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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What does it mean to be a Palestinian father?*

by Dr. Nazmi Al Masria, Dean at Islamic University of Gaza


Almost no Palestinian in Gaza have slept well over the last two weeks, especially parents who care about their children’s mental, psychological and physical safety. I am one of these parents who have 5 sons and one girl. To have 6 children is the average number of a Palestinian family in Gaza.

Last night, while I was sitting with my 9-member family, including my wife and my father, 94 years old, a heavy rocket fired by an American-made Israeli war plane leveled one of the houses located about 200 meter away from my home and damaged unknown number of neighboring houses. My house was shaken for seconds and some of the windows were smashed and my car alarm system was sounded.

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. Their questions revolved around two major questions that need volumes to answer well.

  • What does it mean to get your home destroyed in seconds?

  • What is the mental, physical, social, psychological and economic suffering of such collective punishment on thousands of families in Gaza?

Feeling under powerful stress and unlimited worries fostered by the 24-hour buzz of drones, the continuing random of artillery shelling of homes and the Israeli policy of escalating destruction and killing of civilians, I began to encourage my youngest son, 8 years, Kareem to start release some of the questions in his mind.

In a whispering shaky voice, Kareem began shooting questions that many Palestinians Parents face daily and nightly:

  • Dad, what will happen to us if an Israeli war plane throws a bomb on our house?
  • Dad, what will happen to us if our home is bombed? Will we all die, dad? Then, he adds,
  • Dad, I don’t want to die like the other children killed by the Israelis. Dad, I don’t want to lose some parts of my body like the children I saw on TV.
  • Dad, if some of us survive the Israeli bombing of our house, where shall we go and where to sleep? What will happen to my bedroom?

After receiving such agonizing and heart-burning questions, I hugged him tightly and kissed him on cheeks, head, hands, understanding his fears resulting from his fresh memory of the 4 children killed who were playing at the Gaza beach and to the three children killed in their home.

I turned to my 16-year daughter who fired these questions in an insecure voice full of worries, distress and fear.

  • Dad, why do the Israelis target houses full of innocent people?

Surely she remembers a series of Israeli strikes that have killed more than 45 families in their homes, especially the latest two Israeli air strikes which killed 35 members of two Gaza families within hours:

The first bombing leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip killing 25 members of Abu Jamaa family – including 19 children – gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast together. This is the highest toll for one family in a single airstrike since this policy has been in effect since the beginning of this dirty aggression on Gaza.

The other crime happened when Israeli artillery shells bombed the house of Siyam family in Rafah, southern Gaza, killing 10 members of the Siyyam family, including 3 children- the youngest is 8-month baby.

  • Dad, why do they kill so many children and women?

Definitely she knows the up- to-date figures so far: 161 children, 66 women and 35 elderly were killed among the 632 victims of the war against Gaza.

She is also aware that about 50% of the 4010 injured are 1213 children, 700 women and 162 elderly men as mentioned by the Ministry of Health at 02:30 on Wednesday 23 July 2014.

  • Dad, it is summer school holiday, ok, we are reluctantly forced to accept being imprisoned in our home and not to enjoy our holiday. But why does every Palestinian family feel unsafe even inside their homes and bedrooms?

Commenting on this, she added: no place, no home, on body is safe in Gaza. The Israelis bomb everything: homes, hospitals, clinics, schools, ambulances, mosques, media/press offices and car, private businesses, taxis, water treatment facilities, greenhouses etc. Then she asks:

  • Dad, what do they want from us?

Trying to answer her question by herself, she said in a sad and depressed voice: They have been occupying us and confiscating our freedom since 1967. They have been besieging us for more than seven years where we are not allowed to leave this big prison called Gaza. We cannot visit other Palestinian cities like Jerusalem Bethlehem or Hebron, or travel to any other country.

In less than seven years, they launched three destructive and terrifying wars against the besieged poor Gaza. Dad, what drives me so mad is deaf ear the governments of almost all countries pay to such war crimes and violation of human rights. This silence encourages Israel to commit more collective punishments and more war crimes and more destruction of homes and families.

In a very depressed and hesitant voice, she added, “Dad what frustrates me and saddens me is that the Israelis always talk about PEACE!!!


*This article was also delivered aloud at the demonstration against the ongoing strikes against Gaza in Edinburgh Sat 26th July. 

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First GRAMNet workshop ‘Migration and Intimate Life’

By Dr Francesca Stella*, Workshop Co-organiser

The first GRAMNet workshop ‘Migration and Intimate Life’, co-organised by Francesca Stella and Marta Moskal, was held at the University of Glasgow on 18 June 2014. The workshop was born out of our shared interest in the topic of migrants’ personal life and relationships: Francesca will be running an ESRC-funded project on the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual migrants from Eastern Europe (with Dr Moya Flynn), while Marta has worked extensively on migrant children and family migration. The aim of the workshop was to bring together researchers, voluntary and public organisations, grassroots groups and practitioners associated with GRAMNet to explore their different perspectives on the formation and transformation of intimacy in the context of migration. Alongside the showcasing of academic work on the topic – particularly the work of GRAMNet doctoral and early career researchers – it was also a platform to share research findings and insights from practitioners’ work, to stimulate discussion, and to identify shared interests and scope for future collaborations.

It is widely recognised that migrants’ intimate lives are often under scrutiny, and that their legitimate presence in the host country can be dependent on, for example, their family status or on the vetting of their personal history, particularly in the case of asylum seekers. With the new 2014 Immigration Act, migrants’ intimate lives have come under more intense scrutiny in the UK. In light of the new legislation and of the increasing politicisation of migration, we wanted to share insights from researchers’ and practitioners’ work on how migrants ‘do’ intimacy, family and personal relationships, and to identify discrepancies between migrants’ practices and legal/policy definitions of family and intimacy.

The workshop attracted 55 registered participants. We were pleased to see a mix of academic researchers, representatives of voluntary and public sector organisations and grassroots groups (including Rape Crisis, Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, Scottish Refugee Council, Social Audit Network, Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice Glasgow, Scottish Immigration Law Practitioners Association (SILPA), Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Red Cross and Department for International Development). Academic researchers were affiliated to a range of universities from Scotland (Glasgow, Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian, Edinburgh, Queen Margaret) and England (SOAS, Plymouth, Manchester Metropolitan, Manchester University and Leeds).

Speakers addressed a range of related topics on the day, including: the role of social networks and solidarities in migrants’ lives; trust and conviviality in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods; experiences of intimacy among Zimbabwean migrants and asylum seekers; how sexuality informs decisions to move for Eastern European lesbian, gay and bisexual migrants; and the impact of family separation on Polish migrant children. Our two keynote speakers, Dr Naomi Tyrell (University of Plymouth) and Dr Daniela Sime (University of Strathclyde), talked about their research on the impact of work mobility on migrant children and on Eastern European migrant children’s peer and family relations. One session focussed entirely on arts methods for public engagement; speakers talked about the use of testimonial theatre to share migrants’ life stories in a transnational context; a project based on experiential workshops to engage with migrant communities; and cultural institutions’ uses of migrant cultural heritage to facilitate multicultural dialogue.

One session remains in our memory as the most compelling, emotional and challenging of the day. Focussed on the experience of asylum seekers and refugees to commemorate Refugee Week, the session involved Beverley Kandjii and Angeline Mwafulirwa, representing the Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, and Tanjeel Maleque, a solicitor from SILPA with experience of dealing with cases of family reunion and of LGBT asylum. All speakers talked about the gruelling experiences of asylum seekers and refugees, and of the difficulties they face in claiming a truly private life, in developing intimate relationships and in proving persecution where this occurs in the private sphere of intimate relations. They are faced with the constant scrutiny of their personal lives, lack of choice in housing arrangements, destitution, racism, sexism and homophobia. The discussion that ensued pointed to the importance of spaces where practitioners, activists and academics can come together to share insights and work towards meaningful change; however, it also raised questions about our limited power to influence migration policies and home office practices.

The day ended with a session on how to take forward ideas for future collaborations and creative engagements, based on a facilitated consultation exercise. This will shape the second and final workshop, which will take place in November (date TBA – more details will follow soon). We look forward to our next meeting and welcome suggestions for the next workshop and ideas on future collaborative activities participants would like to develop.

We gratefully acknowledge funding from the University of Glasgow (New Initiatives Fund and Robertson Bequest).

*Francesca Stella can be contacted at:
Marta Moskal can be contacted at:

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Three people in a room: ethical interpreting in healthcare

By Dr Ima Jackson, Project Co-investigator*

New GRAMNet research on Interpreter mediated health encounters provides a practical online free education tool to support and increase learning for those who participate.

20 years ago, a nurse might spend their whole career without ever needing an interpreter. But in some areas in Scotland, interpreting is now a daily requirement. As one colleague said, “It can be difficult to know if you are saying the right thing”. Clinicians generally aren’t taught about interpreting; migrants often don’t know what to expect, and interpreters themselves may be language-proficient, but they are not necessarily trained in health or ethics. They might be doing health one day, legal work the next.

The issue involves complex, three-way relationships, and there has been some progress, such as Greater Glasgow and Clyde setting up its own “bank “ of interpreters, but we still have some work to do. We think that the complexity of interpretation is one area where everyone benefits from some formal training, rather than a kind of well-intentioned but ill-informed muddling through. Similar views were reflected by a range of health professionals, migrants and interpreters at the end of project dissemination event at Glasgow Caledonian University School of Health in December 2013.

This event promoted a new resource for health and social care interpreting which has been developed by the Project Team through an SFC AHRC Healthier Scotland knowledge exchange research grant and The British Council for a project which investigated the experience and skills of those involved in interpreter mediated health encounters in Glasgow.

In Scotland, as in many other healthcare systems, there are limited opportunities for migrants, interpreters and health professionals to learn about interpreting in health as they are experienced by all three participants. Historically, and the literature and policy changes reflects this, one or two of the key participants’ experience has been investigated but rarely all three participants at the same time.

The research

This study reviewed the academic and policy literature from each perspective and then participants from each of those perspectives were interviewed individually or in focus groups. The results from analysis of their recounting of the experience were reconfigured into filmed scenarios. The films don’t represent any individuals’ experience but emerge from the total analysis.

Unlike other research projects, whose findings can sometimes be inaccessible for its targeted audience, the films can be viewed by any individual by accessing them on a computer or in public places such as hospital or GP waiting rooms, or more formally within facilitated tutorial and lecture groups.

Why films to spread the results?

Why did we film the output of our research? For a few reasons: because these encounters are dramatic; because we are learning from the participants; because we wanted to make our work available to everyone with an interest in this process- and also because there are no simple answers. The films allow people to experience the issues, and draw their own conclusions.

The films also helped our drive to make the outcome of the research immediately useful. They work politically and demonstrate through film, the seriousness of these issues in modern healthcare. A maxim of film-making is “show not tell”. We applied that principle to our filming… “when you watch it, you really feel it”, and the politics and the potential for inertia fades away. Producing a film based learning tool out of academic research is a mechanism which directly interacts with current health policy as well as migration and health politics. Through dramatising the interactions in health interpreting it highlights the potential effect of shifting from face to face interpreting to telephone interpreters.


We really hope these films will help people to make better use of the potential for interpreting to transform rather than limit health and social care encounters. We hope the films offer practical help to colleagues who may increasingly have found themselves needing interpreters, even though this was never part of their practice before.

By examining and then dramatising the dynamics of the experience of interpreting, we hope that everyone can gain: community interpreters may gain increased respect as they demonstrate their professionalism; patients benefit from the pitfalls of interpreting being recognised and managed (rather than being blamed on them); and care providers gain a sense of the potential for interpreting to empower understanding, rather than be a drain on resources and in doing so support the learning of our future health and social care providers, educators and interpreters.

*Ima Jackson is an experienced clinician, lecturer, researcher and project manager and has spent most of her career working with marginalised groups: initially pregnant women in the poorest parts of London and Glasgow, and in more recent years with refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants in Scotland. Her research interest is in migration, in particular transnational workforce issues, ethical recruitment processes, migrant health and healthcare infrastructure needs and gendered migration policy

The Project Team

Principal Investigator: Prof Alison Phipps
Post Doctoral Research Associate: Dr Teresa Piacentini
Co-investigators: Dr Ima Jackson, Dr Niamh Stack, Prof Kate O’Donnell
Non-HEI Partner: Tanveer Parnez (BEMIS)

Film Team

Dr Katja Frimberger
Simon Bishop


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Using theatre to explore the themes of the project*

The project Narratives of Social Change: Supporting Sustainable Action through Creative Multiliteracies unites research staff at the University of Glasgow with educational professionals from Glasgow City Council. The aim of this project is to support teachers to use children’s literature to explore themes related to the concept of citizenship such as migration, identity, culture, and social justice. The first phase of this project has produced a series of workshops. This article, written by Julie McAdam, describes the second of these workshops, which has used theatre to explore the themes of the project.

During the second workshop we decided to use theatre to explore the themes connected to the project. The idea for using theatre was based on the work of Augusto Boal, who drew on the work of Paulo Freire to write Theatre of the Oppressed.

The theatre workshop build on the metaphor of mirrors, windows and doors explored in the previous workshop using artefacts and provided us all with a space to see and feel emotions related to ourselves and others. The dramatic action was based on the wordless graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan and took us all on a journey that we did not quite expect.

Why did we use theatre?

I wanted to incorporate theatre for two main reasons, the first is because Boal (2008) describes the use of theatre as a new language. He says ‘By learning a new language, a person acquires a new way of knowing reality and of passing that knowledge on to others.’ (2008: 96). So my thinking was that by adding theatre to our repertoires, we would all be involved in communicating using a new language begin and in doing so we could create and discover a more complete picture of what we know about issues connected to language teaching and language learning. The second reason was linked to Boal’s ideas that theatre empowers and changes people, (this differs from traditional Aristotlean theatre that allows the characters to think and act on our behalf). With Boalian theatre, we all take on a role and get involved in the dramatic action, try out solutions and plans to take the action forward (2008:97). This provided a further link to the project aims because our embodied action at this stage might allow us to feel more prepared to carry out social actions in our everyday lives and move towards social change in our classrooms.

What we did?

I had to work with the Director and together we decided on a narrative for the Tan character to use in order to explain why we were all in the same room. We provided everyone with a set of instructions beforehand explaining what and why we were using Boalian theatre. We marked the entry into the drama by gathering in one room and moving collectively into the space designated for the drama. On entering the new space we met the character who was dressed to look like the main protagonist on the front cover of The Arrival and was introduced as a visiting teacher/academic. He called himself Tan and did not speak any English, which put us all in the position of having to interpret the meanings he was making. He carried a suitcase and used the artefacts in the suitcase to help provide more information about himself and his speciality. He then went on to tell us all about his speciality and used some diagrams to help explain. To conclude the session he asked us for some practical advice connected to living and working in Glasgow.

What happened next?

After the session we all returned to the original room for tea/coffee and a discussion of the workshop in terms of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. The Actor and the Director accompanied us and together we explored the ways in which the metaphor of mirrors (knowledge of self) , windows (knowledge of others) and doors (taking social action) related to our roles as teachers working with new arrival children in Glasgow’s classrooms. We were all surprised by our emotional response to the activity and our apprehension at taking part, as well as the ways in which the activity allowed us to explore some of the everyday assumptions we make with new arrival children. In our discussion we explored issues related to empathy, control, language learning, and knowledge of language, identity and intercultural competences …

Boal, A. (2008) Theatre of the Oppressed, London: Pluto Press.

*For the newest developments about this project, follow Sustainable Glasgow: Narratives of Social Change, where this article was originally published on the 15th of April 2014.

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