“Currently, I am on the plane to Munich where I ought to catch a connecting flight direct to Manchester. The problem is, this plane was delayed at take-off so I have every chance of missing the connection. I will have to wait and see what they will do….
I am full of a range of emotions after spending the last 4 days in Palestine and travelling to Ramallah via Israel. The contrast between the two places is vast and check points and walls make for sober viewing. As you travel across the dividing line, the roads and buildings change from super modern and in good repair to potholed and incomplete.
I am adding my dreams to those of the Palestinian and Israeli people who hope that one day this conflict will end – it is a hope that sustains them and I hope that the world will help both nations to end the standoff to bring lasting peace.
Now for an account of my work – I was based in Ramallah, just 6km north of Jerusalem at the Palestine Red Crescent Society [PRCS]. It is a wonderful place and full of so many diverse people and organisations; I was very pleased that the ‘Disability Arts: Challenges and Successes’ event took place in that location. It was the first time ever that a series of debates on disability and the arts had been held in Palestine with people coming from across the country – except Gaza as the people there are not allowed to leave under any circumstances. Many disabled people were present, in such great numbers. We heard presentations from government initiatives through to the work of social activists and how they are using the arts for social change. Rachel Gadsden and I each spoke about our work and the impact we set out to deliberately achieve through basing our work on the social model of disability to explain the political context of our work. This had positive impact, as some key policy makers wish to discuss this further, so I will be looking forward to assisting in some new developments. I was especially pleased about the conversations we had with disabled people and the examples of their work. The rest of the seminar was taken up with talks about arts therapy models – they do have an important role in current developments, but I found it slightly reverting to the past and not looking at the development of artists as leaders and the potential of disability and Deaf arts. Trying to explain about the lived experience and cultural identity as dis/deaf people, indicates that there is still a way to go – but the talks have begun. I wish I could have done some more in depth workshop sessions – but maybe next time.
Watching Rachel Gadsden work was amazing – she is so gifted, using the drawing workshop to help identify barriers and issues facing each person. It was deeply moving. I actually produced four live Facebook videos from the sessions and one was particularly emotional. I felt that I was invading lives but they assured me that they want their stories to be told.
The next day it was arranged for us to visit the newly built Palestine Museum, the Director, Dr Mahmoud Hawari, has spent most of his career in the UK and returned to establish this Museum of Contemporary and Traditional Palestinian life. They have no permanent collection as yet and made this an opening statement on their political position – he is a visionary and we even talked about getting a disability event/exhibition planned for the future. It is a beautiful and quite accessible building and when it opens properly in September this year, it will be a jewel in Palestine’s crown. I so hope we meet again and also link some of my contacts with them.
A government disability audit recently claimed that just 7% of Palestine’s population of around 4.5 million are Disabled people – around 50% of these are thought to be disabled through the conflict: mines, shrapnel, bombs, bullets etc. I do however think there are many more disabled people, as there are still some negative opinions of disability and huge stigma – some are kept hidden at home and never allowed out, most never achieve in school or will ever work. Women have a particularly hard time as most disabled people will not get married, therefore they will lack status and respect in society. Also, institutionalisation is a real issue for many disabled people – one wonderful woman I met says her childhood was stolen and that she feels that it was like a prison sentence.
There is a will to change things and change them fast. The British Council has made disability arts one of its top five priorities and I applaud them, as they are helping to change issues by supporting local artists, NGO’s and linking them with artists and organisations from the UK. It is really making an impact and to witness and be a part of it first hand was a privilege.
I also met other key people and will be chasing and linking up the contacts once back in the office, doesn’t look like it will be tomorrow!
My last visit was such an exciting one, Suha, the British Council Officer who made the whole event happen arranged for me to be taken to Bethlehem to meet a theatre group. They have worked in Liverpool with Brouhaha and Contacting the World in 2008 at LIPA – so we knew the same people. They have been working to create work by and with disabled people and their approaches are very ground breaking. One exciting development is that Bethlehem will be City of Culture in 2020, so we are now in talks about the possibility of a mini festival being programmed to link us and them with DaDaFest International. The group is headed up by a formidable woman, Marina, and I am thrilled to have met her – the energy and exuberance she brings is infectious. We are going to start talking ASAP via Skype.
After this last meeting I had my one tourist opportunity – to visit the church of the Nativity. Such a pivotal point for Christians around the world and I was glad of the opportunity. I also went up close to the walls that separate the two nations and heard more stories which made me so, so sad.
Then off to the airport: this time we drove through three check points and were only pulled over as we entered the airport compound. Even though we were in a car with diplomatic licence plates, the driver and I had our passports and identity info taken away. It felt like an age before they came back and then I was questioned as to why I was in Israel. It felt sad as I knew I couldn’t say I had been to Palestine, so said I was working with the British Council with disability arts events, this wasn’t a lie exactly, but I daren’t mention that it was in Ramallah as I am sure they would have kept us longer.
At the airport it took ages to get through security. I had my passport checked three times and when going through the scanners the customs people were unhappy that I have no medical evidence about my titanium implants – they kept saying I should have medical documentation to prove it. After 30 mins waiting, my passport was taken away again: a young security guard eventually came with a wand and only checked my arms – totally ignoring my knee. Bit of a waste of time really. Then just when I thought it was all done – I had to go through yet another passport control point to get to the duty free section. There were long queues and I was expecting the worst. I handed the passport through the window and the customs man said, ‘Oh, you are from Liverpool. I love Liverpool’. I asked if he had been, to which he said no, but follows Liverpool Football Club, mentioning Suarez! He then said “I hope you have enjoyed your stay” and passed back my passport and slip to leave the country! It must have been less than a minute! It was a nice end to what I deem the worst aspect of travelling.
I will let you know how I get on at Munich….
I’m on the plane – just! We arrived with 15mins to spare and as we disembarked there were lots of staff ready to tell us which gate to run to – mine was H24 – I hobbled as fast as I could along eight long corridors, then had to go through the full whack of security again! I was starting to lose it, I haven’t had a cardio workout for some time and could hardly breathe or talk. After taking off my boots, explaining about the implants trying to see if I would still make it on time, the customs persons had to ‘wand’ every inch of me – including the soles of my feet. Once cleared, I tried to gather my things as quickly as possible and promptly fell flat on my face. The shame. But, I was up in a flash and racing to the gate, being the last to arrive. The airline staff could see I was losing it and helped me calm down, I gave them my boarding pass and I’m now on the flight – breathing steady, pulse – 89 beats a minute and decreasing. I am getting too old for this. Lesson of the day – don’t do any more connecting flights. Pulse now 74 as I’m nearly home! ”
- 26 January 2017 – Ruth Gould MBE