Making Palestinian dreams real

IssueMarch 2009
News by Caroline Wardle

Visiting the West Bank in 2003, one young Palestinian girl, above all others, touched my heart. This was Hiba, in the Aida refugee camp, who dreamed an impossible dream: she wanted to be a nurse. No income was coming into her home, so college fees were totally out of the question.

When I came back to Glasgow, I helped to found the Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign (GPHRC), a grass roots solidarity campaign to support Palestinian students.

As a result of the GPHRC’s fundraising work, Hiba is now a proud staff nurse running a children’s ward in Bethlehem, having graduated on 13 June 2008. Her dream has become a reality.

All of this has been achieved by setting up a pasting table in a busy street in Glasgow to raise funds for her fees by re-selling Palestinian handicrafts bought in the West Bank.

Our “stall” can be found every Saturday all year round, whatever the weather. The work of the GPHRC has steadily grown and now includes further funding not only for student fees but for operations, medical relief, cultural groups, children’s outings and many other forms of practical support within the refugee camps.

Though we do all we can to continually raise money to fund these projects, we do not consider ourselves to be charity workers; rather we see this as an act of solidarity with our friends in Palestine. What makes our campaign different is that each and every one of us has visited the West Bank and knows “our” students and their families personally.

We visit Jenin, Tulkarem, Nablus, Ramallah, Bil’in, Bethlehem, Jericho, Marda and Hebron. We witness life under occupation with all the suffering and humiliation that people are subjected to on a daily basis.

Simple things like shopping, going to school, visiting family – in fact all that we take for granted – are frightening ordeals for the Palestinians. Queuing at checkpoints can take hours with no obvious reason for the delays. Permits required today could be worthless tomorrow, so appointments have to be re-scheduled bearing in mind this procedure may have to be repeated again and again.

All this is done under the pretext of “security”, yet for non-Palestinians queuing isn’t necessary, because as internationals we are not seen as a threat to Israeli security. When we visit in the summer months we pay for outings for the children in the refugee camps. We hire coaches, drivers, buy picnic food and drink, and set off for the day to the swimming baths.

It is a joy to see 50 children, with their mums, aunts, grans, big brothers, big sisters laughing, singing, and splashing about… just having fun for one day. This is made possible by our presence as foreign nationals, as otherwise many obstacles could be encountered. Sometimes it seems to us that much of what the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) do is merely to cause as much disruption and chaos, as is possible, for their own amusement.

As well as fundraising, our campaign aims to keep people in Scotland focussed on the illegal occupation and the ill treatment of the Palestinian people by the IOF.

We are keen to actively encourage people to visit, live and work within the refugee camps and to bear witness. Each and every one of us has been enriched by the warmth, hospitality, kindness, and generosity shown to us by the Palestinians. It has been a very humbling experience to be invited to share what little food they have whilst being thanked for visiting their land.

Most Palestinians we have spoken to express their desire to live in peace with the Jews. They say they have done so in the past and can do so again but there must be equality and freedom for all.

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