Monday, February 22, 2010

gaza: writing from beneath the bombs

A year ago, as Israeli forces rained military death upon Gaza, we blogged, we wrote emails, some of us even took to the streets. And all of it felt futile.

Others, however, were out there. The Free Gaza boat activists had sailed laden with supplies for the besieged Gazans, and many were still there when Operation Cast Lead began.

Sharyn Lock was one of them and, as I nudged folk towards at the time, was blogging from the thick of it. Her writing was clear, intelligent, compassionate and fearless. She wrote calmly, straightforwardly and thoughtfully, yet didn't flinch from her freaked out Western reactions, nor from the duty to stay where she was most needed and report what she saw.

The subject matter was so vivid, the number of voices coming out so few, and her talent so great, that she was commissioned to make a book of her writings which has just been published as Gaza: Beneath the Bombs.

In order to assemble it into a coherent narrative she worked with Sarah Irving. Irving's not only an incisive non-mainstream journalist but is also an experienced volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement.

She first went to Palestine in March 2002 as part of a group of international citizens whose presence in Israeli-occupied territories would, they hoped, curb the excesses of the Israeli military. Soon after they arrived, the Israelis launched fierce attacks, massacring Palestinians and shooting unarmed peace demonstrators.

This being before blogging had taken off, Sarah maintained frequent email contact with the outside world. Her reports from Bethlehem - contrasting sharply with the biases of the corporate media - were startling, harrowing and compelling. So much so that I couldn't let them disappear and archived them over at U-Know.

Her writing, like Lock's, is trustworthy precisely because it doesn't have any pretence of objectivity. They lay their feelings wide open; we see any bias plainly, we see why it exists, as they refuse to shy away from emotional responses. How could anyone really be there and really be part of it but remain aloof?

If a writer on a political subject manages to preserve a detached attitude, it is nearly always because he doesn't know what he is talking about. To understand a political movement, one has to get involved in it. And as soon as one is involved in it one becomes a propagandist.

- George Orwell (New English Weekly, 22 Sept 1938)

Yet this is not blindly partisan. The book has an unswerving compassion for all the people recorded in it, Palestinian, Israeli or international. As Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestine, says in the book's afterword, it manages to humanise the inhuman.

It is powerful, moving and strikingly modern writing; accessible, warm and humane. It is as much about psychology as physical fact, as much a story of resilience as brutality. Anyone wanting to understand the reality of life in Gaza should get a copy.

The authors are doing readings at bookshops and event around Britain, check here for details. You can also buy it online. If you're going to do that, go to the publisher Pluto Press and enter the code FREEGAZA or ISM GAZA during the payment process, and the relevant organisation gets a cut.

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