Palestinian survivor of an Israeli massacre in Gaza expresses her pain through art

Palestinian survivor of an Israeli massacre in Gaza expresses her pain through art
4 min read
25 May, 2022
Zainab al-Kulak, a Palestinian survivor of an Israeli massacre in Gaza in which 22 members of her family were killed, presented her paintings to the public on Tuesday.
Zainab al-Kulak, a Palestinian survivor of an Israeli massacre in Gaza in which 22 members of her family were killed, presented her paintings to the public on Tuesday. [Getty]

Zainab al-Kulak, a Palestinian survivor of an Israeli massacre in Gaza, unveiled a series of nine paintings she worked on to represent her painful experience to the public on Tuesday

The 22-year-old young woman's artwork about her personal tragedy is titled, "I am 22 years old and I lost 22 people" and was organized by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, in cooperation with the United Nations Women in Gaza City.

A tragic tone dominates all of the paintings, which depict destroyed buildings, Israeli cars, and skeletons of the dead people, among other images that suggest to visitors the depth of the misery and sadness experienced by the painter.

Palestinian survivor in Gaza expresses her pain through art
Palestinian artist Zainab al-Kulak, a survivor of an Israeli air strike on Gaza last May, and her father attend her exhibition. [Getty]

In May 2021, Israel launched an 11-day military campaign on the Gaza Strip, following a barrage of rockets from Gaza, that was in turn fired in response to Israel's encroachment on the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site for Muslims.

During the fierce fighting, Israeli warplanes carried out hundreds of air raids on the Gaza Strip, home to over two million people, most of whom are refugees. Over 260 Palestinians were killed, and up to 2,000 were wounded.

On May 16, 2021, Israeli fighters launched a series of violent and focused raids on Al-Wihda Street in Gaza City, destroying a number of Palestinian residential buildings, including the home of al-Kulak.

At that time, Zainab lost 22 members of her family, including her mother and three of her brothers.

Palestinian survivor in Gaza expresses her pain through art
A Gazan visitor attended the exhibition of the Palestinian artist Zainab al-Kulal, a survivor of an Israeli airstrike on Gaza last May. (Getty)

Speaking to The New Arab, she said that "each painting embodies a tragic moment that I lived because of the Israeli crimes, which were often made without warning."

"A few minutes before the targeting, I was with my family in our house and we did not expect, even for a moment, that we would be attacked. The whole neighbourhood is civilian and there are no soldiers in it," she recalled.

"Suddenly," she added, "we heard the sounds of violent bombing and my mother warned me that the wall of the house had cracked (..) I couldn't look or think, and I found myself under the rubble, we are all under the rubble."

Zainab remained under the rubble for 12 hours, during which she tried to call for help through her mobile phone. She was ultimately reduced by some of her friends. 

"I didn't know if my family was still alive or not," she said. "I was trying to banish the idea that I might lose them, but unfortunately I lost the majority of my family."

In the past, according to the artist, she used to paint paintings that mimic nature and beauty, but after the Israeli war, she began to develop paintings that reflect the painful reality in the Gaza Strip.

For her, everything involved "death and war".

Palestinian survivor in Gaza expresses her pain through art
Palestinian artist Zainab al-Kulak, a survivor of an Israeli airstrike on Gaza last May, and her father attend her exhibition. [Getty]

Although a year has passed since the end of the Israeli war on Gaza, "my daughter still sees nightmares and bad dreams when she sleeps," Shukri al-Kulak, the painter's father, told The New Arab

"Israel must be held accountable for its crimes against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank (...) We will not be silent about our rights and we will continue to demand the necessity of prosecuting Israeli officials for carrying out horrific massacres against humanity for decades," he added.

Maha al-Husseini, an official for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, told The New Arab that the story of the al-Kulak family "is not the only story that the international community needs to shed light on, see and hear it."

"There are hundreds of thousands of other stories, of women, girls, children, and civilians, that are still unheard and unseen and need to reach the world," said al-Husseini.

"Today, the victims of the Israeli military attack on Gaza are treated as numbers, not as human stories and people with dreams and ambitions who need to live in peace like other people," she added.

Hiba al-Shatli, one of the visitors to the exhibition, expressed her grief over what Zainab and her family are going through, especially since the consequences of the tragic attack still dominate her life.

"Zeinab was able to share her sorrows through her paintings (...) When I looked at these paintings I felt deep sadness and fear, as if I had actually lived what happened to her," al-Shatli told The New Arab.

"Israel wants to kill hope and life inside us, but we will not allow it to do so. We (the youth) will continue our struggle against Israel by all possible means until we expose its crimes to the world," she concluded.