Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

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
centuries,
along the liturgical
lines of
their repetition.

Hanan Ashwari stops,
takes a deep
unsteady
breath.
Takes a moment.

“just
a moment..”

[…]

her breath rising

trembling

through the constriction
in her throat

to touch
my silence.

The tonal
stability

[…]

breaks.

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
practised,
pitch-perfect
voice crack too,

hands moving to
his war-ashen
face.

From their
porous souls
the air vibrates
with all
weeping
witnessed.

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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This entry was posted on July 30, 2014 by in Gaza series.
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