Remembering Gaza, PalFest Ireland

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The monumental canvas of Handprints for Palestine has continued its world tour, after Paris, Bruxels, Berlin, Barcelona, Beirut, Alger, Tunis, Casablanca, Geneva…..just imagine these hands tearing down the apartheid wall!

 

A year has passed since the fourth massive and devastating attack on Gaza since 2006, from the Israel forces… I’ve always been an activist, driven by injustices in the world, and never more so than by the genocide being perpetrated on the Palestinians, living under siege in their own land, the borders closed, kept on a starvation diet by Israelis blocking deliveries of food, medical supplies, water, electricity, rebuilding materials, educational supplies… schools and hospitals being deliberately bombed…. this was not a war between military adversaries but a systematic genocide where the vast majority of casualties were defenceless civilians; the casualty figures paint the stark picture…in the 51 days of bombing last July, one Israeli child was killed, and 551 Palestinian children….one child killed is one too many, but the disproportionality of this conflict is devastating.
How do we live with the knowledge of what happened, and what continues to happen before the eyes of the world? (never mind that the strictly controlled western media does not in any way carry the full story). What do we do with the feelings of powerlessness, when we feel helpless….all we can do is add our voices, show our solidarity, spread the word.

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Last Friday I travelled down to Dublin with my good friend Jackie McKenna, to take a very small part in the PalFest Ireland’s event “NO MORE – Dublin Remembers the Children of Gaza”

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The PalFest Ireland installation of 556 children’s vests, on Sandymount Strand, Dublin, in memory of the innocent Palestinian children killed in 51 days last July.

On the Friday night we went to a presentation by Dr Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who has worked in al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza over the last 15 years…a truly remarkable man. Those two hours were a roller coaster of emotions…it was inspiring, harrowing, uplifting, horrifying, heart breaking…the theatre was full, and not a dry eye in the house. What shone through was the dignity, pride, resilience and indomitable, steadfast courage of the Palestinian people…and the humanity of volunteers like Dr Mads, who go to help, to witness and to show solidarity with them.The following clip was a short talk by Mads after one of the theatrical performances for PalFest Ireland. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go to those, but this 16 minute clip gives a picture of his work there.


 Dr Mads has now been permanently banned from entering Gaza, and as he wrote in his new book, ‘Night in Gaza’, “When a pen, a camera and a stethoscope are seen as security threats, we know we are dealing with a regime that is afraid of the truth, and that believes power confers rights”.
No one can forget the images of seven small boys playing football on the beach in Gaza, and the deliberate Israeli shelling that killed four of them, from the one extended family. I won’t post the harrowing photos, just this iconic image from Amir Schilby, of Jewish Voices for Peace.

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The three friends who were playing with them,, and who were injured with broken bones and abdominal shrapnel wounds, are traumatised by their loss, and cannot go back to the beach…..In their words: “The beach was our favourite playground”…”We used to play on the beach and go fishing together. I don’t know what we’ll do now.” The traumas inflicted on innocent children will reverberate for generations.

On the Saturday, PalFest Ireland created a family Fun Football event to champion the right and freedom for all children to play freely on the beach…

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There was some beautiful face painting done by Katie Burkenshaw, and a wonderful magician and balloon man, Simon Toal, who captivated the children there……and me too, he was excellent!

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Jackie and I had worked with Manorhamilton children, making and decorating paper boats…boats to represent freedom, the right of Palestinian refugees worldwide to return to their homeland, and the international humanitarian aid boats that are still being prevented by Israel from reaching Gaza, and the boats of the fishermen prevented from making a livelihood by the Israeli gunships curtailing their rights to fishing fields.

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Gabrielle McKenna and Stewart Dowie….our wonderful hosts in Dublin x

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Stella by name, and a wee star by nature!

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Out of the mouths of children…

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A sweet wee lass who came to help make paper boats ….she reminded me of the wee Palestinian girls injured last year in Gaza, which we saw in Dr Mads Gilbert’s presentation …and their indomitable spirit. How can Israel ever justify the slaughter of innocents?

Black clouds were rolling in when we tried to launch the paper boats…the tide was so far out that we tried to float them on a pond, but the wind was blowing them over and capsizing them…

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…so we later took many boats to the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.When we got there, we were approached by a member of the Public Works Dept, and feared that he’d stop us launching the paper boats for Gaza, but we explained what we were intending, and luckily Jackie had had the foresight to bring a fishing net to take the boats out afterwards, and the P.W. man gave us his blessing…and a good chat!

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Jackie with her fishing net!

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Stewart Dowie, a great help!


Once again, the wind was separating the boats and sinking some, and so the remaining 100 or so undecorated boats were taken to be decorated in youth workshops run by Stewart…..the word spreads.
This is a short clip showing the Family Fun day….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inzP7QxwsBI&feature=youtu.be

And lastly, but far from least, a Huge Thank You to Eimer Murphy, who brought me a piping hot coffee when my feet were totally soaked with cold sea water….a life saver! So many people working away quietly behind the scenes…every one a vital part of the event. We will never forget. Together we speak out.

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The Derry Peace Temple

It’s far too long since I last blogged, and it’s been four months of real highs and lows….It seems I need to put a wee bit of distance before I blog about all that…..so here’s an intermediate blog about the Peace Temple in Derry.

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I only heard about the project last Wednesday, but it took me no time to decide to go up for the burning. In the past I’d dreamed about going to the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert, whilst thinking it was not likely that I could ever go, and now the Californian Burning Man artist, David Best, had been brought to Derry to design the Peace Temple, in honour of people who had died in The Troubles.

Catholics and Protestants came together to work on the project, and I felt a palpable sense of unity, both at the site and around the town.  Community groups and schools also got involved in contributing and building it,  and in the first week of it being open to the public many thousands of people had visited, and left mementos to lost loved ones. Other hurts and troubles were also commemorated, with hundreds of photos and writings.

This is a wee clip about the making of it on Youtube, and there’s more there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvbicvrib14

The project was two years in the planning, and over 100 individuals worked on the build.

Derry is known as the city of five hills, and it was a fair walk up to the Temple. It is also a city of many spires; the Temple was visible from all over the city, and was lit from within after dark, with a wonderful backdrop of the far hills, the city lights below, and the spires of two cathedrals and many other churches.

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Inside, the lattice effect was awe inspiring…with this wonderful chandelier hanging from the pinnacle.

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Below that there was an Altar reaching up to the chandelier, and covered in messages.

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I made the three hour drive up to Derry on the Friday, the last day that people could go inside the structure. There were thousands of people at the site that day and there was a very warm and reverential atmosphere…it reminded me of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The laser-cut lattice work panels of birch plywood completely covered the heavy construction beams, and gave a  wonderfully airy feel to being inside……looking up to the heavens, where all the pain and loss would be released to.

All around the top were circles inside squares, with cut-out words and images, which came from local community groups and schools.

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Derry people are very friendly, and I had many conversations around the town; many local people were saying that it shouldn’t be burned. A newspaper reported that an older woman had met David Best and said “I can’t believe you are going to burn it down. That seems awful”, to which David replied “It seems awful to have that much pain and sadness and not to have a place to put it.This is a way to get rid of that pain.”

Here is an poignant book wrapped in ribbon…

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…and a message of hope from a young lass:

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Under the awning, and around the whole structure, there were small constructions where people could pick up pieces of wood to inscribe..

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One of the pieces I put into the Temple, a photograph with writing about my birth parents…….

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(I’ve just watched a half hour long programme about the Temple, on RTE1, and the presenter picked my picture from among thousands, and read out the writing on it….”In memory of my beloved parents who died far too young, when I was 2.1/4 and 3.1/4 years old. I carry you with me, but I SO wish I had known you. Charlie.” And yes, I did tear up when my piece was read! There was definitely a huge acknowledgement of and healing of sorrows ….for so many involved.)
Here’s a photograph of Francis, the big love of my life, who died 23 years ago, and wee sticks remembering my other beloved friends that have passed away.

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Sundown on the Friday, when over 27,000 people visited the site….in total there were over 60.000 visitors, with over 25,000 visitors for the actual burn.

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The Night!

I was told that the family of a young man who had committed suicide a year ago, amongst other people, were chosen to light the temple with six or so torches…

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The photo’s aren’t great, because in the dark I couldn’t see  how to change the aperture…I’ll need to practice that one. It was a cold night, but mercifully dry and not windy….and when the temple went up the heat was joyous!

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The billowing and swirling smoke was like souls rising from the fire….with tiny red sparks running through the smoke…

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The final embers…..
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A wee video, and you’ll find more and better clips on this page!

Readers of my past blogs will know how I’m learning to ‘let go’, there was one thing that I was going to put in the Temple…but I didn’t. However, the whole event was so cathartic, and so creatively inspiring, that I’m now pondering on building a small temple of my own….with a few more things in it! …..