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Last Updated: 09/25/2008
Responding to Conflict in Gaza
Paul Clifford

Paul Clifford reflects on his recent visit to Gaza, remarking on the courage and creativity with which people face their daily hardships, the hospitality he received, and the dishearteningly entrenched nature of violence in the Middle East.

In May, Paul Clifford, an associate of Responding to Conflict (RTC), travelled to the Gaza Strip.  He was there to work with RTC’s Palestinian Strategy Group members and support them in integrating conflict issues into their programmes.  The current situation in Gaza made it difficult and unpredictable - but what struck him the most was the strength and determination of the people he met to continue their work, even in the midst of growing fear and uncertainty. Below is Paul’s account of his experience written shortly after returning to the UK:

This was my first visit to Gaza so I can’t compare how it is now to how it used to be. However, everyone told me that this is the worst it’s ever been. The first things that struck me, emerging from the Erez checkpoint, were the warmth of the welcome I received from people and the desolation of the landscape, where, apparently, once olive trees flourished and a thriving factory was operating. Daily life for ordinary Gazans is very difficult. Gaza has been cut off from the outside world since June 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza and Israel sealed the borders.  This makes it hard for anything to operate properly and this includes the work of the RTC Palestinian Strategy Group members.

Very few Gazans are permitted to leave – the image of a prison camp seems apt. There is very little fuel so moving from one part of Gaza to another is difficult, if not impossible. Shortage of fuel means high food prices and twice when I was there the United Nations had to suspend its humanitarian food aid operations because of a lack of fuel. So far, no-one is dying of hunger, but, according to the Palestinian Medical Relief Association', severe cases of malnutrition are on the increase which is causing disease more commonly associated with poor African countries. Daily lives are being consumed with survival – people struggle to get their children to and from school and worry about how to get food and clean water. Children and young people see no hope in the future.

For me, being in Gaza was like living in a bubble – I encountered no difficulties at all. No problems with Immigration at Ben Gurion airport, in Tel Aviv, or at the Erez crossing. There was no shortage of food or water at the hotel. I felt no threat to my security – the exact opposite in fact as I was made to feel so welcome.

I have tremendous admiration for people's courage and creativity in surviving under incredibly difficult conditions. The most difficult thing for me was leaving, knowing that the people I had been working with did not enjoy that same basic human right of freedom of movement.

Two workshops went ahead during my visit, out of a planned seven.  The shortage of fuel meant that the programme we had planned was no longer possible. To make the most of being there I ran a series of workshops for journalists, international NGOs, and academics on the concept of Conflict Transformation.

I also met with a Palestinian, who has set up his own NGO to try and create dialogue between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. This internal conflict was much on people's minds. As someone said to me, “the Israelis kill too many of us, the last thing we should be doing is killing each other”.

The situation goes around and around; some militant groups still fire rockets at Israeli towns and Israel continues its incursions into and blockade of the Gaza Strip. The shortage of fuel means that it will be very difficult for the Strategy Group to carry out the planned programme and so changes will be needed. It is difficult to see the situation improving in the near future. The fact that staff and associates from RTC continue to visit Gaza is really appreciated by RTC’s partners in Gaza and it is important that these visits continue, at least until Gazans themselves can travel again.

Paul Clifford

Background information about RTC’s Middle East Programme

Since 2004 RTC has been working closely with organisations in Israel and Palestine building their capacity for effective, strategic and coherent work for positive change within their own communities.  Strategy Groups were formed in both countries and the members work together supporting each other and finding ways of taking account of conflict and other issues in their organisations and programmes.

Phase one of the programme has built the capacity of local organisations in the field of conflict transformation, and created two strategy groups in Israel and Palestine.  Phase 2 will focus on the sustainability of those strategy groups and enable them to integrate a conflict perspective into their programmes. In Gaza Strategy Group members have trained 60 teachers in conflict resolution and have been leading initiatives of mediation and dialogue between Hamas and Fatah leaders and their supporters which has resulted in the resolution of conflicts in the health sector.

For further information about the Middle East programme, please contact Michael Eccles

Paul Clifford is an associate of Responding to Conflict.