With the collapse of the peace process, atrocity and
violence have dominated the news in Palestine. Concentrating on the
bullets and stones of the front line, few journalists have visited
Palestine to witness the more prosaic offspring of war - hunger,
poverty, disease and injury. Though bound to the maelstrom of Middle
Eastern politics, ordinary Palestinians are struggling not for their
homeland, but to keep their families alive.
year's coincidence of Christmas and Hanukkah with Eid - the end of
Ramadhan - serves as a reminder of the ancient connections between the
three 'peoples of the book'. But the celebrations are segregated by a
few yards of bulldozed earth, concrete blocks and electrified fences.
was towards the end of Ramadhan, during the fiercest fighting, that I
visited Palestine to document the plight of ordinary people caught in
this fifty-year war. Sharing Iftari (breaking of the daily fast) with
different people, I found a community at the limits of its endurance.
is the distrust and enmity between Israel and Palestinians, that merely
checking in to my flight in Heathrow involved a 2-hour security ordeal.
These historical neighbours who share the same deity have drifted so
far apart that even the names of their faith have become synonymous
with terrorism, extremism and death.
arrival in Israel, I took a taxi to the border with Palestine - a long
electrified fence that separates Arab from Jew. Forbidden from
crossing, my taxi returned to Jerusalem leaving me to walk the two
hundred meters toward the sandbagged Israeli border guards. After
another lengthy passport check, I exposed my back to a separate set of
guns as I walked toward Palestine. I was in.
the dubious safety of another taxi, we sped towards Gaza City - the
driver juggling three mobiles and a speeding lump of Mercedes down the
suddenly disintegrating roads. Constant updates are required to
establish which crossings are open, which roads blocked, and how the
political situation is developing. News is life - for the wrong turn,
at the wrong time provides sudden death. Fact, not drama.
City could have been any Middle-Eastern city - smart beachside hotels,
restaurants, clubs and shops - except that they were all boarded up or
empty. Instead it was full of hurrying shadows, furtive dogs, litter,
mud and rain.
the Arab world, Ramadhan is usually a time of joy and celebration, yet
at sundown not one street in Gaza was thronged with happy, well-fed
souls. Death tolls and mounting food shortages preclude celebration.
Hopes of peace have been dashed, leaving that long fast for rights and
homeland to continue without respite.
Relief works on the ground in Palestine, providing assistance in an
environment of overcrowding, destruction and fear. In the Shifa
hospital in Gaza, IR has supplied ambulances, beds and other essential
equipment. There I saw children with head-wounds, crippled limbs and
amputations - a dreadful legacy of war. Working with these brave kids,
Islamic Relief has established programmes to care for their long-term
with Islamic Relief I visited Palestinian shanty homes, saw the open
sewers and breeze-block alleys. Many camps are so close to the front
lines that to kick a football, roll a marble or to chase a puppy,
places a child in the firing line. This is no remote battlefield; it is
a sandbagged entrenchment - an open killing zone next to shops, schools
In the Gaza
Strip town of Khan Yunis, I photographed IR staff distributing Ramadhan
food parcels. With 60% of Palestinians unemployed and the majority of
the employed working in Israel, the frequent border closures have taxed
people's ability to survive. The threat of starvation is as real as in
any African country.
day we need food,' said Isa Muhammad Abu Hada, one of the beneficiaries
of Islamic Relief's food packets. 'And when we don't have it, all that
remains is patience. Is it too much to ask for a country, a job and
Khadija Ameen, a
community worker from Gaza, dwelt on patience too - seeing the present
Intifada as the culmination of 50 years of desperate hope and weary
patience. 'Look!' she said, pointing at a mother hoisting a food parcel
onto her head, 'A week's worth of food brings a smile… while we still
smile, peace will find a way.'
down a crowded motorway to Jerusalem, I shared a welcome, if unnerving,
Ramadhan break-fast with the taxi driver. Between multiple cell-phone
calls and flying Hummous, we balanced food on our knees and talked.
men of different countries and faiths, our conversation held nothing
that would offend Jew, Arab, or Christian. Indeed, it was a true world
conversation - as most conversations are - just the usual human
obsessions that encapsulate a billion people's hopes and fears; home
and hearth, kids, country and faith.
Ireland, people say that the Israel-Palestinian conflict will never
end. Insh'allah (God willing) with a final breath of patience and hope,
the two nations will come to break this 50 year fast together, finally
sharing their lives, land and hopes. No hope is forlorn.