Update February 2013
I am visiting Sri Lanka to better understand the oppression and human rights violations which aren’t getting the international attention they deserve. The civil war ended in 2009 with the crushing of the LTTE and the massacre of over 100,000 Tamil speaking people. However the root causes of the conflict have not been addressed and minority groups, particularly those in the North and East of the country, face government persecution. Community leaders tell me that the Tamils in these areas continue to seek self-determination and to fear ethnic cleansing.
January 2011 (first post)
Twelve months ago I was happy and settled with my one bed flat in Finsbury Park, my exciting position at a high profile charity, my work with the homeless community and my frequent nights out with some of the most intelligent, magical and dear people in London.
Thanks to inspiring, loving parents, I have spent my entire adult life (to differing degrees) campaigning for human rights. But I suppose it wasn’t until Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 that I took more of an interest in Palestine. Since then, many days have been spent standing in the rain protesting outside London buildings, boring my friends with Facebook posts about illegal shootings, demolitions and abuses in Palestine, and attending lectures and rallies in my hunger for knowledge of this complex cause.
When most people hear the word Palestine they think ‘terror’, ‘conflict’, ‘somewhere in the Middle East’. It is not a complete or fair picture. But, most of all, they think ‘confusing’, ‘complicated’, ‘too hard to get involved in’, ‘too hard to even have an opinion’. It is true that the heritage of both Jews and Palestinians is rich, turbulent and painful. Religion, politics and a struggle for survival have left the history books heavy-going, often relying on biased accounts with multiple-contradictions between sources.
The difficulties of this subject are convenient for those who want us to look away from the current reality of the region, allowing our governments to do nothing in response to the frequent violations of international law. Indeed, if one considers our TV and newspapers to be biased toward this situation, then it is easy to conclude that the complication of the issue is further and deliberately perpetuated by the media.
As a humanist with no ties to the region, I believe it is appropriate to look at what is happening very clearly right now in Palestine and to conclude that it is unacceptable to turn a blind eye. This is not a war of two equal sides. Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land. Israel is illegally building settlements on this land. Israel has blockaded part of this land resulting in death and poverty. Palestinians within the state of Israel are not treated as equal citizens. And western governments have been supporting this situation.
I can’t remember when I decided to go to Palestine. I can’t remember whether it was when I learnt at a rally the value of showing solidarity by living and working with Palestinian families. It may have been when I was told for the tenth time by people with conflicting opinions that I couldn’t campaign credibly without witnessing first-hand the reality of the occupation. Certainly since my understanding has grown and I see more clearly the warped picture portrayed in the media, I have become utterly compelled to go to Palestine to raise awareness of the truth. I look to history and see that peaceful movements of global education take time; but they can work. A greater awareness of an oppressed state will influence governments to apply much needed pressure.
I applied to work for The International Women’s Peace Service when I was feeling sorry for myself with tonsillitis in the summer. I was on such strong painkillers that I don’t think I really realised the decision I was making at the time. I was just so excited to find an NGO committed to non-violence and an end to the illegal Israeli settlements – I knew immediately that I wanted to support them. I’ve not been in a conflict zone before and although I have studied humanitarian aid, volunteered, traveled and protested throughout my life, I do not have experience of direct action.
I was accepted in the autumn, possibly due to my empathy and passion for the cause, and for my background in developing communications in various organisations. I (perhaps recklessly in a recession) left the job in the disability sector that I had worked so hard to secure. There was still so much that I wanted to achieve for the charity but I really could no longer bear that the west was doing so little to support the people of this contested land. I ended personal commitments in my favourite city in the world as, in the context of my campaigning, the luxuries in my life began to lose value. And, thanks to a huge amount of help from so many of my friends, I managed to pack my life into a couple of packs of cardboard boxes which I have now crammed into a room at my parents house.
So now I find myself back living in my childhood bedroom, with nothing obvious to show for myself! I’m unemployed, trying to learn some Arabic in the fortnight before I leave and surrounded by post-Christmas family chocolates. I can’t really believe that so much change has happened. I keep wondering to myself ‘did I make this happen?’, ‘why did I make this happen?’, ‘should I listen to the report on the news that says war is about to break out again?’ I’m scared. I feel that I have no choice but to go to the West Bank. I don’t believe that the illegal settlements should be allowed to continue. I know that being in the West Bank won’t bring peace. But it is a small step. And I will be able to support Palestinian families every day; families who face frequent human rights abuses, who are ejected from their homes and who are not allowed to access their land or to move freely. I will also be able to learn so much more, from all sides caught up in this conflict, and a primary goal will be to share this information in an accessible, fair and honest way.
I have received praise recently for being brave and for following my heart. But it’s misplaced really. My journey is a choice and I’m excited and I can’t wait. In truth, I was no longer feeling satisfied by my corporate job and I’m too old for all this partying – I’m craving a new experience. It’s selfish of me in so many ways – my family are supportive but worried sick and I let down a lot of people in London by leaving.
I have made several statements on this page that require further justification and I will explore the themes in further posts over the next few weeks. I will also explain soon exactly what I hope to achieve during my time in the West Bank (my role is defined on my support me page). When I arrive in Palestine in a fortnight I will begin to post weekly photos, video and interviews, share observation and comment and invite conversation. Please help me to share this information. I have never blogged before so feedback, questions and opinions would be so welcome.