The nightmare of life in Gaza was brought home to people in Galway this week when the organisers of a fundraising gig in the city three years ago agreed to transfer almost €4,500 for urgent medical relief on the tiny strip of land.
A sold out concert at Massimo in July 2018 raised €4,425 for a project to bring young footballers from Gaza to Ireland, but a combination of the brutal siege imposed on the Palestinian enclave and the coronavirus pandemic has prevented the children from travelling.
Following the recent relentless bombing of the coastal enclave, where two million people live in a place which is smaller than County Louth, the organisers of the late night DJ set by The Stunning felt compelled to transfer the money to deal with the latest crisis.
In Gaza, the trauma of the children never seems to stop.
Even when the bombing stops, and the focus of the international community turns away, the youngsters growing up there face restrictions, shortages, and frustrations which would be unthinkable in Ireland or any European country in 2021.
An average 15-year-old on the tiny strip has now lived through four major offences by the Israeli military, seeing buildings being destroyed, the lives of friends and family members cruelly cut short, and the terrible lack of hope in a place which has been described as the biggest open air prison on earth.
Long before the coronavirus pandemic, the children of Gaza knew what a lockdown meant. Hemmed in by Egypt and Israel, the borders sealed for months at a time, and no chance of escaping via the sea, there is nowhere to escape to.
There were no safe rooms or shelters to escape to when the buildings they live in were being blown to bits by one of the most highly funded armies on earth again last month.
Three years ago in Galway, the sold out late night DJ set featuring The Stunning and DJ Foz (Paul Concannon) raised €4,425 to bring members of the Al-Helal Football Academy to Ireland.
The children, aged 10 to 14, had delighted everyone who met them during previous trips in 2016 and 2017. Indeed, in 2016 they were guests of honour at a Galway United game and got to meet the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, after the game.
Veteran Galway rockers The Stunning played a sold out gig at the Big Top at the Galway Arts Festival and were delighted to put on a late night DJ set at Massimo, the late night bar, afterwards. The night was such a huge success that dozens of people were turned away at the front door.
The boys were due to return to Ireland that month and the funds raised were set to help towards their trip.
But they were denied exit visas in 2018. And again in 2019.
The disappointment was unimaginable among the talented young footballers from all over Gaza who were keen to come to Ireland again to show off their skills.
But the children of Gaza are used to dealing with crushing disappointments.
Every day they hear the adults say “It’s God’s will”, such as when there are water and electricity shortages, they are prevented from visiting family members in the West Bank, or a cancer patient is prevented from travelling to Jerusalem for treatment because the Erez checkpoint is closed.
A cancelled football trip might not seem a huge priority in a place which was bombed to smithereens in 2008-9, 2014, and again last month when at least 67 children were killed during an 11 day bombardment of Gaza.
More than 70,000 people have been displaced from their homes.
Because their trip was cancelled as the team was not granted permission to leave in 2018 and 2019, the funds raised in Galway were lying in the Gaza Kids to Ireland account until this week. It had been hoped that the money could be used so that traumatised little boys could enjoy another holiday in Ireland.
As the team members cannot travel, the organisers of that 2018 gig agreed this week that there was an urgent need to divert the money to medical aid for the people of Gaza. It was decided to transfer the funds to the Trocaire Gaza in Crisis Appeal this week. https://www.trocaire.org/gaza-in-crisis/
Lead singer of The Stunning, Steve Wall, said it was appropriate to send the money from the charity gig to Trocaire as the Irish NGO does great work on the ground in Palestine.
Trocaire CEO Caoimhe De Barra thanked the people of Galway for standing with some of the world’s most vulnerable people and reminded them that the tragedy of Gaza continues even as it fades from the headlines following the end of the recent 11-day bombardment.
“Conflict in Gaza doesn’t erupt from nothing. It is an inevitable and direct result of policies implemented by the Israeli state. Many governments – including Ireland’s and those from across the EU – condemn these policies but take no action to stop them. This, in effect, enables Israel’s project of indefinite expansion and occupation of Palestinian territory,” said Ms De Barra recently.
“If we truly want to break the cycle of violence, we must address the factors that lead to tragic but inevitable conflict.”
No child deserves to grow up surrounded by such a lack of hope and such terrible tragedy.
Hopefully, the talented young soccer players will make it back to Galway in 2022.
In the meantime, though, Trócaire and their partners on the ground are doing their best to deal with another medical and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.