Eva Barlett wants the world to recognize the sufferings of Palestinians, a message she believes is going underrepresented in today’s media. A former music student at Mount Allison University, Barlett arrived back at her alma mater to deliver a public lecture on Monday, October 24. She spoke on her work with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Palestine.
Barlett first arrived in the West Bank in May 2007, moving to the Gaza Strip in November 2007 and living there until June 2010. With the ISM, Barlett worked to document and diminish the possibility of violent attacks against Palestinian populations.
“I didn’t know the word Palestine five years ago,” stated Barlett during the lecture. After her studies at Mount A ended in 2003, Barlett taught English in South Korea and later travelled to Tibet, sparking her interest in social justice issues. “When I was in South Korea, I was able to travel through southeast Asia, and saw a lot of poverty and injustice,” stated Barlett. “When I returned to South Korea, I was hungry for news, and started listening to Democracy Now!, which was airing a lot of news on Palestinian issues. I went from total ignorance to total shock. I did some research, learned about the ISM, and liked what they did.”
Her public lecture outlined the humanitarian crisis and violence surrounding the 2007 to 2010 blockade in Gaza, showing numerous video clips and photographs of children burnt with white phosphorus, a weapon banned under the UN’s third convention on conventional weapons, violence against Palestinian farmers and fisherman, and the economic poverty of the Palestinian people. The most severe violence came during the attacks that occurred between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009, which resulted in around 1,500 Palestinian casualties.
Barlett expressed that the violence experienced was impossible to comprehend before arriving in Gaza. “You can’t really prepare for it,” stated Barlett. “I did do some reading before. A number of activists have been killed, and I guess I thought I would be killed too. I was arrested twice, I was deported, I was kicked in the head by a soldier.” Yet Barlett states that she has prevailed through these hardships to bring the issues to light. “The Palestinian people are so kind. They invite me into their homes, and yet they’re being killed and are nameless,” commented Barlett. “Palestine is full of stories like this of people who are ‘unimportant’ and whose lives, on a daily basis, are erased.”
Palestine has faced severe economic sanctions since the 2006 elections of Hamas. Eighty per cent of Palestinians are food aid dependent, and Palestine has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Israeli restrictions on imports have prevented medicines, farming tools, baby formula, and construction materials from entering Gaza while similarly preventing exports such as strawberries and carnations from exiting the region.
Barlett focused much of her lecture around the Israeli-Palestinian buffer zone, stated to be 300 meters in width, while Israelis shoot at people who approach at a distance of two kilometres across the buffer zone. According to Barlett, the most productive farmland is right along this buffer zone, placing farmers in the middle of gunfire when they are harvesting and planting crops. While farmers make a mere five dollars a day in this dangerous work, Barlett expressed that the economic sanctions placed on construction materials and other goods have severely repressed Palestinian employment opportunities.
Nonviolent demonstrations have been organized by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since 2008 against Israeli violence outside of the alleged 300 meter buffer zone. Barlett stated that in ten cities there are protests on a weekly basis, although there is usually a media blackout of these protests. “There are thousands of Palestinian Ghandis,” says Barlett. “They have a history of nonviolent demonstrations and strikes.”
In initiating change towards the Palestinian situation, Barlett says that it is important to look beyond depictions of the conflict as an Arab-Jewish rivalry. “The important thing is that we recognize the sufferings Palestinians are facing every day,” states Barlett. “It’s a suffocating siege that destroys their livelihoods and the ability to put food on the table. If Israel wanted peace, they could strip the siege and search out dialogue. Arabs and Jews can get along, and do.”
The lecture had a noticeable effect on the audience, leaving many students greatly affected by her message. “The lecture did a compelling job of showing how complex and far-reaching the effects of the siege in Gaza are and shared some less-commonly heard stories about the persecution of farmers and fishermen,” commented fourth-year Mount A student Rebecca Dixon. “Despite its length, you could feel the audience was captivated by the presentation and even those who might have expected the shocking images and scenes were affected.”
The International Solidarity Movement was founded by a group of primarily Palestinian and Israeli activists in August 2001, with the aim “to support and strengthen the Palestinian popular resistance by providing the Palestinian people with two resources, international solidarity and an international voice with which to non-violently resist an overwhelming military occupation force,” according to its website.