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Kettle’s Yard hosts Palestinian women who speak of suffering and brutality in their homeland





A trio of Palestinian women spoke of the brutality they have experienced in their homeland at the exhibition of Palestinian art on display at Kettle’s Yard.

The Material Power exhibition of Palestinian Embroidery runs at the Cambridge art gallery until October 29. Meanwhile the trio are on a Palestinian Women’s Voices tour taking in 10 UK cities including London, Cambridge, Norfolk, Yorkshire and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, following a Palestine Festival appearance in Camden on July 23.

Palestinian embroidery on show at Kettle's Yard as part of the Material Power exhibition
Palestinian embroidery on show at Kettle's Yard as part of the Material Power exhibition

They were hosted in Cambridge by Cambridge Stop The War Coalition and Cambridge Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Palestinian Women’s Voices aims to bring Palestinian women to tell the stories of their lives in Palestine under Israeli occupation.

Kettle’s Yard community manager Karen Thomas introduced the afternoon event by saying that the exhibition “charts the last 150 years of work by Palestinian women” and includes documentation as to origins, techniques and styles.

Amneh was the first to speak. “I am a resident of Jenin, a writer, a children’s storyteller and an educational advisor in schools,” she told the audience of two dozen. Jenin is a Palestinian city in the Israeli occupied West Bank. Describing day-to-day life she said: “Firstly I will tell you my suffering. I live in a small village 10km from Jenin. My village is inside the apartheid wall.”

The Israeli West Bank barrier, comprising the West Bank Wall and the West Bank fence, is a separation barrier built by Israel and includes part of the West Bank for more than 700km. Israel says the wall was built for security reasons but Palestinians, human rights groups, and members of the international community have argued that it serves as evidence of Israel’s intent to annex Palestinian land under the guise of security.

Palestinian women speaking at Kettle's Yard are, from left, Sarah, Sireen, Amneh and organiser Zareen of Cambridge Stop The War
Palestinian women speaking at Kettle's Yard are, from left, Sarah, Sireen, Amneh and organiser Zareen of Cambridge Stop The War

“Since 2006 I am inside the apartheid wall,” Amneh says. “Every day I go to Jenin I only pass with permission. If I’ve lost the bit of paper I cannot go to my own house. They check may bag at the checkpoint. More than 2kg of meat or more than two or three chickens is not allowed. They say this is the law, and it is not allowed because of security.”

The situation worsened three weeks ago when Israeli forces targeted Jenin refugee camp, home to three generations of Palestinians.

“It is 1km from Jenin city,” says Amneh of the camp. “The military encircled the camp and surrounded it from all directions. Thousands of soldiers came, with tanks, with drones, with war planes above the camp to protect the soldiers on the ground. The first thing they did was damage all the houses, they entered house-to-house by making a hole in the house. They brought bullets, and dogs, some people were bitten, it was reported in the media.

Kettle's Yard talk by Palestinian women during Material Power exhibition
Kettle's Yard talk by Palestinian women during Material Power exhibition

“The military obliged all women to leave the camp while they searched the men and when the women and children returned their sons were searched. Then the military operation finished. But Jenin is not alone in this situation. All villages are entered by the military at what time they want and they go there when people are sleeping.”

After Amneh it was Sireen’s turn to speak. Sireen is a young woman born in Nazareth currently living in Jerusalem – she is a Palestinian with an Israeli passport.

“I come from Nazareth,” she said. “In 1948 my grandparents were displaced from their own village, their house was damaged in front of their own faces. The Israeli military gave them a choice, to go to Syria, Lebanon or Palestine. They refused. They forced some of the siblings to go to Syria. My grandfather stayed until they killed his own brother in front of him and they said the same thing would happen to him if he didn’t take Israeli citizenship. If you are born in this area you are forced to hold Israeli citizenship. All the school curriculum is organised by the Israelis.

Kettle's Yard talk by Palestinian women during Material Power exhibition
Kettle's Yard talk by Palestinian women during Material Power exhibition

“Also [young] Palestinians have a dilemma. Do you go to a Palestinian university - it’s in your own language but after you can’t find a job as Israel doesn’t recognise the degree. If you go to an Israeli university it’s worse, it’s your second or third language and when you go to class the students hold guns in the classes. If you feel someone is threatening you, these Israelis - not the military - have the right to kill you and nothing will happen to them.

“So I decided to study social work to help my own people to help with mental health. All Palestinians grow up with these situations which are not normal. I don’t know if you have heard that Palestine is so beautiful, and the people are so friendly, we just want a normal life but it gets worse every day with the occupation. Even coming to you here today wasn’t easy, all of us were investigated for hours at the airport and they even took us into a room and took off all our clothes and searched us just because we might be a threat to this country. But we always have hope.”

Speaking last, Sarah, a young graduate also from Jerusalem who has just finished doing Business Studies at Al Quds University and is currently working with children with special needs.

Palestinian embroidery on show at Kettle's Yard as part of the Material Power exhibition
Palestinian embroidery on show at Kettle's Yard as part of the Material Power exhibition

She says of the area she lives in: “It’s settler then Palestinian then settler then Palestinian in a very small area. There’s cameras all the time, you have no kind of privacy. There’s ten people in one room and they never leave the house as if you leave the house they (the Israelis) will take it and arrest the children. I chose to study in a Palestinian university and every day it’s something - they arrest people,close it down. They will never accept my degree.”

The Q&A revealed that the women have all experienced dread - at the checkpoints, in their homes, in their education.

“The Palestinian tragedy began from 1917 when Balfour gave a promise to Israel for the land,” concluded Amneh of the Balfour Declaration, a public statement issued by the British government during the First World War announcing its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a small minority Jewish population.



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