As the bombs drop on Gaza, and people’s lives are torn apart, it feels slightly self-indulgent to discuss my feelings on reintroducing myself into the world of activism. The death toll today is around 425 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. And today has seen the highest amount of casualties in Israel’s latest offensive against a largely defenceless population that has no army, and is blockaded by land and sea. The Gazans live in what has been described as an open-air prison even by the likes of British Prime Minister David Cameron, despite his staunch and unwavering support for Israel. However, writing is the healthiest way I can express how I have been experiencing such horrors, whilst always remembering that my suffering is nothing in comparison to those being bombed mercilessly by Israel. Please excuse me if my writing is slightly incoherent, for I feel weak, angry, disappointed, frustrated and a deep sense of sorrow. My thoughts may be more of a ramble, and may be coarse and disjointed.
I started this blog over a year ago, in a small fishing village called Mazunte, situated on the Pacific coast in Mexico. I was beginning a process of depoliticization, in which I intended to attempt to undo some of the despair which I felt about humanity. I had been studying how depraved people were and how complicit my country was in the unnecessary suffering of people across the world. A Masters in human rights just about tore any hope I had left that there was any good in the world. Each day, I spent reading dark materials which left me feeling horrified at how vile people could be. I wasn’t only completely submerged in studying poverty, pain, anguish and violence, but I was also heavily involved in activism. In my spare time, I organised events, stunts, street theatre, speakers tours, debates and ran campaigns that all sought to delegitimize the state of Israel.
It wasn’t until I left England that I appreciated how unhappy I had been. I had actively chosen to leave the country for a while before seeking employment as I knew I would be a much more effective actor if I was able to start from a place of love, patience and understanding. I definitely was not feeling like that at the end of my studies. To be honest, I had little hope in the human rights machinery, and was also feeling disillusioned with certain sections of the activist circle in which I was a part of too. I had been drinking a lot more than I’d like just to try and distance myself from my day and all that I had been exposed to and learnt. I couldn’t relate to people’s avarice. I couldn’t understand how people could be so evil, and could inflict so much suffering simply for their own gain.
Travelling, and slowly disengaging as far as was possible from politics was hugely beneficial. It took me some time, but eventually, I started to see some light in the world. I met people who were kind and generous. I met people who welcomed me into their homes, their lives and their families as if I was their own. It was one evening, on Baru Island, near Cartagena, as the sun set on the sea, that my faith in humanity was restored. The irony being that Colombia has some of the grossest human rights violations in the world. I should know, I wrote a thesis on it! Luckily for me though, I hadn’t chosen to view Colombia in this light this time, and the warmth and beauty of Colombia’s land and people enveloped me, showing me the potential of people to be good.
On returning to England a few months ago, I was not sure how I would immerse myself back into activism. I am a political person, through and through. I was raised by a politically active mum, who taught me that some people had nothing, and that there was something we could collectively do about it. I spent a great deal of my childhood at protests, shouting about some woman called Maggie, that everyone seemed to hate. I remember at primary school one day, the local police officer was doing a stall at our summer fete. He had a badge-making machine. We were all to look through magazines and choose an image we wanted to be made into a badge. I chose a very ugly caricature of Margaret Thatcher. The policeman said, “Well, you are one to watch out for then,” with a soft smile on his face. And he was right. I have been carrying around a burdensome sense of unease for many years now, and my passion for justice and equality has defined the majority of my character, beliefs, and lifestyle choices. Having depoliticized for over a year, I wasn’t sure who I was and how I would inculcate my beliefs without returning to an angry, frustrated and destructive space again.
My dear friend Nat sent me an invite to a conference on contemporary refugees at her university. I decided to attend. After several hours of listening to an impressive range of speakers, yet again, I felt a sense of despair. One speaker was a woman from Sudan, who had just returned from a refugee camp in South Sudan. She informed us of the atrocities unfolding in the region. She described how many of the orphaned young girls in the camp were being raped. I sat, aghast, face cupped in my hands as I fought back the tears. Immediately I decided that, if appropriate, I would go to the camp, and stand guard at the girls’ tents, fighting off the men that violated these already distraught children. The work of Stanley Cohen, a prominent sociologist, came to mind. In his book, States of Denial, he explores modes of avoidance that people, governments and organisations experience when faced with atrocities and suffering. I hadn’t necessarily been denying how awful the world was, I had just been temporarily recovering from too much exposure. I wished at that moment that Cohen had developed some suggestions on constructive and healthy ways of how we could deal with knowing about atrocities and suffering, but alas, he passed away.
I tried watching the news a couple of times. Syria, and all the hell that it had become, filled the screen. Again, I disengaged. What could I do? Where could I go to vent my frustration? I don’t believe in God, and I don’t have any understanding of some kind of greater picture. If everything is as it should be, then it seemed like we were living in hell. Hell wasn’t some place far removed from here, rather on earth, here and now.
And then Israel started to rain bombs on Gaza again, and I felt compelled to do something, for it was a situation I cared about deeply and one I understood. A protest was being held at the Israeli embassy. I have lots of issues with some of the organisations that dominate these events, but I put those gripes aside, and went to vent my anger, and do the bare minimum, and show my solidarity with the Palestinians. It was suggested by a friend that we blocked High Street Kensington to cause more of a commotion and attract press coverage. We were fed up of being well-behaved protesters, shouting neatly from the kerb. We staged a die-in, which consisted of us all collapsing in the middle of the busy road, thus stopping the traffic and spreading the protest across the road. I must admit, I felt more content taking the protest out of its clean and neat Englishness, knowing all the time that Israel wouldn’t be paying any attention whatsoever, and the Palestinians were still being killed.
So that was how I immersed myself back into activism, by stopping the traffic on a major London road. It wasn’t until Operation Protective Edge was fully in force that the anguish at what was unfolding began to really affect me. During the day before the next protest I spent a lot of it in tears, grieving over the unnecessary suffering that the world’s oppressed was enduring. I escaped in ways that were familiar to me, making me feel worse, but numbing the pain. I know this sounds selfish and self-indulgent, and I apologise for that. I just need to express where I am at, for fear of becoming bitter and cascading into negativity once more. The protest was rammed, with over 10,000 people. My brother and his friend came, which meant the world to me. Finally he was beginning to understand where I had been focusing so many years of my energy, and I knew our mum was proud of us, for taking a principled stance.
A few days later, I was invited to take part in a secretly organised stunt. I agreed immediately, as again, I felt like the very least I could do was cause a scene. Without disclosing too much information, we occupied a government building on Whitehall, d-locking ourselves to the railing inside. We demanded to speak to a wet MP named Nick Clegg, as we wanted to demand an arms embargo on Israel. Clearly, he didn’t want to speak to us, and after 45 minutes, when it seemed like we might all be arrested and charged under criminal law, we took the stunt out onto the streets. A crowd had gathered outside, so we used the opportunity to explain Britain’s complicity in Israel’s aggression, by arming them with weapons that have been implicated in war crimes. Again, I felt more empowered by doing something, than sitting at home crying.
Yesterday, the streets of London were filled with around 100,000 people all condemning the hell that Israel was inflicting on Gaza. There were people from all backgrounds, all religions, young, old, priests and Rabbis. As we walked from Downing Street to High Street Kensington, my friend and I distributed flyers to the throngs of onlookers. Some refused to take them and some literally grabbed them from our hand. Unfortunately, whilst we stepped aside to eat something, we found ourselves confronted by a group of Israelis. I say unfortunately as I tried to remain calm and eventually, as more rubbish spewed from their mouths, I lost my temper. Clearly, I still have a lot of anger, and although I remember what I learnt from friends and shamans, to come from a place of love and patience, in reality, it is so much harder to put in practice. Later, as the sweltering heat beat down on us all, and we were refused entry into shops to buy water, I lost my temper again, shouting at some flustered woman. A short while later, I lost it at a policeman, showering him with a litany of expletives. I was not impressed with my behaviour, but given the circumstances, I have forgiven myself.
After the protest, I spent hours on Twitter, sharing non-biased media and legitimate information. For hours I sat watching live streaming from Gaza, as bombs dropped and drones buzzed and the sounds of people in fear filled my ears. I received hate-filled messages telling me to “eat shit” for my views on Gaza, which was later favourited by some other right-wing religious fanatic in Chicago. This morning I awoke to more hate mail, more images of dead children, more pain and violence and it all became too much. I reached out to two friends, who told me it was alright to not be absorbed by the situation today. I almost felt like I needed permission to disengage, and to not feel guilty that I may smile today, and may laugh, and that that doesn’t mean that I don’t care. And as for the haters, I am not going to take it personally, and sincerely, I wish you all well on your journey. I know I stand on the right side of justice.
#FreePalestine #GazaUnderAttack #StopArmingIsrael #Gaza #EndtheSufferingforIsraelisandPalestinians