You can’t keep emotions out of the Israel-Palestine issue, so don’t try

By Naomi Head, University of Glasgow

While an open-ended ceasefire agreement is currently holding between Israel and the Palestinian factions, it is clear that the rule of international law has failed in Gaza. The international community did little to prevent the deaths of more than 2,100 Palestinians –- mostly civilians – and the destruction of countless buildings, homes and core infrastructure.

I want to suggest we turn to the debate that has been taking place in the public sphere in Israel and the UK on the role of emotions and empathy. Recent public expressions of empathy with Palestinians have been met with very different responses in the two countries. In the UK the controversy has centred on journalistic objectivity and impartiality while in Israel such public and private expressions have been silenced and presented as illegitimate.

The UK reaction

The debate in the UK following the outbursts of veteran journalists covering the war ran in parallel with tensions around British policy towards Israel and Palestine, and increased protests and expressions of solidarity with Palestinians in the public sphere. The clearest example of empathy and compassion in journalistic reporting emerged in Channel 4 anchorman Jon Snow’s decision to film a YouTube clip recording his heartfelt and emotional reaction to the scenes he witnessed while reporting from Gaza.

While some commentators argued strongly that Snow’s intervention breached the journalistic code of objective reporting, others praised his open display of humanity. They suggested that behind such outrage lay a set of values and principles which our politicians would do well to heed.

This concern over objective journalism is indeed an important one and is premised on professional ethics which should not be undermined. It also raised a deeper question around the degree to which objectivity is ever possible. As reflected in criticisms of BBC coverage of the war for being pro-Israel, for example, impartiality is hardly apolitical.

In philosophy and, more recently in international relations, a strong rebuttal has emerged regarding the privileged position granted to reason, objectivity, and the rational mind of the individual. In its place, we have neuroscientific evidence which points to the intertwined nature of emotion and reason in decision-making, philosophical and psychological evidence indicating the importance of emotion in making moral judgements, in shaping beliefs and values, and in forming our identity.

The Israeli reaction

Alongside this debate in the UK was a rather more antagonistic – and equally emotional – one in Israel. It has focused on the fact that artists, journalists or academics who have voiced concern, sympathy, empathy or grief for Gazans in the recent war, let alone those who questioned the policies of the Israeli government, have been attacked personally and professionally. They have been intimidated; accused of betrayal, treason and being anti-Israel; and been the victims of incitements to violence. This silencing of dissent and the suffering created on all sides reveals deeply worrying trends within Israeli society.

These developments raise a fundamental question about the role of emotions in politics. While emotions may contribute to destructive behaviour and beliefs, lead to the incitement of violence and harmful speech, they also contribute to forms of moral judgement, solidarity, resistance and revolution which are core to traditions of democracy and vibrant political life. In different ways, this was visible over the summer in both the UK and in Israel.

I am not suggesting that emotion should substitute for analytical news reporting nor that it always leads people to the correct political decisions. The point is that if we remove from public life the elements of humanity that journalists like Snow draw attention to, we move a step closer to greater dehumanisation of others.

The impartiality debate might be fading in the UK, but now that the ceasefire is in place, the question remains whether the empathy, anger and outrage which has been voiced so clearly in the public sphere in the UK and in other countries will have a longer term impact on western policies towards Israel and Palestine.

The Conversation

Naomi Head does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

We re-post this article as a contribution to the series of voices and reflections about Gaza from GRAMNet members and colleagues, which is hosted on this site.


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What goes with Dual Nationality? Valuing integration and equality.

by Sarah Craig*

The UK’s long-standing tolerance of dual citizenship, and the indications that, in the event of Scottish independence, r-UK would change its policy, and withdraw British citizenship from some Scottish citizens has been discussed previously on this blog and elsewhere.1 As explored further below, the likelihood that British citizenship would be withdrawn from those with ties to other countries (including rUK) is small, and rulings on the withdrawal of EU citizenship could be invoked to protect the British citizenship of those who would be affected (Barber (above), Tierney and Boyle).

For potential Scottish citizens, the threat of losing dual citizenship seems less of a worry than it might have been. However, by questioning the application of dual citizenship to the independence referendum context, the UK Government risks losing sight of the benefits of dual citizenship in terms of the integration of migrants and gender equality. It lays itself open to the charge that the UK Government, rather than the Scottish Government, is abandoning British values of communitarianism. It has also missed the opportunity to question other aspects of the Scottish Government’s citizenship proposals, such as its downplaying of the sovereignty aspects of citizenship.

Signs of a change in policy.

If the referendum results in a “yes” vote, it would of course be up to the r-UK Government to decide what its approach to dual nationality would be. In June 2013 the Home Secretary said that the UK Government’s decisions on the retention of UK citizenship by Scottish citizens after independence would be affected by future Scottish Government policy decisions.2 This signals the possibility, for some Scottish citizens post-independence, that their British citizenship could be withdrawn.

Existing UK policy and its benefits

The Home Secretary’s approach here marks a U-turn in existing UK policy on dual nationality which has been wholly accepting of dual (and multiple) nationality for the past sixty years.3

According to Fransmann, the UK accepted dual nationality because it stood for good race relations and integration. If retention of their citizenship of origin on becoming a British citizen would assist eligible migrants in the process of settling down in the UK, then this was seen as a good reason for not requiring them to renounce it.4 There are substantial numbers of people in the UK who have, or are eligible for the nationality of another country, although the precise numbers are difficult to assess because some countries of origin allow dual nationality and others do not.5 Dual citizenship reduces the barriers which eligible migrants face if they wish to naturalise as UK citizens, and strengthens their bond with the UK.

The policy of allowing dual or multiple nationality also benefits women because it can enable a married woman to retain her nationality, separate from that of her husband, and also transmit it to her children, rather than relinquish her nationality in favour of his. 6

Which Scottish citizens would be affected?

The possibility that they might lose their British citizenship is an issue which would be of greatest immediate concern to those Scottish citizens who acquire their citizenship automatically. The main groups of people to whom the Scottish Government proposes to grant automatic Scottish citizenship are British citizens who are (1) habitually resident in Scotland immediately before Independence Day or (2) were born in Scotland. Scottish citizens will be able to hold dual (or multiple) nationalities. (Draft Scottish Independence Bill, the Scottish Government, June 2014, clause 18).

HM Government’s Scotland Analysis document on Borders and Citizenship (January 2014) says that individuals who had, or were entitled to, British citizenship on the date of independence may have that right protected, although they also say that this right could be dependent on any residence requirements or proof of affinity to the continuing UK ( paragraph 4.9). That document also states that the approach taken would be likely to be consistent with that taken to former citizens of the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland in the British Nationality Act 1981 ( paragraph 4.8), for whom dual citizenship is available under certain conditions. Bernard Ryan has suggested that British citizenship could be withdrawn from Scots born and continuously resident in Scotland who don’t have an appropriate legal connection to r-UK. He also indicates that the more conventional voluntary types of dual citizenship – such as those which apply to migrants- would be protected. 7

A real risk?

While the category of Scottish citizens who risk losing their British citizenship is unknown, it could be limited to those without a connection to the r-UK (e.g. by birth, descent or residence). They may also be able to elect to opt out of Scottish citizenship. Furthermore, CJEU rulings on withdrawal of citizenship could be invoked to protect their British citizenship rights. This could happen if Scotland’s membership of the EU took longer than the Scottish Government currently anticipates, and Scottish citizens thereby risked losing their EU citizenship rights if their British citizenship were withdrawn. As has been explained on this blog, (Barber, Tierney and Boyle above) the C JEU could be asked to protect the EU citizenship rights which Scots derive from their British citizenship. Looked at this way, the threat to British citizenship seems more imagined than real, at least in the medium term.

This begs the question – why raise the issue?

Yes and No perspectives

From the “Yes” camp’s perspective, the UK Government’s approach looks unfair. Why allow dual British and Indian or British and Canadian nationality, but not British and Scottish? For them, it provides another example of the UK Government being unwilling to think of the UK as a union of countries sharing some, but not all, patterns of governance and institutions, and progressing in that relationship.

From the “Better Together” perspective, choosing between Scottish and British citizenship flows from voting “yes” in the referendum. It makes sense because it sees Britain as a unitary state, part of which is choosing to leave.
The “Better Together” perspective might explain why the issue was raised. The problem is that, from the “yes” perspective, this looks like strong-arm tactics, a case of “this is what you can’t have”, rather than a deeper look at what the creation of a new state involves.


In its approach to dual citizenship in the referendum, the UK risks losing sight of the benefits – for integration of migrants and gender equality – of dual citizenship. But by threatening to change its approach, the UK Government has also created a space for the Scottish Government to occupy, which it has done by explicitly welcoming dual citizenship and the inclusive approaches that it brings. In so doing the UK Government has left itself open to the same charge that it has faced in its approach to the NHS: namely that it is the UK Government which has lost sight of British values of communitarianism, while the Scottish Government offers a chance to embrace them.

Of course it may be that the UK Government is not concerned about losing sight of integration or equality. Developments such as the extended possibilities for withdrawing citizenship on national security grounds, 8 and the recently introduced regulations on renting accommodation to migrants indicate as much. Whatever the reason, the UK Government has missed an opportunity to draw attention to the Scottish Government’s downplaying of the sovereignty aspects of citizenship, and its emphasis on soft borders. It has missed the chance to make the longer term point that soft borders now may not remain soft in ten or twenty years’ time, and that inclusive citizenship rules can change.


*Sarah Craig is a Senior Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Glasgow and Convenor for Law, Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration network (GRAMNet). This blog was originally published on the Scottish Constitutional Futures Forum on the 29th August 2014.


1. B Ryan “ At the Borders of Sovereignty: Nationality and Immigration Policy in an Independent Scotland” 2014 Journal of Immigration Asylum and Nationality Law 146

2. Theresa May, House of Commons Debates 10 June 2013, col 16.

3. Fransmann’s British Nationality Law 3rd edn, Bloomsbury, 2011 p27; C. Sawyer and H.Wray Country Report United Kingdom, EUDO Citizenship Observatory, November 2012.

4. Fransmann n3 above

5. Sawyer and Wray, n3 above p14.

6. Fransmann, opcit n3 above, pp27-28, Sawyer and Wray opcit n2 above.Fransmann, opcit n3 above, pp27-28, Sawyer and Wray opcit n2 above.

7. B Ryan,op cit, n1 above.

8. See e.g. Fransmann op cit n3 p31


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Bound by law to aid refugees*

by Linda Rabben

Pressured by the most xenophobic elements of American society, the Obama administration has asked Congress to expedite the detention and deportation of Central American children and families to countries where they may be in danger of torture and death. This is the administration’s panicked response to tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who are coming across the southern border, fleeing violence and persecution in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Last month, the U.S. government acknowledged the terrifying violence these children are trying to escape, calling their migration a “humanitarian crisis.” Under such circumstances, the government has a clear obligation under national and international law to care for refugees while determining whether they qualify for asylum or other protections. It is our responsibility to treat them humanely and not return them to the countries they fled without due process.

Asylum seekers are eligible for such protection under a principle of international law called non-refoulement. It holds that governments can’t send refugees home if they are likely to be persecuted, tortured, or killed there. Governments have pledged to uphold this principle in treaties and other instruments of international law. But they often try to avoid enforcing it.

Why don’t governments like this idea? Because it means they have to decide, on a case-by-case basis and at great expense of time and money, if people asking for asylum or other protections are eligible for them. Often, these aren’t the kind of people many of us want in our country, so there may be a political price for doing the right thing.

Non-refoulement became well established after World War II. Before and during the war, governments turned away desperate Jews and others who tried to flee Germany and other countries controlled by the Nazis. Only a small proportion of the hundreds of thousands who tried to escape were able to find refuge in Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa. The United States and other governments repeatedly refused to admit Jews and other persecuted people.

Apparently shamed by countless stories of defenseless people sent back home to their deaths, the World War II victors included a non-refoulement provision in the Refugee Convention of 1951 and other international agreements. Article 33 of the Refugee Convention says: “No contracting state shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Later documents, such as the Convention against Torture of 1984, built on earlier agreements. Article 3 of the torture convention says: “No state party shall expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) – which only the United States and Somalia have not ratified – says: “States parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee … shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance.” This and other international agreements consider detention or deportation of children to be a last resort.

Like other nations that have signed or ratified these agreements, the United States has put non-refoulement provisions in national law and then tried not to implement them. Yet time and again, governments look bad and provoke public outcry when they practice refoulement – especially if they proclaim themselves protectors of human rights at home and abroad.

For example, the U.S. government’s refusal to grant asylum to thousands of desperate Central Americans during the 1980s led to the Sanctuary Movement, comprising hundreds of religious congregations, universities, city governments, and advocacy groups. They gave refuge to asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras while campaigning to end U.S. support for repressive regimes in those countries.

Now our government is acting as if this history never happened and our obligations under international law do not exist. This is a scandal, a disgrace, and a betrayal of the principles we claim to stand for. So activists and good Samaritans are helping Central American asylum seekers once again. The Statue of Liberty still lifts her lamp beside the golden door.

Linda Rabben is a faculty fellow at American University’s School of International Service and the author of “Give Refuge to the Stranger: The Past, Present and Future of Sanctuary”.

*This article was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, July 25, 2014, p. A27.

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Refugee Week 2014

by Ruth McKenna, GRAMNet intern for Refugee Week 2014

Scottish Refugee Council banner

Scottish Refugee Council banner

It has been around eight weeks since Refugee Week 2014 drew to a close, offering much needed time for reflection after the excitement, joy and sorrow of the weeklong celebrations. Under the Refugee Week 2014 theme of ‘welcome’, GRAMNet organised, or collaborated in, eleven events; from research symposia to film screenings, art exhibitions to language taster sessions. Members from across the Network were involved, as well as a variety of guest speakers from the Universities of St Andrews, Oxford and Plymouth, to name but a few.

Preparations for Refugee Week began in the spring, against an ever wearying backdrop. A few weeks before our first planning meeting, news broke of the death of Reza Barati, a 23 year old asylum seeker killed in an Australian offshore detention centre on Manus Island. Closer to home, it seemed that every week another boat would sink in the Mediterranean, killing hundreds of migrants and, indeed, this Tuesday, the UNHCR indicated that 1900 people have died this year in such incidents. Just a month before the beginning of Refugee Week, and right on our doorstep, the Immigration Bill received Royal Assent, becoming the Immigration Act 2014 which, amongst other equally unpleasant provisions, places further limitations upon the immigrations appeals process and ‘[makes clear that] the right to a family life is not to be regarded as absolute and unqualified’. Juxtaposed against such disheartening conditions was the theme of ‘welcome’, selected by the Scottish Refugee Council to ‘send a strong message that refugees and those seeking asylum are welcome in our communities.’ Our task was therefore to compile a positive and celebratory calendar of events that would both extol the value and importance of refuge, whilst recognising the brutality and inhumanity faced by many refugees and asylum seekers.

Our event calendar began with a focus on the latter of these goals, with two seminars delivered by Professor Michelle Foster from the University of Melbourne. In the first of her seminars, Professor Foster discussed the difficulties associated with interpreting the term ‘membership of a particular social group’, within the context of determining whether someone should be treated as a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention. In the second of her presentations, Professor Foster focused on Australian Refugee Law, specifically with reference to the treatment of people who arrive in boats, as well as the use of offshore detention. A point that stuck with me from this presentation was the cruel irony of the fact that, whilst Australia accepts female refugees from Papua New Guinea upon the basis of gender based violence, it simultaneously maintains detention facilities on Papua New Guinean territory.

Whilst certainly embracing the academic elements of GRAMNet engagement with migration and asylum concerns, our Refugee Week calendar also reflected the community-focused aspects of the GRAMNet agenda. We continued the celebration with ‘Welcoming Languages’, a fantastically fun session that invited multilingual members of the local community to share their skills in langauge taster sessions. That evening, some GRAMNet members were also lucky enough to attend the Refugee Week Scotland launch event, which, by all accounts, was a burst of creative brilliance to formally launch the week of festivities.


Refugee Week Scotland launch

Refugee Week Scotland launch. (Photo: Katja Frimberger)

Our Refugee Week calendar continued with a ‘Social Media and Activism’ seminar, bringing together the social media coordinators from a variety of migrant support organisations, as well as interested members of the public, to discuss strategies for spreading information and encouraging action. We concluded our fourth day of events with a screening of the comical, but informative, short films produced by the Ethical Interpreting in Healthcare Settings project, to assist healthcare providers in effectively engaging with patients and their interpreters. These clips can be viewed here.

In a fusion of academic research and personal experience, the midpoint in our busy schedule was marked with a daylong session exploring ‘Migration and Initiate Lives’. Francesca Stella has spoken in more depth about this event in an earlier blog post, and I would reiterate her sentiment that the panel session involving Beverley Kandjii and Angeline Mwafulirwa, from the Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, and Tanjeel Maleque, a solicitor from SILPA, was one of the most distressing, as the panelists reflected upon the various ways in which they have experienced, or witnessed, the intrusion upon, and destruction of, the private lives of asylum seekers and refugees.

Whilst hosting a variety of presentation and discussion based events, we also utilised a range of visual mediums to celebrate Refugee Week, including a film screening of Hamedullah: the Road Home and Future Memory in Red Road at the CCA. Hamedullah tells the story of Hamedullah Hassany, an Afghan teenager who sought refuge in the UK and who, shortly after his eighteenth birthday, was detained and deported back to Afghanistan. Future Memory told a different story of sanctuary, documenting a public event at the Red Road Flats in May 2013, which celebrated the various inhabitants of the flat, both historical and current. This screening perhaps best encompassed the dualistic ethos of Refugee Week; showcasing both the trauma and the positivity that can result from seeking refuge.

Our penultimate day of events was the busiest on the GRAMNet Refugee Week schedule, kicking off with a symposium on ‘Interculturalism and Translating Cultures’, organised by the Higher Education Academy. This fascinating event explored the benefits and challenges of multilingual teaching and learning, and had the added benefit of being held in the same building as the wonderful Narratives of Change exhibition, featuring the artwork of children on a range of themes related to asylum, refugee and migration issues.


Artwork from the Narratives of Change exhibition

Artwork from the Narratives of Change exhibition. (Photo: Ruth McKenna)


GRAMNet’s research open day began later in the afternoon and showcased a selection of research engaging with migration, asylum and refugee issues, including papers on the history of refugee camps, ethnic diversity in the UK and English language teaching in the Middle East. From this rather upbeat start, we progressed into a more solemn and thoughtful evening, as Mary Bosworth and Sarah Turnbull from the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford presented some of the findings of their work with former detainees. With minimal exception, the stories they shared reflected the wholly destructive effect that detention can have on all facets of life, from personal relationships to mental and physical health.


GRAMNet Research Open Day

GRAMNet Research Open Day (Photo: Ruth McKenna)


Our final event of the week was a Syria Briefings session, which developed from the work of the Syria Briefings group at the University of Glasgow. We were delighted to welcome Rana Khalaf, a researcher from the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews to present the keynote paper at this event. GRAMNet also established connections with Uniting Nations in Scotland (UNIS), a community group set up by members of the Syrian community in Glasgow, as we were keen to include a diverse spectrum of voices and perspectives. Despite the sweltering heat of the decidedly un-Scottish evening, the audience was crowded with University staff, students, and people from the local community, including a large number of UNIS members who had recently arrived in Glasgow from Syria. Rana talked at length about the role of civil society in Syria, and the way in which forms of such society have thrived, even during conflict.

Despite the traditionally academic format of the session – a PowerPoint presentation followed by a panel discussion – upon the completion of Rana’s paper, the room exploded into a vibrant cacophony of questions and comments in both English and Arabic. All of our panelists were bi-lingual and skillfully negotiated the discussion in both languages. Alongside the Refugee Women’s Strategy Group presentation at the Migration and Intimate Lives event, I found this session to be one of the most gut-wrenching, as audience members shared their experiences of the conflict in Syria. One teenage participant talked about seeing some of his school friends shot dead. Another interrupted Rana’s largely critical discussion of rebel group al-Nusra to explain that, despite their negative associations, al-Nusra had paid for his family to escape from Syria and he therefore regarded them with gratitude. For me, this event best represented the ethos of GRAMNet, in the bringing together of academic and non-academic communities, for the purpose of translating, in every sense of the word, research into an accessible, meaningful and person-centered format.

In that vein, the questions that were asked with most frequency at our events were ‘what I can do to help?’ or ‘what can I do to change things?’ Therefore, I have concluded this post with a few answers to these questions, suggesting different ways in which we can maintain the momentum of Refugee Week 2014 and work to improve the position of asylum seekers and refugees within Scotland and the UK.


The Scottish Refugee Council is currently recruiting for a variety of voluntary posts, including a Refugee Integration Volunteer (Holistic Integration Service) and a Third Country Nationals Project Casework Volunteer.

Scottish Detainee Visitors are currently recruiting volunteer visitors to provide emotional and practical support to people currently detained in Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre.

The Unity Centre is currently recruiting voluntary caseworkers, shop managers and café staff. If you are unable to volunteer, the Centre also collects donations of clothes, toys and other items for their charity shops. They also welcome donations of food to distribute to destitute asylum seekers.

In July 2014 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees launched an inquiry into the use of immigration detention. If you are an individual or group with experience of immigration detention, you can find out more about submitting evidence to inquiry here.

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Imagine you are a Palestinian academic or a student

by Nazmi Al-Masri* – Gaza

Imagine your university is bombed twice by the most advanced F-16 war planes on the planet, made and donated to Israel by the USA.

Imagine your office, computer, documents, books and files are completely destroyed or burned as a result of a heavy bomb deliberately hitting a six floor building in the middle of the university campus.

Imagine you can only travel for a maximum of 35 miles from south to north or 6 miles maximum from east to west for almost 8 years.

Imagine your home is completely destroyed and you lost EVERYTHING: your savings, happy memories, furniture, clothes, computer, books, etc.

Imagine, imagine and imagine more and more ……

These introductory scenarios are not science fiction at all – they are real and happening now in the bleeding and besieged but defiant Gaza.

For example, on Saturday 2nd August 2014, the Islamic university of Gaza (IUG) was deliberately attacked as described by the Israeli “Defense” Minister Moshe Yaalon in a press conference held on the same day. The arts and education faculties, the university personnel and finance departments and other departments were reduced to rubble in a matter of minutes. This is not the first time Israel has destroyed higher education facilities in Gaza: in December 2008, two other buildings hosting the engineering and science faculties were leveled to the ground.

All academic readers are kindly invited to use their imagination and reflect deeply on these nine real situations, which can also be used as real problem-solving and cognitive development activities.

Situations of domestic destruction

1. Your home is one of more than 10,800 homes bombed and destroyed or severely damaged1 (so far in this current assault) by Israeli F-16 warplanes. Your study room, laptop, books, documents, files, and personal belongings are all completely destroyed in seconds.

2. You are a member of thousands of Palestinian families deliberately made to suffer the murder of one or more of its members as a result of Israel bombing your home with such warplanes. Even worse, you are one of more than 70 families who have lost three or more member, i.e. eliminated.

3. You are one of about 10,000 Palestinian students who have completed all their courses required to graduate as an engineer, nurse, teacher, economist, IT specialist, etc., but you are not allowed to take your certificate for months or even more than a year until you pay the remaining tuition fees for the courses taken. (To assist needy students, Palestinian universities in Gaza allow students to register for courses without full payment of fees but their certificates are withheld until all fees are paid).

The inability of students to pay their fees is due to the increasingly deteriorating economic situation in Gaza as a direct result of the siege and the three destructive Israeli attacks on Gaza in the past six years. Many Palestinian parents cannot pay the remaining tuition fees for their sons and daughters because of the high rate of unemployed Palestinians, currently c. 40%. If students cannot obtain their certificates, they cannot apply for a job.

Travel-related situations

4. You are a university professor who has conducted a study and prepared a paper to present in an international conference. Eager, you have prepared everything needed to exchange ideas and experiences with other professors from other countries, but you are prevented from travelling because of the illegal siege and the attacks. Imagine you are one of these academics!

Over the one-year period from July 2013 to July 2014, I was supposed to participate in six international academic conferences and meetings as a partner in four international projects: three EU-funded projects (2 Erasmus-Mundus, one Tempus) and one British AHRC-funded project. Because of the siege and the current war, I could not participate in any of these academic gatherings, which were held in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Jordan, and Cyprus. Many other colleagues have similar problems.

5. You are a student who has worked hard under extremely difficult economic, academic and social circumstances to graduate from a local university. Despite the odds, you are dedicated to supporting your family and building your future. You obtain a bachelor’s degree, get accepted to a European university and win a full scholarship, despite the strong local and international competition for funding, to get a master’s or doctoral degree.

So far so good, but the agonizing journey begins with the draconic travel restrictions. First, you are lucky if you even get a visa in the space of a month after you have submitted all the required documents to one of the EU consulates located either in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Practically all Gazans are not allowed to exit Gaza to get to the relevant consulate. But let’s imagine you do manage to get a visa and start finding ways to leave Gaza.

According to Gisha, an Israeli-Based human rights organization, “more than 1,000 Gazan students apply to universities around the world each year but there is no official body or channel to coordinate their requests or exits.”2

To give a real current example, the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) is currently a partner in four Erasmus Mundus exchange projects and c. 50 students and staff members have won full scholarships to join c. 30 universities in 14 European countries including the UK, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Cyprus, Belgium, Austria and Czech Republic. All these grant holders were supposed to get visas in July and join their orientation and study programs in August or September, but it seems this is not going to happen.

The besieged Gaza strip has no airport (Israel destroyed the only 3-year old airport in Gaza in 2001), no seaport and no control of its borders with Israel and Egypt. Palestinians in Gaza have to go through Cairo or cross Israel into Jordan to travel to any other country. To simplify this reality, imagine your country had no airport or seaport and you could only travel to other countries by crossing through two neighboring countries that border you.

Power/electricity-related situations

Over the last 8 years, Israel has bombed Gaza’s only power plant not once, but twice: on 28 June 2006 and 23rd July, 2014 respectively. What effect does this immoral bombardment have on academic life?

1. Imagine that you are an English language professor who has prepared a teaching video about British or American culture. You have spent a lot of time selecting your material and preparing tasks and exercises to be shown on an LCD projector. After just two minutes of the show, the power suddenly goes off without any prior notice and you do not know how long the outage will last for. Thirty minutes later, the power is back on for five minutes and then off for another 10 minutes, and so on. Imagine and reflect what this is like!

2. Imagine that you are a student in your final year of university. You have a final exam or important assignment to submit tomorrow and you need to use light and internet to study, but since 2008, the power has been off for least 12 hours per day, as Israel has prevented the import of sufficient fuel for the power plant.

It has taken me five days to finish and email this article because Palestinians in Gaza are denied electricity. During the past 2 weeks, we have internet access for around 1-2 hours per day for an unknown period of time.

3. Imagine that you are an academic or a student, and you have a lecture on the 6th floor of the university. You take the lift with 13 colleagues. While the lift is ascending, the power suddenly goes off and you get stuck and suffocated in complete darkness for an unknown period of time. Female students in the lift keep screaming and crying, including a pregnant lady. How do you feel?

To sum up, subjecting c. 2 million Gazan Palestinians (out of about 11 million Palestinians) to live under Israeli military occupation for almost seven decades, besieging and imprisoning them for more than seven years, and launching 3 destructive attacks in less than seven years, has numerous academic, economic, mental and psychological consequences for academics, students and parents. Discussing these alarming consequences in full is beyond the scope of this article. However, below are just a few effects which one cannot measure effectively but which hamper the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza strip.

Firstly, many academics, students and parents have developed chronic anxiety and hyper-tension. Understandably, they suffer from lack of motivation, are angry and frustrated.

The bitterness felt toward the international community, which takes no significant steps toward relieving the oppression, repression and injustice results in severe negative attitudes towards others. There is a serious lack of confidence in the international community, especially the governments of the so-called free and democratic world who have been watching constant violations of all sorts of human rights for years without taking effective actions to stop these violations.

The Palestinian academics and students have many legitimate questions. These include the following:

1. How long do we have to suffer to lead a normal academic life like other academics and students in other countries?
2. How long do we have to suffer to have a stable academic calendar, where we know we can plan to attend conferences and keep all academic dates?
3. How long do we have to suffer to have freedom of movement via our own airport, seaport or border crossings?
4. How long do we have to suffer to have power for 24 hours a day?
5. How long do we have to suffer the destruction of our homes, universities, schools, airport, hospitals, water desalination plants, power plant and other infrastructure?

Nobody knows when these unbearable restrictions and this suffering will become history apart from Israel, its strongest ally, the USA, and the EU governments who could force Israel to end its inhumane and illegitimate military measures – which plant seeds of hatred, violence and extremism – by lifting the siege, respecting human rights and above all ending the occupation. These steps would plant the seeds of tolerance, co-existence and peace.

I conclude this article with a quotation cited in the aptly titled humanitarian campaign, “Education in Gaza, a seed for peace”, intended to support Gaza’s education system. The campaign is an undertaking by the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia – Unescocat:3

In the long term, the profound psychological consequences and the pain deeply affecting children and young people makes it difficult for us to imagine a future with citizens educated within a culture of peace and free of violence for at least two generations.

As defenders of Human Rights in general and, specifically, the universal right to education (defined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child), we cannot remain impassive in the present situation.

1. UNRWA – Gaza Situation Report 33 – 10 August 2014
2. Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, “Obstacle Course: Students Denied Exit from Gaza,” July 2009.
3. Campaign by the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia – Unescocat to support the right to education in Gaza “Education in Gaza, a seed for peace”

*Dr. Nazmi Al Masri is Dean at Islamic University of Gaza.

This article was originally published by Mondoweiss on August 12, 2014. We re-post it here as part of the series of voices and reflections from GRAMNet members and colleagues in Gaza, or those with direct experience of researching in Gaza, which we will be publishing on this site over the coming weeks.

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by tawona sithole*

Photo: Alison Phipps

Photo: Alison Phipps

where does a raindrop belong
resting in a cloud in the sky
when even a cloud can become overwhelmed
and burst into tears

where does a raindrop belong
whizzing through the atmosphere
at the speed of nature
before hitting the ground

hitting a roof, a treetop
a window pane, a blade of grass
hitting you in the face
before hitting the ground

then trickling and rippling
then rushing and gushing
at the speed of nature
before finding the river

before becoming the river
then flowing
and flowing
then to gather
to gather
before becoming the lake

where does a raindrop belong
resting in a lake in the earth
when even a lake can become overwhelmed
and let off some steam

where does a raindrop belong
floating through the atmosphere
at the speed of nature
before kissing the sky

ready to go
ready again to go again
it’s a cycle
a rain cycle

i am a raindrop
i am a raindrop
i am a raindrop

Protest in Glasgow City Centre

Protest in Glasgow City Centre


This poem is part of a series of voices and reflections from GRAMNet members and colleagues in Gaza, or those with direct experience of researching in Gaza which we will be publishing on this site over the coming weeks.

*Tawona Sithole is poet in residence at GRAMNet

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Lifelong Learning in Palestine

by Keith Hammond

This short update is part of a series of voices and reflections from GRAMNet members and colleagues in Gaza, or those with direct experience of researching in Gaza which we will be publishing on this site over the coming days.

One of our partners on the Lifelong Learning in Palestine (LLIPs) project was the Islamic University of Gaza. The good news is that all our colleagues are fine but the University has taken a little bit of a bruising (below) and many students and staff have been killed or seriously injured …

Islamic University of Gaza. Source :

Islamic University of Gaza. Source :

44.7% of the population are fourteen years of age and under. Many schools have also been destroyed but kids are back to their classes already. A much more detailed report will be posted on the GRAMNet blog as soon as we have more news.
Source: Palestine Chronicle

Source: Palestine Chronicle


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The killing continues …

by Keith Hammond

This is the fourth of series of voices and reflections from GRAMNet members and colleagues in Gaza, or those with direct experience of researching in Gaza which we will be publishing on this site over the coming days.

Bodies of Palestinians killed in an Israeli air strike on the floor of a  hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza, earlier today. (Ramadan El-Agha / APA images)

Bodies of Palestinians killed in an Israeli air strike on the floor of a
hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza, earlier today. (Ramadan El-Agha / APA images)


I came back from London on Saturday only to pick up the news late. I saw the killing had been continued and destruction of places like the Islamic University and various Mosques in Gaza City had reduced a city I know well to rubble. More UNWRA schools have been attacked. I reminded myself that Israel was subsidized to the effect of three and a half billion dollars year. Military support goes to Israel constantly. I recalled that Israel claimed to be a Western democracy and frequently sent tennis and cricket teams over here to compete in European tournaments. I also had to remind myself that Israel claims to be complying with International Humanitarian Law as reassuring characters like Mark Regev regularly come on TV to tell us. I am tired of hearing the statement that Israel has the right to defend itself.

Ten minutes home and already I am looking at reports on the web. The smell of death is reported as hanging over the narrow strip of land like November fog. I see Obama stands by Israel even as it bombs schools and hospitals and I also see the Arab states are doing nothing but watching Palestinians die. Having not seen the news much over the past couple of days, I see endless reports on red lines having been crossed in International Humanitarian Law. It looks as though there has been almost no discrimination between combatants and civilians. What is not being said is that Protective Edge will radicalize the world and make it a much more dangerous place. I will not sleep; so I go through some old notes. It feels like I am involved in some sort of time bubble. The same experience on a loop …

What is the most puzzling is the world’s indifference. I asked myself why Egypt has been so quiet. What is the history behind this grotesque silence? For me so much of Palestine’s isolation goes back to the accommodation of the Arab world to the permanent war policies of Israel. Because Egypt was and remains the largest and most populous state in the Arab world, its decision to work with Israel at the end of the seventies, changed the entire region. It put Palestine in a particularly isolated position. What we are seeing right now is one consequence.

Abdul Fattah el-Sisi comes over like the ghost of Sadat. I found endless notes on Sadat and as I skimmed through some of these, I realize what the Camp David Accords were all about. Two events were game changing for the Middle East at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties. The first was Egypt’s switching of its alliances, away from the Soviet Union and towards Washington and the expulsion of the Shah in the Iranian revolution. Taken together, these changes indicated a shift of power. Power moved out the Arab world.

I remember the coverage of Sadat shocking his government in the seventies as he announced he would visit the Israeli Knesset, saying he would go ‘to the end of the universe to end the conflict and save the sons of Egypt’. How many times have we heard statements like this coming out of the Arab world as millions were sold policies that would further pauperize the region. At the time Sadat was seen as pushing the mother of all betrayals. I remember feeling that Sadat was selling the isolation and abandonment of the Palestinians. Sadat perfected a mode of speech that valorized the Palestinians at the very same that they were being stabbed in the back. At the time I remember Sadat trying to sell the deal to Hafez Assad but the Syria leader remained unconvinced. So much of Syrian politics were cohered around opposition to Israel. How could Assad abandon such a resource?

In 1977 Sadat went off to Jerusalem. He then addressed Israel’s Knesset stating conditions that everyone knew he was there to abandon, saying ‘there can be no peace without the Palestinians’. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and South Yemen continued the pretence by suspending relations with Egypt whilst others stood on saying nothing. But no one observing the Arab League was being fooled. The period built up to the Camp David summit of September which produced ‘two agreements’: the first being the return of Sinai to Egypt while the second established ‘a format’ for negotiating a five year ‘autonomy regime’ for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. An agreement was then signed and by 1982 Israel had dismantled eighteen settlements. Nothing was said about the annexation of the Sinai being illegal in the first place. So another pattern was developing where occasionally Israel complies with international law and the world celebrates peaceful intent. Israel has been one of the most successful PR campaigns in history as one deceit after another has been sold to the Middle East, no doubt because of American sponsors. With the collapse of the Cold War of course this got progressively worse and we are seeing it all unfold now in Gaza.

Egypt was ostracized, boycotted and sanctioned in the Arab world but Sadat held on to his betrayal. Nasserites and the Muslim Brothers, as might be expected, expressed their objections and several gestures of government resignations followed as I recall. It was a done deal.

Palestinians had been abandoned. Rafah was closed more often than it was not; today the crossing remains almost permanently closed. The crossing is used as a very political tool by el-Sisi. It has been opened once recently for only a few hours when eleven patients were allowed to travel in order to get treatment for horrendous wounds. Right now thousands of Palestinians await transfer through the crossing so that they can get similar treatment. Alas Egypt only allows those with American passports to go through the border – no Palestinian ID’s or travel documents are accepted. I now think of the times I have been stuck in the Rafah terminal seeing the reception hall full of injured people, giving the appearance of a scene from the First World War.

Nothing moves Sisi however. He has to demonstrate his grip on power because so much of the Egyptian economy is based on the military maintaining its corrupt squeeze on the economy. So Sisi remains firm in his support for Israel and he is not moving. He would prefer to do business with Israel rather than stand next to the Palestinians when they are being hammered. This has been the way with Egypt since the death of Nasser.

Egypt's Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (SASHA MORDOVETS / GETTY IMAGES CONTRIBUTOR)

Egypt’s Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (SASHA MORDOVETS / GETTY IMAGES CONTRIBUTOR)


Cleaning my teeth I then looked through different folders on the Palestine Papers (Al Jazeera 2002; Palestine Papers 2014). In the early eighties the Arab League endorsed the Fahd-Fez Plan where Israel was not even mentioned. The whole deal worked around Israeli power in a plan where Israel was not even mentioned! Imagine that …

Of course all the empty rhetoric on a future Palestinian state was there with East Jerusalem as its capital. But one year earlier Israel had passed the 1980 ‘Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel’ which was the ‘nod and wink’ to any negotiations of the future. The boldest statement in the Fahd-Fez Plan was the general statement of the ‘the right of all countries in the region to live in peace’. The Arab League adopted the plan and freed up Israel to march on the PLO in Lebanon …

The stated aims of Israel crossing the Lebanese border in June 1982 were to clear a 45 kilometer strip of land of fedayeen just north of the Israel-Lebanon border. Sharon saw things differently because of the change in regional power. He marched ‘the most moral army in the world’ on to Beirut, defeating and expelling Syrian forces and placing Israel’s Maronite Christian allies in control. Beirut became madness, which meant the situation created by Israel could not be controlled and American forces had to be brought to the rescue. I had a whole folder on the tragedy which followed when unarmed Palestinians were isolated by Israel so that the slaughter in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps, recorded by Robert Fisk in Pity the Nation (accessed online 2nd August 2014) could commence:

‘What we found inside the Palestinian camp at ten o’clock on the morning of September 1982 did not quite beggar description, although it would have been easier to re-tell in the cold prose of medical examination. There had been medical examinations before in Lebanon, but rarely on this scale and never overlooked by a regular, supposedly disciplined army. In the panic and hatred of battle, tens of thousands had been killed in this country. But these people, hundreds of them had been shot down unarmed. This was a mass killing, an incident – how easily we use the word ‘incident’ in Lebanon – that was also an atrocity. It went beyond even what the Israelis would have in other circumstances called a terrorist activity. It was a war crime.’

Fisk went on …

‘We might have accepted evidence of a few murders; even dozens of bodies, killed in the heat of combat. But there were [Palestinian] women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies – blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24 hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition – tossed in rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army equipment and empty bottles of whiskey.’

It is interesting to look at Sharon’s reasons for the murder in these camps. He argued that though the camps were made up of unarmed civilians, he said the PLO had left fighters in the camps. Echoing all the reasoning that is being made by characters like Mark Regev, it was said that the PLO hid amongst the ordinary refugee population. So once again we see the same rhetoric being used over thirty years later. All the statements made by the Israeli military about Gaza have been made many times before. Palestinians were betrayed by Egypt and the Israelis assisted in the mass murder of Palestinians years later as a result. Sharon who is now emulated by Netanyahu made endless statements about ‘finishing the job off’. Arab nations stood back then as they stand back now and watch the cull that has followed. Vengeance ran amok in 1982 just as it is doing in 2014 and as I now look at the news and see the bombed out buildings of the Islamic University of Gaza I shiver at how much the Israelis still get away with … Self deception might explain a lot of Israeli behavior but it explains nothing in terms of international indifference.

Whilst leaders of the different Arab states have stood by and watched yet another episode of genocide, ordinary people in Europe are deeply shocked by what they are seeing. Israel has tried to sell itself as the great defender of democracy in the Middle East far too many times. Which other democratic state has a history of land theft and constant war on a people like the Palestinians? I asked myself this question I ploughed through other notes. I knew I would not sleep and so I looked at Jon Snow’s Youtube piece, which Alison Phipps had been recommending.

I understood everything Snow said. It is one thing to listen to descriptions of what is happening in Gaza and it is another thing to be there and see young children covered in shrapnel wounds. It was now after 2 am and all sorts of faces came back to me. I worried about Nazmi, Hatem and Fahid along with their families. Endless faces that Snow had seen came back to me from my visit in 2012 whilst all hell was being unleashed on Gaza yet again. The scenes in Shifa came back to me when I saw people carrying children in bloody clothes. …

The thought that really haunts me in the middle of the night goes right back to Egypt in the late seventies. Palestinians were abandoned. They were isolated and left to deal with Israel on their own. The only thing holding the Israeli state back from full on genocide is the international community. The Israeli state simply thinks it would not get away with it but there is no doubt that in its push for a monoethnic state and society the Israeli state wants to ‘finish the job’ of 1948. Because they cannot go ahead with such a massacre and cannot go on to build an exclusively Jewish state without doing so. They want to constantly punish the Palestinians for the historic crime of Europe. I picked up a book by the side of my computer that I had been sent to review by Jean Pierre Filiu (2014) which has a page (70) marked; it relates to the thousands and thousands of Palestinians arriving in Gaza after being forced from their homes in the ethnic cleansing of 1948. I read an observation made by someone in Gaza as Palestinians appear from towns and cities up the coast. It reads:

‘We saw thousands of people arrive, all looking exhausted. They didn’t even ask for anything to eat or drink. When we offered them food, sometimes they refused it, sometimes they threw themselves on it as if starving. We had never seen anything like it. The streets, which were in general empty, suddenly pulsated with vast crowds who seemed to wander aimlessly: no-one knew where these people were going and from what or whom they were fleeing. The main street was packed with people going in both directions; some came by sea, arriving by boat down the coast from Jaffa, while others came on foot from places close by.’

What we are seeing on Al Jazeera and Chanel 4 right now is the consequence of 1948. Again it is a result of no one acknowledging the rights of Palestinians because so many in Europe and the United States were still getting over the Holocaust. So right now we are seeing yet another consequence of the same old story. It was now after 3-00 in the morning and I could not bear watching further coverage that seemed to go through a list after list of international crimes committed by Israel with near complete impunity. But the single thought that was still rattling around my head was that my friends, the Palestinians were on their own all over again. No one believes Israel could do anything wrong. It felt like I was watching Shatila 1982 all over again …

The bodies of Palestinian refugees killed in the massacre of civilians in the West Beirut refugee camp of Sabra lie amid the camp's rubble, Sept. 19, 1982 (STF/AFP/Getty Images)

The bodies of Palestinian refugees killed in the massacre of civilians in the West Beirut refugee camp of Sabra lie amid the camp’s rubble, Sept. 19, 1982 (STF/AFP/Getty Images)


It would not be long before we heard of another inquiry being instigated into possible war crimes. It would give that same old song of ‘Gaza made us do it,’ ‘We had no option’ and ‘Israel had the right to defend itself’. Israel has deceived the world for over 60 years. They have lied and covered crimes through one war on the Palestinians after another. The lies are directed as much at their own society as societies of others around the world. Like a people of alcoholics they refuse to see the problem as theirs and not the Palestinians. We on the other hand have no excuse. Jon Snow says we are all implicated in Israel’s slaughter and it is not until we decide to do something to stop the killing of Palestinians that the madness will stop. We cannot believe that a people subject to the horrors of the Shoah could ever behave as the murderers we are seeing now. After the bombing of several UNWRA schools and UN refuge centers Chris Gunness, the representative of the UN in Gaza comes on the screen saying, ‘the international community should hang its head in shame’. Gunness is absolutely right. We learned nothing from the Holocaust and once again will live to regret never facing up to our indifference on Zionism …


I finally starting to think about bed well after 4-30 but instead of going to sleep I get up again and start thumbing through Finkelstein’s (2011) This Time We Went Too Far. He notes that after ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Judge Richard Goldstone said Israel had been seeking to ‘punish, humiliate and terrorize’ the civilian population in Gaza. This is the way Israel works. Goldstone’s report said Israel had committed numerous violations of customary and conventional international law. War crimes had been committed such as ‘willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment,’ ‘willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health,’ ‘extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawful and wantonly,’ and ‘use of human shields’ (Goldstone 2009, paras 46,50,60,937,961,987,1006,1171-75, 1935) but they had yet to be proved. After the report had been published I recall that it was put to Goldstone that his report had focused on Israeli violations of international law far too much. He replied ‘It’s difficult to deal with a state party, with a sophisticated army, with the sort of army Israel has, with an air force, and a navy, and the most sophisticated weapons that are not only in the arsenal of Israel, but manufactured and exported by Israel, on the one hand, with Hamas using really improvised, imprecise armaments’ (Moyers quoted in Finkelstein 2011:134).

I was in Gaza as part of a wonderful delegation of the US organization Code Pink when I, and others met Goldstone. He and his team were visiting villages and hearing evidence for the report. Israel had refused to cooperate in any way with the Goldstone Report. The team could not even travel through Israel to get into Gaza. Even at that stage the poor man looked hammered. Goldstone soon realized that there was more to standing up to Israel than knowing the law. I finally sat on the edge of the bed, starting to feel like I had had enough for one day. I thought to myself, the Palestinians will never give up. They want justice. Palestinians have endured too much for to give up. Often they have had to stand up to Israel completely alone. I then crawled to my bed, knowing I was exhausted but would not sleep. I woke up around six hours later and immediately moved over to the computer. I switched on the news: the killing continues …


Al Jazeera March 25th 2002: ‘Between Fez and Beirut, two Saudi initiatives for peace’ in the Palestine Papers on – accessed 1st August 2014.
Evron, Yair (1987) War and Intervention in Lebanon: The Israeli-Syrian Deterrence Dialogue. London: Routledge.
Filiu, Jean-Pierre (2014) Gaza – A History. Trans. From the French by John King. London: Hurst & Company.
Finkelstein, Norman, G. (2011) ‘This Time we Went Too Far’ New York: OR Books.
Fisk, Robert (2014) ‘Remembering Sabra and Shatilla’ –

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“Remember that a Palestinian may die but Palestine will last forever”

by Rebecca Kay, with Ahmed I Taneera

This is the third in a series of voices and reflections from GRAMNet members and colleagues in Gaza, or those with direct experience of researching in Gaza which we will be publishing on this site over the coming days. In March 2012 I spent a week in Gaza with Alison Phipps and Keith Hammond as part of the Life Long Learning in Palestine project led by Keith and funded by TEMPUS. It was a week that changed my life. As a researcher I have been more used to travelling to parts of provincial Russia and rural Siberia and have often been inspired by ordinary people’s tenacity, flexibility and imagination in overcoming challenges and obstacles thrown up by daily lives in difficult economic, political and climatic conditions. In Gaza this experience was magnified many times over. Again and again the people we met told us that what was most important was ‘to find a way’, indeed, that ‘In Gaza we always find a way’. A way to live with dignity and hope under appalling conditions of siege, which stifles economic development, brings enormous environmental costs and makes military strikes and incursions a constant threat. A threat which has now once again become a reality.

During that visit in 2012 when things were still relatively peaceful in Gaza (although we witnessed drone strikes and shelling), we visited a variety of organizations (Universities, NGOs, women’s centres and groups)

gaza blog pic 1

Northern Gaza 2012 and destruction from a previous Israeli aggression. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay


The people we met spoke about the vital importance of work to engage young people in purposeful activity, to help children deal with the traumas of war and life under siege, to support the many ‘smart young men and women’ left with disabilities and to assist their reintegration into community life and the economic cycle. We visited and were told of many inspiring and innovative projects. We were reminded repeatedly of the humanity of the people of Gaza. Of their shared aspirations and desires for a ‘good life’ for themselves and for their children.

gaza blog photo 2

A sculpture for peace in the gardens of Al Aqsa University Khan Younis campus, made from weaponry left in Gaza after the 2008-9 incursions of ‘Operation Cast Lead’. Photo: Rebecca Kay and Alison Phipps

We visited the then fairly newly established ‘Eye Medical Centre’, a project supported by the Islamic University of Gaza and run by one of their bright young graduates, an optometrist deeply committed to serving his community and particularly to helping children with visual impairments. Dressed in his crisp white lab coat he fairly glowed with pride as he showed us his clinic in the Al Isra’a building and described the innovative therapies he had developed with WHO approval. Since we left Gaza, Ahmed has become a friend, via facebook we have stayed in touch. His regular posts about eyes as well as pictures of his beloved Gaza have regularly brought a smile.

gaza blog pic 3

gaza blog pic 4

gaza blog pic 5

His posts this past month have been raw cries from the soul as the places and people he loves are torn apart. GRAMNet has long been committed to giving voice to people who too often go unheard. I end this blog with Ahmed’s voice, he speaks more eloquently than I can of these things:

gaza blog pic 6

July 9th: This morning, the explosions and the rockets sounds are coming closer and closer next to my house! Last night there was no electricity but also it wasn’t too dark. The shelling lighting was flashing from the windows all the time in my room with the smoke shadows at the wall.
I hate those type of heavy bombs that are shaking the ground.

You know, I believe that the brave Palestinian people will turn all the war bombs into beautiful fireworks for the next year eve after the peace victory.
Please pray for #Gaza

gaza blog 7

July 10th: Do anything but leave the kids … LEAVE THE KIDS IN PEACE!

Oh Allah save the kids!
Oh Allah save the kids!

July 11th: It may be the last post I write.
Remember that a Palestinian may die but Palestine will last forever.

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A sound is heard of weeping.

by Alison Phipps*

This is the second of series of voices and reflections from GRAMNet members and colleagues in Gaza, or those with direct experience of researching in Gaza which we will be publishing on this site over the coming days. It follows in response to the piece written by our colleague Dr Nazmi Al Masri, Dean of Community Service & Continuing Education The Islamic University – Gaza. It draws on the experiences of a research visit to Gaza made with Professor Rebecca Kay and Keith Hammond, PI – as part of the Life Long Learning in Palestine project.†

“Looking at the terrified faces of every member of my family and trying to comfort them and ease their fears, I hugged the youngest son and exchanged smiles with them all. But it seems that the deafening sound of the aerial bombardment triggered a series of comments and questions that are challenging to every Palestinian father and mother.”

Ringing in my ears all week are the voices of friends and colleagues in Gaza.

Ringing in Nazmi’s ears – constant sounds of war.

Nazmi has repeatedly sent messages as we have tried to work on our project together. The project is looking at training teachers in Gaza to teach Arabic as a Foreign language. We discuss the possible partners who can help, we discuss plan A – that I go out and spend a couple of months with him so we can think together as scholars and work together with teachers; we discuss Plan B – that we do this outside of The Gaza Strip if I am not able to enter; we discuss Plans C, D, E…. and as we do so, he tells me of the bombs and the panic and the horror felt by the children.

Indigenous Peoples across the world were cleared from their lands and killed in vast numbers during the long period of colonial conquests from Europe. That shameful history contains the slave trade, a litany of legal trickery in the form of treaties and charters which took and sold and signed for land, land which, in other understandings of the world, was not available for sale or for ownership. From Aotearoa New Zealand, to the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia, through the Americas and in Africa people live with the endless consequences of the greed for land, and for what a particularly narrow view of the world sees as ‘resources.’ With the land-taking came the taking of culture, heritage, language, the theft of land, the stolen generations of children removed from their mothers and fathers. With the land-taking came the clearances experienced as rich landowners in Scotland realised they could make more money from sheep and grouse if they simply pushed off the people, and took cover behind claims of food shortage and crop failure.


Northern Gaza 2012 and destruction from a previous Israeli aggression. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay

Northern Gaza 2012 and destruction from a previous Israeli aggression. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay


We have no film footage or soundtrack, hashtags or real time testimony of those earlier times of deep human cruelty and suffering in pursuit of land at all costs. Today we do. The record of history accumulates slowly. It takes decades, centuries for the wrongs of the past to be disentangled from the conquerors’ tales of glory in conquest and so called ‘discovery of new land’. Movements build for the Abolition of Slavery; calls for an end to the taking of children, legislation on Human Rights and Indigenous Rights, for UN charters and their enforcement through legal means and sanctions. It is painfully slow work this work of careful, thoughtful researching of the record of history, this work with the long established rituals of parliamentary debate, this work of thinking, clearly, carefully, of deep attention to language. And it is necessarily collective. Then, as now, when the work of careful deliberation is set aside, as Elaine Scarry illustrates brilliantly in her book Thinking in an Emergency, we lose touch with the ability to ‘think straight’ and to use what has been practiced day in day out for precisely moments of crisis, like those facing Nazmi in the Gaza. As the news reels and social media bring us real time testimony of ethnic cleansing and the killing of civilians, we still need to continue the painstaking academic work of questioning, reflection and sifting of evidence, of critically attending to language.


Library of the Society of Women Graduates, Gaza. Photo: Alison Phipps & Rebecca Kay

Library of the Society of Women Graduates, Gaza. Photo: Alison Phipps & Rebecca Kay


And today, we have absolutely no excuse, unlike our ancestors, that we didn’t know this was happening. Now.

The UK Foreign Secretary has continued to endorse Israel’s actions in Gaza, managing an occasional “oh dear, we’re a bit concerned”. And while the Scottish Government has pledged medical support for an evacuation of Gaza, and has given a small sign that perhaps lessons of a bloody past and land grab have been learned, both parties know that without the opening of the UK borders there can be no evacuation of the wounded to Scotland. The shameful record, following the grudging commitment of the UK Government to take 500 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees at the beginning of 2014 has so far translated into less than 24. Scotland may be ready to act with compassion but it will need the borders to be opened for that to occur and with the present immigration hysteria driving policy in the UK Government, I expect such an application from Scotland to be at best ignored and at worst refused.

And even if it were accepted it also needs the Egyptian Government to allow a humanitarian opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt in order to enable the wounded to be evacuated.

It is midnight, Scotland has just won Gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, and has opened the Games with a mass humanitarian action and with the haunting confessional words of Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye, sung by South African Soprano Pumeza in its opening ceremony (and hear it here sung by the exquisite Scots singer-songwriter Karine Polwart).

The lyrics of the song confess to the violence done by Scotland during its colonial wars and pledges an end to it.


Art work by students at Al Aqsa University Campus Khan Younis, Gaza 2012. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay.

Art work by students at Al Aqsa University Campus Khan Younis, Gaza 2012. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay.


Andriana Cavarero, writes of the power of a woman’s voice in song to punctuate the flat, discursive, artificiality of governmental power.

“Alive and bodily, overcoming with her simple sonorous truth the treacherous din of the realm, a woman sings”

It is midnight and I can hear ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ ringing in my ears where in Nazmi’s ears and the ears of his gorgeous beloved children there are drones, bombs, rockets, and, if they are in severe danger, the sound of hand to hand fighting and gun fire on the ground.


Date Palms as dusk, Deir Al Balah, Gaza, 2012. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay

Date Palms as dusk, Deir Al Balah, Gaza, 2012. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay


I click on a link sent by a colleague and I hear Hanan Ashwari’s voice with that steady calm I have come to recognise in all who have learned carefully and over time to tell of terrible things. Another link, another click and I hear the voice of Jon Snow, anchoring Channel Four news – the voice that announces the winner of the General Election to the country; to the country which through The Balfour Declaration and The British Mandate prepared the ground for 1948’s Nakba and therefore has a very particular historical responsibility.

This voice now steadily tells us that “this is something that everyone of us has to confront. We have to know that in some way we actually share some responsibility for those deaths. Because for us it is no priority whatsoever to stop it. Our United Nations, our Government, our world is not that interested. The fact that you are watching this, that you have chosen to watch it means that you have are actually motivated to do something. And that is the greatest hope the people of Gaza have.”

From their Porous Souls

And then I hear
her voice crack.

Old words
from old texts
sacred footsteps
echoing down the
along the liturgical
lines of
their repetition.

Hanan Ashwari stops,
takes a deep
Takes a moment.

a moment..”


her breath rising


through the constriction
in her throat

to touch
my silence.

The tonal



A sound is heard
in Gaza,
a sound of
bitter weeping,
she is weeping for
her children,
she cries
and will not be comforted.

And I hear
Jon Snow’s
voice crack too,

hands moving to
his war-ashen

From their
porous souls
the air vibrates
with all

Their voices,
reaching in,
close enough
in their compassion,
to graze my own face,

wet with tears.


Art work by students of Al Aqsa University Campus, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay

Art work by students of Al Aqsa University Campus, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. Photo: Alison Phipps and Rebecca Kay



*Alison Phipps is Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Glasgow.

†An academic article reflecting the issues within the project is published here.


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