The Spark speaks to three local activists offering aid, solidarity and a voice to the Palestinians and Israeis longing for peace in the Middle east.
The bombardment of Gaza December 2008 shocked the world, bringing the Middle East crisis closer to our hearts. In Bristol over 100 people spontaneously gathered at the peace vigil in the city centre to express their concern.
Acknowledging Palestine’s suffering is often interpreted as anti-Israeli sentiment. However the focus of Palestine support groups throughout the southwest has always been to increase dialogue and peaceful co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians. Many local groups have been putting energy into peace initiatives for years, including Quakers, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Stop The War Coalition.
Following the recent crisis in Gaza, students at the University of the West of England held a rally, taking a list of demands to their dean. Their actions resulted in positive outcomes: scholarships for both Palestinians and Israeli refuseniks (Israelis who refuse to serve in the military) and a message of support from the vice-chancellor to the Islamic university in Gaza city.
What is the best way to help? Below are ideas as diverse as buying Palestinian olive oil and watching a DVD to get informed. We speak to three local activists involved with peace initiatives in Israel/Palestine. They have travelled to the conflict zones to offer support in person, to see how life is for ordinary Palestinians and have returned to bear witness.
Lisa Saffron, who lives in Bristol, visited Palestine in 2005 with the Conscious Listening Project. Disillusioned with mainstream media reporting for perpetuating the conflict, Lisa decided to go to speak with Israelis and Palestinians directly.
“As a Jew, I felt emotionally drawn to the conflict. The Conscious Listening Project was a unique opportunity to listen to both Israelis and Palestinians as they spoke their deepest truths. The experience opened my eyes and my heart to a different reality: we have more in common than that which separates us. Beneath our opposing beliefs are the same fears, hopes, values and needs. What I heard from both Israeli Jews and Palestinians were cries for help and calls for love: to be heard and accepted, to escape the tyranny of fear and victimhood, to be free of demonisation and misrepresentation, to have the chance to live in peace, harmony and justice,” she says.
On her return, Lisa became involved in the community radio project called Radio Salaam Shalom, based in Bristol. Launched in 2006, it is the UK’s first Muslim-Jewish broadcast project, with an international following dedicated to Jewish and Muslim dialogue. “We believe we can live together in peace and harmony, and we do,” she says. Broadcast on the internet, Lisa’s podcasts give airtime to the many projects which are forging peace, such as the Israeli Campaign against House Demolition, which rebuilds houses destroyed by the Israeli army.
Ed Hill lives in Easton, Bristol. His initial visit to the West Bank in 2005 was as a peace activist. “Travelling from Jerusalem to the West Bank I saw the Wall, the checkpoints, soldiers with guns and roads built just for settlers; you can’t miss these things.”
A year later, he returned to the West Bank to help Palestinian farmers with their olive harvest and to be an international witness. “The welcome from the local people really touched my heart. Everybody comes back from Palestine changed. Some people start fundraising, publishing pamphlets or organising solidarity groups. For me, it was film-making. I gave up my job as an A-level teacher to make eye-witness documentaries and I have just finished my third film about my experiences in Palestine.”
Ed’s films document the changing situation in the region over the years, visiting and revisiting families in the same villages. His films help to educate people in the UK aswell as raising funds for Palestinian projects. Ed has also set up Bristol Computers 4 Palestine project (see Watch a DVD below left) which collects portable IT items such as laptops, digital cameras or video cameras and sends them to small Palestinian towns. “I urge anyone with questions about the conflict to visit Palestine,” he says. “It’s the best way to learn.”
Mohamed Elhaddad is a British Libyan parent of three, a PhD Researcher at the University of West England, a Muslim Scout leader and treasurer of the Law Centre. He was the only Bristolian on the Viva Palestina convoy, a mission of a hundred vehicles carrying a million pounds worth of aid to Gaza, which left London on Valentine’s Day. “This was a humanitarian mission with a human aim. It was the least we could do,” he says. Mohammed successfully initiated contact between the convoy and the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation which organised a Libyan donation of 138 trucks filled with aid worth over $7 million.
The overland trip with old fire engines, ambulances and trucks was an intense experience. “We had a terrible car accident in Libya where a reporter and photographer from a Libyan newspaper died. We were attacked in Egypt, where several drivers were injured.
“But crossing into Gaza made it all worthwhile. Crowds lined the streets; everyone was cheering and going crazy to see us.”
Mohamed toured Gaza, visiting local people. “The people of Gaza are real heroes, staying strong and holding their heads up under such terrible conditions. People were bombed out of their homes and living in tents; or whole families crowded into one room. Ordinary people are under siege, short of every necessity. The people are having a terrible time. The reality is far worse than you see on the television.”
Founded in 2004 to create a UK market for artisan Palestinian products, the Zaytoun (Palestinian for olives) co-operative’s range includes the most wonderful Fairtrade organic olive oil. Available in Radford Mill Farm shop, Picton Street, Bristol, and online.
Bristol City Centre, opposite the Hippodrome every weekday 5-6pm and Saturdays 3-4pm. Bath every Saturday outside Bath Abbey 11.30 am to 12.30 pm.
A legitimate and peaceful way of protesting at a government’s actions. Many more people are boycotting Israeli goods after the Gaza bombardment. Exports of fresh produce to the European market are crucial to the Israeli economy.
Our Sufferings In This Land and Return to Palestine, made by Ed Hill (see above). £10 each (cheques payable to Bristol Computers 4 Palestine) from Bristol Computers 4 Palestine, Box 110, c/o 82 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB
Palestine campaign: http://tinyurl.com/6rxaoj
A human rights group reports on its experiences working with paramedics, journalist and farmers under fire in Gaza before, during and after the 2009 war.
A British group providing information and organising events in opposition to policies which undermine human rights.
Launched by George Galloway in response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the convoy is staffed by volunteers and plans future actions.
Leading portal from a Palestinian perspective.
Local campaigning activities include public meetings, stalls, films and boycotts. Meets 7.30pm of the last Tuesday of every month at St Werburghs Community Centre to plan stalls, public meetings, and actions.
Frome Friends of Palestine: Denise Wilson 01373 469
Fortnightly podcasts focus on dialogue between Muslims and Jews and highlight the activities of peace projects.
Aims to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and to carry out advocacy efforts to end the occupation.
Bristol email contact: firstname.lastname@example.org www.eappi.org/
Swindon has twinned with Beit Fajjar in the West Bank.
Email: email@example.com http://tinyurl.com/pam3dn
For information about twinning: www.twinningwithpalestine.net twinning
Email list for local events supporting Palestine
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First published issue 57 (Summer 2009)
Written by Kate Burrell
Details correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.