Rotterdam mourns for Gaza's children: The baby shoes that were never worn
In a powerful scene that unfolded today in Rotterdam, Stichting Plant een Olijfboom orchestrated a moving commemoration for the plight of Gaza by arranging 8,000 pairs of shoes in the city centre.
The organisation expressed, "It's beyond comprehension to fathom the enormity of the impacted lives, and we sought to humanise it the initiative, led by Plant een Olijfboom (Plant an Olive Tree), aims to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. It marks the inaugural event of several planned protests."
In an Instagram post, Stichting Plant een Olijfboom, an organisation advocating for Palestinians, urged people to join the protest on Binnenrotte Square between 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM. The initiative seeks to draw attention to the numerous Palestinian children killed in the Middle East conflict while combating the dehumanisation of Palestinians.
"Many people were deeply moved by this event, and we witnessed individuals from diverse backgrounds shedding tears as the scene was justifiably horrifying"
According to Gaza authorities, the death toll on the Palestinian side from the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip has surged to more than 20,000.
While the exact number of children among the victims remains uncertain, estimates suggest a staggering 8,000, with the actual figure likely higher. Nearly half of Gaza's population is under the age of 18.
In an exclusive interview with The New Arab, Esther van der Most, director at Stichting Plant een Olijfboom, reveals the remarkable efforts of over sixty volunteers from across our country who worked tirelessly to collect more than 8,000 pairs of shoes for children, achieving this feat within a week.
Thousands of Dutch citizens responded to the call to "Plant an Olive Tree" and generously donated children's shoes for this campaign. On Wednesday, the collected shoes will be displayed at Binnenrotte in Rotterdam, offering a poignant glimpse into the number of children who have already lost their lives in Gaza.
Van der Most acknowledges the overwhelmingly positive response, particularly from the Dutch community, who not only contributed significantly but also actively engaged in volunteer activities.
She shares, "Many people were deeply moved by this event, and we witnessed individuals from diverse backgrounds shedding tears as the scene was justifiably horrifying. Some had differing opinions, and we took it upon ourselves to explain and engage with them further, ensuring that the issue did not escalate during this significant event for us, which we have been planning for quite some time."
This campaign marks the first time the organisation has undertaken such an initiative, and according to Esther, it won't be the last if they have a say in it. "In the end, we reached 8,000. We know this is not the actual number of children killed. There are still many people under the rubble. But this is the minimum we are certain of, unfortunately."
Expanding on the volunteers and the campaign, she adds, "The volunteers gathered everything in a small truck, travelling all around the Netherlands. Each time they visited a meeting point and sent another text message, it created a sense of unity among all the volunteers."
Expressing the urgency to do something for Gaza, she states, "It seems necessary to take action, and we hear that from many individuals. We also want to place the shoes in other locations. We have all kinds of places and cities in mind, but we will wait first and see how things unfold today."
In another interview, Abdullah Rashid, a volunteer from Palestine currently residing in Rotterdam with his family, expresses immense pride in the sense of collaboration with individuals from various backgrounds.
He, along with volunteers from Turkey, Syria, Morocco, the Netherlands, Pakistan, and Suriname, worked together towards a common goal: bringing attention to the immense pain caused by the loss of thousands of children in Gaza. Abdullah emphasises the unity of purpose among the diverse group, all striving to showcase to the world the magnitude of the suffering.
Abdullah shares that his family, including his parents, remains in Palestine, living in a situation far from secure. Despite the challenging circumstances, he speaks to them every day.
Engaging in this initiative and working with the team provided him with the best opportunity to avoid sitting idly at home, living in constant tension about the plight of his relatives.
He acknowledges that while such initiatives may not stop the war, it is crucial to reveal to the world what is happening, as many communities, including the Dutch, are unaware and may perceive it as a counter-terrorism effort, influenced by the narrative presented by Western media.
Standing at the event venue, Abdullah carried his phone and a speaker, solemnly reading the names of the children who lost their lives in Gaza.
However, he couldn't continue after reading just twenty names, and he must explain the reason: these are not just names or numbers; these shoes carry the pain of a family, each representing a child who was tragically killed.
The thought was terrifying, and as he began reading their names, Abdullah felt an inner fear, especially considering his children were present with him that day. He vividly imagines that if these shoes were replaced by 8,000 children standing there, killed, the scene would be unimaginably heartbreaking.
Abdullah's sorrow is palpable, and we had to halt the conversation as he grapples with immense pain while trying to volunteer and momentarily distract himself from the harsh reality unfolding in his homeland and affecting his family.
Since the commencement of the conflict in Gaza, the Netherlands has witnessed a profound outpouring of solidarity from diverse communities.
Thousands have taken to the streets in cities, both large and small, articulating their discontent with the Dutch government's backing of Israel.
The populace has united steadfastly in support of the Palestinian population in Gaza, articulating their dissatisfaction with the government's position and ardently advocating for the rights and well-being of the Palestinian people.
The myriad of protests meticulously organised by various groups across the Netherlands in the past weeks underscore a sustained commitment to standing in solidarity with Gaza.
As these demonstrations continue to unfold in the coming weeks, it becomes increasingly apparent that a significant number of individuals and organisations in the Netherlands remain unwavering in their support for the Palestinian cause, underscoring the crucial importance of global awareness and collective action during times of crisis.
Mouneb Taim is a producer and journalist based in the Middle East from Damascus, Syria. He was awarded TPOTY's Photographer of the Year and ICFJ's Best Young Male Journalist in 2020
Follow him on Twitter: @mouneb_taim