinian nationality and to start genuine demonstrations in various countries of the world to put pressure on decision-makers to give attention to the Palestinian cause. Also, to move a global outrage on the Israeli occupation to achieve Palestinian freedom.”


“I come from a poor family from the Shuja’iya neighbourhood, east of Gaza City. I do not have the right to an education because of the terrible living conditions and the fact that my father cannot afford to pay for my studies. The political situation in Palestine shows that the world stands on the side of the oppressor, which hurts me a lot because I know that we are the rightful owners of this land. I think it is a beautiful thing that Lana Del Rey stood with the Palestinian people, I see this as an act of solidarity with our just cause. All of the people in the world must end their silence and speak truth to power on behalf of the Palestinian people. 

My friends are the most important people to me, I appreciate and respect them. I want to be a pilot because I dream of seeing the world from a bird’s eye view. My dream is to survive and live in peace – so that I may go back to school and continue my studies towards becoming a pilot.”


“My life is very simple, there is no electricity in Gaza and no life necessities, so I enjoy sitting with my friends. I graduated from university and I work in a hairdressing shop. My friends and the sea are the source of my happiness. I like make-up, beauty, and the arts. I don’t care about politics, I prefer to live my life away from these issues. I think what boycott Israel is very good, but we need the whole world to do this not only artists. My family is my source of inspiration, they provide love, care, and confidence. I dream to travel around the world one day and to own a big company. I believe the whole world must stand up for love and peace.”


“I’m 17 years old and I’m a high school student. I like playing and having fun on the seashore with my friends, I go every day to the sea for surfing and the sea is my inspiration. I hope one day to be a successful businessman with a high certificate degree. To live in Gaza means that you are living in a big jail. We notice the Israeli warships chasing the fishermen in the sea. I hate politics and politicians. We only want to live with dignity and love, not a way of killing and devastation. I want the whole world to stand by the side of the Palestinian people by applying pressure on their governments. I really respect Lana Del Rey and appreciate what she has done, and I demand all other players and artists to do the same.”

You can follow Active Stills here, and you learn more about the collective here. You can follow Mohammed Zaanoun here