Sometimes, I can’t help but to sit back and wonder why I spend so much of my time on the road. With loving friends and family back home, I could be living a comfortable life, without a care in the world.
But nothing is as sweet as the taste of freedom. The freedom to travel as you please, to see the world and to meet new people from all of the four corners. Unfortunately, it’s a freedom that most people in the world are deprived of. Living in the Gaza Strip, with all borders permanently closed, the sea patrolled by Israeli gunboats, and even the air occupied by Israeli bomber planes, which (annoyingly) scramble the signals of our television sets, certainly gives you a taste of what it’s like to be imprisoned.
Last Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Russia, and asked President Dmitry Medvedev to inform Hamas that they would not improve their offer for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Everyone knows the name of Gilad Shalit, taken prisoner in June 2006, whilst serving in the Israeli occupation forces. But no-one knows the name of the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners rotting away in Israeli jails, most of them dragged from their beds without so much as a charge. Held without trial, illegally under international law, and with their basic human rights, including visits from family members, denied on a daily basis.
Whilst Netanyahu spent his Monday morning chilling out in Moscow, I was outside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City, where a huge crowd of the families of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel had gathered, as they do every Monday, to show solidarity with each other, and to protest against the inaction of an international organisation which has been so ineffective in challenging a state which goes around flouting the Fourth Geneva Convention as if it’s a joke.
Um Faris was one of the women standing at the gates of the ICRC on Monday. “I pray to God that I will see Faris before I pass away. Every time I come here I ask the ICRC to help, but no one is taking care of us,” she said. I can’t imagine the pain of a mother not being allowed to see her son.
For every Gilad, paraded in the news and celebrated as some kind of hero, there are ten thousand Palestinians. But no-one knows their names.