IN THE week before the bombing of Gaza City, a delegation of health workers, students and academics from Britain visited the West Bank and Gaza to show solidarity with the Palestinians. Nothing quite prepared our delegation for the everyday oppression. The bombing of civilians and children in Gaza was a consequence of the collective punishment Israel metes out to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
We experienced the curfews that have shut down the towns and villages of the West Bank, and the blockades that pen the population in. The checkpoints bar passage to the sick, the elderly and the young. In Hebron alone, 12 women have died while in labour at checkpoints, watched by Israeli soldiers.
The routine of humiliation and terror has a purpose-to crush resistance and to destroy the hope of an independent Palestine. Over 400,000 settlers now occupy swathes of territory that cantonise the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Neighbouring towns and villages have been isolated from one another. The settlers command the high ground, linked by roads barred to Palestinians. A system of apartheid pass laws bar Palestinians from their own territory.
Nadri, a Palestinian student at BeirZeit University in the West Bank, has not seen his family in Gaza for six years. If asked to show his ID, he would be confined to the Gaza Strip, never to finish his engineering degree. But if oppression and suffering is one side of the Israeli occupation there is another-resistance.
In the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza we met Awad, aged 20. Awad has suffered repeated beatings by the army since he was 12.
'We were born oppressed,' said Awad. 'We did not live our childhood like other children. Is it not our right to have a childhood too? We were raised on destruction and blood. All we ask is help to live peacefully.' Awad and his brothers and sisters are the 'children of the stones', who have faced the tanks, guns and armoured personnel carriers of the Israeli army. We met that spirit everywhere we went.
'Our life has always been preoccupied with the liberation of Palestine,' Eyad El Sarraj, the chair of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, told us. 'Under the surface of helplessness and despair there is a core that is glowing with hope and determination. We have a belief that we will win.' After the bombing of Gaza City, one quarter of the population of the Gaza Strip took to the streets in a 300,000-strong demonstration. Their cause is one we should make our own.