In 2009 I first arrived to Gaza with the Free Gaza boats, the first to break the sea blockade in over 40 years. With other volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement (founded by Palestinians and Israelis together), over 8 months, I accompanied farmers and fishermen under fire and then ambulances during the Cast Lead attacks. During this time I kept a blog which was published as “Gaza: Beneath the Bombs” (Pluto Press, 2010). I also contributed to “Freedom Sailors” (FreeGaza, 2012) and “Here We Stand: Women Changing the World” (Honno Press, 2014) which was the WHSmith Wales Book of the Month for July that year, and just now won the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing in 2015. I’m now a midwife! I hope to return to Gaza when the route becomes more possible than it currently is – click here for the latest on my travel plans.
Birth in Gaza…
As a new midwife, I am learning that midwifery-led normal birth is the way forward for positive outcomes for women and babies. Gaza folks are learning this too, but there is a shortage of midwives, and an awareness that they are often cut off not only from midwifery resources we take for granted, but from sharing skills and knowledge freely with their colleagues in the outside world, due to the siege.
This visit, I want to learn what I can about birth in Gaza now, with the short-term plan of article writing and maybe skill sharing antenatal education workshops for women and active birth workshops for midwives, if my colleagues there think this is useful. At this early stage of my career however, meeting midwives with years of experience under very difficult circumstances, make no mistake about who is mostly going to be learning from who!
My long-term aim is to be part of supporting Gaza’s midwifery-led birth movement over future years and within my professional community, and this trip I want to ask the people I meet to tell me how I can best begin to do that.
The initial stages of Gaza’s midwifery-led birth movement appear to be NGO-led, but how are Gaza women and midwives themselves taking the lead to create the birth support they want? In the UK, this is challenging enough for us, but how can birth and women’s choices be protected and promoted not only under siege but even under fire, when, as I write (August 2014) 10,000 of Gaza’s 46,000 pregnant women are displaced and many of Gaza’s hospitals have recently been bombed?
…but it has two other aims also
I want also to reconnect with friends who have come through the 2014 attacks, particularly “rescuers” (firefighters, medics, etc), aiming to expand their connections with their colleagues outside via Defend the Rescuers facebook page and website as they go about their very difficult and dangerous work.
And as previously, to be present both as an international witness and friend in a community allowed access to very few of these, during what may be a precarious period, and to document what I learn via blogging and writing. In ISM tradition, I have always found it positive to work in a team (even just of 2) as it assists with decision-making, freedom of movement, and sense of safety, so I’m hoping my partner can join me as photographer.
Getting ready to go
Currently I am making contact with organisations inside and outside Palestine and Israel that will be able to advise and assist me with my plans. The registering body for midwives there have replied: “It is true that we are in disaster and need help from all people, but we don’t like to put your life in danger, but if you insist please [come].” Due to the difficulties of an ISIS presence in the Sinai, the ever-frustrating Rafah border, and needing to plan ahead for my UK midwifery team, my travel date is not certain.
I’m being funded for the basics of this trip, thanks to many individual lovely donors, plus also Lush and the Iolanthe Midwives Awards. I’d be glad to direct any more donations towards kit to take and donate.