Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association said goodbye on Thursday 11th March to fourteen Palestinian women from all over the West Bank who had come on a visit to Britain as part of the Stories from our Mothers Project, supported by the Anna Lindh Foundation.
The women, among them students, mothers, academics, women’s centre co-ordinators, came to meet British women and to exchange life experiences on the special occasion of the 100th International Women’s Day.
The visitors met British women in many different ways – in women’s centres, public meetings and skills-sharing sessions when they cooked and sewed together. They split into pairs and toured Britain, meeting groups in thirty different towns and boroughs in England, Scotland and Wales.
The visit has strengthened the network of twinning and friendship links between places in Britain and Palestine that has been building steadily in the past few years.
The high point of the visit was the Stories from our Mothers workshop held on International Women’s Day itself at the School of Oriental and African Studies in Camden. The visitors and others from London told personal stories of their own and their mothers’ lives in Palestine, many of which brought tears to the eyes of the audience.
These included the descriptions by Enass al-Bittar, a student from Gaza in London. She told of her mother’s experiences as one of the thousands of Palestinian refugees in 1948. She spoke of the current experience of people in Gaza living under a siege and of the horrendous experiences of her family during the Israeli war on Gaza in early 2009 when so many people were killed and her own house destroyed.
Rania Arafat from Jerusalem described the huge difficulties created for Palestinians in the West Bank by a system of passes that restrict movement, and the way that she and her family are not allowed by Israel to live in the house that they have built in Al Essawiya village.
I’temad Wahbeh, who lives in Shu’fat refugee camp, showed the audience a picture of her son and described what happened a year ago when he was, while both of them were trying to enter the refugee camp from Jerusalem and her son was shot in the eye by an Israeli soldier.
He has now completely lost sight in that eye.
This was the second Stories from our Mothers workshop: the first took place at the Al Quds University in Abu Dis during a visit of British women to Palestine in November last year.
In the evening, a packed audience attended a special meeting on women in Jerusalem. Dr Fadwa al-Labadi from the Insan Centre for Gender Studies at the Al Quds University explained how Israeli policies are trying to force Palestinians from Jerusalem. Hiyam Elayan from the Saraya Centre in the Old City of Jerusalem and Amal Hijazi from the women’s centre t Shu’fat refugee camp explained the particular pressures on women and children.
Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to Britain, visited the workshop to welcome the women to London.
He spoke about the importance of the work of organisations like Camden Abu Dis and the Britain-Palestine Twinning Network in helping people in Britain to understand what is really going on in Palestine.
The stories gathered by British and Palestinian women will be the basis for a book, Stories from our Mothers. A film about the women’s exchange visits between Britain and Palestine will also be produced in the summer as part of the project