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This is Palestine (Video transcript)

Voice of John McColgan

Since childhood, the geography of Israel and Palestine has been burned into our minds. Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho, Hebron – names we are familiar with from school and history.

We’re also familiar with them from news reports but with Syria and the terrorist threat now dominating headlines coming out of the region, Israel and Palestine have fallen off the radar.

While politicians, diplomats and journalists are focused elsewhere, the situation facing people living through this long-running conflict continues to worsen.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the war that defines the modern – and highly contentious – geography of the region.

Since 1967 Israel has militarily controlled much of the West Bank, land the international community recognises as being the basis of the intended Palestinian state.

Fifty years on from that war, people in the region continue to live a daily reality of occupation, segregation, restrictions of movement and violent conflict.

As we approach this anniversary, I travelled with international aid agency Trócaire to Israel and Palestine to see how the lives of people in the region have been affected by fifty years of conflict.

Voice of Hebron resident

We’re not equal, we don’t have the same rights. So this is apartheid. This is obvious apartheid.

Voice of Yehuda Shaul

To go out to the street, throw some shot grenades, knock on some doors, make some noise, run to the other corner of the street, invade another house, wake up the next family and that’s basically how you pass your eight hour shift.

Voice of Sister Bridget

There’s ongoing blockade. There’s deepening poverty. There’s rising unemployment. And there’s no hope.

Voice of Rabbi Arik

This is occupation. This is wrong. This is a violation of what I believe in as a Rabbi from my Jewish tradition. It is a violation of international law.

Voice of Gideon Levy

This big elephant is in the room and nobody sees the elephant and nobody wants to see the elephant and the elephant is the Israeli occupation. Most of the Israelis don't care about it, have no moral doubts about it, have no question marks and don't deal with it at all.

Voice of John McColgan

One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is also one of the most contentious.  With some of the holiest shrines in Judaism, Islam and Christianity located just yards from each other, Jerusalem’s Old City is thronged with tourists. But while history attracts tourists into Jerusalem, it has also trapped the city into a bitter power-struggle.

In 1948 the state of Israel was created. Jerusalem was intended to be a shared capital for both Israel and an envisaged Palestinian state, but since the 1967 war Israel has ruled both Israeli west Jerusalem and Palestinian east.

Jerusalem’s Old City is one of the most hotly contested square miles in the world. Tension is never far from the surface.

Not far from where the tourists soak up the sites, I found a small group of women protesting outside the District Court of Jerusalem. The mother and friends of 16 year old Muhammed Abu Khdeir. Muhammed had been abducted and burnt to death in the local park. His murder is believed to have been a revenge killing by right-wing Israelis in retribution for the murder of 2 jewish teenagers. All part of the depressing cycle of onging violence and bloodshed.

The man accused of Muhammed's murder, Yosef Haim Ben David was found guilty by the Israeli court and sentenced to life in prison.

But the 50 year occupation stretches well beyond this ancient city. Since 1967 Israel has occupied the majority of the West Bank, which is internationally recognised as being Palestinian land.

I wanted to go beyond Jerusalem and see what life is like for people living under full military law.

Following the outbreak of Palestinian violence in 2002, Israel began construction of a wall to divide the West Bank from Israel. This wall has had the effect of cutting Palestinians off from Jerusalem. In Bethlehem, I watched as thousands of Palestinians queued to get through the checkpoint which divides them from the city they view as their capital.

I met Ameen Jebreen, who owns a tea stand at the checkpoint. He explained to me that the people queuing were the lucky few who have been granted permits to cross into Jerusalem.

Voice of Ameen Jebreen

My name is Ameen Jebreen. My age, 35. This is the main checkpoint in Bethlehem 300. The first man that come to this checkpoint, every morning, me at two o'clock, I come here to sell coffee and tea for the workers who cross to Jerusalem. Every day, more than six thousand to seven thousand workers cross this checkpoint. They work in Jerusalem. Most of the people, they work in construction. They are lucky people because they have permission. Because if you are in Palestine and you have permission to work in Jerusalem, you are lucky man.

Voice of John McColgan

When fully completed, the Wall will stretch for over 700km. Although supposedly the dividing line between Israeli and Palestinian lands, it does not follow the internationally recognised border. Instead, it cuts and slices through Palestinian land.

Close to the village of Beit Jala, I watched as another section of the wall was erected. This area is recognised by the international community as being Palestinian. The wall, however, will leave it on the Israeli side. Palestinian farmers who have farmed it for generations will no longer be able to access it.   

Israel says this is for security. For local farmers, however, it is simply a land grab.

Voice of Mohanned Al-Qaisy, Joint Advocacy Initiative

One day we just discovered that a lot of army and soldiers and Israelis coming here to uproot all the olive trees. And we are talking about ancient olive trees like fourteen hundred, since the Roman time. So we came to cover and to see what's happening. And we find out that Israeli planning already they start to implement a plan to separate this area and to confiscate this valley and to add it to, you know, Israel.

And of course a lot of international activists and a lot of Palestinians, we came here and we were demonstrating for like weeks and weeks and of course, a lot of tear gas, a lot of shooting on the activists, and we couldn't as a people, as activists to stop their project and their buildings here.

All the time we are able to come here and to work to cultivate our trees and our field. Now we will not be able anymore. Now, we are like filming what's happening and the soldiers up there, if you see, they are calling us on the mic saying we need to go and leave this area.

But he just said yeah, go behind the wall, which is just built now. And he say, 'this is Israel now. You can't be here anymore on our side'. And I told him like I've been here like maybe before you come here and you know this area like I've been coming here and work here in this valley since a lot of years. You don't know the valley as much as I know it. And you can't just tell me, go out. He says 'yeah, but this is orders and I'm just implementing the orders.'

Voice of John McColgan

The wall is just one way in which Israel is gradually confiscating Palestinian land.

Throughout the West Bank, Israel continues a plantation project aimed at populating the area with its own citizens. Today, there are an estimated 600,000 Israelis living in settlements dotted across the West Bank.

These settlements built on Palestinian land to home Israeli citizens are illegal under international law.

Voice of Garry Walsh (Trócaire)

Directly behind me on the top of this hill is the Israeli settlement of Giloh. So these settlements, like Giloh behind us here, are essentially commuter towns in the satellite of Jerusalem. So a lot of these residents will live in very western style houses, some of them with swimming pools, with first world services like electricity and water and will be connected via access roads to Jerusalem. So many of the residents would commute maybe ten, fifteen minutes into Jerusalem. And the houses would be subsidised. So its cheap housing, they get tax breaks and many would consider themselves not settlers but living in neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.

The only problem being that this isn’t Israeli land. This is Palestinian land. This is confiscated Palestinian land. So these settlements are built on occupied terriroty. So these settlements are illegal under international law and so the residents living here are contributing to displacement of Palestinians and ongoing violations of international law.

Voice of John McColgan

While Israel builds huge settlements throughout the West Bank, it simultaneously makes it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to build on their own land.

Israel has divided the West Bank into three areas: one under full Palestinian control, one under full Israeli military control, and one under mixed control.

The Palestinian Authority has been granted control over certain urban centres, all of which are ringed by areas under Israeli military rule. It has created a situation eerily similar to apartheid South Africa, with Palestinians living in cantons disconnected from each other.

Any Palestinian living under Israeli control must obtain a permit to build a home, but only 15% of permit applications from Palestinians are successful.

Many Palestinians refuse to move and instead build homes without permits. They live under constant threat of demolition.

In one such community, I met with Abu Yusuy.

Voice of Abu Yusuy

In the 1970s we had a small community but we grew. With the growth, we needed to build more structures...for our families. But the Israeli civil administration stood in our way. They wouldn't let us expand. From the 1970s, we start building these structures made out of corrugated tin because we had no other choice. We needed to live.

Since the 1970s, we have been subjected to demolitions of our structures repeatedly by the Israeli occupying forces. We are now completely surrounded by the wall, by the settlement to the right and by two main roads. It is like a suffocation, from every angle, from every aspect. Ninety percent of the community here live in these corrugated tin homes which are not suitable for living. In the winter it's very cold. In the summer it's extremely hot. But we are not allowed build anything else. There are thirty five structures in the community and twenty eight demolition notices issued.

Voice of John McColgan

Mohammed's home was raided two years ago at 2am. Israeli soldiers kicked in the door, let off shot grenades, yelling and pointing machine guns at the family. Mohammed's son was then 12 years old. The trauma that night had a profound effect on him. He lost the power of speech. Two years later he still cannot talk.

I was taken aback and saddened by what I had seen. But I wanted to hear the other side of the story so I met with Emmanual Nahshon, Head of Press at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Voice of Emmanual Nahshon (Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman)

In those areas which are under Israeli control, we do not allow people to build without a permit, yes. You can’t build anywhere, everywhere, just wherever you feel like building. It doesn’t work that way. It's not about Palestinians or Bedouins. It's about everybody. Why do you think that an Israeli would be able to build something without a permit. Of course not.

It depends whether you really want to build something for yourself or whether you are trying to create a provocation. And my feeling is that some of those building initiatives which are unfortunately supported and financed by EU member states, their only purpose is to create a provocation. What we see is a situation in which EU member states and the UN actually give defacto support to people who are building illegally.

Voice of John McColgan

Even within Israeli society, a vocal minority question the policies of their government. I met one such critic, who is not only Israeli but is also a Rabbi.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman opposes home demolitions and settlement expansion.

Voice of Rabbi Arik Aschermann (Rabbis for Human Rights)

Our work ranges from legal work in the Israeli court system to return land to Palestinians, to prevent Palestinian homes from being demolished, to prevent takeovers, to work with the international community, which has been crucial for keeping these people in their homes when there is an intense drive and push by the state of Israel using all its power to move these people out of their homes and sometimes it can be on the ground work, physically accompanying the farmers when they are harvesting or the shepherds or getting to their trees or doing whatever has to be done so they can do so safely.

Voice of John McColgan

Rabbi Arik’s work brings him directly into conflict with the Israeli state and with settlers. Even his status as a Rabbi offers him little protection.

On a recent routine visit with Palestinian farmers to an olive grove, Rabbi Arik was attacked by a masked settler who threatened to stab him. He was lucky to escape with his life.

Despite violent confrontation, he is still determined to speak out in support of Palestinians facing home demolitions. We visited one such community where he has campaigned to keep the bulldozers at bay.

Voice of Rabbi Arik Aschermann

Fatima and her family and the other families in Susiya are still in their homes today and that’s not something that should be taken for granted. And yet they are living by the skin of their teeth, scraping out a living, not being able to fully live in dignity on their own land because of all the intense pressure being applied by the state in every imaginable way to get them eventually to move.

It becomes a human rights issue when in the name of a negotiating position, agree with it or disagree with it, you try to basically expel people from their homes. That's what we have down here. This is occupation. This is wrong. This is a violation of what I believe in as a rabbi, from my Jewish tradition. It is a violation of international law.

Voice of John McColgan

Close by, Rabbi Arik brought me to another community who were waiting for a date in court to appeal against the demolition of their homes.

We are here in this small village in the south Hebron hills and we've come here today with Rabbi Arik and he is negotiating on behalf of the community here to prevent this house behind me being demolished. They are in court tomorrow morning and the homeowner says that if this demolition order is carried out they will have to return to living in tents.

Voice of Rabbi Arik Aschermann

They had to build without a permit because they had a new family, they couldn’t get a permit. Now he’s asking, what would you tell the Judge? What are you going to do if they come and demolish your home? I’d like to tell the Judge, before you were a Judge, you were a little boy or a little girl and then you grew and then you got married, and you built a home. And we’re the same. Would you agree that somebody would come and demolish your home? And leave your children without a roof over their heads, exposed to the elements and the sun? You may be a high court judge, but you’re also a human being and you should understand from your human feelings that we just want to live and have normal lives here.

Voice of John McColgan

The difficulties Palestinians face in gaining building permits also extends to other resources. According to Human Rights Watch, not only are building permits difficult or impossible for Palestinians to obtain in 60 per cent of the West Bank, Palestinians also have limited access to water, electricity, schools and other state services that are readily available to Israeli settlers.

Water is among the most contentious resource. I visited one area where locals say their traditional water supply has been re-routed to serve settlers.

We’re here just outside Jericho at the spring. This as you can see behind me is a dry spring bed where before water flowed freely all year round. That is until 1967 when the Israelis came in here and built this pumping station behind. The pumping station pumps an enormous amount of water from here, depriving the local Palestinians of water for their agriculture, water for their homes, and it goes directly to the settlements. The Palestinians can get some of the water back but they have to pay for it.

The charge is hotly contested by the Israeli government.

Voice of Emmanual Nahshon

Israel does not steal water from the Palestinians and we certainly do not stop the possibility of water coming to Palestinian towns and villages.

We have the possibility to bring fresh water which can be used for agricultural purposes, for industry purposes and even for drinking to Israelis and to Palestinians. We do not discriminate.

Voice of John McColgan

The different treatment given to Israeli and Palestinians living in the West Bank shocked me. Even the legal system people live under is defined by their ethnicity - Israeli settlers living under civil law, while Palestinians are subjected to military law.

But I had seen nothing yet.

If people in rural areas suffer discrimination, the city of Hebron takes it to a whole new level. Like Jerusalem, Hebron is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. Although located deep in the heart of the West Bank, Israeli settlers claim the city. To defend them, the Israeli military has shut off the historic centre of the city to Palestinians.

We met Israeli writer Gideon Levy whose weekly column for Haaretz newspaper often highlights human rights abuses in the West Bank.

Voice of Gideon Levy, Israeli journalist and author

If you want to see the Israeli apartheid in a nutshell, go to Hebron. There’s no other place in which you can see it in the most crystal clear way. I mean when a whole community is expelled from their homes, thousands of people from their shops. When you live in a ghost town where there is only, almost only Jews living there after all the Palestinians had to leave out of fear, because of the threats that they were living under and the violence that was implemented against them and because of the army. If you see streets which are allowed only for Jews and roads which are allowed only for Jewish owners, what is it, if not apartheid?

Voice of John McColgan

Yehuda Shaul knows these streets well. As a Sergeant in the Israeli Defence Forces, he patrolled them nightly. He says that his orders were clear: to disrupt the lives of Palestinians in any way possible.

Voice of Yehuda Shaul (Co-founder of Breaking the Silence)

The IDF is supposed to protect the people who live here. Our orders as soldiers on the ground are very different. We are told - we are here to protect the settlers. If we see a settler attacking a Palestinian on our job, that's the job of the Israeli police, so I stand in a post, and I was standing in a post, and dozens of times, right in front of my eyes, settlers are beating up or throwing stones or breaking windows, are cutting electricity lines to a Palestinian house and my ordes are not to intefere. 

The concept in the IDF is that if Palestinians will get the feeling that the Israeli army is everywhere, they will be afraid to attack. So what do you do to make them feel this way? You make your presence felt. In Hebron, you have three patrols. That’s their job - to make your presence felt. You start your nightshift patrol, ten o’clock to six o’clock in the morning. You choose a random house. The sergeant leads the patrol. I was the sergeant leading the patrol for a while yeah? Bump into the house, wake up the family, men one side, women the other, search the place, you can yourself imagine the dynamics, what happens when a military units bumps into your house at two o’clock at night. Finish searching the place, you go out to the streets, throw some shot grenades, knock on some doors, make some noise, run to the other corner of the street, invade another house, wake up the next family. And that’s basically how you pass your eight hour shift.

My deputy company officer, threw a teargas canister on a Palestinian kid, three, four years old, in a balcony, eating watermelon, because he was collecting intelligence against us. Yeah? The guy was this size. He was having a competition with his radio guy whether, who can fire a teargas canister into a Palestinian home, while the family is inside, under curfew, could not leave.

A sergeant in my company killed a Palestinian young man with a rubber coated bullet to his chin from around 10 meters away.

Voice of John McColgan

Shaul’s actions in Hebron eventually led to him questioning the Israeli military’s presence in Hebron and throughout the West Bank. He went on to establish Breaking the Silence, an organisation of former Israeli soldiers who now campaign against the occupation of Palestinian land.

Voice of Yehuda Shaul

The turning point for me was towards the end of my service, I was based outside of Bethlehem, and I was suddenly able to see myself in the mirror.

We basically started having these conversations about things we’ve done and seen and the one thing we kept bumping into was the realistation that people back home in Israel, have no clue. Our own society is sending us here to do the job without understanding what doing the job means. So we decided to bring Hebron to Tel Aviv - that was our slogan. We wanted people back home to know what’s going on.

Voice of Gideon Levy

The Israeli occupation is not in the Israeli discourse. People know very little about the occupation, people don't know about the occupation, don't want to know about the occupation. Most of the Israelis have never been to the occupied territories and they couldn't care less.

Voice of Yehuda Shaul

On June 1, 2004, we opened a photo and video exhibit in Tel Aviv. We were sixty four people from my units. Our photos on the wall, our faces in the screen with video testimonies about what we’ve done. We became the story of the country for the week.

If you would come to me twelve years ago when we started and tell me that today I would be sitting here, after about 1,100 soldiers broke their silence, I would probably laugh in your face.

And here were after about 1,100 soldiers broke their silence, understood what they’ve done, yeah, stood up in front of the mirror, saw themselves in the mirror, took a stand and broke the silence. And their story is now up here, in front of our society, demanding from us as a society to take responsibility. That for me is the most important thing.

Voice of John McColgan

Today, Shaul works with the very Palestinian communities he once ruled over. Among them is Abdelrahman Salayma.

Voice of Abdelrahman Salayma, Hebron Resident

My name’s Abdelrahman and I live in this house, this is my house, this is where I live.

If a setter came to my house and attacked me in my house, if he went to the police station and said that I attacked him, by the law, I am guilty until I prove the opposite, so by the law I will go to jail. And they are innocent, until not I prove the opposite, but the police proves the opposite.

The Palestinian who are living here. They are all under the military law. The settlers who are living here are all under the civilian law. We are not equal. We do not have the same rights. So this is apartheid. This is obvious apartheid.

Voice of Hebron resident

I live in Hebron in area called Tal ur remeda. It is really hard and difficult to live next to the settlement. I was ten years old when I started school here. From ten until eighteen years it was all the same like, all attacking.

They attacked us physically, throwing stones, they throwing dirty water, eggs, anything you can imagine, they can do anything you can imagine.

Voice of John McColgan

I’d never seen anywhere like Hebron before. A ghost town filled with the pain of people who had been evacuated. It was eerie to walk down its empty streets. On one of the streets that is off-limits to Palestinians, I met an Israeli settler who lives in the city.

Voice of Israeli settler in Hebron

First of all, welcome to Hebron. This is the first historic Jewish city. There are many Jewish livers here. They’re not settlers. We’re not settling foreign land. This is our land. We lived here before the establishment of the state or anything like that. We are the indigenous people here. I’m not saying there aren’t other people who lived here for years. I wish we could go back to the day the way it was beforehand where we lived side by side with true, real peace. There are organisations, NGOs who mask themselves as Human Rights or whatever they want to call it, which use it as an agenda to spew that hate and violence and keep it going because, if us and the local Arabs work it out then they don’t have a reason to exist.

Voice of John McColgan

His words echoed those of official Israel.

Israel continues to build settlements and then the UN have recently said that the settlements are, I’m just quoting this, are in direct violation of Article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention which forbids an occupier from transferring its own civilians into the territory it occupies.

Voice of Emmanual Nahshon

Well, we have a disagreement, we have a legal disagreement with the UN

Voice of John McColgan

You don’t agree with the UN?

Voice of Emmanual Nahshon

No, no no no, we don’t agree on that statement at all and the reason is the following. We do not consider this land to be occupied land. We have demonstrated time and again that when there is real peace, we are willing to uproot settlements. We have done it in Egypt, we have done it unilaterally in the Gaza strip.

The settlement blocs which are, most of them are in the vicinity of the Israeli border, are meant to stay under Israeli sovereignty, but what we have discussed with the Palestinians some years ago was the possibility of a territorial exchange.

We see the activity of settlement building as something which is not against international law and something that needs to be discussed together with the Palestinians.

Voice of John McColgan

But if the conflict in the West Bank is a gradual and systematic one, the situation is Gaza is more upfront.

41 kilometeres long and 12 kilometers wide, Gaza is a tiny self-governing territory that is home to almost 2 million people. With both Israel and Egypt having locked its borders to all but a select few, the majority of Gaza’s citizens are trapped. It has become effectively the world’s largest open-air prison.

Not only are they denied access to the outside world, people in Gaza have to endure regular wars between Israel and the ruling Hamas government. During the most recent conflict, in the summer of 2014, over 2,500 people in Gaza were killed after Israel launched a full-scale military offensive in response to Hamas rocket fire. Among the dead were Mohammed and Khaldea Al Selak Shaja’s three children.

Voice of Mohammed Al Selak Shaja

When I ran upstairs, I found my father and all seven children strewn on the floor.

The only one who looked as though he hadn't been shot was my middle child, Abdel-Halim. I picked him up hoping that he would still be alive. I carried him downstairs thinking at the time that he was alive and I handed him to my cousin so that he would get him to an ambulance.

I then went back up and carried down Abdel-Aziz. His head was open but I carried him downstairs and handed him to my sister-in-law. He was still breathing but something fell out of his head while I was carrying him.

I then went up a third time hoping to get my mother. When I saw that she had been decapitated, I froze and couldn't pick her up. I went back downstairs and waited there for the emergency services.

Voice of Khaldea Al Selak Shaja

When I went upstairs I expected to find my children alive. I didn't think they'd be on the roof, I thought they'd be on a lower floor. When I got up to the roof, I found my father-in-law and all the seven children, some were decapitated and they all looked lifeless. There was blood everywhere.

With the shock I didn't quite understand what had happened. I picked up my son and found a piece missing from his head, then I saw my daughter. When I saw that she had no head, I ran down the stairs in shock. I feared that my husband would jump over the roof after seeing the scene up there.  I was in so much shock that a week later I tried to go to Shifa hospital to say goodbye to my children. I had lost my senses.

Now slowly I am accepting what happened.

Omniya was eight years old.

Abdel-Halim was five years old.

Abdel-Azis was three years old.

Voice of John McColgan

Mohammed would also lose his leg in an attack minutes later as he was carrying a body to the ambulance.

Voice of Khaldea Al Selak Shaja

You know a week later they apologised and said they'd made a mistake by targeting us. When we tried to pursue the matter legally they changed their story and said that the young ones were firing rockets at them. Does it make sense that those kids would know how to fire rockets?

Voice of John McColgan

It was very moving hearing these bereaved parents speak with such stoicism and dignity. Sadly their story is far from unique.

On the tenth day of the conflict, an Israeli missile hit the house of Talal Mahmoud Al-Helou’s brother.

Voice of Talal Mahmoud Al-Helou

The house my brother was in, all in all 11 people, collapsed. My brother and his children died when the house came down. What can I say? This is our lot. These are the people who the Israeli army killed: children aged six months, six months, two years old, the father and the mother.

Not one of them was involved in the resistance, not one of them was a militant, nor were they Hamas or Fatah members. They had no connection whatsoever with any of that. These were women and children.

Voice of John McColgan

Layla Al-Helou, lost her daughter during the war.

Voice of Layla Al-Helou

My daughter had been calling me all night to ask how we were. I told her not to worry and that we were fine. She kept calling me until five minutes before three, then the calls stopped. The house had collapsed over them. I kept calling her and her phone would ring but she didn't answer. My son looked out of the window and he saw that their house had become a pile of rubble.

Voice of John McColgan

Israel maintains that these wars are the inevitable result of Hamas aggression. There is no doubt that Hamas and other militant groups are guilty of war crimes by indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel.

Human rights groups and the international community point to the disproportionate response of Israel.

During the 2014 conflict, approximately 1,500 Palestinian civilians were killed in Gaza, compared with six Israelis.

The Chair of the United Nations Independent Commission of Enquiry warned that the extent of the human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come.

Despite the massive civilian casualties and international condemnation, the Israeli government maintain that they are fighting a war on terror.

Voice of Emmanuel Nahshon

Hamas will use whatever it can in order to try and hurt Israel even if the price is hurting their own population. There is no better way to describe Hamas, it's a bunch of Islamic hoodlums who have taken them over. It's a dictatorship. It's a bloody dictatorship.

Imagine the following dilemma, and those are dilemmas that we have been facing every day. A group of Hamas people start shooting rockets or mortars from a school yard. Do we shoot back, don’t we shoot back? Whatever we do it's bad.

Voice of John McColgan

Walking through Gaza’s streets, the impact of the ongoing blockade and cyclical violence was obvious.

One in every two people in Gaza do not have enough food to eat. A third of the population are reliant on food aid.

Basic infrastructure such as water, sanitation and health services are crumbling at the seams, while the unemployment rate – at 42 per cent – is one of the highest in the world.

Even its fishing community is denied access to fishing grounds that would enable them to earn a decent living. Fishermen can sail only a little over five kilometres from the coast. Many claim that Israel denies them even this limited access.

Voice of Aahed Zayed, Fisherman

I started fishing fifteen years ago. I was sailing one and a half nautical miles from the border with Egypt. We had our lights on and we were feeling safe. Suddenly an Israeli gunboat started shooting at us. We jumped into the water and we were really scared. The boat was totally destroyed by a rocket. Soldiers were shooting directly at us. The shooting continued for half an hour. I am totally ended as a fisherman. Normally a fisherman needs two hands.

Voice of Fisherman

On the 27th April, around 1:30pm, we were surrounded by an Israeli gunboat. It start firing over our heads. They forced us to take off our clothes and swim towards their boat. When we got to the boat, they arrested us. Seven to eight soldiers arrived at the room in the port. They kicked and abused us. My boat and my nets were confiscated. I am asking all people as well as the Arab states and the non-Arab states to stand with the fishermen to protect us and aid us. When we go into the sea now we are afraid of being attacked and detained.

Voice of Gideon Levy

Generation after generation no,w what grows in Gaza is a huge huge human tragedy. Even the UN declared that by the year 2020 Gaza will not be a place where human beings will be able to live and it's unbelievable how the world is watching it and does nothing about it.

Voice of John McColgan

Sister Bridget Tighe from Sligo has lived in Gaza since early 2015. She says that the biggest problem here is not violence or poverty – it is the complete loss of hope.

Sister Bridget Tighe

I have a background in nursing and midwifery, and management and I speak a bit of Arabic and I know the Middle East so I feel I can bring something useful to the people here. What I saw at the beginning is what anyone can see, the poverty, the broken homes, the children on the streets but as I get to know the people, that’s when I hear the other things, the hopelessness, the fear for the future, their children, six years old, have lived through three wars so they’re traumatised, they’re clinging, they’re crying, they’re bedwetting. There’s a lot of violence, domestic violence, because the people are traumatised. So the longer I stay, the more I see, and I actually feel it in myself, the hopelessness that is pervasive in Gaza.

Voice of John McColgan

With the help of organisations such as Trócaire, Sr. Bridget delivers medical care to children in Gaza. One of the biggest issues children face is trauma. Ola Dweek, a child psychologist who works with Sr. Bridget, explains.

Voice of Ola Dweek, Child Psychologist

During the war I would go to Shifa hospital and deal with cases there. I also worked with the Baker children. These are the children who were playing on the beach when gunboats opened fire. Three of them were killed and three survived. The surviving children became very aggressive. They changed completely, lost their minds in a way. I worked with them for a period but then I could not continue. I began to feel the war through the people I worked with.

During the war I did not suffer the way others suffered. One girl comes from southern Gaza from an area where everyone was displaced. The girl lost her brother. He had been her best friend. She witnessed his death up close. He was riding a bicycle when he was killed. She has been hugely impacted by this loss. She writes letters to her brother and brings the letters for me to read. She has nightmares about him every night. It is heartwrenchingg for me because I have been working with her for a year and she still talks about him.

Sister Bridget Tighe

So we’ve known these people for two or three years, some of them lost their homes, some of them took in other people and we’ve seen them grieve, try to get their lives together, try to move on, try to look forward but look forward to what? you saw the number of children, what’s the future of those children?

Voice of John McColgan

Sister Bridget’s assessment was sobering, but it was also accurate. When you speak with people in Gaza you can feel the hopelessness.

The United Nations has questioned the short-term viability of Gaza, warning that by 2020 many basic services will have collapsed.

I wonder what chance there is of peace here when young people are being raised in an environment where they have a limited future. Such a situation plays into the hands of the extremists.

Israel has legitimate security concerns due to the presence of armed groups who deny their right to exist. By condemning all of Gaza’s people to inhumane lives, however, they succeed in swelling the ranks of these groups.

Without political movement, the cycle of violence seems destined to continue.

I’ve just spent two days in Gaza, an extraordinary experience. I'm here in a caged area between Gaza and Israel. It's no man’s land. We passed through two checkpoints down there, Hamas, Fatah - Palestinian checkpoints back to back with Israeli checkpoints. It's like nowhere I’ve ever been, it's an open air prison - 1.8 million people surrounded by a wall on one side and by the Mediterranean sea on the other and that sea is constantly patrolled by Israeli gunboats.

We have met people who have been devastated by the war, families who’ve lost up to eleven people, children with horrific injuries.

Having spent time in Gaza and the West Bank it was very difficult to come away feeling positive.

The conflict seems so intractable; so deep and so engrained.

However, there are voices for peace. Before I left, I had a chance to meet a group of Israelis and Palestinians who work together. Combatants for Peace is an organisation of former soldiers and militants who have joined together to call for peace and justice for all.

I joined them outside of Bethlehem on their monthly rally in the shadow of the separation wall.

Voice of Nathal Landan (Combatants for Peace)

Combatants for peace, which is a joint organisation of Israeli and Palestinians who took part in the circle of violence, which means Israelis who participated in the army, Palestinians who sat in the Israeli jail and said we no longer willing to continue the circle of violence. We don’t want our children to live in this kind of environment and we’re willing to do something today in order to ensure our children will have a better chance to live here.

Voice of Uri Ben Assa (Combatants for Peace)

The only way to end this conflict is to talk together with Palestinians who are nonviolent.

Voice of Hila Aloni (Combatants for Peace)

I used to live a few years in America and I just felt, I can’t represent, I felt almost ashamed being Israeli because when you’re outside, you see how Israel looks on the outside and it's so hard so when I came back I became more active in the issue of occupation because I feel that while we’re here we have to do what we can to change this.

Voice of John McColgan

During my short time in Israel and Palestine I met several Israelis who shared the view that the time has come to end the occupation and deliver a lasting peace. These activists remain a minority voice but there are signs that their numbers are growing.

In April 2017 two former heads of Israeli's powerful Domestic Intelligence Service claimed that the ongoing occupation was destroying Israeli society. They warned that the occupation was putting Israel on a path of incremental tyranny. It is a view shared by Dov Khenin, a member of parliament who has gone as far as accusing his own country of engaging in ethnic cleansing.

Voice of Dov Khenin (Member of Israeli Knesset)

The problem in Israel is not that people so much like the current situation. The most important problem is that most Israelis do not see an alternative. Most Israelis in principal, were willing to have a two state solution, to have an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. The problem is that the right wing in Israel has succeeded to persuade the majority of Israelis that this solution is not possible.

The current situation is not a frozen situation. It is a deteriorating situation and the fact that occupation is continuing and the fact that many many people, Palestinians and Israelis alike are losing hope, this is by itself very very dangerous because people without hope can do very very bad things.

Voice of John McColgan

After hearing so many stories of despair it was inspiring to see people from both sides of this decades old conflict coming together and calling for solutions.

US President Donald Trump has met both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and has vowed to make peace in the region his foreign policy legacy.

Whether he can achieve that remains to be seen.

On May 27th 2017 over 15,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv under the banner 'Two States, One Hope'. They called for Benjamin Netanyahu's government to do more to secure the two state solution many see as being key to securing lasting peace.

A message from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was read during the demonstration.

"The time has come for you and us to live in peace and harmony. We have accepted the decisions of the UN, we recognise Israel and accept the two-state solution. Now the time has come to recognise the state of Palestine".

Israeli opposition leader and labour party leader Isaac Herzog addressed the rallies.

"This week we saw an American president was is determined to bring peace between us and the Palestinians. We must put aside ego and connect a large political block that gives equality to minorities and is open to a variety of opinions".

There are no easy answers to the situation in Palestine and Israel. Peace will be difficult to find and even harder to secure. What we do know is that the blockades, land seizures, house demolitions and segregation will not bring peace to this land. It seems to me that these policies will only further drive the Palestinian and Israeli people apart.

It seemed to me that the current policies will act to only further drive the Palestinian and Israeli people apart.

Ultimately, peace can only happen by people working together to find compromises and solutions.

Only then is there a chance for everybody in this troubled land to live with the dignity and peace they all deserve.

Video: This is Palestine