As an Irishman, I will start my post today with a quote from Bobby Sands about our own struggle for freedom and justice as it also applies to Palestine:
“Everyone, Republican or otherwise, has their own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small; no one is too old or too young to do something.”Since our return from Gaza, I had great plans of writing many posts, covering each incident and event in an orderly fashion. But each time I sat down to write I was unable.
The weight of Gaza on your shoulders
You see, I believe very deeply that all of us who visit Gaza bear a grave responsibility to tell their story when we return. One thing that will strike you is that they desperately need their story to be told. They need to be listened to, and they depend on us to be their voice to the world. I thought to myself, how can I do them justice? The sheer scale of the devastation combined with how their lives have been affected, the hopelessness, the fear of being forgotten is palpable every where you go. How on earth can I convey all of this in a manner befitting these proud wonderful people? Where do I start?
Upon arrival and crossing into Rafah, aside from the greeting which is like no other; you will feel so unworthy. They treat you like you are something special, when in fact it is they who are the special ones. We came to see THEM, they are the great people of Gaza who have survived an onslaught of evil, yet they came to see us, as if we could even closely hold a candle to their spirit and greatness.
As the bus sped along the road leaving Rafah, I wanted to stand on top and clap for them instead of having to look at them clap and wave for us. It was just so wrong and I had a hard time dealing with that. Along the route to the city, you cannot help but notice the pride Gazan's have in their cities and country. As you travel along the road to Gaza city you are in the country area, you will see people working, tiny farms and homes along the way, each one kept very nicely, despite the poverty and deprivation. They are proud of what they do have and they display this even in the small ramshackle huts, sheds and small self built and make shift structures they call home. Tiny horses trotting along side the bus, all decked out in colourful array, pulling a cart with small amounts of produce; being driven by young boys all hoping to sell the little they have managed to produce to stave off hunger for another day. Children in front of the structures, old weathered men sitting on stones near the roadside. And next to some of the closet sized structures people call home, you will see tiny little patches of planted land, growing some sort of hopeful crop, not even enough for a family of 4 to live a month on once it is done growing to size. Young children playing with sticks, who stop and look in wonder at the big bus as it passes.
This is the same with everyone you pass along the way to Gaza city. The bus represents foreign visitors, this is very exciting, it means someone has come to maybe help. Everyone stops what they are doing and they all wave and smile, they are hoping that perhaps this will be the bus of strangers who will be the ones who change things for them. I am pausing for a moment after saying that, the emotion is too much to bear. You see, that is what we all represent,we represent "hope." And that is a monumental responsibility to shoulder, yet that is what each one of those faces are asking when they smile and wave at you. They are all saying “Are you the one to help us?” One word of advice, don’t go to Gaza if you cannot handle the hopelessness you will surely feel stemming from your own human inability to not be capable of making the devastation all just go away. Because it will overwhelm even the most hardened person, just like me, who is aware of the the depths of human suffering experienced in my own country’s struggle for freedom and justice.
Arriving in Gaza at the "Commodore Gaza" hotel, you can’t help but notice how beautiful it is inside and what a sea side paradise tourist location it once was and could be again. It is just waiting to be dusted off and brought back from retirement to do it’s job of welcoming the world to Gaza once again.. With lovely stair cases, shining floors, and a host of world clocks behind the check-in desk, showing the time in Gaza, London, Rome and New York. You would be forgiven for thinking you were still in Egypt, or Rome, or anywhere else. Marble floors, beautiful chandeliers above you, elevators, and staff dressed immaculately, eager to meet and greet the visitors. But,you are not in London or Rome, you are in Gaza, and stepping outside will remind you of that fact, very quickly jerking you back to the stark reality of the surrounding devastation, destruction and siege. It is never far away. All the while the people you continually meet, although it is never said, you can’t help but feel they are all silently saying “Are you the ones who will help us?”
Although there are huge shortages of just about everything, the people are keen to put out their best for all visitors. This made me feel very guilty, eating their food, and drinking their tea or water. You can’t refuse, because they just won’t have it. If you don’t eat enough according to their standards, or you don’t try everything at least twice, they will help you to eat more. So it’s best to just get stuck in when the food arrives LOL. I love this about the Palestinian people, they give when they have nothing. The hospitality will overwhelm you. Although I did feel guilty taking their food items and the fuss that was made over us when they themselves have nothing. I eventually realised that this entertaining was a great source of pride for them. And why not? When we have visitors come to our home, do we not all want to show our best off? And even if we have nothing in the cupboard, we never let on that this is so to our guests. Gazan's are no different than we are in that respect. Actually allowing and accepting people in Gaza to serve or invite you to a meal is all part of them having a normal experience like everyone else in the outside world does. In fact, it is one of the only “normal” things they can experience and it allows them to show their food and culture to their guests as well. I have come back with a love of Knafeh which is a Palestinian dessert.
Looking out of the tall hotel (pictured below) the view to the street below you can see in the distance the building with the UN flag on top. This is where people got to met John Ging, the Irishman in charge of UNWRA whom we all saw on television begging the IDF to stop killing people and destroying UN facilities, schools and mosques during the genocide. His presence on television during the invasion, and the utter exasperation and horror he conveyed is something I will always remember.
Sunrise comes and another day of catching fish in Gaza. Small fishing boats dot the coastline and the tiny bay near the hotel. Picture below:
A little way down from the hotel is a local fish market, bustling with small boats and tiny baskets of fish. What struck me were the size of the tiny baskets and the size of the tiny fish. I said to my friend who lives in Gaza, “Those fish are so tiny!” and he said that’s the problem. The baskets of fish were in rows on the pavement near the pier. Each basket was about 8 X 10 inches, each basket contained fish so small that I have actually seen larger fish as pets in peoples home aquariums! You would need to eat dozens of them to have one decent meal once you got rid of all the bones. So, does that put it into perspective? The fishermen cannot get to the deep water where the good sized fish are because you see off in the distance the Israeli Occupying Entity’s warships, ready to shoot anyone who dares enter deeper waters. Even though they are in Gazan waters they have no regard for International law or the suffering of the Gazan people. Even the fish in the sea have been stolen by Israel the rogue heartless state.
I will close this post for today, and will write more very soon. I cannot cover writing about the children today, far too emotional still. I will also be posting about the EU delegation which I was lucky enough to witness as they arrived when we did, and I will also write about my own visits inside Gaza as well. It is not that easy to return to the real world and then to put all of what you have witnessed onto paper or computer screen. Your head is so filled at the utter desperation; you wonder where to begin to tell the story of these people. Gaza changes you, when you go there you leave with something else. Another impression, another memory, more anger, more determination to keep your promises and to not let them down.
I hope that people who read these diaries will take away the gravity of the situation. Today in Gaza, they do not need your money. What they desperately need is your support, your voice, and MOST of all your action! Get off your sofas and chairs, join some group, and get active. Remember what they are all thinking inside Gaza. All those faces, all that hope, “Are you the one who will help us?” Think about that as you order your next pizza, as you drive to the mall, as you enter a grocery store filled with food, as you cook your next meal, and most of all as you look into the face of your own children. You have a future, your children have a future, but today people in Gaza have no future, unless WE collectively give them one.
Remember, “Everyone has their own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small; no one is too old or too young to do something.”
Will You Help Them?