GAZA (Reuters) - On the Gaza-Israel border women are an integral part of the tent protests that have transformed a once-deserted restricted zone.
Some provide food, water and social media support - and some, although in much smaller numbers than men, roll burning tyres and hurl stones at the Israeli border fence.
Since March 30, when the protests began, hundreds of women have taken part, sometimes with their entire families.
“Some tell us we can’t do what men do, some are afraid we will get hurt and others encourage us,” Aya Abeid, 18, told Reuters.
Twice she managed to plant a Palestinian flag at the fortified wire fence that separates Gaza from Israel, a place most do not dare approach in demonstrations that have seen more than 40 Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops. Abeid has used a slingshot against those same Israeli soldiers.
There have been no women among the dead although at least 250 women have been wounded.
“I was injured two weeks ago in my thigh as I rolled tyres,” she said. “Hopefully, I will be able to attend this Friday and do what I usually do, here is my slingshot ready.”
As Israel celebrates its 70th birthday, Palestinians mourn what they call the “Nakba” (Catastrophe) of their people’s mass-dispossession during the conflict that broke out in 1948.
Two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians are war refugees or their descendants. “The Great March of Return”, as the Gaza border protests have been dubbed, has seen thousands gather - in greater numbers on Fridays - to demand access to their families’ lost homes or lands, now in Israel.
Israel rules that out, concerned it would lose its Jewish majority. Alternatives, such as accommodating refugees and their descendants in a future Palestinian state, have been discussed in peace talks that date back to 1993 but which are now stalled.
At the tent camp in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Taheyah Qdeih filled bottles with drinking water to distribute to people staying in tents and along the frontier.
The 49-year-old, whose family originally comes from Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, has made it her mission almost every day.
“When I was young I used to hurl stones at the soldiers,” she said. “I am from Jaffa and I believe we will return. Am I crazy like the Jews may say? No, I am not. I am a believer.”
Israel’s military and political leadership have defended the use of live fire against protesters, saying that they will continue to protect the border with Gaza - a territory under the control of Hamas Islamists sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Palestinians have accused Israel of using excessive force against unarmed demonstrators.
Riding on a donkey cart, 48-year-old Jehad Abu Muhsen brought the youths 15 tyres to burn. She collected them from car mechanics’ shops. “I do it three or four days a week, specially on Friday. This is what I can do to help,” she told Reuters.
Among 15 undergraduate nursing students at her class, Shorouq Abu Musameh decided to volunteer and be with paramedics deployed along the border.
“I wanted to do my part in supporting the marches of return,” said Abu Musameh, her white uniform stained with the blood of the wounded. “I say to myself my uniform may protect me, or maybe not.”
Editing by Mark Heinrich