Mohammed Abu Amr’s last creation on the beach in Gaza said, “I will return.” A day later, Mohammed, 23, was killed along with 16 other Palestinians demonstrating on the 42nd anniversary of Land Day.
Mohammed’s father believes that his son used to spend hours sculpting his artwork on the beach. “I think the beach sand was a typical gateway to Mohammed’s talent since he began two years ago after failing to find work”. Mohammed had carved several drawings commemorating national events and issues like “Prisoners’ Day”, “Land Day”, “Nakba”, “Gaza is bleeding”, “Electricity Crisis”, “Immigration”, and “Women’s Day”, in addition to advertisements for local commercial companies for a small fee his father said.
His passion of lyrics of the Lebanese singer Julia Boutros’ songs was also seen when he carved:
“They will leave and we will stay here
The land will remain ours
Today we are stronger
Stronger than all battles”
Last November, Mohammed was looking for international pro-Palestinians activists to finance a planned carving project, which needed volunteer diggers, special sand painting colors and simple drilling equipment. The 53-year–old bereaved father told Mondoweiss.
Mohammed is the second member of his family killed by Israel. Mohammed’s brother, Ehab, 21, was killed in 2008, during a clash east of Gaza City.
Mohammed, who was once sculpted, “Be optimistic, set a goal and plan for your life and make your personality open to others, then you can live happily,” will not be able to continue to address the young generation through his work, but they will live on as posts on his Facebook account for those who want to recall his sculptures.
The Great March
Friday, March 30, 2018, Mohammed’s friend Baraa Al-Halabi, 23, remembers yelling at him at around 11:00 a.m.: “Mohammad! … do not approach the fence! There are snipers.” But he replied: “Shut up, we will return today, this day we will do it!” Al-Halabi told Mondoweiss.
“Within few seconds Mohammed had disappeared amid the screams of the massive crowd near the fence,” said Baraa. “Soon, protesters shouting ‘call an ambulance.. get an ambulance’ were the only words I could hear, but the smoke of tear gas forced me to retreat tens of meters, then I realized that I have lost him forever,” Baraa said.
Mohammed’s father says that before he was killed he was planning to carve a 100-meter map of Palestine along with a huge key on the beach to coincide with the “Great March of Return” in mid-May on the anniversary of the Nakba, marking the displacement of Palestinians by Israel in 1948.
Two days after Mohammed’s death, Osama Sbeata, 27, has successfully sculptured some Palestinian cities on a 800-square meter map of Palestine beside Abu Amr’s “I will return” sculpture.
Sbeata knew Mohammed was planning to sculpt a 100–meter-long map, but his team doubled the map longer and wider into 800 square meters.
“This sandy map was Mohammed’s uncompleted dream,” Sbeata told Mondoweiss.
“Mohammed’s digging tools are left to me, and I will use them to paint and engrave everything that urges the return to Palestine”, Sbeata added.
In 2013, Sbeata graduated from Al-Azhar University in Gaza with a degree in accounting, but finding work in his field was impossible due to an youth unemployment rate of around 58 percent.
Sbeata’s first attempt at a sand sculpture came about by chance one day while he was playing in the sand. He realized that the beach was a destination for many vacationers and citizens and therefore a perfect place to practice his art and raise awareness about the Palestinian cause.
Perhaps Mohammed did not find a way to express his passion to return to his origin village (1948 Ber al Saba, now “Bersheba”) by carving national carvings except the land and its sands, but Israel may targets any Palestinian artist who wanted to express that passion.