By David Hennessy
London- Irish man Stephen Redmond has launched a campaign to raise funds for GAA kits for Palestinian children. He has already raised £1,000+ of his £4,200 goal.
Stephen has just recently returned from Gaza and the West Bank where he saw the devastation and the oppression.
There have long been tensions in the area but since the Hamas attacks late last year, Israel has launched an offensive that is not condoned by the rest of the world and- as is always the case- it is innocent people that are caught in the crossfire.
Stephen Redmond travelled to Gaza representing the Kevin Barry Michael Fay Cumann.
As someone who grew up in London during the Troubles when anti- Irish sentiment was high, Stephen feels a solidarity with the Palestinians and on his trip he saw the circumstances of refugees and the oppression and violence that is now part of everyday life.
Stephen told The Irish World: “I grew up in that whole turbulent period so there’s a connection there between Ireland and Palestine, because we’ve both been occupied.
“I’m very nationalistic about Irish freedom and saw the similarity with Palestine and I’m very sympathetic to their plight which is a terrible plight, it really is bad.
“In fact, going out there I believed a two state solution was a solution.
“Returning from there, I actually see a one state solution with everyone treated with equal rights the same way as Theobald Wolfe Tone envisaged for Ireland, where all people of all religions and all persuasions are treated equally.
“I am linked with the Kevin Barry Michael Fay Cumann and I discussed the situation in Palestine with them and we just decided that I would go out and represent the cumann and collate information about what’s going on now during the war.
“On a personal level, I found it emotional. I actually broke down crying at one stage watching Al Jazeera.
“You can actually see the bombs going off in the background, in some instances, as they’re reporting live,
“There’s a lot of humanity there, and they’re suffering badly.
“I was touched deeply by the suffering on a personal level.
“And on a political level, I felt it would be helpful to them for us to collate information and bring it back to the west, and try and share it from a different perspective from a man on the ground who has no journalism background.”
Stephen was grilled by authorities on why he was travelling to the region and had to travel first to Israel and not reveal that he was intending to travel on to Gaza.
Unable to travel directly to the West Bank, Stephen travelled to Jerusalem first.
“I heard the call to prayer in the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
“I did try and get access.
“The Israeli police said, ‘You’re not getting through’.
“They said, ‘Why would you want to go in there? What religion are you?’
“I said, ‘Well, I’m Christian’.
“’Why do you want to go to a mosque?’
“I says, ‘I want to pray with my brothers and sisters at a time when they’re suffering’.
“I did find a centre that would put me up and I could learn Arabic.
“It was the Excellence Centre in Hebron, in the H1 area, which is under the Palestinian Authority.
“I even volunteered there helping the children, teaching them.
“I have to say, hats off to the Palestinian people, to the community for protecting the children because they’re well insulated.
“We could have been in the middle of London.
“They know what’s going on but they’re insulated.
“Obviously, there’s fear when they leave their areas.”
Gates can be closed at any time with no warning and checkpoints stop ordinary people going about their business and can also create potential flashpoints as Stephen witnessed himself.
“We came up to a checkpoint.
“Policeman speaks in Hebrew, he can’t speak Arabic or English and he’s not gonna even attempt to speak Arabic or English.
“The young driver sitting next to me was 21 years old, I know in my head that I have to just observe.
“I don’t want to start a fight because that’s a common thing is that they’ll ask for all your phones.
“They’ll put in search words or they’ll go through your photos to see if there’s any Palestinian things on it and then they’ll confiscate it or arrest you.
“The police officer starts asking questions, he’s not happy about the car.
“He gets the driver out. As soon as he comes out, the soldier behind him sticks his rifle into his back to let him know there’s a rifle.
“So you’ve got rifle there and there’s a century above us watching us with a rifle. And then you’ve got other soldiers here.
“He (policeman) obviously knows it’s an old car. So we’ve worked out he wants to f**k up the car to take the car off the road and let us walk home which is miles and miles.
“Sits him (the driver) back in the car and starts speaking in Hebrew.
“The young driver says, ‘I can’t speak Hebrew. Can you speak Arabic or English?’
“He gets angry with him for even saying that. He starts shouting at him telling him to put the foot on the accelerator until the boy had to put the accelerator fully down and the car is just revving to f**k.
“He wanted to blow the engine.
“Eventually we got through, but that was just one checkpoint.
“Generally people try to get around the checkpoints to avoid that, that or being killed.
“It was humiliating, and I was the older man there to protect him and I had to shut my mouth.
“Now if that was my son and I have a duty of care, because I’m the older man here with the young boy, I’m going to protect him.
“But I have to also be conscious if I protect him or stand up for his fella or get out of the car, I’ll be shot.
“They’re very trigger happy and even the people in the refugee camp said, ‘They are out of control at the moment’.
“One man said, ‘Be very careful while you’re here because they won’t wait to see your blue eyes before they pull the trigger’.”
Stephen also saw checkpoints and closed gates to restrict people’s movement.
“That’s the sort of haranguing that goes on on a daily basis.
“There is no respect from what I see.
“They (Israel)’re looking to pick a fight, there’s going to be a lot more deaths in the West Bank because they want to start a fight there.
“My reading of the situation is Israel would like to see a regional conflict because it will take eyes off of them. They will be able to carry out what their plan is, which is to try and get as many Palestinians out or dead so they can take full control of the whole area.
“So if there’s a regional conflict, there’s going to be less focus on them.
“I only see it getting worse.
“Another event I turned up to was a solidarity event that people stayed away because they’re scared of being attacked by settlers or soldiers, so the crowds were down.
“Because they say you could be attacked, you could be shot, you could literally be just shot and there would be no accountability at those protests.
“So even to go to a protest is a risk to your life.
“On day two, I went into the H2 area of Hebron which is the Old City. There’s a legal Israeli settlement above the old city where there’s two layers.
“There’s the ground floor which only the Palestinians have now.
“The upper floor Palestinians used to have, but they were all moved out by the Israelis and you see a big metal grate over it that they throw stuff, they throw down rubbish: Faeces, babies’ prams, all sorts of things into the Palestinian area.
“And there’s snipers up there as well supporting them.”
Stephen has launched a GoFundMe campaign to get GAA kits for Palestinian children.
“When I brought a bit of energy to them, you saw a lot of the youth really light up that an outsider actually cared.
“I said, ‘Look, would you be interested in Gaelic football?’
“I got them to look up Gaelic football and even the girls wanted their own teams.
“There’s an opportunity because the GAA are great at supporting these sort community events.
“The idea is to have two teams, a boys team in Hebron and bring girls team in Ramallah and what it will do is it will allow them to focus on something different than the war and what’s going on around them.
“And then hopefully, the GAA will bring them to Ireland, I believe there’s potential for this in order to get them out of the occupied territories for a while, give them a bit of a break, build up a community spirit, so they’re not isolated.
“Because I feel they’re very isolated, that they don’t see anyone coming to help them really.”
You can donate to the GoFundMe campaign at gofundme.com/f/gaa-sports-kits-funds-for-palstinian-children.