This is an extended edit of a documentary series on the lives of Palestine’s resistance fighters. The original project was named a finalist in the LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards 2015. Discover more inspiring work from all of the winners and finalists.

One generation of Palestinian fighters after another takes part in a struggle that seems to have no end. What compels these men to join? Since they are off-limits in wartime and their secretive organizations provide only little access, it is hard to give them a name and understand more about their background.

As I discovered, the decision to become a militiaman slowly develops through personal experiences of conflicts and loss but it is also the result of social and cultural pressures. In short, the universal need for individuals to find a role in their society.

The brigades in Gaza nurture a sense of belonging that can be found within the groups from a young age. They have developed a way of representing themselves to young Palestinians and to the world and, through this imagery, they keep alive the memory of their heroes and their enemies. Many of these fighters have friends and family members who are in prison or died along this same path. But even the family members of the “martyrs,” the ones who have experienced the real consequences of the armed struggle, often don’t show any regret, at least publicly.

Some civilians in Gaza still support the militias, but there are also some who have no faith left in the divided Palestinian political landscape. These people bitterly disagree with the armed groups’ policies and, even, existence. Especially the ones who are still living among the rubbles of their own house a year after the last conflict with Israel.

Then comes the real experience of war, the loss of friends and the close encounters with death. It is difficult to understand where propaganda and indoctrination end and where their real feelings begin when fighters talk about death. They say they aren’t scared; they are committed to martyrdom, they will be happy to die. Some of them imagine at the same time a peaceful future with a wife and kids, a place in time when war will end and they will go back to a normal life. The older ones among them, however, seem overtly aware that they have taken a path with no return.

—Lorenzo Tugnoli