Friday, 20 March 2009

Staying in Gaza

Thank you all for your efforts. At the end of 2 days & appearing to make some headway Rod was finally turned back & refused entry to Egypt with The Pea. The Rafah crossing is now closed for an indefinite period.

Rod could have got through on his own but leaving all the children's artwork behind. He decided to stay in Gaza to bring out the art for fundraising as planned.

Posted by Pauline Thompson

Feedback from Egyptian Embassy Press Office

Spoke to Osama Farouk at the Egyptian Embassy press office.
He said they have 'no knowledge of the situation'.

Sent another email to this press office. I've asked him to confirm receipt.
No reply. Time 11.14 a.m.

Post by Frances Laing


Messages have also gone out in solidarity across the globe from supporters to Viva Palestina, Christine Russell M.P (with a request for immediate action before 11.a.m.), the Green Party European Office (who are currently in conference)

The understanding is that Rafah is NOT an Israeli controlled crossing.

Post by Frances Laing

Updated Egyptian Embassy email address

Please note, just got a 'vacation reply' back from the Egyptian embassy on the
previous email address, they have sent me another updated email address which
campaigners might like to try. Have resent my email to this address here:

Post by Frances Laing

Contacts for Egyptian Embassy

U.K. time 09.05 a.m.

Pauline tells me the children's pictures are also painted on the van itself.

I phoned the Home Office and they have given me the following email address for the
Egyptian Embassy. I have emailed them but do not yet know if the email address is o.k.
The telephone number for the Egyptian embassy in London that I have is tel: 020-7499-3304
They say they are not open until 10.a.m.!

Egyptian embassy email address:

Contacts here are phoning Christine Russell M.P to lobby. The Guardian has been informed.

We're thinking of you all here, especially Rod. In solidarity.
Post by Frances Laing

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Campaign to get Rod & the Pea out of Gaza.

The Pea has been returned to Rod by the Palestinians and today he tried to leave at Rafah only to be turned back by the Egyptians. He has one more shot at it tomorrow (Friday) but is worried he may have to leave on foot.

The minibus is currently filled with artwork by Palestinian schoolchildren to be displayed in Brussels and then auctioned in the UK to raise funds. Frances has found local schools to be involved.

Please can everyone contact the Egyptian Embassy to add weight to the campaign that he be allowed to leave. Time is short - the crossing at Rafah opens up at 1pm (11am UK) tomorrow. Ask everyone you know to send an email or phone call and if you know anyone with influence please get them to do what they can.

Posted by Pauline Thompson

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

More Art

Visited the Family Development Association today to look at some of their Art. They are in Beit Hanoun, in the very north of the Gaza Strip, and first port of call for an invading army.
They are an entirely voluntary organisation, like so many others, who aim to empower and develop Families, and whose programmes include 'Child Development' and Family Counselling and more. Their carefully worked business plan showing inputs and outputs begins: Strategic output 2:1: Improved Psychosocial status of Traumatised Children. Indicators and Testing methods are listed, followed by Assumptions: Decrease in Israeli Aggressions; Decrease in Internal Security Disorders; End of International Siege!!!
Still the fat man opposite was impressed with the work, and there is a brilliant 15 year old political cartoonist.

Outside their building there is a Mosque hit by F16s not once, but twice.
15 of their Children were killed in the bombardment, and they were anxious to show me pictures from before the attacks, and after.
Yesterday I met a man who told me that to stop his young children getting scared, he taught them to listen to the difference between Apache rockets, and those of F16s: something like thwump (F16) and Thwing (Apache), while his friend said that he opened the window to let his four year old see 'the fireworks'. Both had been rung up by an Israeli tape recording telling them to blame Hamas for the war.

This picture shows a child having nightmares at 3 o'clock in the morning - the clock is the small red circle on the right. The tiny child in the giant bed is linked to thought clouds above which contain F16s Apache Helicopters, and tanks, while a red rose is stuck to the painting like a flower on a grave. He looks lonely, doesn't he?
This is the only photograph I got because the light faded, and there has been little electricity for some days. In my hotel they only switch the generator on when busy at night. In the day they switch it on to let me ride the lift to the 6th floor, and switch it off as soon as the lift doors open at the top.


Street Scene
The Ladies who Like Ice Cream and Milk Shake
Part of the Palestinian Parliament
Gaza is a Seaside Town
Double Decker Cots and Dummies
The Square of the Unknown Soldier. The Columns in the Distance are the remains of a bombed building.

The PLO Flag Shop, does what it says on the label
Ever wondered what the driving schools use in Gaza?
Temporary Mosque, erected by private donation, replacing bombed Mosque on same site. Shoes off at the door

Extravagant Buildings near the sea-front

Football in the Street
Norway - Palestine Friendship park
Petrol is not always available
We Wuz Poor, but We Wuz Happy!
Backgammon: The man looking at the camera said "You like Gaza now, but you'll say the same old things when you get home"

Monday, 16 March 2009

Some Art

A Headmistress, left, her Artist Husband who teaches in an UNWRA school, centre, their children and me being presented with an embroidery, and about a hundred school pictures. Behind us are two of Ahmed's works, a giant wooden key, and a rose breaking through paving stones.

The Ministry of Education.
An UNWRA refugee primary School. UNWRA schools are still largely used by Refugees, while the indigenous population go to state schools, purely for historic reasons, I'm told. The minibus is a school bus, one of many at this home time.

Some Questions at this State Girls School
The Girls get down to serious painting

I photographed every girl and her painting, but I used the wrong setting on the camera, and they are all blurred. But I find this image really moving, so I better describe it. In the middle are many babies wrapped in swaddling clothes made from Palestinian flags. They lie on a blanket of Blood, and a phosphorous bomb explodes over them. The ironic comment, in Arabic, English and French is " Has he got a weapon?"
All the other girls smiled, too.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

A story and other things

Mr Hamad Abu Shmell

The old man sat in the light of a kerosene lamp and looked bleakly ahead. His wife sat in the opposite corner, crying loudly "They soiled our sheets, haram, haram, they broke our bed, fired guns in our bed'. 

'And', the old man said'they took all our money. The day after they left we found a 100shekel note in the garden, that's all'

He was talking about the Israeli occupation of his house to a foreign photographer who had come to film the destruction in North Gaza. Hamad Abu Shmell lived in a line of houses along a high ridge overlooking Gaza city in Atatra district. It was the part of Gaza nearest the Israeli border, and it also commanded long views of Gaza city, so it was bombed repeatedly in the first few days, and most of the houses were destroyed. Then the Apaches fired rockets at what was left and machine gunned anything that moved. Mr Abu Shmell stayed home with his family, even when machine gun fire came through the window and sprayed the wall behind them. The foreign Journalist put his fingers in the big holes in the plaster, but to him they were just dents in the wall; to Mr Abu Shmell they represented fear and salvation at the same time. But there was an even closer miss in the next dark room, where there were no lights. A row of smaller bullet holes at a lower level.

"We were eating our meal on the floor when these came. If we were sitting on a chair they would have gone through our heads. I am lucky that I cannot afford to put chairs in both my rooms" said Mr Abu Shmell.

What happened next? "The Israelis came and pointed their guns at us. They told us to get into the back room, where the shots had been fired, and to stay there, and they went on to the roof. They told us that if we moved, they would shoot us. They went upstairs, they stole my money, soiled the beds, left condoms everywhere. They fired holes in the bed - for what? While people were dying they were making love with each other in our bed, and then they destroyed it. All our money was in the mattress, everything for the whole family, and they took it all. Then after 3 days, they left. Just left"

His family of seven children and his wife listened in the gloomy light. "There is no glass in the windows, and we cannot afford even to buy plastic sheets", said Mrs Abu Shmell. "The UN gave us some blankets, but we have no money to repair anything and no one helps us. No one. And it is cold, even our clothes they cut up and soiled - look, look at these cuts, why, why they do this, why?"

They drank their tea in silence, the foreign photographer left, and the light slowly went out.

This story was written for my Gazan Translator, who asked for it, but, apart from the name, it is all true. I was taken to film the massive destruction around this area, with people living in tent fields wedged in between the shattered buildings. I was taken there by a rich man, who also showed me the destruction of his land in the same area, but he had the resources to bring in trucks and machinery, to level the ground, re-plant the willfully destroyed palm and olive trees - $150 each tree, even they come through the tunnels. He promised his family that they would have their pool back by the summer, although he privately told me that that was optimistic. But he said: what use can it be to destroy a poor man's home, what has he done to deserve this?

The old man, Abu Shmell, actually said that he had worked for years and years on the neighbouring Israeli settlement, and he appreciated the regular wage, more than he could reliably earn as an unskilled labourer anywhere else, and certainly more than he feared he would get in Egypt, if Gaza was incorporated into that country. He seemed to me to be a man without prospects, a man for whom the struggle to provide for his family would always occupy his life full time. He was a man who had been brought up to respect those in authority above him - so what matter whether those lording it over him were Jews or Moslems? He would be happy with peace at any price. Or would have been. He said that he was disgusted by the behaviour of the Jews (By the way, when the Israeli army comes to call, it says Open up, Yehuda (the Jews), and everyone uses that term. It suits the Israelis to confuse the term Jew and Israeli)

He could not now imagine any peace. "There will be rivers of Blood" he said, and then he cried.

No-one expects Hamas to help them re-build. Everyone knows that they haven't got any money. There are Vat and Customs type duties on many things, but these are collected at the border by the Israelis, and given to the Government in the West Bank. Some salaries are paid by the West Bank Government in Gaza, but all Hamas appointments are unrecognised. There are small municipal taxes on the tunnels, and a small amount of tax on companies, but it is well short of what is required to even keep the streets clean. Yet Hamas is universally acknowledged to have brought a small amount of civic responsibility back, and the system of clan ownership of everything, and the corruption that flows from that has definitely ended. No gunshots are heard in Gaza, unless from an Apache, or the Israeli Sea Patrol Boats. My contact told me that in the later years of the Arafat administration, he paid $900 dollars to have a container of goods shipped from Italy to the Israeli port of Ashdod, and  further $15000 to have it shipped the last 40 kilometres to Gaza. Bribes. Now there is no industry hardly at all, and he has goods in Ashdod which no amount of bribery can move, but which cost him $'000s a month in storage charges. No Industry, no tax, no public services, so how does Hamas keep its forces paid and the streets fairly clean?

Donations from abroad. Incredible that private individuals should donate enough each month, by tortuous and illegal channels, to keep an entire government afloat. While the UN and others keep the food flowing to the poor, the government is supported by individuals.

Jewish Settlement in Israel started by Russian émigrés in the 1870s, and onwards, being funded by the unbelievably rich Rothschild, the man to whom the Balfour declaration was addressed. Without Rothschild the settlements would have collapsed, as many did, and the Zionist project would have remained a pipe dream. Now Hamas and the integrity of Gaza rely on the same precarious method. And what's the betting that they will become just as strong?