I enclose an article from a respected English Medical Journal, “The Lancet”, co-authored by a medical man I admire for the great work he has done in his field. I know him to be a great humanitarian, and the article very movingly depicts the impact of the horrors of war, and personalizes the madness through the life-story of a Palestinian family. Who is not touched by this sad tale? Who among us does not long for a resolution to the underlying problem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state which can live in peace with the Jewish State? But I now must also acknowledge my bias. I am very pro and loyal to the State of Israel. It set out to be the best of the best in both political and social justice, and it will find its way because of who and what it is, even as it sometimes makes mistakes. I am not a great a fan of the incumbent PM, but I am loath to play Monday morning quarterback given what he has to face daily.
This particular year we also remember the one hundred anniversary of the 1914-1918 conflict, and we do well to acknowledge how those colonial superstars, Britain and France, imposed artificial boundaries opon the old Provinces of the Ottoman Empire. We do well to learn about Gertrude Bell and all the others, about what evolved and how and most importantly why. We also need to learn more about the multiplicity of ancient religious beliefs and systems that still exist in the area. Our knowledge of history is very limited, most of it cantered on Westerns Europe and North America, and too many of us have no idea that we have no idea at all. Within Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Christian, Zoroastrianism, there are multiple offshoots and significant varieties and variants. This week we heard about the Yazidis , but they are but one of many. I diverse along this path to make a simple point, and I quote Jennifer Aniston, “its complicated”. In fact it is so complicated that it does not invite simplistic explanations and solutions like the ones we so often hear from the Chattering Class and the Talking Heads. Would that it was an either or. It just isn’t. Further, other than the extreme Christian right, few of us understand the lure and power of religious fanaticism. Alas, let’s not forget that not too long ago Catholics and Protestants went at each other with great regularity and equal conviction about who owned truth.
Rex Murphy writes well, and yesterday he held forth in The National Post in defence of the State of Israel. It would be good to put his article alongside
The Lancet article. However both lack sufficient nuance. I really don’t envy those who are trying to walk through these minefields, its more than complicated, it’s a mess. Alas I also lament that Canada has lost its former position as an honest broker when such problems are debated on the international stage. In his recent book Joe Clarke summed it up very well. Under Mr. Harper we sound much more like the right wing of the Republican Party than we do like Pearson,Trudeau,Clarke,Mulrooney and Chretien. Were you aware that we recently were not elected to the Security Council? Would Pearson have ever gone into Afghanistan? I think he knew too much history. If he did anything, it would be by proxy, and not by Newfoundlanders.
I end where I began, the Chalmers piece. We do well to read it and feel it, but it is not an accurate picture of anything but human suffering. It camouflages more than it intends.
A tapestry of Palestinian life: remembering Samar Alhallaq
Jan Chalmers , Iain Chalmers
On July 20, 2014, our friend Samar Alhallaq, who was aged 29 years, her 6-year-old son Kenan, her 4-year-old son Saji, and her 8-month unborn child were killed in Gaza, together with five other members of their wider family. An Israeli shell demolished the residential building to which they had fled in trying to seek shelter from Israel’s attacks.
We came to know Samar and her little boys when they came to Oxford, UK, during the summer of 2013, to join Samar’s husband Hassan. Hassan was the third annual scholar awarded the Gaza Oxford Brookes University Scholarship, which was established after Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008—2009. Hassan won the Technologies Prize awarded by Oxford Brookes University’s Department of Computing and Communication for outstanding achievement in the Masters Degree of Science in eBusiness.
We saw quite a lot of the Alhallaq family last summer, and, despite not having any language in common, Kenan and Saji seemed to get on well with Millie and Layla, our grandchildren who live with us. On one of the family’s visits to our home, we introduced Samar to the Palestinian History Tapestry Project, which has been set up to extend friendship and support to Palestinian women.
The Palestinian History Tapestry Project is a charity that was established to create a tapestry based on individually embroidered panels. Each panel is sewn with traditional Palestinian cross stitch and illustrates the life and times of the Palestinian people. The patterns used in Palestinian embroidery are traditionally based on geometrical shapes and stylised images, but they also sometimes include designs that reflect daily life and events. Samar, who had been taught to embroider as a child by the older women in her family, became interested in this project and thought she might like to contribute. She stitched a small panel entitled Samidoun, which means “We Are Steadfast” (figure 1). It is based on a symbol used to express solidarity with women hunger strikers in Israeli prisons.
Figure 1 Full-size image (143K) Photography Theo Chalmers
Samidoun (We Are Steadfast), embroidered by Samar Alhallaq, 2013
Samar said that she liked the idea of spreading Palestinian history worldwide through stitches made by Palestinian women. On her return to Gaza, she met up with Jamila Alza’anin—the second Gaza Oxford Brookes University scholar—who was working voluntarily to commission panels for the Palestinian History Tapestry Project. Jamila was delighted when Samar offered to help her coordinate the contributions of the various embroidery groups in Gaza. The beautiful panels the groups produce depict various tableaux, ranging from historical events to scenes and activities of daily life, such as the roof tops and local produce of Gaza (figure 2) and women celebrating together at a Henna party (figures 3).
Figure 2 Full-size image (211K) Photography Theo Chalmers
Gaza Roof Tops
This panel shows the Great Omari Mosque alongside some of the natural produce of Gaza—oranges, pottery, dates, and fish. The panel was designed by Adham Jaber and embroidered by Hekmat Ashour, from the Atfaluna (Our Children) Society for Deaf Children in Gaza.
Figure 3 Full-size image (278K) Photography Theo Chalmers
Women are shown preparing for a wedding, dancing, playing drums, and painting each other with henna. The panel uses a traditional design embroidered by Albeit Alsamed (The Resilient Home) from Gaza.
Our interest in the occupied Palestinian territory and its people is longstanding, and we know the Gaza Strip particularly well. Many years ago we worked there for 2 years in clinics for Palestinian refugees run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and we have returned there at intervals. During recent visits, we have witnessed the dire effects of the restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007 by Israel, and more recently by Egypt. Since the imposition of the siege, Israel has launched two major attacks on Gaza, in 2008 and 2012. The devastation arising from the 2014 Israeli offensive has been exceptional, however, as we know from speaking to our friends in Gaza. On July 22, 2014, Nafiz Abu-Shaban, Director of the Burns Unit at the Shifa Hospital, wrote: “I witnessed the previous two wars against us in Gaza in 2008 and 2012. None of them was like the present one…Everyone and every place is targeted—civilian houses, handicap homes, hospitals, ambulances, children, women”. Unsurprisingly, many of the hundreds of Gazans killed and injured during this and previous attacks have been civilians.
As one of us wrote in The Lancet after Israel’s 2008—2009 attack on Gaza: “Israel defines itself as ‘the Jewish State’; yet, within the territory it controls and continues to colonise, there is now approximate parity in the numbers of Israeli Jewish people and non-Jewish, Palestinian Arab people (of whom 3•7 million live in the occupied territories and 1•2 million in Israel). For many, Israel will continue to be judged by its attitudes and actions towards the non-Jews whose lives it controls.”
The UK has special responsibilities for what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory today, because of its repeated betrayal of its century-old promise to protect the rights of the non-Jewish Palestinian people. As we write it is clear that Samar, Kenan, and Saji are just three among hundreds of civilians who have been killed during the Israeli attacks this year. When can we expect the UK Government to require Israel to observe international law and to observe the Geneva conventions?
We are biased in favour of the oppressed and biased against oppressors.
Chalmers, 2009 Chalmers I. Gaza a symptom of an insufficie