Tuesday, May 03, 2005

visions of Palestine

Behind the Wall
by Susannah Tarbush

At the Visions of Palestine evening in the Royal Geographic Society last Tuesday, journalist Lauren Booth – half sister of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie – spoke with passion about her recent first-ever visit to the West Bank and Gaza.

The bouncy journalist, who writes, inter alia, for the Mail on Sunday, New Statesman, and Observer, read from the diary she kept on her trip – expressing for example her amazement at the size of Israeli settlements, and her dismay at the sight of the town of Kalkilya surrounded by the so-called security wall and barbed wire, making the Palestinians like foreigners in their own land.

She found Nablus “stunning”, and fell in love with Ramallah, “the Beverly Hills of the occupied territories” where she felt “a lot safer than in the streets of Haringey” (a borough of London known for its guns and street crime). Throughout her trip she was overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of the Palestinians.

Visions of Palestine was organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding and raised funds for four charities. It was chaired by the journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown, who is a columnist in the Independent, a frequent commentator on radio and TV, and the author of several books.

The 20-year-old Palestinian singer Shadia Mansour, dressed in a traditional embroidered Palestinian dress, added a musical flavour to the evening with her unaccompanied singing.

Palestinian writer Adania Shibli, whose work has been published in literary magazines in the Arab world, read one of her short stories. She has twice been awarded the Young Writer’s Award – Palestine by the A M Qattan Foundation.

British photographer Tom Craig displayed on a screen some of the photographs he took in Gaza while accompanying the actor Daniel Day-Lewis as part of a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) project. Day-Lewis’s article on Gaza and Craig’s photographs were published in the Sunday Times colour magazine a few weeks ago.

During their visit Day-Lewis and Craig saw the work MSF is doing to help traumatised children. Craig’s photographs are full of scenes of rubble and shattered buildings, and of children who have suffered physical and emotional damage. And yet the spirit of the people, especially the children, shines through.

Gaza was a main focus of the evening. The distinguished Gaza-born artist Laila Shawa, who has lived and worked in London for some years, presented some of her striking images based on the children and graffiti of Gaza.

Dr Eyad El-Sarraj, the Palestinian psychiatrist who is founder and medical director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, gave a humanitarian discourse on how a solution to the conflict can be achieved once Israel starts to see Palestinians as equal human beings and treats them as such.

Israeli-Dutch filmmaker Benny Brunner showed extracts from two films. One was his latest documentary, “The Concrete Curtain”, in which he looks at the impact of Israel’s separation barrier on Palestinian life in Jerusalem.

The other film was Tama Goldschmidt’s “Qalandiya Checkpoint Report” which conveys the frightening crush of Palestinian women and children struggling to get through the turnstile which is the entrance to their refugee camp while Israeli soldiers look on.

At the end of the evening a visibly moved Yasmin Alibhai Brown told the Palestinians: “I am absolutely humbled by your struggle and what you go through. I salute your courage and your spirit.”

Saudi Gazette, 3 May 2005

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