In October, a group of Palestinian youth organized Gaza's first TEDx event ever. Named TEDxShujaiya after one of Gaza's oldest and biggest neighborhoods, the event was the fruit of 11 months of work and planning, which was carried out by a team of eight organizers and some two dozen volunteers.
"We chose the name #TEDxShujaiya because most people hear about Shujaiya in the context of the notorious Israeli massacre that took place there on July 20 of last year," said Asem Alnabeh, one of #TEDxShujaiya organizers. "We wanted to associate the name with innovation and steadfastness."
Not everyone knew everyone at first, but they all shared the desire to showcase Palestinian creativeness and intellectualism; the Palestinian "ideas that are worth spreading."
Despite being held in one of the world's most politically unstable areas, #TEDxShujaiya was overwhelmingly humane. Speakers addressed subjects ranging from art to technology, and highlighted their tales of success and achievement under harrowing conditions. Many of the speeches were met with standing ovation.
One of the speakers, Aya Hamdan, is an artist who survived a rare tumor, and who insists on being identified by her art rather than her illness.
Using sign language through an interpreter, Hashim Ghazal talked about his hearing disability, and how he defied ridicule and social stigma. A father of nine children, six of whom have hearing disabilities, Hashim is successful at the professional level and serves his community in his spare time.
Fighting for identity
Other talks centered around finding and preserving Palestinian identity in the face of dangers and neglect.
Refaat Alareer spoke about the importance of storytelling, recalling how stories of his mother and grandmother conveyed to him ideals and lessons for life, but he was worried that stories are dying out because people spend too much time gazing at their smartphones.
Refaat argues that the significance of storytelling goes beyond mere upbringing to collective owning of narrative. Stories that people can tell about a land are proofs of their right to that land.
Tamer Almisshal, Aljazeera's Gaza correspondent who covered the three most recent Israeli wars on Gaza for the network, spoke about his decision to study journalism and the source of his enthusiasm that earned him love and respect for Palestinians. He believes it goes back to his childhood, when a trip to Norway as the captain of a football team made him realize that his real cause was to fight for his identity.
Ahmed Alfaleet, a freed prisoner, spoke about his experience of steadfastness and success in spite of 19 years of incarceration in Israeli prisons. His eyes teared up when he described to the audience how small, trivial objects and experiences are not trivial to a prisoner; how his only friend for weeks was the writing on a can in a language he didn't know at the time, how prisoners appreciated the touch of an orange, the singing of a bird and the sight of the moon through the slit in the ceiling, which the opposite cell wasn't lucky enough to have.
Ahmed holds a bachelor degree in international relations, and a master in management. He is a successful teacher, husband and father.
TEDx events were held previously in Palestine under the names TEDxRamallah and TEDxNajahUniversity, both of which were in West Bank. For many attendants of #TEDxShujaiya, this was their first experience of Ted Talks, and they didn't fail at expressing their appreciation for it.