Over the weekend, in Dublin and around the country, PalFest Ireland took place. It was a wonderful mix of events – music, poetry readings, lectures, meditation, a football match – all organised by volunteers. It was timed to commemorate the 51-day attack by Israel on Gaza in 2014. This was the fourth Isreali assault on Gaza since 2006. These bombardments are named military attacks, which I didn’t know.
2006 – Operation Summer Rain
2009 – Operation Cast Lead
2012 – Operation Pillar of Defence
2014 – Operation Protective Edge
And over the eight years, each attacks has been more brutal and the death toil for each assault has increased. During the 51 days in July 2014, over 2100 people were killed, 551 of them children.
I missed most of the PalFest events but I did attend the lecture by Dr. Mads Gilbert in the O’Reilly Theatre on Friday night, where I learnt all these facts. Dr. Gilbert is a Norwegian doctor from Tromsø and who has regularly worked in the Shifa hospital in Gaza over the last 15 years. He is a vocal opponent of the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the Israeli government have now banned him from entering the country. He is also a man who knows a lot about Palestine, about the Palestinian people and what life is like under the occupation and siege. He was in Gaza during the assault last year and has published a book of photos and stories about what he experienced. Friday night’s lecture was based on that book – A Night in Gaza. He had some terrifying statistics about the number of people killed and injured during those 51 days, the number of schools bombed, the paramedics who were targeted as they worked. 70% of those who died during the assault were civilians. The Israeli army claims the aim on their weapons is 90% accurate so we have to assume that these schools and hospitals, the medical personnel and journalists were all targets. Under international law, it is a war crime to deliberately target these people or buildings.
As well as the huge numbers of killed and injured there were also stories of those not included in those numbers. Like the parents and three young children who got out of the house before the bomb fell on it and arrived in the emergency room uninjured, but completely terrified and homeless.
Dr. Gilbert was a passionate, engaging speaker, particularly when he spoke of his friends in Palestine, people he has known and worked with for many years, and their resilience. He talked about how they worked non-stop throughout the night during the worst of the bombings, about the inventiveness in the hospital because of the blockades and about their determination to rebuild their towns and cities. He has huge admiration for the Palestinian people; for their hope and their spirit under occupation. You can read more about his experiences in Gaza and an extract from the book in this Guardian article – ‘My camera is my Kalashnikov’.
Dr. Gilbert also gave the Noble Call at the Abbey after the performance of Carol Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children that was also part of PalFest.
Chris McCormack wrote an article for Broadway World last month The Art of Winning a Referendum, about how artists engaged with the Equality Referendum campaign and the effect it had on the vote. PalFest is in the same vein. It’s art with a purpose. It’s art that recognises a greater social context, art in solidarity with people who need to be seen and recognised. I think it was a wonderful thing to do, and I hope it does help the Palestinian to be recognised as part of the human family and be accorded the same human rights that the rest of that family enjoys.
I know the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is incredibly complex but there was a wonderful Malcolm X quote in Dr. Gilbert’s lecture which for me, makes things very simple.
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”