A woman waves a Palestinian flag during a protest at al-Bureij refugee camp, where Wesal lived, near the Gaza-Israel border. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Profound poverty and injustice drove 14-year-old Wesal to depression and a longing to be “with God.” She felt compelled to attend the border protests in Gaza every Friday. After Israeli snipers killed her, Wesal’s family understands her passion to resist the crushing occupation and blockade; she has inspired them to join the resistance.
The family of Wesal Sheikh Khalil say that in a matter of weeks the teenager experienced a complete transformation, from a hop-scotching child to an adolescent infuriated by injustice in Gaza.
“You are cowards,” she screamed at her aunts when they refused to join protests at the border, where health officials say Israeli forces have killed more than 110 and shot thousands since demonstrations began in late March.
Her immediate family, impoverished even by the coastal enclave’s dire standards, had been unengaged in politics. Wesal and her 11-year-old brother were the only ones who trekked weekly to the perimeter, into the surging crowds and the black smoke of burning tyres. Their siblings tried to stop them, but they would sneak out.
“She kept saying: ‘You have to go. You have to go,’” recalled one aunt, Ahlam, 30. “She was the most dedicated of all of us.”
Wesal, 14, was shot dead on Monday, one of more than 60 people killed as Israeli snipers fired on protesters. The teenager has left behind a family who are grieving, but who also feel purpose in their loss.
“Now she is dead, I’m ready,” said another aunt, Anwar. “After what she did, we are not afraid.”
Wesal’s brother said she had been carrying wire cutters to break through the fence on Monday, and others say she ferried water bottles and stones to people at the front, metres from Israeli snipers.
Unlike Wesal, most of those killed were men, and Gaza’s de facto ruler, Hamas, says 50 of Monday’s dead were its members. The group, whose military wing is on a UK terrorism list, says its men joined other Palestinians to protest unarmed, although Israel accused them of several attacks on the fence involving explosives.
During Wesal’s life in the al-Bureij refugee camp, her family spent their time focusing on the mundane struggle to get by. Her mother and six siblings lived together in single rooms, moving every few months when they were evicted for lapsed rent payments.
Reem Abu Irmana said her husband, from whom she is now divorced, had a mental illness and would mix cannabis with pain medication such as tramadol. She worked as a house cleaner, earning 50 shekels (£10) a day, but he would confiscate most of it.
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