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Waiting for Godot (and no kiss goodbye)

Derek’s story continues…

Monday 16th.

No move on the border today we have been told 100% that only pilgrims will pass. That doesn`t mean we`re not trying, we are still calling every one we know and pulling in any favors we can. So we have been guaranteed that we can leave tomorrow first thing. The funeral arrangements are made, removal on Wednesday and burial on Thursday after 11 o`clock mass. This is ok if we get out and get to Cairo airport,  there is a flight at 4 in the morning and we will get into Dublin at 10.30, that means we can be in Ballina by 2 o`clock in time for the removal.

Tuesday 17th

Didn`t get much sleep between my mind racing and listening to the Israeli’s shooting at the fishermen. We got up at 6 and just sat around waiting for the bus to arrive. We were on the road just after 8 and got to Rafah at quarter to 9. All ready for the day or so we thought, we got there and there was 1000`s all trying to get out. Everybody trying to get past the first gate, if you get past the first gate you have a good chance of getting across. It is getting worse and worse every time the border opens. Previously it would open once every 2 weeks now it is once every 4 to 5 weeks. So when it does open people are more desperate to get out. Some of the scenes today were very distressing, women and children crying, men screaming.

We tried to pass and were told wait 5 minutes, first bad sign of the day because 5 minutes means 1 maybe 2 hours. Panic starts to set in because sometimes the Egyptians open the border for 2 hours and then shut it for no reason. All I can do is start making phone call to everyone I know. After an hour or so of calling people I got a call back to say that the official that deals with the foreigners will come down to the gate in 5 minutes (1-2 hour).It was like that play “Waiting for Godot”. He arrived at 1 o`clock, 2 and a half hours later and told all the internationals that they can`t leave today, we can got tomorrow at 9 o`clock guaranteed. At this point I started to lose it and told him, quite loudly, that we were guaranteed to leave today and that this was an emgency, all the rest of the international understood our situation and agreed for Jenny and myself to pass and they would remain. The official agreed to see what he could do and would call the Egyptian side just for 2 people to pass.

After he left I sat down by myself and the realization of what was happening started to hit me, I was going to miss the removal and would not be able to kiss Mam goodbye and would never see her again. Have you ever had that sick feeling in your stomach of hopelessness, well double that. Looking around I could hear and see so many other people in the same sick situation and sick situation is the only way to describe it. Begging and pleading to be allowed to do what everyone else takes as a God given right to be treated like a human being and be allowed to travel freely. Shame on the world for allowing this to happen and for turning a blind eye to it.

40 minutes later the official came back and said no way any international are crossing today not even us two. At this point my heart was broken into 100 pieces. I missed Mam passing, I`m missing the wake tonight ( mam is been waked in the house tonight) and I will miss the removal.

I had held it together all day and on the way back to Gaza my sister called, that’s when I lost it and turned into a blubbering mess. Maria calmed me down and we chatted about what to do next. She told me this is all happening for a reason and we might not know what the reason is right now but it will all be clear later. I hope so because it isn`t making any sense right now. It`s now over 2 week since we first started trying to get out, many Palestinians have spent their whole lives trying to get out and I wouldn`t say it`s making much sense to them either.

 

Finally understanding what it’s like to be a Palestinian

   (Farewell to mam) by Derek Graham

 

Since 2008 we have worked as solidarity activist / human rights workers with the Palestinians running boats in and out of Gaza and in the beginning of 2012 we moved to Gaza full time. Living here you think you understand what it is like because you are eating the same food and showering in the same salty water as the Palestinians. You wait for your bottle of gas the same as the Palestinians (some times for weeks) and you have the same amount of electricity as they do. But all this is only scratching at the surface.

It was only 2 weeks ago we started to really learn what life is like for Palestinians.

Two weeks ago we got that phone call from home that no son or daughter ever wants to get. Come home quick your mother is very sick. As we both have been arrested by the Israelis on the boats, leaving through Israel is not an option as we are both on the black list for 10 years. For most Palestinians leaving through Israel is not an option either. So your only option is through Rafah, this may sound easy but it`s far from easy.

We went to the Government here and told them we needed to get home quick, they were sympathetic but said they didn`t know when the border would be open again and that we would need to co-ordinate with the Egyptians. We contacted the Egyptian embassy in Dublin and explained our situation and I must say the staff there is very polite and very helpful and most of all they were understanding. They got us the co-ordination and said we can leave the next time the border opens. Sadly though, they have no control over the Rafah border and couldn`t say when it would open.

As the days went on the news from home was getting worse but there was a glimmer of hope from this side. If the unity agreement is signed Rafah will open permanently, unity agreement was signed, and Minister’s sworn in and then there was a problem. Nobody is sure or will say what the problem is but the border isn`t opening. At this stage in Gaza there are over 6,000 people waiting to get out for medical treatment and 1,000s of student waiting getting to college many of whom will lose their places if there are not there on time. Their whole future depending on when Rafah will open and for how long as there are only so many people allowed out each day it opens.

The more days that pass the more helpless you feel, whether you get to see you mother before she dies is out of your hand. Time starts to move more slowly, hours seems like days.You try to keep yourself busy working at different projects so that your just not sitting around and thinking, if you do the situation becomes unbearable. You start to understand why things like football is such a big thing here, it`s to take their minds off the siege because if you just sit around and think about the siege you would go crazy.

It`s Friday night here the 13th and the news from home is not very good at all.  It`s looking like I won`t make it home on time. There is a rumour going around that the border will open on Sunday but it is only for pilgrims. We have no choice but to try any way, we like every other Palestinian in here are pulling in every favor we can to get on the list. But the Palestinian Government here has very little say as to who gets on the list. The Egyptians can say pilgrims only or pilgrims plus some regular passengers it`s up to them.

Knowing that something as important as saying good bye to your mother, something that will stick with you for the rest of your life is out of your hand, is so demoralizing and so hard to handle. Even if they gave you a definite date so you had something to work towards,  it would ease the mental torture because that is what this siege is, it`s mental and physical torture. But it`s then you start to realize what the Palestinian have been going through for so many years and it gives you a new respect to their resolve.

Saturday 14th, Mam had a very rough night, her breathing is shallow and she is finding it hard to speak. I know she is only holding on waiting for me to get home, she told my sister “I`m trying my best to hold on but tell Derek I am sorry, I couldn`t hold on any longer”. We got a call around mid-day from Maria to say you need to say goodbye to mam, she put the phone on speaker. This was and well be the hardest call I will ever had to make, to hear her struggle for breath and listening to her last few pearls of wisdom. Not been able to hold her hand and tell her everything will be ok as she had done for me so many times in the past was torture. And all because the world decides to turn a blind to the longest siege in world history. Mam been mam is one for the strongest women I know and at 16.30 she is still holding on in the hope we will get out. The news on the border is it will open tomorrow but only for pilgrims. We are going to go to the border anyway and see if we can blag our way out, we have no choice. Sadly there will be 1000s of other’s trying the same thing; everyone here takes whatever chance they can because here, many times your life does depend on it.

22.52 Paul my brother called to say mam has just passed away. He said that it was so peaceful the way she went and that she is at rest now. Numbness is the only way to describe my feelings, sitting here just wait for tomorrow to come and try and start our journey home (tic tock tic tock). And we still don`t know if we will get out tomorrow, the rumours are that nobody but pilgrims are getting out tomorrow and Monday. (But we must try). If this is the case there is a possibility that we won`t make it home in time for the funeral. I don`t want to think about that right now but I have no choice. There will be many people reading this and saying it is your own fault, you chose to go and live there and yes they are correct. But there are 1.8 million people here that don`t have a choice, our story is one story, now multiply this story by 1.8 million and that is Gaza.

Sunday 15th. We have just spent the day at Rafah crossing, ask, begging, pleading, calling anyone that might be able to talk to the Egyptians. The kick in the gut came at the end of the day then we were allowed inside the first gate after waiting outside for 4 and a half hour. Normally when you pass the first gate it`s 90% certain that you will get across the border. Today the one day we really needed to get across we ended you in the other 10%. Just as we got past the first gate my brother called and I naively told him we are on our way, everyone at home was a little more relieved. 5 minutes last an offical came and told us that there is no way we are crossing today, first kick in the gut. We agued and said give us a few minutes to make some more calls. Back on to the Irish department of foreign affairs (who are always very helpful) back on to every contact we have in Gaza to no avail. While I was on the phone the official came back to Jenny and told her there is no way until Tuesday, today and tomorrow only for pilgrims, this was like two kicks in the gut at the same time. Now the funeral is looking out of reach. I couldn`t see mam before she died and now I may not be able to even kiss her goodbye and see her one last time before she is gone forever.

All because of petty politics and people wanting to show others who`s in charge. And the sad thing about it is we were not alone there were 100s of other people there in the same boat as us and them same people will be back again tomorrow trying again all because of the longest siege in world history. Some day the world will wake up and see the injustice of what is happening here.

Will update you later on how we get on over the next few days.

 

The next part is to Mam

There are parents, there are good parents and there are excellent parents.

Parent’s have children

Good parent’s have children and teach them right from wrong

Excellent parent’s have children, teach them right from wrong and give them the courage to stand up for what is right.

Thanks Mam for been an excellent parent and giving me the courage to do what I`m doing.

Doris Graham 1941 – 2014 R.I.P.

 

Despite threats to their safety, Palestinians are farming in Gaza buffer zone as a way to regain land and livelihoods.

Al Jazeera article on Umm Al Nasser village in Northern Gaza. This is the Bedouin village where we spend most of our time these days.

“We could not encourage people to go to farm in an area if they are exposed to insecurity,” Ferrand told Al Jazeera. “The area is super sensitive and it was difficult to get the approval to work there,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we can guarantee 100 percent security for our farmers,” he added.

“Unfortunately incidents in the access-restricted areas do exist,” Ferrand added.

But the risks don’t deter the farmers in Umm an-Nasser.

“We know there is a risk, but we don’t want to lose our investments here,” said Abu Freiya, the mayor. “I ask you to come a year from now – this has so much potential. Next year, the farmers will be more developed and use the lands during different seasons and benefit from every single sand grain. It will change family life. The only obstacle is the security.”

To read the full article from Al Jazeera, click link below.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/03/palestinians-reclaim-gaza-buffer-zone-20143281519860884.html

The other side of Gaza!     Happy………..

 

 

 

 

Violin interpretation of "Ferdinand the bull"

Violin interpretation of “Ferdinand the bull”

On A Saturday afternoon, Our small apartment on the 11th floor is filled with music and laughter, balloons, shwarma, ice cream, new friends old friends and smiling , beautiful children. Our guest of honour, is the amazing violinist, Christian, who has come to play a violin interpretation of the classical tale of “Ferdinand the Bull” Our audience consists of some very special children who suffer from a rare skin disease known as Epidermolysis Bullosa ( Sometimes known as Butterfly Children as their skin is described as being as fragile as a butterfly’s wing’s, but I think it is because they are just as beautiful as a butterfly).. follow their blog from Gaza here:

http://www.lefarfalledigaza.com/

The children, Fahad, Reema, Rewan, Islam and Hazim along with some of their siblings and other family members came to listen to Ferdinand the Bull. They sat giggling on the floor and sofa’s until the music and story began. With each note, the children became more enthralled, the violin enticing them  more and more in to the story,  With Christian interacting with the children, waiting for their response, the giggling subsided and within moments, each child was lost in his wonderful music. There was no more difference between the 5 sick children and all the others, as the story , the music , joined hearts and minds and childhood.

 

Epidermolysis bullosa

Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) is an illness that causes the skin to be fragile. Because the skin is so fragile, it can be easily injured, causing painful blisters to form. These blisters can cause serious problems if they become infected. Some people with EB have a mild form of the disease with few blisters. For others, there may be many blisters on the skin. Some people develop blisters inside the body—in places such as the mouth, stomach, esophagus EB skin is never able to ever heal properly with normal strength: chronic open wounds and extensive scarring develop with attendant pain. Each time EB skin is damaged, the damage is irreversible, and disfigurement and disability accrue over a lifetime. Some severe forms of EB are fatal in infancy; others in older children and young adults. The chronic wounds of EB can result in decreased mobility owing to pain and the extensive scar tissue that forms. Scarring in turn results in constriction of the mouth or throat, or ‘mitten’ deformities of the hands and feet: benefits of surgery to release fingers, for example, are of limited duration as scar tissue starts to form again immediately. For some types of EB, the internal mucosa is also affected: nutrition can be compromised, resulting in osteoporosis, and general failure to thrive: quite young children can depend on gastrostomies or require highly specialised diets. A type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), is a major cause of death for recessive dystrophic (RDEB) teenagers and young adults: surgery, radio- or chemotherapy are not effective. It is particularly aggressive and invasive in EB patients and the need is to prevent development or slow the spread.

 

IN GAZA… Here in Gaza, a lack of fresh, unsalted, un polluted water to clean the children’s wounds adds to an already extremely painful, crippling and often fatal illness. A shortage of bandages to cover exposed and open wounds, and a dire shortage of funds exacerbates the pain the children go through on a daily basis, but despite all this, these are some of the sweetest, friendliest children we have the pleasure of knowing.

In Gaza, there is now a small association helping the children and families effected by EB,  thanks to  Daniela Riva and her determination to fight for the children and her undeniable love for each of them.

An association from Italy, Debra Italia, part of the Debra International group, are assisting with some of the medical needs for the children, sending delegations of Doctors to perform surgery at times on some of the children, The local association try to have different activities for the children, days at the beach, parties etc to give the children a social side and a chance for interaction with other children. Some of the children have now started school. They each attend clinics regularly to change bandages, have treatment, physiotherapy etc.

These children, Fahad, Reema, Rewan, Islam and Hazim have never known a day without pain. On this day alone, Fahad could not walk due to new large blisters on his feet, Hazim came to the party direct from Shifa hospital after having a new, infected blister bandaged on his fore arm, but through daily adversity, they smile, always , they smile, laugh and humble those of us honoured enough to know them. Reema struggled to her feet to take centre stage and sing a song, Islam , supported by Dani, insisted on joining in with the dancing and Rewan mingled, chatted and posed for the pictures.

 

But , on this Saturday,  in the company of Ferdinand the Bull, they were just children………

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If you would like more information on the Association in Gaza or would like to donate to the children, just contact us here and we will put you in contact with Daniela or the Association members.

So, Finally  3 weeks and 2 days  after leaving Ireland, We managed to return to Gaza. After spending one week in Cairo we moved to El Arish  as it was reported the border would be open the following day.  We ended up spending a further 2 weeks in El Arish.

From 6 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. each day in El Arish, all forms of communication are cut off, phone lines, mobiles and internet  by the military ( who are very visible at all times ) . Friends in Gaza would try to stay in contact, with regards to the following days information on the crossing, either late the night before or very very early the next morning.

In the end we were able to cross when it opened for 2 days to allow pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia to cross.  Although we are delighted to finally be back in Gaza, It is utterly disgraceful that we, as Irish citizens who chose to live in Gaza ( and are very lucky to do so) should be allowed to enter while Palestinians are still denied the right to return home via the Rafah crossing ( or indeed any other crossing) .The border has now been closed to “regular” passage for more than one month now  with catastrophic consequences. A baby boy has died as he waited for the border to open so he could receive medical treatment in Turkey, and sadly this is just one story of many…( details  of the story ) http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=681338

Gaza is in the midst of a thunder and lightening storm. Cold , wet and windy, we could be back in Ireland but  for the threat of a large scale Israeli attack . After 3 of its members were killed by the occupation forces, Islamic Jihad fired up to 130 rockets towards Israel, who retaliated over the next 2 nights. At least 29 airstrikes took place North and South Gaza.

You can read a summary of the last few days here: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/03/bombards-multiple-airstrikes.html

All crossings in to and out of Gaza are now shut tight, including the goods crossing at Karem Shalom. Because of this, the sole power plant in Gaza has now run out of fuel again and is to close tonight. This means Gaza will again be back to 12 hours with out electricity and 6 hours on.

Gaza power plant closes! ( click below for details)

http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=681668

But, we are back! We will take a trip to  Umm Al Nasser in the next few days and update you all on the village and how they are all doing. We will fill you in on our plans for the next few months in Gaza and as always keep you updated on any and all occurences.

You should also check out a new blog available.

“Kathleen and Gillian are paramedics who work on emergency ambulances in England and New Zealand respectively. Both have previously been involved in human rights work at home and abroad, including the West Bank.

They arrived in Gaza in March 2013 with the following hopes and aims:

- To learn more about the health care structure and situation in Gaza, both for health workers and people accessing care.

- To build links and solidarity between Gazan health care workers and their colleagues abroad.

- To understand the impact of Israeli attacks and the continuing blockade on the Gazan health care system.

- To provide specialist pre-hospital training to ambulance workers and others, if needed.

- To bring desperately needed medical supplies across the border, donated by friends and health care professionals from New Zealand, the UK and others.

- To meet ambulance workers and other health care workers, to hear about their working conditions and the challenges they face.

-To work in the pre-hospital environment where possible, and contribute our specialist skills as best we can.

This blog hopes to act as a small window into the health situation in Gaza, and will be updated as frequently as possible.”

Check them out at     http://paramedicsingaza.org/

Heart felt thanks comes from the bedouin community in Umm Al Nasser village in Gaza, and we are forever grateful for your support.

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Since our last posts    ,(http://wp.me/psaGo-15   )some of you have generously  donated  to help  via this blog.

Some of you may actually remember Um Al NAsser village from 2007. ( excerpt from electronic intifada)

“At approximately 10:00 on Tuesday, 27 March 2007, four Palestinians, an elderly woman and 3 children, were killed and 20 others injured in the Um El-Naser (Bedouin) village, when the earth barriers around a sewage disposal pool broke 150 meters to the north of the village. As a result, sewage water flooded from the pool flooded the village, and the effect was more devastating due to the fact that the pool’s elevation was higher than the village, giving the flood more power and destructive force. The level of sewage water was 2 meters high in the village. Four people were drowned to death, and 20 others were injured by the flooding. Emergency crews from the Civil Defense Corps, Medical Crews, and Naval Police were still trying to find missing people at the time of publication. More than 250 homes were damaged, including 20 homes that were totally destroyed. In addition, substantial damage was caused to commercial shops, private vehicles, and other services in the area.”

Umm Al NAsser village is somewhere we spend a lot of time. It is a village of nomadic Palestinians whose hospitality is always second to none. We have spent many days walking through fields of crops, many destroyed in the last floods, or through fields of absolutely delicious strawberries that should be enjoyed by the rest of the world, but which are regularly sold for pittance or left to rot in containers at the border when Israel decides to shut Karem Shalom.

Photo3567

We sit around campfires drinking sweet tea with families who have been left with virtually nothing . Homes were destroyed by wind and water, with rain still pouring through rusted holes in galvanised roofs.

Thanks to you, we have now managed to cover 52 homes with strong plastic sheeting. The strong plastic/nylon sheeting is wrapped tightly over  the roofs and /or walls of the primitive homes of the villagers. This at least ensures that the heavy rains are being held back from pouring into the rooms and on to the clothes, bed clothes and in to furniture , destroying homes and families …..Some  families needed extra blankets which you have also provided. This may seem like a small matter but it is the difference between bed clothes , children’s clothes and families them selves being wet , damp or destroyed to actually being dry!!!

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Our gratitude goes to each of you who donated but there are still families we have not reached yet and can not reach with out more help.

A quick reminder, there is a paypal button on the donate page of the blog. Again, we reiterate that every cent donated goes to the village for more plastic and blankets. On behalf of the villagers, we offer a huge thank you to all who have and those who may donate and we will of course keep updating you all.

The pictures below are some  of the actual homes now covered in Plastic sheeting.

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