So, this week I was in Gaza. I didn’t really advertise it beforehand because when I told a few people, their reactions ranged from mild alarm to full-scale OMG-I-hope-you-have-an-armed-guard-with-really-big-guns kind of panic. Also, I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to get in until I was actually through all the checkpoints.

Yes. All the checkpoints. Because first there’s Israeli passport control and a Gaza stamp in our passports. Then a fifteen minute walk through a sheltered, chicken-wire-contained corridor through open fields to the first Gaza checkpoint, where we were met by our escort who took us to the second checkpoint where we received our stamped Palestinian Authority visas.

I don’t know what I expected when I arrived because my images of Gaza are probably much the same as yours: bombed out buildings, frightened children, mourning mothers, wounded teenagers, war, trauma, tragedy.

There was, of course, evidence of past wars, despite the efforts to clean up and rebuild.

IMG_2803

But I didn’t expect striking beauty. I didn’t expect to enjoy a delicious iftar meal looking out over a beach which could have just as easily been in Tel Aviv.

IMG_2895

And yet, there were moments when Tel Aviv felt another world away, not just an hour’s drive.

IMG_2666

I didn’t expect the remarkable creativity, the murals which lined the streets.

IMG_2693

Or the high quality of the crafts we saw. (So. Much. Pretty.)

IMG_2922

I thought I would encounter more anger, more bitterness, more resentment amongst the people we met. Maybe at a different time we would have. But not this visit. I had no idea that time after time after time, we would find ourselves celebrating with our partners — celebrating real grass on a newly established 5-a-side football pitch at the YMCA, where games are timed around Ramadan fasts and call to prayer at the next-door mosque.

IMG_2764

Or sharing delight at the new building of the St John’s Eye Clinic, which should have opened two years ago, but couldn’t because of the war and because equipment (including the lifts) was stuck at the border for literally years. But I found tears of joy welling up in my eyes as the staff proudly showed us every nook and cranny of the place and proudly showed off their state-of-the-art surgical wards.

I didn’t expect such developed vocational training programmes which were flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of the people living in the Gaza Strip and the resources available, and which incorporated vocational training ideas and curricula from all over the world.

I didn’t expect so many programmes empowering women, advocating for their rights, working towards their full inclusion as equal members of society.

IMG_2799

Oh, there was discomfort. I don’t mean to present an overly rosy picture of our time in Gaza. There was heat and humidity and the challenge of staying hydrated and finding midday meals in the midst of Ramadan. There were dark streets on the drive home when the electricity was off. There were the moments when I swore and shivered under the cold shower, longed to wash my hair with desalinated water, cursed the lack of mobile signal, sweated through meetings in buildings which had no generator, regretted eating salads and fruit washed in less-than-pure-water my sensitive stomach couldn’t handle, and wished death upon the rooster that crowed non-stop from the 4am call to prayer. It made me realise how many of my complaints in Tiberias are #FirstWorldProblems indeed.

And there was frustration. I expected that. And perhaps amongst some a sense of defeat. There were concerns about the fragmentation of Palestinian politics, the closure of Gaza’s borders, the impossibility of getting permits. There were more than fifty shades of grey in the political views we heard and the opinions about how the international community should respond and whether foreign aid is treating merely the symptoms and ignoring the root causes. I expected that too.

But I didn’t expect to find myself overwhelmed by the determination, the humility, the passion, the gentleness, the enthusiasm we encountered.

I should know better after these few years of being a priest that it is most often the moments when I think I’m the one offering the blessing, the reassurance, the comfort, the hope, that I end up walking away, unsure of what ‘good’ I actually did because of the blessing, the reassurance, the comfort, the hope offered to me. That was my experience of Gaza. And it wasn’t one I expected.

But the last thing I expected to see, after years of watching the turmoil of Gaza on the news from the comfort of Scotland, was to sit in the comfort of an air-conditioned office in Gaza, watching the turmoil of Britain in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

IMG_2712

 

Here are some of the partners we visited:

UNRWA Sulafa Embroidery Project

YMCA Gaza

St John’s Eye Hospital

Near East Council of Churches, Committee for Refugee Work

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children

Caritas Health Clinic

3 thoughts on “snapshots of gaza

  1. THanks Kate, for this good report. This gives me information that I don’t get anywhere else. Keep sharing.

  2. Glad you’re now getting the broader picture, Kate. Lucky you – Kenny wasn’t able to get Israeli permits our group in May so I haven’t been able to visit Hadeel’s partners there for 4 years – but we keep in touch and are actually funding women’s empowerment projects at both Sulafa and Atfaluna. Hopefully you can now tell folk that at Hadeel they can see and buy some of those wonderful crafts you saw.

  3. Hello Kate

    Just back from 2 weeks in Toronto where the Brexit vote was met with confusion, or ridicule or a mix of both, and Boris Johnson likened to Donald Trump. Also my first experience of being embarrassed to admit to coming from the UK!! At least I’m Scottish ….

    Now back in the land of Real News disseminated by the confident tones of radio 4 and feeling a bit more connected.

    Very interested to have news of your visit to Gaza, which I have often thought about since I visited during the intifada. Not a very happy experience in some ways, but like you, profoundly moving in others. We saw an amazingly optimistic UNHCR education and community development programme doing really good work with young people under an inspiring Director of operations. Tragically the centre was bombed heavily by the Israelis in a subsequent period of hostilities, and the wonderful Director as well as other staff were killed in the attack. So good to hear about rebuilding.

    Hope all goes well with your travel and your 3 weeks in Scotland. You’ll get lots of rain to make you grateful for the sun in Israel!!

    Love, Elizabeth

    >

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s