Bearing Witness

The Kayaktivist Rides Again

Well I’m back in the Middle East and I have to say it almost feels like coming home. The first morning in Cairo I woke to the sound of the call to prayer and from that moment on I have felt welcomed and supported. I am in Cairo to sort my entry into the Gaza Strip to assist with the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project.

WHY ?

That is a question I have been asked time and time again and if I am honest I have asked myself on several occasions, especially over the last couple months as I have traveled through the Americas. Leaving idyllic places and amazing people to travel to a part of the world that is under such violent oppression by the Israeli state, so much so that William Madisha (a South African trade union leader) has stated: “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of Israel’s actions make the actions of South Africa’s apartheid regime appear pale by comparison.”

I guess I personally have several motivating factors. Firstly, the sense of social justice that was instilled in me by my wonderful parents. Secondly, the fact that I have witnessed first hand the brutality of the Israeli state, while I volunteered with Project Hope <http://projecthope.ps/nablus/> in Nablus. After the joy of experiencing a new culture and meeting incredible Palestinian people, whose lust for life under such oppressive circumstance is truly remarkable, I realised that what I was witnessing in the West Bank was a systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine… there is no other way to describe it. Thirdly, that this oppression of the Palestinian people, more often than not, goes unreported in the western media and is unfortunately even supported by my very own Government. Lastly, but definitely not least, my time in Palestine ended with Operation Cast Lead where I saw the very worst effects of the Israeli Military Doctrine of “Disproportionate Force”, which killed over 1400 Palestinians – most of whom where civilians.

Since then I have become a member of Free Gaza Australia <http://freegazaoz.org/> . FGA is an organisation that stands in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza by directly changing the illegal blockade of Gaza, that has been in place (officially) since 2007. However, the restriction on the movement of Palestinians in Gaza dates back to 1991, when Gaza was first cut off from the West Bank and Israel. This blockade is clearly an act of collective punishment, which is outlawed under the Fourth Geneva Convention and has resulted in what was once the economic centre of Palestine becoming home to a population of aid dependant civilians. With at least 70% of the population of Gaza now reliant on aid to provide the basic essentials of life – food, shelter and medical care. I have been honoured to be a part of both recent Australian delegations that have attempted to break the blockade, firstly with Freedom Flotilla Two <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/stay-human-the-story-of-freedom-flotilla-2-from-the-kayaktivists-perspective/> and then Freedom Waves <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/freedom-waves-1413831/>. Lets hope it is third time lucky in FGA’s attempts to break this brutal blockade.

My belief in the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project is also a motivating factor for me. While the Ark will challenge the blockade physically in the tradition of previous flotillas, our focus has shifted from sailing aid in, to sailing trade out. There has been a debate in recent times in Palestine and throughout the international solidarity movement about the effectiveness or otherwise of aid delivery to the Palestine people. Has aid merely maintained an unacceptable status quo? This is a question which is above my pay grade, however it is clear that if the Palestinians of Gaza were allowed to trade their products with the rest of the world, their reliance on aid would greatly diminish. The other benefit of this approach is that as the Ark is being built in Gaza, the process of construction is as important as the action of challenging the blockade – as we can show the difficulties of everyday life in Gaza under the blockade.

How ?

The movable feast that is the process of gaining legal entry into the Gaza Strip has been a difficult one to navigate. When I left Australia three months ago the process had to be undertaken in Cairo, however since leaving that changed to people wanting to enter Gaza needing to inform the Egyptian Embassy in their home country when applying for their visa. At this point there are three main options, firstly through getting an invitation from an NGO in Gaza and then working with your embassy and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo to get approval to enter through the Rafah Crossing. The second option is to be an accredited journalist and apply through the Press Office in Cairo and finally the third option is to attach yourself to a delegation that already has approval. I have been trying all three. Two weeks in I feel I am getting nowhere, if nothing else it has been a lesson in patience. I naively thought that while the Muslim Brotherhood’s election victory has no doubt been a blow to the hope of Egyptians for a secular democracy, that it would make entry into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing easier. However it appears that Morsi – like most politicians – has mastered the art of talking the talk, but has failed learn how to walk the walk.

However the delay in my entry into the Gaza Strip has meant that I have had the chance to meet some incredible Egyptian activists and that I will be around to stand in solidarity with them on the second anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. Their passion and courage has truly inspired me, while their stories have helped put my concerns over living in Gaza into perspective. To me the Egyptian revolution is proof that the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”, is as true today as it ever was.

What ?

While our strategy has changed focus from aid to trade our main goals are still the same as the Free Gaza Movement’s first attempt to break this illegal and brutal blockade: solidarity and awareness. I hope to show the Palestinian people that my Government does not speak for me on the issue of Palestinian human rights and to generate awareness in Australia and throughout the western world about the plight of the Palestinian people. It is my hope that people in the west will understand that this is not an Israeli/Palestinian conflict, rather it is the oppression of Palestinians by Israel.

You help make this happen by buying a symbolic share in Gaza’s Ark and the hope it will build <http://www.gazaark.org/2013/01/15/buy-a-symbolic-share-of-gazas-ark-a-share-in-hope/>

Image

The Kayaktivists in action

January 26, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Volunteering

After having some time and space to reflect on my voluntary work for Project Hope in Nablus, I still feel it is one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life, however there are some things I would do differently if I where to come back or undertake volunteer work else where in the world – which I definitively plan to do.

Firstly I would spend more time learning the language before leaving, I feel this would have given me a better understanding of the people and culture. While also helping me immensely with my teaching, don’t get me wrong the translators provided to me by Project Hope where amazing and indispensable, however the saying “lost in translation” did come to mind several times during my stay in Nablus.

I also would have better prepared myself for the emotion roller coaster that is voluntary work. I experienced everything from excitement and joy to frustration and despair – all in the one day and some times in the same hour.

Plus also preparing myself to become emotional attached to the place and the people I worked with. I always felt an affinity with the Palestinian cause, but after my time in the West Bank that grew immensely. This was best illustrated by my reaction to the atrocities carried out in Gaza, just I after I had left Nablus. I would have reacted negatively even before my time in the West Bank, however after getting to know the people and the extent of their suffering, so often down played in the western media, the images I saw from Gaza on the nightly news nearly had me in tears.

That brings me to preparing for the realities of situation you are going to work in. This is hard to do as books and documentaries can only tell you some much, but the more knowledge you gain before you leave, will provide a  better base to build your understanding of the situation you find yourself in.

Finally if anyone reading this is considering undertaking voluntary work, my advice is DO IT ! Throw yourself into whole heartily – as it’s like anything else in life the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

To support Project Hope and he wonderful work they do – bringing hope to young Palestinians – go to www.projecthope.ps and click on support us and make a donation, please.

January 31, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , | Leave a comment

Thank You Project Hope.

I have notice lately that some of my posts, well lets be honest most of my post, have been quite negative and as depressing as the occupation is to witness. I must say my time in Nablus has been one of the most fulfilling experience of my life. I came to teach, but came away learning and not just about the situation here but how to look at and enjoy life. To make the most of what you have and not to focus on what you don’t. The Palestinian people amaze me more everyday with their generosity and positive nature – I will surely miss Nablus when I leave in several days.
  
However more than the place I will miss the people who have made my time here special. Starting with, and in no particular order; Hakim – who from day one welcomed me in to his home and gave me my first taste of Palestinian hospitality; Anas; my English translator who pulled me out of the deep end so to speak with my English classes and who also helped with the workshops in Askar, I will be forever in your debt; Hassan – who’s patients with my Australian accent while teaching me Arabic was never ending and what little Arabic I now have his all down to him; Tharwa – who made me fell like part of the Project Hope family from day one; Akiel – Always ready with a “hand shake” and a smile; Fino – who showed me Palestinians know how to party and who I hope makes it to Australia one day so I can repay the favour; Maroof – who greeted all my request with a smile; Tawfiq – who’s Nescafe and support got me through my four hours of Bridge to the World classes on Saturdays.
 
Now to the International volunteers; Simon – for his quick wit; Truda – for her positive nature and support; Javier – for his revolutionary ideals; Mike – for also helping fish me out of the deep end, re English, not to mention his crude jokes; Kevin – for his dry sense of humour and baking abilities; Malika – for her commitment to the course.
     
And last but definitely not least to all my students English, Bridge to the World and Askar you where all tullab mumtarse – excellent students – and made my time in Nablus a truly rewarding experience.
   
I consider all of you friends and will miss you all, THANK YOU :]
    
And to everyone involved with Project Hope keep up the good fight, your work is giving young Palestinians hope and as I now know with hope anything is possible !
 

December 21, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , | Leave a comment