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Standing with survivors of violence in Gaza

14 September 2018

Visiting Gaza, I heard the stories of people affected by violence, trauma and the reality of life under Israeli occupation

A family gathers outside their house in Gaza. (Photo: John McColgan)

A family gathers outside their house in Gaza. (Photo: John McColgan)

On a recent visit to Gaza, I was confronted with the reality of people’s lives in this beleaguered part of the world. This is a reality of trauma, violence and oppression. 

I was reminded of how perpetrators use their power to oppress, control, manipulate and degrade others. I was reminded of the stark similarities between perpetrators, be they perpetrators of domestic violence or state violence. 

Impact of the occupation

For the people living in Gaza, the full force of the Israeli occupation bears itself on them in many ways. While there I met people who have lived under occupation all of their lives, people who have lived through wars that have torn their families, communities and land apart. 

I got a very real sense of what Israel’s occupation of Palestine means for the people of Gaza. It means not having access to water or electricity sufficient for your family’s needs. The electricity arrives at intermittent times, and people are lucky if they get 4 hours of electricity per day. These 4 hours might be in the middle of the night. 

It can mean not being able to see your sister for years on end, even though she lives only an hour away, but she is on the wrong side of barriers and checkpoints. It means not being able to take your children to the place where you grew up. 

It means worrying that your baby will come to know the fear of war, the loss and pain that it brings. It means waking in the dead of night to try to soothe your 6 year old child who has woken from a nightmare, and is having memories of the war they have lived through. 

Overall the occupation means worry, anxiety and fear about many aspects of daily life.

I had aimed in my time in Gaza to understand more fully the political context and complexities of the conflict. Yet I have come to feel that while important, the complexity of the political narrative can distract us from the reality of daily life under occupation. 

 "I counsel the children affected by the trauma of war. They have constant nightmares. They are bed wetting. They have completely changed. It's heart-breaking." (Photo: John McColgan)

Caption : Ola Dweek is a child psychologist in Gaza: "I counsel the children affected by the trauma of war. They have constant nightmares. They are bed wetting. They have completely changed. It's heart-breaking." (Photo: John McColgan)

Standing with survivors of violence

Trócaire works on defending human rights in Gaza, provides humanitarian aid and also campaigns for Ireland and the EU to take political action. I was in Gaza to support our work on tackling gender-based violence. 

We seek to support people experiencing violence, displacement, oppression, and these people ask of us that we walk with them, hear their stories and speak their truth.

In my work, I often bear witness and hear testimony of atrocities in people’s lives. Sometimes in individual’s lives. Sometimes in the lives of entire communities. It’s a peril of the job, but one I now willingly accept and I feel honoured to be invited into the lives of people who are struggling against the odds. 

The things that are necessary to keep us well

After a week in Gaza, as I took my seat on a plane bound for home, I suddenly felt a great sense of unease. This unease started as a weight in the centre of my chest and moved its way to being a lump in my throat and then my eyes started to prickle. I felt a strong urge to get off the plane and stay in Gaza. 

Why would I feel panic, worry and anxiety just as I was headed for home? Home is the place from which I draw my resources, my strength and my resilience, the place that holds me when life is not going smoothly. It is the place where I feel my deepest sense of connection and wellbeing. 

The tactics of the occupation seek to extinguish family and community connections, slowly squeezing these resources from the lives of people. People are struggling to keep going, with their world becoming smaller day by day.

Gaza in my short time there felt like a home to me. While I became aware of the hopelessness and despair amongst people, I became also aware that alongside this lives resilience, determination, and great bonds of friendship and community. 

As difficult as it was to leave, I am motivated and inspired to continue to support our work with survivors of violence in Gaza. To continue to walk with them, hear their stories and speak their truth.

To learn more about the situation in Gaza, watch the award winning documentary ‘This is Palestine’ produced by Trócaire and Tyrone Productions which aired last week on TG4.

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