Gaza war has changed world's perspective on Palestine, humanitarian worker says

Kuwaiti citizen emphasises power of social media as he seeks to raise awareness of the suffering in the besieged enclave

Mohammad Al Kandari has served as a humanitarian volunteer in countries including Somalia, Tanzania and Turkey. Photo: @dr_m_alkandari / Instagram
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

For 12 years, a Kuwaiti man with a PhD in computer networks has found himself a humanitarian volunteer. Mohammad Al Kandari visited disasters in Somalia, Niger and Tanzania, and was in Turkey in the aftermath of last year's earthquake.

Today he is a well-known figure in the region and a two-time visitor to Gaza, where he revealed to his 1.2 million Instagram followers the death, destruction and desperation of the war-torn enclave.

It is the power of social media, Mr Al Kandari believes, that has changed views towards Israel around the world, and led to a better understanding of the Palestinian cause, especially among younger generations.

“People under 25 had almost forgotten what Palestine is, because they didn’t experience anything during that time but what happened changed the world,” he told The National.

“Today, when people who have seen photos and videos and participated in protests and marches have children – they will pass on new principles to them. They will tell them what Israel did. History cannot erase what social media documented. What is shown on TV is forgotten but what's on social media is stored.”

Other influencers, including Jordanian comedian Deya El Ayyan, who has 2.1 million followers on Instagram, or Omani doctor Khalid Al Shammousi who has 70,000 followers on X, are among prominent Arabs who have gone to Gaza to highlight the crisis.

Mr Al Kandari's most recent visit was last month, when he went with the Kuwait Society for Relief and US-based NGO Rahma Worldwide. In recent months, hundreds of thousands of people in the West have taken to the streets in protest against Israel's violence.

“The world looks at Israel differently than what they saw a year ago – now they see the government as criminals,” Mr Al Kandari said.

“It took 30,000 people to be killed for that to happen – and that is the price. But it changed the world.”

For Mr Al Kandari, going to Gaza was a necessary move. He felt it important to show the world the enclave through his eyes, especially his own people.

“I couldn’t stay quiet. I tried to do what I can because I know that being in Gaza I’ll broadcast something to my people, that coming from me, a Kuwaiti, will seem closer to the Kuwaitis and people in the Gulf. It has legitimacy to them,” he said.

Mr Al Kandari said $15 million was raised during the Kuwaiti delegation's first visit to fund humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

His visits, however, have left marks – moments he can never forget for better or for worse. Living amid shelling, even for two weeks, left Mr Al Kandari with memories that haunt him.

“So many moments were unforgettable,” he said. “There would be strikes 200 metres away from where we would be staying. Just this morning in London I heard a plane overhead and it brought back memories of air strikes. It was frightening.”

People's resolve to stay on their land took Mr Al Kandari aback, he recalls. Speaking to Gazans in Egypt, who had left for medical treatment, Mr Al Kandari said many wanted to return. On his second visit, Mr Al Kandari says he met people who had gone back from abroad.

“They said they would rather be in Gaza's hell than in the heavens of the world,” he said.

During his conversations with Gazans, Mr Al Kandari recalls their sense of pride and generosity. He remembers times when visiting displaced people in their tents, they would insist on him having a cup of coffee, even if they did not have anything else to offer.

“In other places I went to, people in poverty and need would extend a hand,” he said. “In Gaza, people rarely ask for anything and if they do, they just ask once and they do so with shame.”

More than the aid that the Kuwaiti delegation brought in the form of tents, food and medical equipment, Mr Al Kandari said Gazans were happier to just be around people who crossed the border to see them.

“They were more welcoming to us – and how we were there to support them psychologically rather than the material things we brought in,” he said.

The stories he heard were also harrowing. Mr Al Kandari said the saddest images he saw were the ones of children who had lost everything, or parents who lost children.

“It is not the ones who are dead we should be sad about – because those are martyrs, may God have mercy on them,” he said. “But the ones who remain alive, the ones who have lost everything.

“It will take decades to treat this trauma.”

Mr Al Kandari hopes that the world becomes more aware of the situation in Palestine and Gaza. He says that the international community needs to do more to help Palestine.

“If they were doing enough, we wouldn't be in this situation,” he said.

Updated: May 16, 2024, 4:01 PM