Where others have opinions, I insist on having hope.

This is an excerpt from Agenda in The Herald Thursday 11 September 2014.  Reproduced with permission of the authors.  Read the original article here.

Alison Phipps and Nazmi Al masri

It’s been almost 50 days now, and every day I check my emails for signs of life from colleagues and friends.  When nothing comes, I tell myself it is because there is next to no electricity at all.  What else can I tell myself?  Anything else is the end of hope.

Each message, which is a welcome sign of life, also tells of more destruction.

The building at the Islamic University of Gaza, from which the project we work on together is co-ordinated, has been bombed and severely damaged.  It was a beautiful building.  In it all departments of the Faculty of Arts, including the English language department, were completely destroyed.  No offices, no computers, no files, no documents; all vanished.  It also housed the assistive teaching centre for visually impaired students.  When in the Gaza Strip two years ago, this was one of the centres we visited.

Each time a message arrives it is courteous, courageous and compassionate.

Nazmi and I are working together to develop intercultural language education for teachers of Arabic.  We wanted to do it in Gaza.  We cannot.  We wanted to do it in Egypt, but our colleagues cannot travel beyond the blockade.  We wanted to do it online, but the power plant has been bombed and there is no power.

But what we do know, and what my experience of working with Gazan academics has shown me beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that a way will be found.  My colleagues in Gaza are experts at managing complicated crises and finding innovative ways to overcome shocking challenges.

Of course, it’s hard to comprehend how this is possible.  How can teachers be trained when there are no buildings, no scope for travel, no homes for the students, for staff?  In Gaza my colleagues are working away in the darkness, working away amidst shards of glass, of shrapnel, working away to the constant sound of drones and shelling day in day out.  They evacuate, take shelter, and then tentatively return.  One friend, Ahmed, an eye doctor , sent me a picture of his garden after heavy shelling.  One dusty white rose survives.  It is his sign of hope.  The slightest truce or momentary return of electricity and they are immediately back at work.

Normality, such as it is, resumes and is relished.  It is so easy to destroy; to press a button and wipe out life.  It takes years to create something of beauty, like a garden, or a university, to learn a language or become an eye doctor.

I don’t know what I would do in such a situation. Would I find a way to be courteous, courageous, compassionate?

Each time a message arrives it is full of gratitude that we are here, in Scotland, to act upon the news; gratitude too for the steps taken thus far by the Scottish Government in calling for an arms embargo and issuing advice on divestment from illegal settlements.

I wonder: would I be like this?  Would you?

What is my opinion on Gaza?  I am beyond having anything like an opinion.  A rich-world country has locked 1.8 million people in a massive open-air prison for seven years, in one of the most densely populated places on earth, where 25 per cent of the population are children, and it is raining terror.  There is nowhere to run to and this is not an opinion.  I have been there when shelling occurred, I know that there is no escape.  And the UK Government cannot even utter the words “disproportionate” or cease its murderous trade in arms.

I have no energy left for opinions on Gaza.  Opinions are for peace time.  Opinions are luxuries, not means of survival.  I will continue to boycott and demonstrate and work for peace until those suffering ask me to desist.

And I will not be daunted by the work.  After all, my Gazan colleagues are not.

Where others have opinions, I insist on having hope.

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