Amu Mohammed. As a trainer, Amu Mohammed deals with the young men who aspire to join Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas. He says new recruits receive religious education and take part in public events while the older ones keep an eye on them. Some will eventually make their way to the military training where they will be told about guerrilla tactics and equipment. Abu Mohammed knows how crucial a soldiers’ commitment can be in combat. Religious studies and trainings are necessary, he says, but the real strength comes from blind belief in the cause. In his own words, "I am not scared to die; maybe I am a little sad because some of my friends in al-Qassam became martyrs before me. I hope to see the day of victory with my own eyes or to become a martyr." Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Al Shejaiya. One year after the 50-day war that shook the Gaza Strip, some neighborhoods still bear the marks of destruction. Some residents came back to live in their ruined homes, or are still working to pick up metal and other objects they can sell from the wreckages. In the months that followed the war many hoped in the international community would have helped quickly with the reconstruction but the process has been very slow. Small amounts of cement have been donated by the United Nations to repair the houses that are still standing. Thousands of homeless people still live in schools run by the United Nations.
Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
A wall painting commemorating a Fatah martyr. Banners and plaques of this kind are on display on homes and along the streets all over Gaza. Martyrs are featured along with important political figures of the past and present. Memory is paramount and is kept alive in public gathering and propaganda videos circulated online.
Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Abu Suhaib Zaqot. Commander of the Martyrs Abdul-Qader Al-Husseini affiliated with Fatah: "I love my life and I fight to have a good one."
After attending military studies in Yemen and Egypt he started his career with Fatah.
He escaped several killing attempts by Israeli forces, and he is firmly convinced that his struggle will lead to the destruction of Israel.
Abu Suhaib belongs to a generation of fighters who witnessed several phases of this long conflict and he believes in the power of negotiations as well as in military actions: "The resistance is not only about fighting, it is also about gaining ground for negotiations and the political division among Palestinian factions is making it more difficult to reach a solution. We should seek negotiations as well, during the last war it was difficult to reach a ceasefire also because of the divisions among Palestinian parties."
Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade's training camp. Young men line up in a training camp of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.In the militias, these young men can find strength and identification; they are respected, and they feel among peers. They become part of a string of people that deserve to be remembered. Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Abu Mojahed, 25, is a unit commander of Saraya Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wings of Islamic Jihad. "What encouraged me to become a fighter are the things I saw in life. Some of my relatives were massacred, including children, they were all civilians: what did they do to deserve that?" He says he would like to get married, but he is not able to do so now, because of the dire economic situation in Gaza: "Anyone who is walking this way have already decided about his future, but if I get married and have children and then I die, it’s not a problem either. I am not afraid, I can win or die in the process, if I get killed at least I will achieve something good. […] When you are a fighter you come to a belief that dying [in battle] is honorable, that God will give you the highest honor in paradise. But still, we are human beings, we love, we get loved, it's hard for us as well. If you were suffering an occupation in your own country and you were experiencing the same things we are going through here, I don't think you would do any different from us." Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Bassam Qassan. Bassam Qassan's house is beyond repair, he will knock it down and rebuilt it. "The UN sent only some food. […] Not many people in this area are rebuilding their houses." Bassam is a construction worker and as other Fatah followers, he lost his political ties when Hamas took control of Gaza strip in 2007. He is deeply critical of the aggressive policy of the armed groups in Gaza in the last years and of the way militias are used in the internal political struggle between Fatah and Hamas. "As long as Hamas is here [in Gaza], I am expecting more destruction. When I was working in Israel I met good people there. The population can be friendly but politicians are the ones who are getting in the way of peace. There is nothing called resistance here […] it is all a political game […] If my son joined the resistance, I will kill him." Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Ibraheem Abu-Lahea, 24, is welcomed by his father and by militants of Abdul Qader al-Husseini brigade on his return home from prison. He spent ten months in Israeli detention after being picked up from the IDF in a closed military area during the last war. Even if he wasn't fighting with any group at the time, he received a hero's welcome by militias and local political figures after being driven through the streets of Gaza holding an M16 and a Fatah flag. Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Young recruits of al-Mujahedeen Brigades. The ceremony took place in the exact spot where the founder of al-Mujahedeen Brigades, Omar Abu Sharia, was targeted and killed eight years ago. Joining such groups is not only a personal decision but also part of a path that starts at an early age. With the support of part of the society and some families, the armed struggle is passed from one generation to the next. Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Abu Mohammed, 40, is the spokesperson of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia affiliated with Fatah: "I was supposed to be dead many years ago.". Abu Mohammed was working in the security team of president Yasser Arafat and he is now a police officer for the Palestinian Authority as well as a commander of al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. After training in Yemen, Algeria and India, he started fighting during the second Intifada. He escaped several targeted killings attempts and he is still a hunted man. His first daughter was born 14 years after he got married, but his constant hiding made any encounter with his wife dangerous: "I hope when she grows up she can live in peace and be a doctor… or a fighter. I will leave only two things to my daughter: this rifle and this handgun." Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Al-Qassam militiamen pose for cameras at a celebration to commemorate the Nakba. During Nakba day, meaning tragedy, Palestinians remember the displacement that followed the Declaration of Independence of Israel. During memorials to mark historical events, the militia groups are seen parading with their guns. The memory of its heroes and its battles is precious for armed groups and political parties alike. Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
A boy holds a banner during a celebration to commemorate the Nakba. This demonstration was organized at the exact site where some of Islamic Jihad fighters were killed in the last war in proximity to the border with Israel. Children start being active in the groups first by holding flags at public events and only later they are eventually introduced to combat training. Some of them come from families that have seen other fighters among their ranks, or they get involved after being approached in mosques or introduced by cousins and friends. Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
A man points at his son martyr poster in a makeshift house where he lives in Al Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza city. His son was fighting with Islamic Jihad and was killed in combat in 2008. After his house was destroyed in the last war in July 2014, he built this shack in order to be close to his former home and keep looters away.Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Shooting of a propaganda video in a training camp Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Militiamen attend the Ibraheem Abu-Lahea welcome celebration after his release from prison. Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Abu Mohammed gives a speech during the shooting of a propaganda video for Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. In the target behind him can be seen an image of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Abu Mohammed is concerned about the public image of Palestinian fighters: "Israel persuaded the world that we are terrorists." This is a war waged in the media as well as in the battlefield, and al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades as the other militias, produce a wide range of propaganda videos and social network campaigns mostly aimed at young Palestinians. Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Mohammed Al-Agha, 35, was a fighter of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. In 2003 he was arrested and accused of taking part in five operations against the IDF and Israeli settlements. He then served twelve years in jail in Israel. This portrait was taken at his home in Khan Younis some days after he was released.
Mohammed is coming from a family of Fatah followers, his brother Diaa is serving a life sentence in Israel for being part of the same group.
Mohammed joined Al-Aqsa during the second intifada.
"Then tanks came to arrest me […] My phone wasn't working, I was trying to get in touch with my friends and family, I was running in the field, in the night. I started hearing shots in my direction. Then I stopped; my body was covered in red laser dots." When I was arrested I was engaged but I couldn’t talk to her after that." The engagement was broken: "I was thinking I would have never came back. When I came back home I didn't recognize the place, nothing is left as it was before." Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Shaher Abu Ganima brothers Ibrahim and Ismail died fighting with al-Qassam brigade in the last war. A copy of the Quran soaked in Ibrahim's blood was found near his body and Shaher keeps it with him to this day. "We are an Islamic family, we pray five times a day and we go to the mosque. That is where he started meeting with people from al-Qassam, and then he joined," he says, referring to his brother Ibraheem.
"When they were young we tried to convince them not to join but then it was their decision […] but I don’t have any regret, I would give them again as martyrs, I am proud of them." Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
A poster featuring martyrs and fighters from Fatah at the welcome celebration for Mohammed Al Agha. Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Abu Musab is the commander of an artillery unit in southern Gaza strip. he fights for al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades. "I joined my group when I was 12. I was learning the Quran, only later I joined the resistance and became a fighter. […] Now the groups in Gaza introduce fighters to combat earlier than before because there is a big need of fighters.". Talking about his future he says: "I hope I will be a martyr, I am a martyr for God and for my homeland, I will be happy to die, I’m not afraid." Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Ibraheem Abu-Lahea, 24, holds his son Ahmed after his return home from prison. He spent ten month in Israeli detention after being picked up from the IDF in a closed military area during the last war. His son was five months old when his father was arrested and he barely remembers him. "The first ten days in detention were the hardest." He was interrogated on tunnel whereabouts, the positions and numbers of Palestinian militias and their equipment. He was handcuffed to a chair and allowed only few hours of sleep at night. He still carries the marks of the beatings on his hips and legs. "I will look for a job now, I would like to be a cab driver, but after what I went though in jail I will be the first to join the resistance in the next war." Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Fighters of al-Naser Salah al-Deen Brigades parade in the streets of Gaza at night. Militias in Gaza are notoriously secretive; their members often hide their activities even to their own families and friends since nobody can be trusted.
Gaza, May 8th, 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
A young man rests near his destroyed house in the evening after a day of work. Young people in Gaza struggle to find jobs and are usually prevented from traveling anywhere. Also, construction materials are difficult to find as a consequence of Israel's heavy restrictions on imports. These constraints were put in place out of concerns that cement and metal could be used to build tunnels out of Gaza to smuggle objects or to conduct attacks against Israel.
Gaza, May 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
Adnan Al-Najjar (center), age 51, sits in the evening with family and friends in what remains of his house. This whole neighborhood in the town of Khuza'a was leveled during the last war in July 2014. Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli
The town of Khuza'a. A whole neighborhood in this town was leveled during the last war in July 2014. Most of the people that used to live here are now housed in shelters. None of them started rebuilding their houses.
Gaza, April 2015. © Lorenzo Tugnoli