The Shebab from Al Helal

They came, they saw, they conquered – every match and every heart. The boys, coach and chairman of Al Helal Football Academy, Gaza City finally made it to Ireland, and it was beautiful.

The Gaza Kids to Ireland project has been years in the making and has been majorly stalled a few times, not least after apartheid Israel’s vicious attack on Gaza in 2014 where more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 556 children, were murdered. We launched officially with Brian Kerr in late 2014 but it was only early this year that things started moving. The logistics of trying to get out of Gaza are very complicated. The group needed Irish visas, permits for Jordan and most problematical – permits to leave Gaza, these granted or not by Israel. Palestinians are the only people who need permission to leave their country. One of the major hasbara tropes trotted out by Israel is that it pulled out of Gaza and no longer occupies it, rubbish – Israel controls most aspects of life for the Palestinians in Gaza, and it controls whether they can leave or enter the Strip.

Freedom of movement is a fundamental right and those of us lucky and privileged enough to have it should recognise its importance and fight for everyone to have it. From seeing the terrible difficulties Palestinian friends experience and spending time with people on the move through Fortress Europe, I’ve never been more aware of how crucial this is to our shared humanity.

This was definitely the case for this project, the visa/permits processes took months. We had huge difficulties regarding permits – the group was initially to be in Ireland on the 13th July but their permits weren’t granted so we had to reschedule the entire programme. Eventually the permits were granted but one player from the 15 – Karam Zedan (who had been injured in 2009) – wasn’t given a permit and neither were 5 of the adults due to travel, including the only woman. The utter cruelty of Israel denying one child from 15 the opportunity to travel to Ireland bears further consideration, it really is unspeakable. Imagine how a 13 year old boy must have felt seeing his friends and teammates going on a big adventure that they had all been preparing for together for months. To stop just one child from the whole group is purely sadistic. Of course, in the massive catalogue of Israel’s crimes against Palestinian children, this is at the lower end of their scale of violence, but it’s still brutal and needless and rotten. Karam was injured by the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza and it’s likely they didn’t want him as living evidence of their war crimes. However, despite not being in Ireland,  Karam was in everyone’s thoughts throughout the trip and the children remembered him, making videos singing “We are all Karam” everywhere they went, he was always with us. But he should have been with us in person as well as in spirit. Another cruelty inflicted on a Palestinian child by the apartheid state. Why do they do it? Because they can.

Israel also prevented five adults from travelling with the group, the only woman, Hadeel, a specialist in children’s mental health, two coaches Mohammed and Eyad, a journalist Mohanad, and administrator Salah.  Not allowing these adults to travel is again cruel and needless, it’s an assertion of control and power. Imagine how they must have felt, having Israel’s absolute control reasserted so cruelly. It’s beyond my imagination because of privilege, and I want it to be beyond everyone’s, because of  justice.

Preventing them from travelling was also designed to cause maximum disruption to the trip. The journey from the Erez crossing to Amman airport in Jordan is long, difficult and full of checkpoints. That journey for only two adults with fourteen children is extremely tough and it is testimony to Ayed and Mohammed that they made it and indeed undertook the whole trip for the sake of the kids. I can’t say enough about these two men, they are fantastic. The Israelis were strategic, they allowed only one coach, one English speaker and no woman, with a group of boys who had never left Gaza before. But despite these obstacles, they coped, they thrived and they were brilliant.

And they arrived! Right up to the minute I heard they had boarded the plane,  I couldn’t believe it would happen. It happened. And they arrived, 14 really cute children with big brown eyes and bigger smiles wearing hot pink jerseys came to Ireland for an unforgettable ten days.

The kids played football, they danced, they sang, they were on the telly, they walked down Grafton St like celebs, walked the beach in Bray, went to the funfair, to SeaWorld, they dazzled with their feet in Dublin, Galway, Tipperary and Limerick. They went to parks and castles, went swimming and horseriding, they played hurling and rugby, went on boats and unicycles. They went mental in the shopping centre in Limerick.  They did the guard of honour for Galway United versus Dundalk, played at half time to the delight and cheers of the Palestinian flag waving GUFC ultras. Oh, and they met the President of Ireland there.

They played football against Ballybrack FC, Kinvara United, Nenagh AFC, Nenagh Celtic and Pike Rovers. They played on pitches, beaches and in parks. A highlight was their game in Ballybrack where the Palestinian community came out in numbers and reacted as if they had won the World Cup, it was raucous! 

They won every game, they played beautiful football, they dazzled.  Everyone remarked on their skill, their footwork, speed, their ability to keep hold of the ball. They are really good players. While their size compared to their Irish counterparts was a concern – and the siege of Gaza causes nutritional issues for the children there – their skill made up for it and they beat all comers!

They are fun and funny, kind, talented boys and it was a real privilege to spend time with them. Everyone who met the kids was delighted by them, they really lifted people’s hearts, the amount of love around the trip was special. Because there were only two adults let travel, I stayed with the group every night and this really allowed me to get to know them and enjoy their company, I loved it. The kids’  energy and enthusiasm is infectious. The evenings were spent moving mattresses around so they could camp in together (a nightly slumber party!), waving hello to their parents and family on the phone, begging them to go to sleep and helping them to pack! My greatest achievement of the trip is being the butt of two running jokes, in English AND Arabic. These kids know how to slag. I loved their camaraderie, how they looked after each other, especially if anyone was a little homesick, how they respected their ‘captains’ and how they interacted with everyone here. They really are great kids, brilliant representatives of their families, of Gaza, of Palestine.

It was also a privilege to spend time with Ayed and Mohammed who had to take on the mantles of guardians, coaches, organisers, translator, media people and coordinators during the trip. They did it with smiles throughout, they are lovely men.

It was great too to hang out with my Gaza Action Ireland fam and marvel as they pulled events together at the last minute and were as solid and decent as they always have been. They rock.

This project was intended as an act of practical solidarity with Gaza and to further build civil society links between there and here. We wanted to give the children a break from life under siege and for people here to have the opportunity to meet them and to see the richness of Palestinian culture, life, sport. We want all the time that people in Gaza know that they are in our hearts, on our minds, that we want to fight against the siege that deprives them of their rights, their freedom, that they are important to us, that we are inspired by their struggle, that we will do our best to show solidarity with them. Ayed said a few times that this trip was a window to the outside world for the friends and families of the kids, trapped as they are by the Israeli siege. And the kids were always taking photos and filming everything to show their families, they were that window.

As much as the visit was a window into the world outside Gaza for the kids, it was also a window into Palestine for us. A window into the strength and resilience of Palestinian culture, the incredible collective memory. Ayed described how when they were travelling from Erez to Amman the children were asking about their original homes, towns and villages and how he was pointing them out to them. It’s really beautiful how this memory of the home, the land is passed down through the generations, from those expelled in the Nakba to today’s children. Beautiful and tragic. They will return. 

I was overwhelmed by the solidarity and love shown to the kids by people here, everywhere they went, it was very special to see the Palestinian communities here so happy to meet them.  We could have brought them to every county and it still wouldn’t have been enough. So many people wanted to meet them, host them, feed them, do activities, just brilliant. It bodes well for future visits.

Since the kids went back to Gaza I’ve read missed them, much more than I could have imagined. I talk to them online all the time and endure the jokes being sent repeatedly in Facebook recordings! They got under my skin and I want to see them again and for all of them to be safe and happy always. And we have to work as hard as we can so that they don’t have to live under siege and under threat, the siege has to be lifted.

It’s almost impossible to get into Gaza and it’s almost impossible for people there to get out, that denial of freedom of movement and human connection, so often between families in Gaza and other parts of Palestine, is one of apartheid Israel’s greatest crimes, it has to end.

When the permits were denied, I was talking to  Mohammed Abuaita who wasn’t allowed to travel. He wrote these beautiful words and has let me put them here.

    “We know that we live in a big prison
     This is our destiny..
      Let me tell you something..
     From the center of the siege .. we make Hope
      We draw a smile to the world.”

Palestinian resistance is poetry.

There are many more words, but for now I miss the shebab from Al Helal and I am immeasurably enriched by spending time with them. I wish them to be safe with every part of myself, body and soul. Kol she tamam?  #COYBFG

Shukran shebab! Khaled, Mohanned, Abdelatif, Tamer, Raed, Shabiba, Yousef, Khalifa, Zizou, Hassan, Damo, Abunajie, Amjad, Ayoub. FB_IMG_1471122134075 #COYBFG

 

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Gaza Kids to Ireland – It Happened!

A wrap-up statement on the kids’ visit for all of you who have done so much over the last two weeks, and before that!
This stage of the Gaza Kids to Ireland project has drawn to a close with the group’s safe arrival home – to a rapturous reception in Gaza that underlines the importance of their journey.
The initiative, long in the making and supported financially and logistically by many groups and individuals, has been a real success, full of fun and football. The warmth and solidarity shown to our visitors by thousands of people all over Ireland has been overwhelming: they met a huge welcome wherever they went. Indeed, we could have brought them to every county in Ireland, such was the interest in and enthusiasm for their visit.
Bringing the group from Al Helal football academy was always going to be complicated, but it became really onerous due to obstacles Israel put in our path.
Initially a group of 22 travellers was due to arrive in Ireland for a 12-day visit on July 13th, flying from Amman, Jordan, via Istanbul; but their permits to leave the besieged Gaza strip weren’t granted by Israel, necessitating the postponement of the programme. When the permits were finally granted in late July, we had to try to reschedule everything very late, for a shorter visit – July 29th to August 8th.
Worse than the delay was the cruel refusal to issue permits to the entire group. One child from the group of 15 players, 13-year-old Karam Zidan, was prevented from travelling to Ireland, as were five of the seven adults due to travel: two coaches, a journalist, an administrator and the only woman, a specialist in children’s mental health.
Apart from the sad blow this represented for us and them, having just two adults with 14 children who had never before left Gaza, and who spoke very little English, made things very tough. If Israeli authorities intended to cause maximum disruption to the project by this decision, they very nearly succeeded. However, the travellers and those left behind decided the trip should go ahead; and due to the brilliance, kindness and boundless energy of Al Helal chairman Ayed Abu Ramadan and coach Moammed Alrawagh, alongside the voluntary efforts of many people in Ireland, the kids had constant support. We were also very lucky that Azeez Yusuff from Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI) joined us for the duration of the trip, as a coach, mentor and friend.
Those prevented from travelling were never far from our thoughts, especially Karam. He was wounded in the 2009 attack on Gaza, so it seems likely the apartheid state didn’t want people in Ireland to hear about his injuries. Left behind, however, he was an even more vivid reminder of what was done to him, and what is done to thousands of other Palestinian children, by Israel. “We are all Karam” was a constant refrain.
The kids from Al Helal football academy played games against Ballybrack FC, Kinvara United, Nenagh AFC, Nenagh Celtic and Pike Rovers (and beat them all!). They were also guests of Galway United for their league win over Dundalk – that night, the boys were the guard of honour, played on the pitch at half-time and met the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins!
The Palestinian Community in Ireland and the Palestinian diplomatic mission here, including Ambassador Ahmad Abdelrazek, were enthusiastic supporters throughout the visit. SARI and Shamrock Rovers helped create a great evening of beach football on Dublin’s Sandymount Strand. Existing organisations such as Nenagh Friends of Palestine, who hosted the children for half their visit, and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in Limerick and elsewhere, were vital to the project; more ad-hoc groups in Ballybrack, Kinvara, Wexford and Sandymount worked quickly and tirelessly to organise events. There weren’t enough mealtimes to visit all the restaurants that offered to feed the children!
Gaza Action Ireland hopes to continue working with Al-Helal and with football in Gaza, including supporting the development of the game for girls in the territory. We hope more visits, in both directions, will become possible.
This grassroots project couldn’t have happened without widespread support for fundraising, organising and hosting. It’s been absolutely brilliant. We couldn’t possibly name them all, but we thank everyone who played, donated, fundraised, fed, and lavished the children with gifts, hospitality and love.

Photos Felim Egan

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Gaza Kids to Ireland -Events and Fundraising

Gaza Kids to Ireland are finally coming!

This July, the kids from Al Helal under 14s football team are coming to Ireland to play football and meet you! Al-Helal’s clubhouse was damaged in the Israeli assaults of 2012 and 2014. It stands close to the beach, but the sea there is usually too polluted with sewage for the children to play in.

The children will play against teams from Dublin, Tipperary, Limerick and Antrim during their visit and will participate in family events. We want to show them some hospitality while they’re here so we hope you’ll come out to our events and support them.

If you want to give some money to the project, please do so here:  Donate!

Or here:  Donate 1!

These are some upcoming events, please support and share. If you want to organise a fundraiser too that would be brilliant, please email us. And, as ever, please give our social media a twist, thanks! 

July 9th Gig for Gaza Kids! 8.30pm The Hotspot Music Club, above the Beach House, Greystones Harbour, Greystones, Dublin

July 10th Afternoon Tea Party and Family Fun Day 1pm Christchurch Hall, Sandymount, Dublin

July 16th From Gaza to Ireland – John Spillane, and Inny-The Moat Theatre Bass

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Past Events

May 12th  Gaza Kids to Ireland Quiz Night

May 14th  Art Auction. Fundraising Event for the Al- Helal Children’s Football Team in Gaza to come to Ireland this summer

May 20th  Ballad Session Nenagh

June 10th Auction 8pm Teachers’ Club, Dublin

We have a number of brilliant paintings,  Palestinian ceramics, jewellery and books to auction. There will also be a raffle on the night.  It’s going to be great! All donations welcome. Email contact: maggiemae168@gmail.com

June 16th Quiz Night for Gaza Kids to Ireland. 9pm Bobby Byrne’s pub, Limerick

June 17th An Evening with Paddy Casey and friends, The Cobblestone, Smithfield, Dublin from 8.30 pm

June 23rd Concert and Poetry  The Purty Kitchen Dún Laoghaire – Solarix, the Dubtones, Dave Lordan

June 23rd Table Quiz,  Na Gaeil clubhouse Tralee 19:30 Table 4 €20.

June 24th Table Quiz Fundraiser for Gaza Kids to Ireland  9pm Hibernian Inn, Nenagh, Tipperary

June 30th Solidarity Party -Galway Grassroots Network   9pm Arus Na Gael

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Facebook   Gaza Action Ireland
Twitter @GazaAI1

Email: infogazaactionireland@gmail.com

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Snapshots of Lesvos – Thoughts from the Sidelines in Fortress Europe

Some thoughts and pictures and feelings from a week in Lesvos where thousands of people arrive in search of refuge every day. Where people who have already travelled great distances, displaying courage and mountains of resilience, come ashore in little boats, mostly unsafe. Where rocky beaches have become the scene of the arrival of thousands of people on the move, coming in wet and often very scared.  This coastline and these waters have seen many, many deaths, much struggle and much survival.

It’s hard to talk about, seems a little easier to write about, but where to find the language for what you’ve witnessed? To describe it without appropriating it? To convey it and not to minimise one iota of it?  This is just a snapshot, just a week, a glimpse into what people are being forced into – privilege enables it to be just that for me.

What strikes most is the sheer numbers of people coming, people on the move, people in boats and walking, walking. These people have been victimised by capitalism, climate change,  war – western invasions, dictators, injustice BUT they are not victims, they are survivors with immense resilience and courage and if Fortress Europe opens itself up, we have so much to learn from them.

(Using the term ‘them’ makes me uncomfortable – I dont see people in such ways, but to do otherwise is to try to coopt experiences that aren’t mine)

Driving over the hills of the island, en route to pick up older people, kids, families to bring to the camps,  you’re driving past the groups of young men (they always end up bottom of the heap) and they are waving, smiling and flashing the peace sign – what great stuff we could all have if we opened the borders and just let people in, let them be, let us all be, together….

What is also striking is the absence of official structures and resources – this is criminal given the magnitude of this crisis, and it is an indictment of the EU governments. The  seeming randomness of volunteers doing their best to provide support is a shock to the system. But it is also brilliant and inspirational to see how much people can organise and cooperate to such a degree. And the reasons why –  because they reject the othering of our sisters and brothers on the move, reject the closing of borders and minds, and want to just hold out a hand in solidarity. It is beautiful and it is how it should be.

Although you meet people for a really brief time, it is quite intense, naturally given the circumstances. So there is much hugging and much kindness – it’s incredible how people on the move, even at their most vulnerable, can give so much. Since then, always wondering how they will fare, what awaits them in Europe, will they be welcomed, embraced as they should be… Where are they now? How are they getting on? Are they ok?

The absolute injustice being visited on so many has to end.

We need safe passage for all refugees as a minimum requirement, and we need to open the borders, stop the racism embrace each other, learn from each other, live with each other, love each other.

Oh yeah, and dismantle capitalism and the patriarchy…..Until then – no borders, one love.

The rest of my ramblings are below.

30 November

Solidarity and shared humanity. Amidst all the sadness and awfulness of the enforced displacement of so many people, there is much to fill your heart. The resilience, courage and dignity of the people on the move is extraordinary, it really is something. Much of the local population on the island is out helping, offering support and a welcome. There is incredible self-organisation among different people offering a helping hand, and among those on the move themselves. There is also so much friendship, some of it really passing and brief, but very real, some of it less fleeting but equally intense. When people are thrown together in the absence of governments, they manage pretty well even in tough circumstances. All this cooperation and common humanity – we can be together outside the war machine and the extremes of capitalism and it is good. No borders, no gods, no masters.

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29 November

Incongruity – the contrast of the beauty of this Greek island, so pretty and full of character, with what it has turned into – often a grave, a place of refuge, a place of hurt and hope- is stark and strange. For the local people it must be transformative, hopefully in positive ways, but definitely in profound ways. For the people on the move, it looks like it represents mainly relief – at having survived the sea crossing, at having reached Europe and the potential that offers (if it does). Maybe it’s just a hyper magnification of this world as we live it now -riven by inequality and strife – the close proximity of ‘normality’ and privilege to enforced displacement and extreme stress. Sometimes driving people from the boats to the camps, along the beautiful coastline, I just wished they could all stay there on this lovely island and not have to keep going on that grim walk to who knows what…but….

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28 November

Snapshots of Lesvos. Kindness – shared humanity. One of the main things you do on Lesvos is drive as many people as you can from where their boats come in to the first camp before they have to go for registering. On the second day we drove a lovely family from Afghanistan to Oxy camp – they were from Kabul and Kunduz. The young women were teachers and we laughed at having this in common and being in that van together. They asked us if we knew Afghanistan is unsafe and we said of course and talked about the US bombing of the hospital in Kunduz. They were planning to go to Germany and wondered if they would be accepted there. We hugged goodbye and we wished them luck – it’s an awful moment there as what we have in common ends at the camp because of privilege inequity… A minute later I was just going back to the van when one of the women ran up to me and gave me this nose ring – she had noticed I wear one. In the middle of what she and her family were going through she did that, such a beautiful act – it could break your heart.

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27 November

Snapshots of Lesvos. Privilege. And luck. We’ve got them. The privilege to choose to come here, to board planes, boats, buses at will. To choose the right shoes to wear for the rocks, the warm clothes to keep the wind out, the bed for the night. To choose.

To only have to deal with the ‘normal’ hurt that life can bring, sometimes hurt which is more than enough to bear but to not have massive violence piled on top of it. To not be displaced, uprooted, othered.

To not have to witness your homeland torn apart and destroyed by dictators, by imperialist attack, by crippling poverty, by climate change, until even your home is not safe, your future not possible, not there.

To not have to walk the world being exploited by the ruthless profiteers of misery, to not have to get on unsafe boats making perilous sea crossings while others get to board ferries. To not have to endure, to keep going, keep walking in the hope of something better, anything better.

To choose when to be on the move. To choose.

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26 November

On the move and on the road. When people get to Lesvos they have a lot of walking to do, on winding, dusty, rocky roads – up hills, along cliffsides, and long, very long. One of the main things volunteers can do is to drive as many people as possible to the camps. It’s a tiny part of their journey but it’s some of it at least and if you can do it together with warmth and solidarity, that’s a good thing. These roads are hard and scary to walk and also make for some very hairy driving. This will all worsen as the weather deteriorates. This can’t be allowed to continue. Open the borders.

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25 November

Ways of looking, ways of seeing. On Lesvos you look at the sea differently, you scrutinise it watching out for boats coming in – it’s an anxious looking, especially at night when the journey seems so much more frightening, so much lonelier. For the people preparing to get on the water, the alteration in perception must be so much more profound. For those on the water it must be near unbearable and the shore so goddamn important. For the people who’ve already made the perilous crossing and are waiting for loved ones, it has to be torture. How we see everything has to be altered by all this movement, and how our world is operated has to change. In the meantime, open the borders.

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24 November

Altered landscapes – the shoreline of the island is covered in piles of useless life jackets, there are clothes and shoes drying all along the water. It’s testament to the abject failure of all the systems we are supposed to hold up as somehow a model for others, for the ‘other’. The spoils of this rampant capitalist war machine are the visible remnants of people’s lives. It has to end and, in the meantime, open the borders.

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23 November

Some of the people we met on their journeys.
A Syrian woman whose 14 year old son made his own way to Germany, she hadn’t seen him in 8 months.
A man from Syria who when I asked where he and his family were heading said: we just want to be somewhere there’s no fighting.
A family from Kabul and Kunduz in Afghanistan who told us how dangerous it is and wondered: will Germany accept us?
An older Afghan woman devastated at having to leave. Her son said: my mother is just so sad.
A typical teenager on her phone all the time, just looking for a charger, not in the least interested in us smile emoticon Iraqi and Syrian lads talking football and nervous that we were trying to kill them with my driving and then trap them when the van door wouldn’t open!
Families travelling with very elderly relatives, people with disabilities.
As you drive along the road picking people up to drive to the camps, the walkers are waving and smiling. People exhibit so much warmth, strength and resilience even in the face of this exile and the unknown roads ahead. We have much to learn from them, if we open our hearts, our lives and of course the borders. One world.

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22 November

‘Modernity’ – this system of war and rampant capitalism is sending millions of people’s lives backwards. With all the means of transport available now, it is unthinkable that people are being forced to travel thousands of miles on foot, to cross seas in unsafe boats, wearing dangerous life jackets – at best to be met by volunteers, at worst by no one. War and poverty are not incidental to the system, they are inevitable and necessary for it to thrive. It has to end. And in the meantime OPEN THE BORDERS.

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21 November

HOME. I’ve got a place called home and so do most of the people I love. I’ve just come to this place on a plane, through airports, with no problems, because of my white person’s passport. No one is going to run or bomb me out of here, to make it impossible to be here. No one is going to force me across the world on foot, on boats, in danger and precarity. No one is going to hurt me and stop me finding a new home. This planet is for all of us, not some of us, it’s everyone’s home – let’s make it be that way.

18 November

On night shift on the hillsides looking out with torches and night goggles for boats coming in, obviously this journey is much more dangerous and frightening at night, in the dark, in the cold. Two boats came in in the last few hours, in darkness and it’s freezing. They weren’t expected so there weren’t many people around on the beach. Thankfully everyone seems *relatively* ok but, despite buses being organised and people ferrying them, there are still loads walking long, long ways to the camps, over mountains, along cliffsides and very dodgy roads. Pics also of Karatepe camp which is only for Syrian families, and the ‘best’ camp but still is a camp, and also is right beside a sewage treatment plant spewing out toxic fumes. Even though there is immense resilience and resourcefulness in the people on the move and people trying to give a hand, the situation is wrong, full stop. It is neither right nor sustainable that people on the move are being forced into these conditions and the enrichment of ruthless traffickers is being enabled, and that it is largely being left to volunteers to try to ease the path. Fortress Europe is an abomination that can’t be allowed to continue. ‪#‎openborders‬ .

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17 November

It’s difficult to find the words for what’s happening here in Lesvos and this is only one stage on people’s journeys. Yesterday boats were coming in full of cold, scared people – being handed a child off a boat by a terrified mum in the water – it’s beyond wrong that this is happening to people. Talking to a family from Afghanistan who had spent a month living in a forest in Turkey, they were on their way to Germany – hopefully and full of hope – will we be accepted there….? Jesus christ, I hope so. A woman trying to change her wet clothes up the side of a mountain, privacy is rare now. Huge walks for people up steep, steep hills. This is brutal, medieval – all the technology, the transport, everything that’s available and this is how people are forced to move. There is no dignity from Fortress Europe, it is shameful. But there is dignity and resilience in abundance in these people on the move – and much to learn. Travel safe and may you find safety and hope.

15 November

Shots of the shoreline in Lesvos today, fake life jackets sold at extortionate prices, one of the many used boats… Lots of people came in today and mercifully the weather is relatively calm at the moment so, while extremely dangerous and traumatic, it wasn’t fatal -today. It’s impossible to quantify the magnitude of what people are having to go through to reach Europe and to square that this is only one step on a massive journey. What’s behind them, what’s ahead of them and how can it be that so much human energy and incredible resourcefulness is spent in such ways? This cannot continue, we need to build a world where we are all safe in our homes and, on the way to that, we have to welcome, really welcome those who are not.

 

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alt-J Please Reconsider your Rendezvous with Apartheid

Dear alt-J,

Many principled musicians have taken a stand and cancelled their gigs in Israel. As Thurston Moore explained after he cancelled Israel earlier this year: “It was with serious deliberation that I eventually arrived at the personal conclusion that to perform with my band in Israel was in direct conflict to my values.”.

Thurston further clarified: “With the realization that a cultural and academic boycott is central to its purpose in exposing a reality of brutal human rights violations – including those accompanying Israel’s discriminatory laws and occupation of the West Bank – I felt the need, with humility, to cancel the engagement.”

Thurston and other conscientious musicians cancelled since Palestinians are denied the most basic of human rights that we take for granted and it is Palestinian civil society that is calling for the boycott. Large swathes of Palestinian land have been stolen and ethnically cleansed for the development and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements. Currently over 500,000 illegal settlers live in the West Bank in contravention of international law.

Palestinians are denied their right to freedom of movement. A vast web of checkpoints, roadblocks, walls and fences separates local villages and towns from each other, and sometimes even splits entire towns in half. Israeli settlers face no such restrictions, they travel on Jewish-only roads and live in Jewish-only settlements at the expense of Palestinians. This Israeli policy of segregation has had a devastating effect on the livelihoods and family life of millions of Palestinians. Those who resisted and protested South African apartheid now say Israel is guilty of apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians.

In Gaza, Israel’s aerial bombardment of its dense civilian population killed over 2000 Palestinians last summer; the vast majority of these were civilians, with 550 children murdered and thousands more injured. Over 100 thousand people have been left homeless. Similarly devastating massacres have occurred on two other recent occasions – in 2008-2009 and 2012. UN reports have found significant evidence of war crimes in these attacks including the use of white phosphorus – a chemical weapon, and the murder of unarmed civilians carrying white flags.

To make matters worse, virtually no building materials are available due to the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza, which heavily restricts what commodities enter and leave the territory. It is reported that not one house has been properly repaired since the onslaught last summer.

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Palestinians also endure mass imprisonment. The Israeli military has detained around 750,000 Palestinians since 1967. The Israeli army tries prisoners – including minors – in closed and unaccountable military courts, denies them access to lawyers, tortures and abuses them, aimed at forced confessions resulting in a conviction rate for Palestinians of nearly 100%.

Further to the situation of the 4+ Million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the 1.5 Million Palestinians having Israeli citizenship face racial discrimination enshrined in at least 50 Israeli laws that systematically, directly or indirectly, discriminate against them. There are also approximately 5 Million Palestinian refugees who are denied their right to return to their homes in Israel. In contrast, any Jewish person has the automatic right to settle in Israel (including in its illegal settlements), regardless of whether they have any personal historical connection to the land.

Palestinians have been building a non-violent grassroots response, calling for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS). In particular, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calls on artists not to perform in Israel until Palestinian basic rights are fully respected.

This Palestinian-led initiative, modelled on the boycott against apartheid South Africa, is supported by over 1,000 cultural figures in the UK alone and, like apartheid South Africa, the Israeli government fears BDS. The boycott has been respected by many musicians, including: Leftfield, the Killers, Thurston Moore, the Klaxons, Lauryn Hill, Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, and others such as Stephen Hawking.

Israel is all too aware of the power that artists wield. Since 2006 it has been running an aggressive PR campaign that it calls ‘Brand Israel’, deliberately using all culture as propaganda. This campaign seeks to promote an image of the country as a peaceful, fun and vibrant liberal democracy, and obscure the violent and racist reality. The aim is to provide a ‘glittering screen’ to distract from the harsh realities of occupation, dispossession and wanton destruction.

Israeli promoters and propagandists for Israel tell musicians that art should not mix with politics and that artists do not play for the government (but merely entertain ordinary people).  This is well illustrated by Shaul Mizrachi the owner of popular Tel Aviv club Barby, which has experienced many cancellations by international musicians of conscience. In order to entice musicians to book and stop them from cancelling Mizrachi has been telling them that politics and music don’t mix. However, he exposed  the true political agenda in this video, merely viewing culture as a political tool to benefit Israel. In the video he speaks contemptuously about musicians who cancelled following the Israeli massacre of internationals on the flotilla with aid to Gaza. Indeed Israel has been using artists who breached the boycott, whether through their performances alone or also in photo opportunities with Netanyahu or even Israeli soldiers.

You face a choice – you can stand up for human rights and against oppression and injustice by respecting the Palestinian boycott call. Or you can allow yourself to be cynically used for whitewashing apartheid.

We hope that you will cancel your planned gigs in Israel on August 23 & 24 and refuse to entertain Israeli apartheid.

In Friendship

DPAI
Don’t Play Apartheid Israel

Gaza Action Ireland Statement on Freedom Flotilla 3

From Gaza Action Ireland (GAI)
Irish group condemns Israel’s attack on Freedom Flotilla 3, Calls for End to the Siege of Gaza

Gaza Action Ireland strongly condemns today’s attack by Israel on the ships of the Freedom Flotilla and calls for an end to the illegal, immoral siege of Gaza.

As the people of Gaza waited expectantly on the shores of the besieged enclave, and as the ships of Freedom Flotilla 3 sailed towards them in solidarity and to highlight the siege, Israeli forces boarded them and kidnapped the crews.

As with previous campaigns by human rights activists to reach Gaza by sea, Freedom Flotilla 3 had been sailing in international waters over which Israel has no sovereignty, making the latter’s interference in the boats an act of piracy. GAI commends the work of solidarity groups to continue to bravely highlight the siege of Gaza.

The 48 participants on board the flotilla from 17 countries include human rights activists, journalists, artists, and political figures,one of them a Palestinian Member of the Knesset. Members of our own organization have previously sailed with many of those aboard and were attacked, kidnapped and illegally held by Israel.

“We remember only too well the lengths Israel went to maintain its illegal siege of Gaza, from attacking ships, murdering nine people on the Mavi Marmara and imprisoning and deporting peace activists, as well as stealing our vessels, aid materials and equipment.” GAI coordinator Mags O’Brien said.

Flotilla 1

The situation in Gaza has become increasingly grim and even before last summer’s murderous 51 day assault by Israel where more than 2,200 people, including more than 530 children were killed, NGOs and civil society were warning of extreme humanitarian disaster. Since then, almost no rebuilding has taken place with up to 100,000 people having spent the winter in makeshift tents, sleeping in schools and structurally unsound buildings.

The UN’s most recent inquiry into the situation on Gaza published earlier this month reports on massive emotional and psychological wounds felt by Palestinians as a result of the blockade and the most recent military assault on Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained the blockade since 2007, increasing its intensity to unprecedented levels since the last major military assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Patients needing to travel outside the strip have died as a result of this closure, which amounts to forced imprisonment in the territory.

Zoe Lawlor, GAI coordinator, said, “We call on Israel to immediately lift the siege of Gaza, to allow all materials for reconstruction to enter and to cease its imprisonment of the Palestinians living there. We also call on the Irish government to cease its arms trade with Israel and to push for sanctions on that state until the latter ends its apartheid policies and daily violations of international law. It is an affront to humanity that Israel is not held accountable for the suffering it continues to inflict.”

Gaza Action Ireland, which grew out of the Irish Ship to Gaza initiative, is a solidarity group that organises civil-society contacts between Ireland and Palestinians in the Gaza strip. It is responsible for the Windows Into Gaza art exhibition that is currently touring Ireland, and it is planning to bring a team of young footballers from Gaza to play in Ireland in the coming year. In addition to artists and sports clubs, it has also forged links with fishermen, journalists, human-rights activists and providers of emergency services.
Gaza Action Ireland on Facebook
Twitter: @GAI1

From Besieged Gaza to Tricky: Show us solidarity, boycott Apartheid Israel -PACBI

21 February 2014

Dear Tricky, dear Adrian,

It grieves us to learn of your scheduled gig in Israel set for 26 February 2015, at a time when Israel continues unabated with its colonial and apartheid designs to further massacre, oppress, dispossess and ultimately violate our very basic rights as Palestinians.

In 1948, Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinian people from their land in order to systematically form an exclusivist Jewish state (reference Ilan Pappe). It has since denied Palestinian refugees —constituting today more than 7 million people, which roughly corresponds to 70 percent of all living Palestinians who are scattered throughout the world and displaced inside their country— their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands.

In 2004, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions involved in Israel’s occupation and apartheid.  The movement calls for a boycott until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid.”  I wish, in my letter to you, to underscore the importance of this Palestinian call, urge you to cancel your appearance in Tel Aviv and stress the rationale for the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

In fact, I was struck —in a very powerful way— by reading the description on your web site of your latest single, My Palestine Girl:

My Palestine Girl is the album’s heaviest and most political track. A relationship with a Paris-based Palestinian inspired Tricky to think about the challenges of a relationship with someone who lived in Gaza. “Imagine if the love of your life was there,” he says. “It’s a political thing to divide and rule. I’ve been to Israel. The kids I met don’t hate Palestinians. It’s a political thing.”

Reading your words, I’ve decided to write you very shortly, partly about life in Gaza, and partly in the hopes that you will open communication with me as a Palestinian woman in Gaza. Here, in Gaza, where I have been living all my life, we have been subjected to a criminal, inhumane and immoral siege since 2006.  The siege is considered illegal as it represents a form of collective punishment, and entirely hampers the freedom of our movement and our access to the most life-saving services such as health and education. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, and chocolate, but also musical instruments. We are literally caged inside this overcrowded, tormented and strangulated enclave, and face a very tight Israeli security cordon that has sharply restricted our movement in and out — including even international solidarity activists and cultural figures who try to reach the 1.8 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison. The future becomes unimaginable and hope is hard to maintain.  Could you sing for us in Gaza under these conditions, Tricky?  Would the Israelis allow us to attend your show?  The answer is an unequivocal no.

I have survived three Israeli assaults on Gaza between 2008 and 2014. Three of my relatives were martyred by Israel’s “precision-guided” missiles in the offensive of 2012. In the 51-day massacre in Gaza last summer, Israel ferociously slaughtered more than 2,300 people— wiping out entire families and leaving more than 1,500 of Gaza’s children orphaned — not to mention the hundreds of injured civilians who are now suffering long-life disabilities. 10,000 Gaza residents are still sleeping on the floors of United Nations-run schools. Many more mothers with their siblings are surviving the heavy winter storms in makeshift shelters or huddling in their bombed-out houses with no heating or running water. All told, 100,000 people remain homeless.

In the wake of this assault— just one latest episode of the long history of Israel’s atrocities— and to salvage its deteriorating image, Israel has redoubled its effort to “brand” itself as an enlightened liberal democracy. Arts and culture play a unique role in this branding campaign, as the presence of internationally acclaimed artists from the West is meant to affirm Israel’s membership in the West’s privileged club of “cultured,” liberal democracies. But it should not be business as normal with a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights.

Your performance would certainly serve this Israeli campaign to rebrand itself and will be used as a publicity tool by the Israeli government. “It’s a political thing,” as you say.

Please don’t be persuaded by the argument that music builds bridges and can bring smiles to people’s faces, thus ultimately spreading peace! We hear no music here, but buzzing drones, bombs and F16! Again, “It’s a political thing”.  And this is why I am convinced of the importance of artists’ public stances backing the cultural boycott of Israel since it applies the continual pressure that’s needed. Many prominent international cultural figures and artists including John Berger, Ken Loach, Arundhati Roy, Roger Waters, Sting, Snoop Dog, among others, have also heeded our call and cancelled their participation in festivals or gigs in Israel. Recently,

1,000 influential British artists signed on to a cultural boycott of Israel. I wholeheartedly urge you not to turn a blind eye to the realities of Israeli apartheid and to heed our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it recognizes Palestinian rights and fully complies with international law.

As these words are penned, I have no electricity and the only source of light I have is that of the laptop screen. My heart is truly broken for all the undignified suffering we are witnessing and for being confined and unable to smell the air of freedom like other human beings. Our deprivation of our basic rights under the siege has not only been physical but also mental, cultural and psychological. Under a siege, life is reduced to existence or survival as we are dying slowly without medicine, adequate food and electricity and cooking gas. Culture stagnates as there are no resources and mental space for anything beyond the mundane—to engage in an artistic and cultural discussion is even a luxury for people living in Gaza.

Performing in Tel Aviv today is similar to performing in Apartheid South Africa’s Sun City.  If you are not convinced, I urge you to come and see for yourself if you are lucky enough for the Israelis to allow you into Gaza.  This is not about the kids in Israel; this is about the political and cultural institutions that you legitimize by performing there, and about the Palestinian kids (and people) whose voice you silence by ignoring their call for solidarity through boycott.

 

PLEASE think through Israel’s trespasses and say no to performing in Israel.

Yours Sincerely,
The Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel

Tricky_-_August_13,_2009

Tricky, Apartheid Israel is a Murder Weapon – Don’t Play

On twitter: @KnowleWestboy

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Letter from DPAI (Don’t Play Apartheid Israel) Tricky: Cancel your apartheid Israel Gig, recognize BDS!

Letter from BDS France:  Lettre a Tricky: reconsider your planned concert in apartheid Israel

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