Gaza: Resilience, resistance, rights, freedoms and humanitarian help

As we travelled through the Mediterranean on the 30th May there was a sense of optimism and determination onboard.  This sense turned to foreboding when vessels were detected approaching rapidly and I feared ending up in the water.  I did not have a concept that live ammunition might be used against the participants.  I was aware that an interception might involve crowd control techniques but during the attack the sheer number of heavily bleeding volunteers, pale-faced and terrified, followed by the appearance of the dead and critically injured around us as we sat in surrender made it clear this was no crowd control operation.  The subsequent kidnapping of all participants, ransacking of the ship and theft of technology, money and documents turned it into a full-scale militarised incident of state piracy.  In this one day we found out what it means to be occupied by a military force with leadership that has no self-awareness or restraint – an experience Palestinians have lived under for 60 years.  If the aim was to deter the human rights movement for Palestine the outcome was way off the mark, now the group of 700 participants will bear witness wherever they go.

My role as a youth worker in London is about helping to build resilience factors into the lives of vulnerable young people and their families: secure accommodation, stable attachments and relationships, health, educational and lifestyle-related achievement, safe choices and positive identities.  This work not only aims to improve outcomes for service users in their individual lives but works to improve the resilience of whole communities to be better able to withstand economic stresses, job losses, policy changes and cuts in services. In the context of Israel and Palestine it appears that Israel’s explicit strategy of attempting to destroy the resilience of Palestinian communities, committing human rights abuses and ignoring international law is risky not only to Palestinians but also to Israelis both on a micro level on a macro level as Israel is besieged by growing criticism.  Brutal occupation policies and systematic inequities within Israel, the Occupied Territories and Gaza increase risks to both Palestinians and Israelis when the only choices afforded young Palestinians are unsafe ones.  

In Gaza extremes of vulnerability and resilience are witnessed where despite almost four years of crippling economic blockade and military attack, with two thirds of the population dependent on United Nations food aid, a group of Gaza’s children recently broke the world record for the number of basketballs bounced simultaneously. An achievement such as this may sound relatively unimportant in an environment where power outages are regular, sewage flows untreated and livelihoods at a standstill. However with children for whom victim-hood and revenge could be their only narratives this plays an important psychological role.  The achievement is a sign of resistance and resilience – at the simplest level a happy memory for the 7000+ children involved.  

The Freedom Flotilla is another example of how resilience can be built. Not only are people from all over the world concerned enough to challenge the conditions forced upon Gaza by Israel but they are doing so loudly and publicly. This gives those living under illegal military occupation the encouragement to survive and resist.  This was not simply a demonstration at sea. Projects on board included a Qatar-based foundation that provides scholarships for students, an Indonesian hospital-building delegation, a Turkish-based orphan sponsorship scheme, a number of children’s playgrounds for installation, a music studio initiative – real resilience-building work.  In respecting the rights and freedoms of the people of Gaza by attempting direct delivery of aid in defiance of the illegal blockade the flotilla coalition were saying human rights and freedoms need to be recognised first and foremost but we will also continue the work sustainably to relieve humanitarian needs.

With success our mission could have worked to provide more chances for happy memories and reduce risk factors for Israel, but through their bloody attack the latter chose to reduce resilience and increase resistance instead.

For more info read Lorty’s blog

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