Thursday, January 1, 2015

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Naheel in the Gaza Strip

TPQ opens its New Year contribution with guest writer Jackie Bradley outlining the Ulster Bank obstructionism she endured while trying to transfer money to a disadvantaged family in Gaza. Jackie Bradley is an active campaigner on behalf of Palestinian rights.
As I get ready to close the door on 2014 one person is to the forefront of my mind; a young woman named Naheel in the Gaza Strip.
Naheel lives with her two babies in one dilapidated room on the outskirts of Khan Younis, an area almost decimated in the last zionist aggression on Gaza, the so-called 'Protective Edge' onlsaught.
As zionists sat on mountaintops eating popcorn, drinking beer and cheering while their bombs dropped relentlessly on the Gaza Strip the Palestinian death toll rose to over 2100 in 50 days of sheer horror. It was during this assault that Naheel's husband Mohammed was murdered, leaving her to raise their young family, a little four year old girl and a baby boy, alone.
I first came to know of Naheel when I approached Saeb Shaath, a Gazan living in Ireland and an activist with Belfast-based charity, Palestine Aid. Fra Hughes, founder of Palestine Aid, introduced us. I wanted to reach out to a family in Gaza, send solidarity and support when I could and knew Palestine Aid could help me. This charity unlike others, works directly with real people: no CEO takes a salary and the only admin fees are £15 per month bank charges.
I told Saeb I wanted to build a lasting friendship with someone in Gaza and he told me about Naheel, even sent me pictures of her and her children. Her little girl looked so much like my own four year old daughter and it struck me - but for sheer chance, but for accident of birth, I could be Naheel.
Saeb worked hard setting up contacts for me and a couple of days before Christmas I went to the Ulster Bank in Andersonstown to send a small monetary gift of solidarity of £170 from my family and friends in Ireland to this young family in Gaza. Having made numerous international transactions I was confident of a straightforward process - so confident in fact I had my young daughter in tow who was excited about sending a present to the little Palestinian girl in the pictures I'd shown her.
However, once I presented the details of the bank in Palestine to the teller, I was asked for identification. Confused I asked why I needed this since I've never been required to produce anything before but was just told I couldnt proceed with the transaction without it. Frustrated I made my way home through rush hour traffic to hunt for some ID. Little did I know the traffic would be the least of my problems.
Armed with my passport I was first in the queue the next morning at the bank and after presenting my ID and all of Naheel's details I was given forms and sent to the back of the bank to fill them in. 20 minutes later I had battled my way through bankers' jargon on the forms and got back in line.
Who am I sending the money to, is she a family member? No, she's my friend.
What was the money for? It's a gift. What is the receiver's address? She doesn't have an address, she lives in a room in a wrecked building.
After going through the third degree I was informed that the money may not get through. Palestine, as it turns out is a 'restricted region' and a kind of red flag goes up if anyone tries to send money in. The meagre amount of money I wanted to send would just about cover Naheel's room rent for one month - maybe even buy some fresh drinking water. It certainly wouldnt help arm Hamas.
I'd consider myself fairly in tune with some of the background to Palestine, thought I had a grasp on what the occupation means, the realities of the siege on Gaza but standing in the middle of the bank with it's beautifully decorated Christmas tree it really hit me; the whole system right across the world is set up to crush Palestinians, to make their lives even more impossible than they already are. What's more, we as bank customers are unwittingly complicit in the occupation and indeed the genocide of Palestinians. I burst into tears.
I spent the rest of the day quite distressed. I had sent word to Gaza that there'd be money in Naheel's account and now, this stranger in Ireland who said she understood, who said she stood in solidarity with another woman, another mother, had let her down. I was distraught. Then on Christmas Eve the bank called to tell me that the transfer had been approved. It was on it's way to Gaza! My online bank showed the money had been deducted and I breathed a sigh of relief. I relaxed and enjoyed Christmas with my own family.
This morning though, New Years Eve, the bank called me to tell me the money had been stopped. That someone for whatever reason had decided that, despite the money being deducted from my account, despite me receiving the remittance advice slip through the post showing this, to prevent that money from reaching Naheel in Gaza. I've spent the best part of today on the phone to Ulster Bank head office and my local branch trying to get some answers. Apparently RBS are taking their lead from the US Treasury and won't allow money, no matter how small an amount, into Palestine.
Meanwhile, a young mother is sitting in Gaza wondering what she's done to deserve the hand that's been dealt to her.
And now for the shameless plug
  • Please remember Palestine Aid as we go into 2015. You can donate online at btmydonate/charities/palestineaid 

  • or text gaza45 and either £3, £5 or £10 to 70070
  • Or if you'd like to set up a monthly DD (regaradless of how small this is) you can find Palestine Aid on Facebook.
Postscript: a couple of readers have said people might be hesitant to donate to PA since I hit the brick wall - I was donating as an individual. PA has a nominated bank account & has got money through in the past - 2 scholarships & capital funds for an orphanage for example.