Opening the proceedings Angela Glendenning described how the North Staffordshire Olive Tree Campaign had been her response to the shock of personally experiencing the impact of the Israeli occupation on the life of Palestinians in the West Bank. Having taken part in an olive tree planting programme in October 2011 she determined to maintain her support Palestinians by recruiting olive tree sponsors. The campaign had so far sponsored 200 olive trees and is now part of Sumud Palestine. Mohammed Mukhaimar took up the story by describing how as a psychotherapist in Gaza and the West Bank, he had experienced a shortfall in quality supervision which is needed to safeguard workers from compassion fatigue and burnout. Sumud Palestine hopes to go some way to making up this deficit.
Before lighting a Candle for Peace in Palestine and Israel, Angela Glendenning asked if we could remember not only the suffering of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza but also those still living in refugee camps in Lebanon and the hundreds who are fleeing over the border from Syria. Palestinians rely almost entirely on UNWRA for shelter, education and primary healthcare and UNWRA is chronically underfunded and unable to support the influx from Syria while Syrian refugees can look to help from the UN High Commission for Refugees.
Around 60 people from various backgrounds and walks of life attended the Mitchell Arts Centre for the launch of Sumud Palestine. The only person absent was Saeed Amireh, the young Palestinian activist from Ni’lin who we were looking forward to welcoming at the beginning of his speaking tour here and in Europe. Saeed’s mentor, Carly Lyes, stepped into the breach to describe how villagers in Nil’in maintain weekly non-violent protests against the Israeli depredations of their land, one-third of which is being lost to the Wall, a road and an illegal settlement. Similarly demonstrations take place in Bi’lin and both villagers have had their martyrs struck down by gas canisters.
David Raines, Sumud Palestine’s first sponsored a psychotherapist who returned to the West Bank in December to conduct workshops for staff of the Palestinian Counselling Centre, used his family background to trace the involvement of Britain in Palestine and how he arrived at his present position of commitment to offer his skill and experience to the PSC.
Tristram Hunt MP, unable to attend, wrote a letter of support: “I welcome today’s meeting of Sumud Palestine. By supporting the Palestinian people in this way, you are helping to overcome the difficulties decades of injustice has wrought. By highlighting the importance of land and mental health, I have every confidence you will contribute to increased public interest and concern around these issues. Therefore, please allow me to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best.”
We were pleased to welcome Cllr. Mohammed Pervez, Leader of the Stoke-on-Trent City Council, who attended the whole day and gave us an opportunity for a photo call before he left!
We were glad to welcome representatives of the Walsall Kobar Friendship Association and to draw attention to concert on 11 May at St Mary’s Church in Alsager which will be hosting Bishara, a young Palestinian pianist who played in this year’s Proms with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim, and his wife, Adi, herself an accomplished violinist with the Orchestra.
Patrick and Deborah brought a stall of Palestinian products and sold out of olive oil and dates. Palestinian olive oil is the best but it is expensive and to sell-out is unusual.
A letter of support from the director of the Palestinian Counselling Centre, Rana Nashashibi, and the manager of the JAI, Nidal 1Abu Zuluf, will be posted later.