Invitation from the Hastings & Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Hastings locals are being offered the chance to take a filmic trip behind the barbed wire fences and inside Gaza, considered by many the ‘world’s largest open prison’.

On Saturday 11 June, prominent Palestinian academic Dr Shahd Abusalama will present a ground-breaking film: the first feature-length documentary on Gazan refugees, giving a glimpse of life under military occupation.

Today, Gaza is home to over 2 million Palestinians – mainly refugees – who have been under a strict Israeli blockade for 15 years, leading to economic collapse and levels of poverty so desperate they were described by the UN as ‘unliveable’. 

Dr Abusalama [right] with Hawiyya Dance Company at Palestine on the Pier

Third generation refugee Dr Abusalama was ‘born at the barrel of a gun’ as her mother went into labour in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza during a military curfew and she was stopped by armed soldiers on her way to hospital. As a child, she survived three deadly military assaults in Gaza before moving to the UK to study.

Despite her traumatic past, Dr Abusalama thrived in the UK and today she is a well-known antiracist campaigner as well as a founding member of the all-female Hawiyya Dance Company, bringing Palestinian folk traditions to all parts of the UK, including to Hastings last September during the cultural festival ‘Palestine on the Pier’.

For her PhD at Sheffield Hallam University, she investigated historical representations of Palestinian refugees in docu-mentary cinema and will present the documentary film Gaza Ghetto: Portrait of a Palestinian Family (1948-1984) to the meeting in June.

This ground-breaking 1984 documentary about the life of a Palestinian family in the Jabalia refugee camp – where Dr Abusalama herself was raised – was the first to be filmed within Gaza about refugees there and, intercut with interviews with Israeli politicians and soldiers on patrol, it explores the historic origins of Gaza as well as the brutal realities of life under occupation.

Memorial Flowers for Shireen Abu Akleh. [Later taken in by owners of a local shopfront to form a temporary memorial shrine.]

We follow the family as they attempt to go about their daily lives amid suffocating curfews, military patrols, humiliating restrictions and devastating demolitions, and revisit the villages from which they fled in 1948.

Hosted by the Hastings & Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign (HRPSC), the afternoon meeting is free to attend and will be followed by a Q&A and refreshments.

On 14 May, HRPSC held a memorial event for the veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Hastings town centre. Shireen, 51, was shot dead wearing her Press vest while covering an Israeli military assault on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

Her death at the hands of Israeli forces – and their assault on the mourners at her funeral – is considered part of a wider campaign of increased violence against the indigenous Palestinian population by the decades-long military occupation.

HRPSC Chair Katy Colley says: “Shireen’s death has come as a shock but it is one act within a system of institutionalised violence and terror which extends to all Palestinians.

“It is a year since the deadly assault on Gaza which left 261 dead, including 67 children, and 113,000 internally displaced. This attack was marked for its intensity, its destruction of civilian homes and infrastructure, not to mention hospitals and schools.

“This was not a one-off. If you are a child over 15 in Gaza today you will have spent your entire life under a crippling blockade and will have lived through four wars. In Gaza, trauma is repetitive, ongoing and systematic.

“What has led us to this point? How can we understand what is happening in Gaza and what can we do about it? This meeting is an attempt to get to the historic roots of what we witness today and to form an ethical response.”

For Dr Abusalama, speaking out against persecution has come at a personal cost. Earlier this year she came under attack from the Israeli lobby in the UK which attempted to smear and defame her, threatening her teaching position at Sheffield.

Ultimately these attempts to derail her career failed and, though the harassment and intimidation continue to this day, she refuses to be silent.

“For a Palestinian living under the relentless terror perpetrated by the Israeli state, all we have is our voice,” says Dr Abusalama, “I’ve been utilising that voice in writing, in painting, in dabke dancing, ever since I was a teenager, if not a kid.”

Gaza Ghetto: Film & Q&A with Dr Shahd Abusalama is at The White Rock Hotel on Saturday 11 June at 3pm.
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