About a month ago I was sniffing around on the internet, and I saw this:
This video from Channel Four News’ Jon Snow had been doing the rounds on all social media a good week before I stumbled on it. This well respected journalist, usually a beacon of impartiality side-stepped the editorial shackles of mainstream TV news and put his thoughts and feelings on the internet. Watch the video and you can see that his return from reporting on what’s going on in Israel and Gaza has shaken him. You can see it on his face, in his demeanour. Seeing this conflict scarred him. I made the mistake of watching this at work – a mistake as I almost burst in to tears at the sight of the girl with the “panda eyes”. Mr. Snow says in his video that “our United Nations, our Government, our world, is just not that interested”. That it is “for us, no priority whatsoever to stop” the fighting. but the fact that we watch the news and read the stories from Palestine means we’re “motivated enough to do something”. Mr. Snow is not wrong, of course we want to do something. Being honest with myself I didn’t know what we could do about this, which is awful because, as Mr. Snow said, “this is the greatest hope the people of Gaza have”.
So what can we really do? Following random feeds on social media I found a link to a JustGiving page raising funds and awareness for the people of Gaza. Set up by London based charity worker Jennifer Robson, her “Pound and a Minute for Gaza” appeal is asking for just that – one of your pounds and one of your minutes, “because it only takes a minute to make a difference”. Her target of raising £1000, which she herself calls “ambitious”, is working by using “our social networks to ask our friends, friends of friends, and their friends” to donate their time and money.
On the evening of Monday 18th August 2014, when a ceasefire was still in place between Gaza and Israel, I got the chance to chat online with Jennifer on her progress. At that point she was at 80% of that £1000 total. She explained that she was, like myself and doubtless many others, inspired by the Jon Snow video. “Gaza had been in the news for a while by that point but that video seemed to be what caught people’s attention”.
She goes on to explain that the funds raised by her appeal will go to Oxfam to help charities within Gaza. (At the time of writing this article official figures 2,016 Palestinians and 66 Israelis have died since the recent Israeli manoeuvres, given the mantle “Operation Protective Edge”, began on 8 July) Given the tough security and sanctions imposed on Hamas controlled Gaza, and the reported monitoring and rationing of supplies by the Israeli forces, a natural concern from donors would be that their cash is going to the right people, and not landing in the hands of the military. “I think with this appeal, that’s been one of people’s biggest concerns” Jennifer agrees. “But I’ve donated to Oxfam before and I’ve read up enough to assure myself that the money is channeled to the front line. And we can see the impact it’s having in terms of the aid that’s already being administered”. While she can’t see the impact first hand, she is able to follow the progress through the Oxfam Facebook page “which is helping me stay connected to why I did this in the first place”.
The Gaza conflict has of course been in the background of world news for decades, with attacks and ceasefires coming and going seemingly on the change of the wind. Like many other long running conflicts, it’s routed in a complicated political backstory. This was a connection that Jennifer was desperate to avoid. “I tried to write an appeal that was clearly not about picking sides, or debating the politics, but that was clearly focused on the humanitarian need.” She also mentions that some people have chosen not to donate or discuss the appeal because of the politics, sidestepping the humanitarian issue. Following the various forms of western media responses to the conflict, the politics have naturally come up for discussion. Russell Brand and Fox News’ Sean Hannity had an online sparring match. Penelope’ Cruz has been banished from Hollywood for seeming to side with the Palestinians, calling the Israeli bombardment “genocide”. This prompted actor Jon Voight to write his own open letter defending Israel, and condemn any support for the people of Gaza. Most recently “comedienne” Joan Rivers has been the subject of a UK tour ban for her “I don’t care” rant about the Palestinians. All steeped in controversy and very hard to miss, but Jennifer sees this as a positive. “It feels like this is the first time that the Gaza conflict has attracted that type of coverage. I think all of that has played a role in keeping the crisis on people’s radar, which can only be a good thing.”
Most recently media attention has shifted somewhat to other humanitarian conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq. where aid seems to have been made available from the West much quicker than in Gaza. “I think, however simplistic this may be, governments feel greater responsibility for what’s happening in Iraq, and of course they have their own interests located in the territories affected.” I ask Jennifer if she worries that the shift in media attention has or will affect the attention needed for continued support in Gaza. “It’s not headline news anymore […] but I think that’s also due to the fact that people engaged very quickly with it – sharing and donating – and it’s perhaps reached it’s natural peak.” She also points out that the DEC (Disaster Emergency Committee) had started their own emergency appeal for Gaza which may have taken over somewhat from individual fundraising. Either way, money is still being raised and Jennifer has seen that the conflict is “still very much on people’s minds”.
From the current political instability, fundraising and awareness campaigns, and celebrity opinions, we look briefly to the future. There is an entire generation of people, in both Gaza and Israel, who have probably never known a day of real peace, always waiting for the next bomb to drop. In Gaza it’s well known that the Palestinians are rationed on food and water, and restricted from education. Gaza’s future, even if the missiles stop flying seems bleak. “This conflict has seemed like an escalation on recent previous conflicts, and that worries me too. The issues preventing a lasting peace just seem so intractable.”
As we near the end of our interview, I bring Jennifer back to my original question: what can we really do for the people of Gaza? “Just to donate what they can to the DEC appeal, and if they don’t have the money then just raise awareness. And most importantly, don’t forget.”
Sadly, literally hours since I spoke to Jennifer, the peace talks that were taking place in Cairo, and had been extended three times and lasted ten days, broke down, with Gaza and Israel blaming each other for the talks collapsing. Rockets have been launched, guns have been fired, and more people have been killed on both sides of the divide. You only need read the news, or click on the links on social media to see the varying degrees of brutality, so I won’t go in to what I have seen in the last few days. Suffice to say, the violence has escalated once again, with neither side willing to back down. As money is being raised to help the innocent people caught in the line of fire, and plays a fundamental part in the relief effort, the fact remains that these funds can only help in the short term, it won’t fix the problem. Awareness is the best form of defence for these people, be they in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Iraq or any other place in this world caught up in violence. The best thing we can do for these people, is remember them.
A full transcript of my interview with Jennifer Robson can be read HERE.
Her JustGiving page is www.justgiving.com/GazaAPoundandaminute
The DEC Gaza Emergency Appeal is HERE
The Oxfam Facebook page is HERE