Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
50 days ago Nazmi –Al Masri and I wrote a piece about the 50 days of the war on Gaza this summer. The piece reproduced below was published in The Herald. Today Nazmi wrote to me to let me know that despite our best endeavours to arrange for him to join us at our project symposia and also for GRAMNet and AHRC project events he is unlikely to be able to leave Gaza. He wrote that in the last 50 days not a single person from Gaza has been able to leave the strip. 50 days of 1.9million people held captive with no freedom of movement.
As the Detention Inquiry continues its work and the twitter tour of detention [hashtag #Unlocked] continues, the parallels between people suffering in detention and people besieged in Gaza are palpable. Gaza is not Dungavel; is not Yarl’s Wood but its securitisation by Israel belongs in the hands of many of the same companies who profit from running detention centres in the UK and who have tested their security measures through the Occupation and on the people of Palestine.
100 days added to the 1,000s of days lost waiting, hoping, detained, besieged, hoping beyond hope. It is through international solidarity in the face of the humanitarian disaster that is occupation and detention that relationships and trust may one day be rebuilt. The university is the place which may ‘train us’, says Tim Radcliffe, in the ‘delicate art of learning to talk to strangers.’ Through the research project ‘Researching Multilingually at the Borders of the Body, Language, Law and the State’ we are engaged in language learning across borders and through conflicts where this art is urgently needed but also has to take positions – difficult ones; ones which I learned to my cost when publishing this piece with my colleague in the press, will not draw agreement, will draw sanction. Such is the nature of a war fought abroad, when it comes home. Part of the ‘delicate art’ involves naming delicate and difficult truths.”
Final words on Gaza mini series – this mini series on Gaza developed from our relationships in GRAMNet to colleagues suffering during the aggression in the Summer but continues as the aftermath is felt and the ripples of the conflict take new forms for the people in Palestine and for those who strive with them for an end to their suffering and isolation.
It’s been almost 50 days now, and every day I check my emails for signs of life from colleagues and friends.
When nothing comes, I tell myself it is because there is next to no electricity at all. What else can I tell myself? Anything else is the end of hope.
Each message, which is a welcome sign of life, also tells of more destruction.
The building at the Islamic University of Gaza, from which the project we work on together is co-ordinated, has been bombed and severely damaged.
It was a beautiful building. In it all departments of the Faculty of Arts, including the English language department, were completely destroyed.
No offices, no computers, no files, no documents; all vanished. It also housed the assistive teaching centre for visually impaired students. When in the Gaza Strip two years ago, this was one of the centres we visited.
Each time a message arrives it is courteous, courageous and compassionate.
Nazmi and I are working together to develop intercultural language education for teachers of Arabic. We wanted to do it in Gaza. We cannot. We wanted to do it in Egypt, but our colleagues cannot travel beyond the blockade. We wanted to do it online, but the power plant has been bombed and there is no power.
But what we do know, and what my experience of working with Gazan academics has shown me beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that a way will be found. My colleagues in Gaza are experts at managing complicated crises and finding innovative ways to overcome shocking challenges.
Of course, it’s hard to comprehend how this is possible. How can teachers be trained when there are no buildings, no scope for travel, no homes for the students, for staff?
In Gaza my colleagues are working away in the darkness, working away amidst shards of glass, of shrapnel, working away to the constant sound of drones and shelling day in day out. They evacuate, take shelter, and then tentatively return. One friend, Ahmed, an eye doctor , sent me a picture of his garden after heavy shelling. One dusty white rose survives. It is his sign of hope. The slightest truce or momentary return of electricity and they are immediately back at work.
Normality, such as it is, resumes and is relished. It is so easy to destroy; to press a button and wipe out life. It takes years to create something of beauty, like a garden, or a university, to learn a language or become an eye doctor.
I don’t know what I would do in such a situation. Would I find a way to be courteous, courageous, compassionate?
Each time a message arrives it is full of gratitude that we are here, in Scotland, to act upon the news; gratitude too for the steps taken thus far by the Scottish Government in calling for an arms embargo and issuing advice on divestment from illegal settlements.
I wonder: would I be like this? Would you?
What is my opinion on Gaza? I am beyond having anything like an opinion. A rich-world country has locked 1.8 million people in a massive open-air prison for seven years, in one of the most densely populated places on earth, where 25 per cent of the population are children, and it is raining terror.
There is nowhere to run to and this is not an opinion. I have been there when shelling occurred, I know that there is no escape. And the UK Government cannot even utter the words “disproportionate” or cease its murderous trade in arms.
I have no energy left for opinions on Gaza. Opinions are for peace time. Opinions are luxuries, not means of survival. I will continue to boycott and demonstrate and work for peace until those suffering ask me to desist.
And I will not be daunted by the work. After all, my Gazan colleagues are not.
Where others have opinions, I insist on having hope.
*Originally published on the 11th of September by The Herald.