Argus title : I feel thankful from inside my heart. Now I feel I have relatives here – sisters and brothers. I feel warm to them. I feel I have a family again.
This weekend Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid. It marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which Muslims fast throughout the day and eat only at night.
While Ramadan is a time of concentrated worship and self denial, Eid is a time of joy and celebration. During Eid families meet together to feast, pray and exchange gifts.
This must be a very hard time to celebrate in the Middle East. Yasser Arafat’s death has created uncertainty and the possibility of further violence.
The fundamentalist warmonger in the Whitehouse continues to wage war on the Iraqis and has Syria and Iran in his sites. He actively colludes with the breaches of international law in Israel. It was a calculated affront to attack the mosques of Fallaujah during Ramadan and Eid.
Our Prime Minister continues to support Bush. While his own children live in peace he sends other people’s sons to be maimed and slaughtered in Iraq. He may say that peace in the Middle East is his highest priority, but in practice what he has achieved is deepening crisis.
These are dark days. There are echoes of the sixties and seventies, when the USA sent torturers to organise coups in Latin America and drafted boys into Vietnam to flatten villages, napalm civilians and defoliate forests. At that time too it was very hard to celebrate.
Faced with our apparent failure to learn the lessons of history and the inadequacy and cruelty of some of our leaders, it would be understandable if we lapsed into despair. But it would be wrong.
We need to remember that some of the great movements for social justice have been spawned in times of great suffering. For example, the Civil Rights Movement and the international Women’s Movement were developed in the crucible of struggle against war and injustice in South East Asia and Latin America.
It is understandable to feel fear. At such times, it can help to focus on small gains. And to remember the strange and persistent goodness of people.
It is a never failing source of wonder to me that, despite betrayals by morally bankrupt governments, the corrupting nature of so many aspects of our social lives and the gross misinformation to which we are subject, so many people are so good.
Three weeks ago I wrote an article about Nada, a Palestinian woman from Budrus in the West Bank. She came to the UK in May 2004 to seek asylum and is now living in Hove.
Nada’s 16 year old brother was killed by Israeli sniper fire in January 2004. In the same month soldiers came to destroy her family’s olive groves. When she argued, she was beaten by Israeli soldiers. A month or so later more soldiers came and bulldozed the family home. She escaped with her widowed mother’s assistance.
I explained that for two and a half months after she arrived in the UK Nada received weekly payments from the government. Then they stopped. She was informed by the section of the Home Office which deals with financial support that her payments had been stopped because her application for asylum had been refused. Payments cannot be restarted unless she appeals against the refusal. She cannot appeal against the decision, because she has not been officially informed of it. So she lives on the charity of others.
At the conclusion of the article, I asked for letters of support for Nada. I hoped for 4 or 5 good letters that could be used to help her negotiations with the Home Office. In the event, I received 10 times that number from all over Sussex.
Last week, Nada and I met at the Cowley Club in London Road, where she goes once a week to learn to speak and write English. She wept over the letters. Some she read herself tracking her finger along the lines as she struggled with the unfamiliar script and words. Others I read to her.
Though she was fasting, she insisted I eat and drink. As I did so, she repeatedly touched the letters, as if she feared they would disappear. She said: “I feel I have a family again”.
What follows are extracts from just some of them. Most are expressions of deep sympathy.
“I can’t describe how upset I was when I read your article… …What help does Nada need most? I am an ordinary Mum with two grown up children…I haven’t got a lot of spare cash, but if there is anything I can do for Nada I would like to. Does she need a friend? Does she need a “Mum“ who can support her in small ways and visit her and treat her in a warm, friendly way and perhaps help her to buy some of the small things that brighten your day? …. it doesn’t matter what faith Nada is, she needs love just as much as my own children still do….Please let me know if I can give her any help at all.” (M.P., Eastbourne)
” I was very touched by your article concerning Nada. How really appalling! If I can help in any way it will be my pleasure. I am 82…. ..Let me know how I can help..” (RB of Southwick)
“I think that what has happened to you is terrible – both in Palestine and the UK. I was an international volunteer … 2 years ago. I helped stop Israeli tanks…..– though I’m not sure it did much good it did. I was very shocked and angered and saddened to see how Israelis treated the Palestinians – they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. But the British authorities should also be ashamed if they refuse you asylum. You deserve all our support and help and love. What can I do to help?” (GB, Brighton.)
Some correspondents offered practical help, while others sent money.
“I am so sorry that your situation is so precarious at present….I hope that the enclosed cheque may be a little help…We wish you all the best and sincerely hope you will be allowed to stay here.” JP & PP, Brighton).
One person sent cash with a small scrap of paper, simply marked “For Nada”. Others remembered how difficult it would be for Nada to be away from her people during Eid.
“We hope this will in some way help her and is a gift to her for forthcoming Eid. We fully support the Palestinian struggle for their homeland and for peace in the area with justice for all. We support her application for asylum…” (LR and PR of Shoreham
Some people focussed on the plight of asylum seekers and the need for them to be warmly welcomed.
“When I was a child I can recall my mother telling me of the suspicion of neighbours when she provided lodgings for two young German women during the last year of the Second World War. There were those even then who disbelieved the seriousness of their situation and thought that the tattooed numbers on the young women’s arms were some sort of ‘trick’ to get into this country. … I hope that the powers that be look at her situation with a true perspective and with compassion.” (JC of Brighton)
Many expressed outrage at the suffering of the Palestinian people.
“..the shocking plight of Palestinians like Nada is a running sore biting into Arabic-speaking and Moslem people all over the world…” (AP & LP)
“Your excellent article on the despair of the Palestinian and the Israeli’s policy of daily violation of the basic human rights and of all the international and UN rules and resolutions is nothing but truth and facts, and the main reason of suicide bombers and violence in Israel and the occupied land” (AB, Hove).
“I read your article with much dismay. …Surely politicians must realise that if one group is unreasonable to another this will cause resentment in the other group and they are bound to be unreasonable too. I hope that international justice will prevail one day”. (DF, Shoreham)
A large number of people expressed surprise and gratitude to the Argus for printing the article:
“Thank you so much for your truthful, clear and deeply moving article about Nada… (and thanks and congratulations to the Argus for printing it). The atrocities you describe are daily occurrences in Palestine perpetrated in the gross misnomer of so called war on terrorism, this latter being a transparent excuse for the ethnic cleansing that is also part of the daily hell Palestinians have to endure. …That our government can even think of refusing asylum to Nada makes me so deeply shamed.” (AW, Hove).
“I was astonished and delighted that the Argus has seen fit to publish (the) heartbreaking article about the plight of Nada and her life in the Occupied West Bank. I have followed with horror the unfolding of events there and in Gaza…. …” (PP, Brighton).
“Thank you for putting forward a totally different view of Palestine and its problems than is normally reported in the mainstream press” (AH, Brighton)
Almost every letter cried out for peace.
”How much her story brings home the need for peacemakers on both sides to somehow stay
committed and focused…. I am hoping that …..Britain becomes for her a refuge until the day, please God, that the two peoples live side by side in two separate states and that Nada will be able to return back home and build her life and plant her olive trees again and there will be some kind of peace at last.” (JW, Brighton)
Regrettably, Nada has still not received an answer from the Home Office about her application. Nor has her weekly payment been reinstated.
Nada’s legal representative has now written to the Home Office stating that the matter will be taken to judicial review unless confirmation is received by this Monday that her financial support will be reinstated.
On 23rd October, I wrote of Nada that I was struck by “3 things above all else – her grief, her powerlessness and her utter loneliness.” Grief is still evident, but she seems to have grown in power. I hope she no longer feels alone.
I asked Nada what she felt about the letters. She asked me to put her reply into ‘good’ English, but I refused. Her words seemed better than mine.
“I feel very thankful from inside my heart. Now I feel I have relatives here – sisters and brothers. I feel warm to them. If I can I want to see them. It is very lonely to be in my situation. The people have given me money and that is very good. I can pay bus fare to go to my English class. I can buy the things a lady needs. I am not ashamed now, having to ask people. But it is more for me that all these people care for me and want to help me. I would like to help them too. I want not just to be taking, but also giving to them. I feel I have a family again.”