Monday, October 19, 2009
arab women's association (awa) gaza fundraiser
British artists join the call to ‘Let Gaza Live!’
The ‘Let Gaza Live!’ cultural evening held in London at the Royal Geographical Society’s Ondaatje Theatre last week, was an opportunity for musicians, actors and authors to express their solidarity with the people of Gaza.
The fundraiser, organized by the Arab Women’s Association (AWA) with the support of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), was attended by several hundred people. All proceeds went to the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip and the AWA Fund for Gaza.
Dr Mona el-Farra, deputy director of the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip, was to have been the special guest. But the continuing Israeli sealing off of Gaza prevented her from traveling, and her daughter Basma Ghalayini read the speech on her behalf.
In her speech Dr el-Farra stated: “Israel’s massive onslaught on the people of the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 and its subsequent tightening of its blockade have rendered us unable to trade and unable to move.”
Reconstruction is impossible without the basic building materials that Israel refuses to allow in, and the closures are “pushing life in Gaza to the point of collapse”. She spoke of the “daily pain, grief and deprivation of 1.5 million people living under total siege.”
There is a lack of electricity and safe drinking water, and “our health system is breaking down at a time when we have greatest need of it.” More than 45 percent of children under the age of five suffer from iron deficiency anemia
More optimistically, Dr el-Farra observed that “people are also determined to overcome their pain and to rebuild their lives. Every day I see the extraordinary determination of people to survive, against all the odds.”
The compere of the evening was the writer, journalist and activist Victoria Brittain. Introductory words came from the AWA Vice-Chair Pauline Khazen, who said: “We are here to support Gaza. Do I need to tell you about the Gaza Strip, which Israel has turned into an outdoor detention center?”
The evening’s cultural program was organized and produced by the Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster Reem Kelani [pictured top]. Accompanied by David Beebee on piano, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass and Milo Fell on drums, Reem gave a searing performance of her setting to music of “Mawwaal” by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who died last August. At the end of the evening she sang with much spirit, and audience participation, the Palestinian national anthem “Mawtini”.
Brittain read the lyrics of “Mawwaal” in English translation. She also read the poem “I was already dead” by another outstanding Palestinian poet – the late Mu’in Bseiso, whom she described as “a great child of Gaza”.
A recording of singer-songwriter Reverend Garth Hewitt, a PSC patron, performing “From The Broken Heart of Gaza (Father Musallam’s letter)”, was played to a slide show of images from Gaza. Hewitt was inspired to write the song by an open letter that Father Manuel Musallam, the Parish priest of Gaza, wrote to the to the wider Church last January.
The renowned Jewish musician and protest song writer Leon Rosselson performed “Song of the Olive Tree”. The song was written after “I saw in the main street of the very large settlement of Maale Adumim east of Jerusalem a row of ancient olive trees. All of them had been uprooted from Palestinian land and replanted there.”
The musician, composer and improviser Camilla Saunders played her piano composition “Unbinding”, dedicated “to all those who are oppressed and dispossessed, especially the Palestinians.” She has given music workshops to schoolchildren in West Bank refugee camps.
Father and son Bill and Alfie Horrocks sang unaccompanied “Iman”, their tribute to Iman Darwish Al-Hams a 13-year-old girl killed in Gaza in 2004 by an Israeli soldier who allegedly continued to fire at her as she lay wounded on the ground.
The actors Corin Redgrave and his wife Kika Markham [pictured below], with David Beebee on piano, read “Letter from Gaza” by Ghassan Kanafani. Kanafani, along with his young niece, was killed in Beirut in 1972 when Israeli intelligence agency Mossad planted a bomb in his car.
Dr Shelagh Weir gave an informative and evocative presentation on “Textiles, Costumes and Embroidery of the Gaza area.” Weir, a former curator at the British Museum, has organized three exhibitions and written several books on Palestine textiles and costume.
She said: “I want to remember some positive and beautiful things about the Gaza area,” and pointed out that before the 1948 nakba, textile production was one of the most important handicrafts in Palestine. The largest weaving center was Majdal, just north of Gaza. Most of the population fled to Gaza, and Majdal became the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
Dr Weir showed examples of the beautiful fabrics produced by weavers of Gaza and south-west Palestine. The fabrics and embroidery used for wedding trousseaux are particularly splendid.
She stressed: “Costume, textiles and embroidery have always been incredibly important in Palestine for symbolizing not only your regional and your village identity but also, as politics came more to the fore, your Palestinian identity” Despite the destruction of villages, their former inhabitants and their descendants continued to wear and produce their local village costumes, even after decades living in refugee camps.
The evening included a talk by investigative food journalist Joanna Blythman, the author of several prizewinning books. Blythman argues that “boycotting Israeli produce gives us all a way in our daily lives to register our ongoing disapproval of Israel’s behavior in Gaza and treatment of the Palestinian people in general.”
She highlighted one of the main concerns over Israeli food exports: that Israel is labeling the produce of illegal Israeli settlements as “West Bank”. This “deliberate deception” misleads those UK consumers who wish to support the Palestinians into thinking the produce is Palestinian. “To put it at its most pejorative, the fertile Jordan valley is land stolen by Israel from Palestine, so arguably its agricultural products are stolen goods.”
In July Blythman traveled to the West Bank with a Fairtrade Foundation delegation to meet Palestinians farmers and research an article for Observer Food Monthly. “I came back gripped by a burning sense of injustice at the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians ... It became clear to me that Palestine is a beautifully and deeply productive land with a highly skilled farming tradition,” she said.
Blythman called on consumers to stop buying Israeli produce, to put pressure on supermarkets to stop stocking Israeli produce, and to “buy as much Palestinian olive oil and as many Palestinian foods as you can possibly eat.”
October 19 2009