“The incursion and bombardment of Gaza (Operation Pillar of Defense) is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel, it is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use lethal weapons of the modern battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population, is the final phase in a decades-long campaign to ethnically-cleanse Palestinians.’’
Chris Hedges 
In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful. Peace & Blessings be upon all of His Prophets & Messengers (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad et al).
Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.
In the above verse, The Creator of the universe, Allah The Most High describes how His Final Messenger, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) embarked on the blessed night journey from the sacred valley of Makkah to the hallowed city of Jerusalem. What intrigues the reader is that Allah; The All-Mighty delineates the circumferential area of the Levant as magnanimous and sanctified. The story beautifully continues with the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) praying in the consecrated Aqsa sanctuary as the spiritual lead of 120,000 Prophets and Messengers including those mentioned earlier, all of whom were sent by Allah with the analogous axiom of affirmation, recognition and acknowledgement in the One True God who is The Only One worthy of worship. It was in Palestine where these chosen alumni of Prophethood were amalgamated as a singular brotherhood in faith with the leadership anointed to the best of creation; Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah (Peace be upon him). It was in Palestine where a few decades later the commander of the faithful Umar ibn Al-Khattab would sign a covenant with the Christian Patriarch standardizing plurality long before the enactment of the Geneva Convention. It was in Palestine, where the rise and fall of sovereignties such as that of Alexander the Great, the Children of Israel, the Romans, the Byzantiums et al occurred. It was in Palestine where the clash of empires eventuated after Pope Urban the second’s inflammatory speech (documented in Dr. Thomas Asbridge’s book, The First Crusade) ignited the beginning of the infamous Crusades consequently inflaming east-west tensions that would ensue even till today.  Palestine is a theme which never ceases to be romanticized in poems, books, films (Kingdom of Heaven et al), games, documentaries and folklore. Sadly to say Palestine has been the ‘hidden under the carpet’ biggest day light robbery of the 20th century with Gaza being described by British Prime Minister David Cameron as a “prison camp’’ and “some sort of open-air prison”. 
Yes I do. I believe in the one-state solution as the only just and functional settlement for the conflict. I think anyone who is more than five minutes on the ground in the West Bank realises there is no space there for an independent Palestinian state. And moreover, anyone who ponders a bit deeper about the reasons for the conflict understands that only such a political outfit could respond to all aspects of the conflict: the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948, the discrimination against the Palestinians in Israel and the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
– Professor Ilan Pappe 
Ever since I was in primary school, the news headline that repeated itself frequently was the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Photographs of Palestinian Nationalist Yasser Arafat, interceptions from Bill Clinton and skewed comments Israeli officials always captured the headlines of CNN and Sky News. I once asked my father and his friend on why this conflict is happening, with the response to my questions being ‘it’s a long story’. Many years later, I attended a two day history of Palestine seminar which demystified many misconceptions I had prior to being educated about the topic e.g. the earliest known population inhabiting Palestine were the Cannanites with the Children of Israel only reaching its shores many millennium later and the founder of modern day Zionism Theodore Herztl was more inclined towards atheism in his dogma rather than Judaism. He called for the enactment of the active establishment of a Zionist state which is dichotomous to the Jewish creed .
After this and more, I took a little more interest in the Palestinian conflict, flicking through the works of Naom Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Illan Pappe and watching documentaries such as Occupation 101 documentary and John Pilger’s Palestine is still the issue. Through this research, I realized the double standard trajectory upheld by the western powers in depicting the usurpers as the victims and the victims as the criminals by portraying the Palestinians as an ignorant horde of bloodthirsty thugs who took pleasure in butchering Israeli women and children. Whereas the reality is that the USA has sent more aid to Israel than it has to all third world countries combined and vetoed in its favor on several occasions when faced with war crime charges. From education seminars to protests in O’Connell Street and the Israeli Embassy, from the horrific bombardment of Operation Cast lead 2009 to the shocking Operation Pillar of Defense (OPOD) 2012, from playing Saladin in Age of Empires II (The Age of Kings) to Al-Tair in the debut game series Assassins Creed, all stimulated my desire to one day go to Palestine and witness the land of the Prophets which was already embedded deeply in my heart. My hopes were elevated when I clicked on a link of Sabeel (MRDF educational branch) & Amaana Tours trip to Jerusalem. I decided to take annual leave from work at the time to go but this was quickly disintegrated when the Israelis made it impossible to traverse into the holy land due to OPOD in Gaza. However, when I discovered that some local elders and community leaders were organizing a humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza, this was my iron in the fire moment, so without thinking twice, I lunged to the organizers to short list my name for joining the expedition!
‘Indeed, Ahmed al-Jaabari, the Hamas leader whose assassination by Israel triggered the current round of fighting (Operation Pillar of Defense), was regarded by Israel as the chief enforcer of the periodic ceasefires, and was in the process of enforcing another such ceasefire just as he was liquidated.’
Dr. Norman Finkelstein 
Not shortly after that, The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) Ireland organised a charity fundraiser titled Operation Pillar of Hope with the objective of raising as much funds as possible for the convoy. Speakers included Ustadh Adnan Rashid and some representatives from the Palestinian Rights Institute (PRI). The Dinner was an outstanding success by the 2012/2013 committee who raised €20,000+ for basic amenities, water supply, educational institutions et al – all within one week of planning for the dinner. The original date for departure was in January 2013 but this was forwarded to February 2013 due to a delay on the groups’ part in sending the passports for visa approval from the Egyptian Embassy! The days that passed by seemed like hours. I experienced a cocktail of emotions – hysteria, apprehensiveness, juiced up and a little anxious, however all negative emotions were easily vanquished by the sheer excitement that I was finally going to go to Palestine.
Finally the day arrived where I packed my luggage in my ole’ trustworthy travel bag. I bade farewell to my family and embraced my beloved mother (May Allah bless and protect her) at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland Mosque (Clonskeagh, Dublin). We had a generous sized, scrumptious breakfast in the Olive tree restaurant where I met with UCD/PMC medical students Rafi Yusop, Qistina Saharudin and Dr. Mohsin Mirza, Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar and a Saudi brother Saleh Tamimi. Other members on the convoy were Imam Hussain Halawa (ICCI Imam), Imam Yahya Hussain (Islamic Foundation of Ireland Imam), Dr. Muhammad Ramadan (Nurul Huda Quran School Principle), Dr. Abdel Basit El Sayed [Father of our beloved friend Hozaifah El Sayed (May Allah have mercy upon him)], his wife Aunty Asma and their little son Ali. This was going to be a memorable trip Insh’Allah!
My parents often wondered why I would grow so indignant at the falsification and exploitation of the Nazi genocide. The most obvious answer is that it has been used to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state and U.S. support for these policies
– Dr. Norman Finkelstein (The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering) 
If ever there was the longest journey of my life, it was this! Two flights, from Dublin to Istanbul and then to Cairo, subsequently a long haul bus drive from Cairo through Sinai and then waiting endlessly for four hours at the Rafah crossing checkpoint for no apparent reason except for a constipated bureaucratic system that unfortunately wasn’t hoisted alongside Hosni Mubarak’s old tyrannical regime. Despite the long journey, I had memories galore from my previous visits to Istanbul, Egypt and Sinai; Istanbul being the land of the Ottoman Empire and Egypt where I stayed previously for a month with my brother and friends. Istanbul airport was delightful, packed with scrumptious restaurants and bustling with energy from all walks of life but was paradoxical to the complete mess that the Egyptian-Rafah border was in. Litter, dirt and disorganization in every accord leaked from the Egyptian authorities. We prayed Fajr en route to the border in a small mosque in the Sinai desert and had a light breakfast before making our way again. Thankfully this was a journey where I slept very peacefully in the bus journey and through the entire ordeal at the Rafah land port until we finally had to go through customs before stepping into Palestinian territory. Instead of narrating a day by day description, I am going to break the experiences into themed chapters to allow the reader to conceptualize my experiences.
Gaza #1 …..First Impressions & Agriculture
When we finally survived through the gridlocked chaos of Egypt, Palestine seemed to be the polar opposite. The Palestinian border checkpoint was swift, easy, clean, organised with the staff being extremely friendly. We were greeted by the local authorities with coffee in a very elegant room which contained leather couches, mahogany wood, light brown curtains and a soft carpet. Shaykh Hussain Halawa prostrated in thanks to Allah for allowing us the opportunity to visit this blessed land and others followed in his example. After leaving the Palestinian customs we were greeted by our guide Brother Ahmad Dalloul and soon made our way into Gaza city.
The outskirts of Gaza is mostly agricultural land used by the locals as a source of food. Prior to the last Israeli aggression against Gaza in November 2012, Palestinians in Gaza where prohibited by the Israelis from cultivating near the borders of Israel otherwise they risk losing their lives. A buffer zone was created which meant that Palestinian farmers were unable to cultivate their land which is adjacent to the border. Part of the deal which paved the way for the ceasefire between the Gaza government and Israel in November 2012 was that the farmers were to be allowed to cultivate their land in these buffer zones without hindrance by Israel. One of the local elders showed us around some of agricultural fields and pointed to heavily fortified and meticulously armed Israeli borders with Gaza. One of the farmers even showed us a shrapnel piece from an Israeli rocket that landed in one of the fields.
Gaza city isn’t your average metropolis where you have sky scrapers or autobahns but it is a city full of life and people. At times I would occasionally elevate my head towards the expecting an incoming F-16 fighter jet or an Apache helicopter ready to extirpate everything in its close proximity, but this worry would be mitigated by the serene atmosphere present in Gaza. There was graffiti on the walls, but not your typical attention seeking ‘I was here 2014’ or ‘Joe
Our first stroll into the city was at night time by browsing through the streets and going into a local convenient store, which had a selection of products including Israeli. The night was cloudless, decorated with the luminous stars of the night with the silence only broken by the waves of the Mediterranean Sea.
My initial impression, after a visit of several days, was amazement, not only at the ability to go on with life, but also at the vibrancy and vitality among young people, particularly at the university, where I spent much of my time at an international conference
– Professor Naom Chomsky 
In full honesty, I was perplexed to see how the inhabitants of this place can get back into mundane routine so soon after a shock and awe attack by the Israelis a few months prior and only two years since OCL as if nothing had happened! One would expect the general populace to be depressed and down trodden butThis is a phenomenon for me, as working in community pharmacy and the mental health/addiction services in Ireland, it is sadly run of the mill a plethora of psychiatric medication to people living in Ireland who have access to basic amenities that many in 3rd world countries can only dream of, yet despite all these luxuries, nearly every day two people commit suicide in Ireland. 
It’s interesting to note that on the way to Gaza city we saw what looked like a high-tech hot air balloon in the sky and upon querying what it was, we were told that the Israelis have installed a giant camera which hovers the bright blue sky like a hot air balloon overlooking Gaza with the aim of constantly sending live feed into Tel Aviv. It made me realize how the coined phrase police state that refers to some draconian style governments in the west is an understatement to what the Israeli government engages in on a daily basis.
“The children walking over the bricks of their destroyed homes, their mother putting up a tent, their father in jail… in tears and confusion looking at the tanks coming down the street, the men holding metre-long machine guns… they stare… need I say more …just imagine how it would feel to be a Palestinian….” 
Gaza #2…..Children of Gaza
According to Unicef the population of Gaza is 1,644,293 people with 839,000 children below the age of 18 i.e. 51 % of Gaza’s civilians! There are 251,829 children under the age of five, including 54,923 under 12 months. One quarter of children under five are anemic, and 10 per cent of children stunted (short/age). 
There are children everywhere is Gaza, playing & laughing on every street corner, in every alleyway, in every household and every residential area. These children are bursting with energy, intelligence and to put it colloquially so cute MashAllah! When they saw our tour group they welcomed us with their beautiful smiles. It meant the world to them if you greeted them with the greetings of peace and shook their hands. I deeply wished I could speak Arabic because each one looked eager to share their personal stories and accounts of the Israeli transgression.
Love and acceptance are 2 major factors that are pertinent in child development as is the relationship with its parent/elder. Take these away and the child can be damaged emotionally and feel neglected especially from the absence of parental affection. Judith E. Carroll, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, stated that “If the child has love from parental figures they may be more protected from the impact of abuse on adult biological risk for health problems than those who don’t have that loving adult in their life.” 
Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD (Professor of child psychiatry) of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition states that “This study validates something that seems to be intuitive, which is just how important nurturing parents are to creating adaptive human beings…I think the public health implications suggest that we should pay more attention to parents’ nurturing, and we should do what we can as a society to foster these skills because clearly nurturing has a very, very big impact on later development.” [The Washington University in St. Laois] 
Hence, one can only imagine what goes through the mind of an orphan who has lost their parents at a very young age due to war, yet there are 10,000’s in Gaza city alone who have lost their parents as a direct result of the recent Israeli incursions. Thankfully, there are well grounded charitable organisations such as Human Appeal International et al who alone look after 8000 children in Gaza. We visited one of the HAI orphanages that nurture some of these children. A plethora of emotions flood ones cognitive faculties seeing these children who lost their fathers as martyrs in the war against Israel. The love, attention and sacrifice given by a parent to a child is irreplaceable and truly an unconditional gift from Allah, The Ultimate Bestower. Rafi, Saleh, Abdul Karim and I gathered a group of these children and gave them some words of affection and love on behalf of all the Muslim youth in Ireland. Rafi was very kind to distribute sweets to many of the children and Abdul Karim made them laugh with his theatrics. Suffice to say that the understanding and maturity of these youth can be summed up by a small incident; I was on the bus and a few children from Khan Younis accompanied us on a trip and a seven year old girl very casually asked me “Do you support Fatah or Hamas?” She then went on to explain that I was wearing a yellow shirt which was the party color of Fatah! Comical as this incident was, it caused me to have cognizance that these children weren’t kept in the dark about the reality of the world and that they had seen with their very own eyes the betrayal of the Palestinian people’s trust by various factions, the hypocrisy of western hegemonies, especially the USA in voicing unfathomable support for Israel and the pin drop silent bystander attitude of many countries in not taking the ethical stance towards this conflict.
‘Before the recent escalation (OCL 2009) we had enough medicine and disposables to last a month, under normal circumstances. Those supplies ran out within two days of the conflict due to the large number of casualties. We had to treat many injured children; some were so severely wounded that we couldn’t save them; others survived but will have to live with disabilities and health problems.’ – Dr. Ayman Sahabani [Head of A&E, al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza] 
Gaza#3….Hospitals & Water
According to UNICEF, secondary care is limited to 25 hospitals across the Gaza Strip, providing 2,047 beds, or 1.3 beds per 1,000 people, with 3,520 physicians and 5,910 nurses.  The World Health Organisation warned of “severe shortages” in medical facilities in Gaza with some medicines running out. 
We visited a few hospitals including the famous al-Shifa Hospital and saw that the condition within each of the hospitals was elementary with pertinent medical instruments of machines being in scarcity. One lady pleaded to us explaining that she had to walk a few kilometers from where she lived to get kidney dialysis on a regular basis. HAI Gaza informed us that after every siege, the availability of medicine is substantially depleted and insufficient to attend to the needs of the civilians. It was however very positive to see the fantastic endeavors of charitable organisations in establishing medical facilities to accommodate the needs of the people of Gaza. Moreover we met North Americans who were volunteering to assist in providing free medical services to these hospitals. It is heart warming to see that irrespective of culture, color or nationality, there are people of humanity in this world and are willing to go to extra lengths to give the other a helping hand.
A more tragic shortage is the water situation within Gaza. UNICEF states that the coastal aquifer is the only source of freshwater. 95% of its water is unfit for human consumption.  The aquifer could become unusable as early as 2016 with the damage irreversible by 2020. 90 million litres of untreated and partially treated waste water is dumped into the Mediterranean each day.  The average water consumption for personal and domestic use in Gaza is about 80-90 litres, below the 100 litres per capita per day recommended by WHO. 
As we drove passed a shanty town we witnessed the desperate water situation with presence of sewage on a grand scale leaking out on to the roads. The melancholic sight requires immediate humanitarian support from the world in ensuring that the people have adequate sanitation and water supply for domestic usage. Thankfully, water purification projects such as a newly established HAI water refinery plant will help in trying to mitigate the water crisis that seems to be only worsening in Gaza. For anyone reading this post, the next time you gulp water remember that the glass/cup/bottle that you’re drinking from is elutriated with purified water, never mind the drinking water itself! So contemplate on the situation of the people of Gaza.
“Goldstone has done terrible damage to the cause of truth and justice and the rule of law. He has poisoned Jewish-Palestinian relations, undermined the courageous work of Israeli dissenters and—most unforgivably—increased the risk of another merciless IDF assault.” ― Dr. Norman G. Finkelstein 
According to Adam Taylor’s artilce in The Washington Post:
2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, 167 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military, according to human rights group B’Tselem, who said that less than half of that number were believed to be taking part in hostilities. The same report said six Israelis had died: Four civilians and two members of the Israeli security forces. In the 2008-2009 Gaza War, the pattern was also evident. According to numbers released by the Israeli Defense Force, 1,166 Palestinians died during that conflict, 709 of which the IDF said were “Hamas terror operatives.” Thirteen Israelis died, three of whom were non-combatants. 
Whilst we visited several places in Gaza, it was devastating to see that Israel’s leviathan tactics didn’t just target Hamas posts as described earlier but also targeting government buildings such as the Palestinian National Authority Council of Ministers (as shown above), the central Police station, the National Islamic Bank and even had the audacity to outrageously hit a special needs stadium (picture of it on the right hand side of this paragraph). Unfortunately, the question fails to be asked to the Israeli cabinet by the superpowers of the world that; is every street, is every building, is every home and is every child a defense shield used by Hamas? In Irish colloquial terms that’s like a school bully getting caught by the headmaster to only blame those whom he bullied simply because ‘He started it!”.
We acquainted with the father (Jamal) and brother (Abdullah) of the Dalou family as part of visiting families who were affected by Israeli aggression in the last IDF assault. When we sat down we were offered traditional Arab tea and snacks. The brother started to narrate to us in Arabic regarding what had happened. Being a non-Arabic speaker, I couldn’t understand what was being said but then to my utter surprise people around me burst into tears so I hastily asked Dr. Mohsin what is going on, to which he replied that Israel bombed this man’s home and he lost 9 of his family members including his wife, his mother, his aunt, two sisters and all four of his children. It makes a person envisage what if this incident happened to their own families, the sorrow of which consequently leads to shedding tears just considering the thought of losing one’s loved ones but then realizing that this is the reality of this man’s world. Allah Musta’an.
Another place which was the main bridge in Gaza was also obliterated by the Israelis. Here we made a tribute to FOSIS Ireland with one of the engineers working on the project undertaken by HAI.
It is quite bewildering when we consider that being one of the most devastated places on earth, it doesn’t need much contemplating that many people are in desperate need of aid and some would un-blameworthy resort to imploring. In contrast to this thought we didn’t witness any beggars barring one or two people throughout the entire trip. In many countries, if not all countries across the globe there are people who seek help on the streets, some bona fide but plenty ingénue (May Allah protect us all and guide us to the right path). None of these places are war torn (with the exceptions of Egypt and Syria but I am referring to the pre-Arab spring era) yet begging is abundant in these areas but what is fascinating is, how resilient the people of Gaza are. We were later told that this was the decades long nurturing by the spiritual guide of Hamas, Shaykh Ahmed Yassin – a paraplegic man who taught people to become self-sufficient and never turn to begging until the final straw. One famous story is how a man once came to him for money. Shaykh Yassin would never hand out money carelessly and so he asked the man what his skill-set was to which the man replied ‘I can drive’. Consequently the Shaykh bought him a car and thus the man never resorted to begging again. Today Gaza lives the legacy of Shaykh Ahmad Yassin of ‘a giving hand is better than a taking hand’ [(in line with the Prophetic teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)] with genuine cases are disseminated charitable funds via entrusted channels and investments are especially considered into self-sustaining, renewable projects e.g. water and agriculture. In fact, one of the most promising projects was the 1 million date palm project which again illustrates the malleableness of the Palestinians in Gaza that despite continual blitzkriegs orchestrated by Tel Aviv, the will and determination is only getting stronger Insha’Allah.
Gaza #5…..Hospitality of the Palestinians
If you haven’t been hosted from the people of the Levant then you have never experienced true Arab hospitality. From my personal experience, the Arabs from Palestine, Syria and Lebanon have the best hospitality from among all the Arabs. The introduction, presentation, lively discussions, desert and farewell are always commendable. In Irish colloquial terms, it’s simply the best craic ever! We were hosted several times with each occasion having the succulent Levant style rice which is composed of mouth-watering rice, mixed vegetable, nuts, citrus-zest taste, and additional citrus sauce and topped off with scrumptious meat! Desert was the exquisite traditional kenafah which is a cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup, a specialty of the Levant (Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine & Syria) and northern Egypt.
I was hosted by the family of Abu Ismail whose homely apartment and diverse array of ambrosial dinner made it an unforgettable experience; falafel, humus, Palestinian bread, olives and other vegetables that quenched the appetite and appeased the taste buds! Drinking tea is like drinking water in the Levant. A Australian Lebanese student I once met in Cairo recalled that upon his travels back to Lebanon he was offered so much tea that he thought his blood would be replaced with tea! Exactly my thoughts over the few days I stayed in Gaza! Some mint leaves are added to the sweetened tea to give it a distinctive flavor.
One of the most amazing experiences that I had was the breakfast invitation we were offered from the locals after we prayed Fajr (dawn prayer) in a local mosque on the left hand side of the Commodore Hotel. They brought for us Palestinian bread, olives, tomatoes, olive oil, zatar (mixture of sesame seeds, oregano, thyme and sumac) and cheese. The simplicity of this breakfast coupled with the joy of the locals in hosting us really makes one realise that even though the people have been through so much trauma, nevertheless their generosity and happiness in hosting guests is truly remarkable. I remember working in a hospital in Dublin in which you had the brightest minds from a plethora of medical disciplines yet a simple charity cake sale couldn’t raise more than a few hundred Euros. The selflessness and altruism demonstrated by the Gazan’s puts those whose hearts are constricted with miserliness to complete shame.
‘If you ask Palestinian women in Gaza how they manage during times of conflict and what they view as their chief responsibility, most will speak of their children’ – Ala Qandil 
Gaza #6….Women & Mothers of Gaza
In line with main stream Islamic ethos and local custom, I didn’t engage with the local sisters in Gaza barring necessity but from observation the sisters would be very much involved in all spheres of life; domestic, education, healthcare and even political administration. When we first drove into Gaza, we saw a horde of teenage girls dressed in jilbabs and hijabs en-route to a secondary school. There are female doctors, pharmacists, teachers et al. Female civil servants were also present with us in meetings when we visited some of the Gaza government’s ministries. The engagement of men and women at the work places was strictly professional (Interesting article by Gretchen Rubin on the Huffington Post about this topic of free mixing in the work place) in all walks of life whether be it at work or in the streets. I got the opportunity to speak with two elderly mothers in Gaza, the first of whom was the mother of Abu Ismail. A strong willed principled woman whose command of the English language was only surpassed determination in upholding her stalwart principles; whose children are university students of social sciences & humanities and someone who has witnessed several incursions of Gaza over years. I asked her about life in Gaza and how she and her family feel about life under constant bombardment from the Israelis. Her response was simple that even though it is vehemently strenuous they manage to cope but what’s most amazing is her statement of ‘Alhamdulillah‘ (this is absolutely mind boggling to one who doesn’t understand the fact that a person who endures oblivion can simply state ‘all praises due to God’, please watch the video below titled the Purpose of Life if you wish to know more).
I then asked her opinion on the ample hysteria on western media regarding how Islam oppresses women and that it is a misogynistic religion with no place in the 21st century. She replied that she is truly proud of her Islamic faith; it has emancipated and granted her rights that no other system can offer, whether it be in the east or the west. She also reiterated that the Muslim women of Gaza are happy with who they are, their identity and their choice to embrace the hijab which they truly love and cherish. Upon hearing this I really wished Fox News, CNN, Sky News, Al Arabia and all other neo-con news outlets could broadcast a live interview with this lady because she voices an opinion that is silenced by mainstream media in favor of slanders and propaganda as echoed by John Pilger below when he said:
“Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the ‘official truth’. They simply cipher and transmit lies. It really grieves me that so many of my fellow journalists can be so manipulated that they become really what the French describe as ‘functionaires’, functionaries, not journalists…..they (journalists) internalise a whole set of assumptions, and one of the most potent assumptions is that the world should be seen in terms of its usefulness to the West, not humanity.” – John Pilger 
I then asked her regarding how is it that a mother can send her children to war knowing full well that their destiny is either being crippled on a wheelchair or a coffin. She replied to me that life is short and death is inevitable so why not die a death that is most pleasing to the Creator, so why not depart this life to seek Eternal bliss in the hereafter. She iterated that even though it is very difficult for a mother to be able to let her child go into harms way but the reality is that it is worth it for the hereafter and that she hopes that her sons will die as martyrs one day Insha’Allah.
I met a second lady who didn’t know how to speak English but we were brought to her by her relatives after dawn prayer on the same day we had breakfast with the locals in the Mosque nearby the Commondore. This lady was very advanced in her years and her son was killed by the Israelis to which she expressed her tears, sorrow and remorse. She also showed us her Grandfather’s British passport; he was originally from the Sub-Indian continent who worked as a watchman for the British Empire. He was relocated from India to Palestine during the latter’s colonization from the British. She had previously tried to contact the British Consulate in Palestine to see whether she is entitled to British citizenship seeing how her grandfather was British but for some bizarre reason they didn’t reply back with clarity. Her grandfather’s passport is on the right hand side of this page. It was prodigious to see that the passport was titled the United Kingdom & Ireland. This reminded me of the days we studied Irish history in primary and secondary school (Irish Junior Certificate) and how the Irish rebelled in 1914 against English oppression who subjugated the Emerald Isle for 700 years prior hence the sympathy that many fellow Irishmen express towards the Palestinian cause.
“Hamas is regularly described as ‘Iranian-backed Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.’ One will be hard put to find something like ‘democratically elected Hamas, which has long been calling for a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus’—blocked for over 30 years by the US and Israel. All true, but not a useful contribution to the Party Line, hence dispensable.” ― Prof. Noam Chomsky 
Gaza #7….Government Officials, Ministry of Religious Affairs and The Islamic University of Gaza
We conversed with several key personal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Affairs (Awqaf). After initial formalities and introductions, I spoke in private with the Deputy Minister and Minster of Foreign Affairs and queried whether they have considered speaking in western universities with their narrative because both were highly educated, diplomatic and I can foresee students majoring in arts & political sciences attending their speeches and being intellectually stimulated by these two gentlemen’s articulation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs was a captivating visit when the Minister was explaining to us how Islamic academic studies and culture is promoted in Gaza from the youth to adults with 1000’s of children graduating as Huffadh (Literally translated to protectors but technically those who learn off the Qur’an from cover to cover). We had witnessed a beautiful connection the people of Gaza have with the Qur’an when some of our group members had started to recite Qur’an after Fajr prayer which was seen by the locals who subsequently asked to in the Qur’an halaqa (study circle). The minister was explaining to us how the local population were nurtured in Gaza with the beautiful teachings of Islam. I spoke to him afterwards expressing to him that what you are doing is outstandingly brilliant because Islam can be felt in the streets of Gaza from the etiquette and pleasant demeanor of the locals which reminds one of the prophetic ethics that are lost in today’s globalized world. I also explained to him how some of my friends are involved in out reaching to new Muslims & youth and the challenges that exist in maturating them is exponentially arduous.
On our final day we were honored to have acquainted the (now former) Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Ismail Haniyeh who took time out from his laborious schedule to host us in his office. En-route to the rendezvous point we were checked by security personal and the building we met him in was bomb proof.  These extra precautions were taken due to the fact that numerous Palestinian leaders such as Shaykh Ahmed Yassin, Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Yasser Arafat (as hypothesized by forensic teams according to a report compiled by Al Jazeera) have been liquidated by Israelis’ in the past. He was a pleasant man who gave a hearty handshake to all, attired in an exquisite suit and adoring a pungently delightful perfume. He expressed his hearty thanks to the Irish Muslim and Arab community for the continuous humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza and the vocal stances against the injustices committed by the Israelis. He hopes that the future holds bright for the people of Gaza and Palestine at large in achieving their dream of democratic autonomy, justice and peace.
Our stop by the Islamic University of Gaza was truly stunning and eye opening. The campus itself was marvelously designed with state-of-the-art facilities that far surpass many of the universities I have visited in Ireland and the UK. From fine cut roads to the well laid out lobbies, the investment that must have gone into this project must be enormous and why not as these students, both male and female (Note: The university is fully segregated and both men and women have equally access to knowledge and facility) are the future pioneers of change in both the local and international community. We greeted some of the on-looking students including one of Rafi’s friends who studies there, all of whom were very courteous.
However, the most outstanding faculty in the university was the Irada department, a project financially endorsed by the Turkish government which seeks to educate and empower students with specials needs (many of whom have lost life & limbs in the Israeli aggression). The subjects they study aim to harness some trade skills that they can practically use to do business with for a living e.g. pottery, art and carpentry. Mash’Allah, there was a plethora of elegant art works on display with a souvenir shop selling many of these items. Many of the Irish delegates purchased items as gifts for family and even for charity to repatriate the revenue back to Gaza via Human Appeal International. Again the bewildering phenomenon was the attitude and will of the students in getting on with the benign of life and focusing on their studies and forging a career pathway after being trashed by Israeli terrorism. I will always remember one incident where I hastened back to the carpentry shop to buy a beautifully crafted clock and a group of on looking special needs students cheerfully made Arab tea and very generously offered it to me but I refused because the group were waiting on me (For those that know me, I took forever!). I kindly refused knowing the reprimanding I would get from the elders for keeping them waiting.
Before Asr (mid-afternoon) prayer we were welcomed by the President of the University who invited us for lunch before we made our way to the famous mosque which was beautifully constructed for the students. A small incident that made my heart smile was the sight of painted tyres used as recycling bins in the university, for those who have no idea May Allah The All Knowing The All Wise bless the students who seek knowledge to bring goodness.
“If the Palestinian people really wish to decide that they will battle to the very end to prevent partition or annexation of even an inch of their ancestral soil, then I have to concede that that is their right. I even think that a sixty-year rather botched experiment in marginal quasi-statehood is something that the Jewish people could consider abandoning. It represents barely an instant in our drawn-out and arduous history, and it’s already been agreed even by the heirs of Ze’ev Jabotinsky that the whole scheme is unrealizable in ‘Judaea and Samaria,’ let alone in Gaza or Sinai. But it’s flat-out intolerable to be solicited to endorse a side-by-side Palestinian homeland and then to discover that there are sinuous two-faced apologists explaining away the suicide-murder of Jewish civilians in Tel Aviv, a city which would be part of a Jewish state or community under any conceivable ‘solution.’ There’s that word again…” ― Christopher Hitchens 
Gaza #8….The Youth of Gaza and the veneration of sacrifice
The final chapter which I wish to focus on is the Youth of Gaza. With our hectic tentative, I never had the opportunity to speak to many youth so my means of extrapolating deduction was by observation complemented with anecdotal comments from some youth. At night time, myself and Saleh went out for a jog along the coast and through the beach (A band aid solution to metabolise the high calorie succulent food). We would see youth relaxing on benches and in cars, talking, drinking coffee and being themselves, nothing strange from any other teenagers or young adults in the Muslim world.
Encountering the young men, their smiles were impeccable and their sense of humor was jolly. What is bewildering is how these youth can return to the mundane of life after witnessing apocalyptic bombing not so long ago. I mean these young men are students, sons, brothers, husbands, bread winners in some cases and most of them have internet access, therefore can see how other youth live their life chasing after the American dream of having a palatial car, flamboyant regalia, ostentatious residence and a voluptuous spouse as in other parts of the globe which might induce negative thoughts of ‘why is this happening to me?’ or ‘why can’t my life be normal like others and free from all this hell?’ de facto leading to clinical depression, but yet they (youth of Gaza) live tenaciously with their heads held high and a smile across their faces. I asked one of the youth in Gaza of ‘what they do for fun?’ to which I expected car racing, FIFA, bowling, football, sports et al, but he replied very simply ‘we prepare ourselves for the next war’.
Which brings me to my final point; Gaza city is peculiar in a sense that every city in the globe has advertisements of celebrities/politicians or renowned people endorsing their products and encouraging others to buy the same e.g. Lionel Messi for Addidas, Christiano Ronaldo for Nike, David Beckham for Sky et al. There are no such advertisements in Gaza. There are no celebrities, there are no pop stars, there are no musical icons, there are no sports heroes and there are no entertainment idols. Instead the walls of Gaza are ubiquitous with pictures of fallen soldiers commemorated as heroes for fighting for their country. We acquainted with veterans of war such as a old man who had fought alongside some veterans from the Afghan war for three years before the latter migrated to Afghanistan to join the resistance against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
According to the Washington Institute, Israel has repeatedly refused to accept a plethora of ceasefires offered by Hamas since the 1990s and has consistently continued to rain its devastation upon the civilians in Gaza whilst continuing its suffocation of the West Bank with its increasing settlements on Palestinian soil.  This has reciprocated a knee jerk reaction by the Palestinians who have been left standing alone by neighboring Arab bystander states as they silently witness the genocide in Gaza as described by Yvonne Ridley as ‘Israel’s permanent death camp’ and have been left with no other choice than to confront such barbarism with legitimate self-defense.  When listening to the families relating sentimental stories of the fallen soldiers, they would hold back tears of sorrow but it would only be outdone by their hope that these men died for a great cause and God-willing will be rewarded with the highest level of Paradise in the Hereafter.
And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision, Rejoicing in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty, and they receive good tidings about those [to be martyred] after them who have not yet joined them – that there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. They receive good tidings of favor from Allah and bounty and [of the fact] that Allah does not allow the reward of believers to be lost. [Qur’an: Al-Imran 03: 169-171]
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” Stephen W. Hawking 
My journey through Gaza was only a few days but it was the most blessed adventure I have had, full of emotions and experience. I never expected to witness so many wonderful experiences in just a short space of time. The resilience of the Palestinians in Gaza was as admirable as their etiquettes and hospitality. My journey back was swifter in comparison to my initial departure, possibly due to the fact that I partially didn’t want to return after experiencing the most culminating trip of my life in an inimitable place like Gaza Mash’Allah! Although this adventure took place in February 2013, I am finished postulating this article in August 2014 due to the unprecedented attacks by the Israelis titled Operation Protective Edge (OPE) on the 8th July 2014.
Many Palestinians believe Netanyahu had been planning an offensive against Hamas for months before that kidnapping. After deadlocked negotiations with Israel prompted the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to seek rapprochement with Hamas, the indirect US and EU positive response to the Palestinian reconciliation enraged the Israelis. The offensive on Gaza was Netanyahu’s last trick, having tried to cripple the new unity government and to block payment of salaries to thousands of Gaza employees. – Dr. Azzam Tamimi 
It pains my heart to see the recent pictures of OPE devastation and images of infrastructure demolition at the hands of the Zionist state. Places such as the Islamic University of Gaza where I have been to and people I may have seen or greeted have all vaporized into thin air courtesy of Israel Subhan’Allah. However I and you cannot sit idly whilst Israel continues its blitz of annihilation. We must stand in unison and do what is in our capacity to help the people of Gaza and Palestine with some ideas that are listed below (list is not exhaustive!):
1) Prayer & Supplication (Dua) – In times of trials and tribulations, it is pertinent to return back to The Creator who is All-Hearing, All-Seeing and sincerely pray for the people in Gaza, Palestine and the rest of the World.
2) Donate in Charity to Gaza – The people of Gaza are in urgent need for your donations for urgent medical aid and you can donate to trustworthy charities in a number of ways via a plethora of charity activities (Note: You can click on the names below to be directed to the donate online links):
(ii) Disasters & Emergency Committee (DEC) [Endorsed by British Government with Islamic Relief being an affiliate]
3) Attending the National Demonstrations organised by your local Palestinian Activist Organisations e.g The Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (www.ipsc.ie) and Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org/)
4) Sign the following petition about RTE’s lack of coverage: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/rt%C3%A9-ireland-s-national-broadcaster-please-break-your-silence-on-palestine
5) Email/Phone/Write Letters/Meet your local Representatives – Most governments have signed up to the instruments of international law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention (which governs the behavior of an occupying power) – this means that, according to Article 1 of the Convention, they have a binding obligation to “ensure respect” for the Convention. Recently the International Court of Justice found that all governments had a special obligation not to recognize the attempt by Israel to annex more Palestinian land (by building the Wall in the West Bank) and those governments have a clear obligation to ensure that the Annexation Wall is dismantled. Please write to your government and remind them of their obligations and ask them to take firm measures, not just empty utterances, to help Palestinian civilians achieve an end to the Israeli occupation of their land. As more people write to local authorities & representatives it’s only then that these politicians will understand that the question of Palestine is no longer one they can ignore – at home or abroad.
6) University activism: Organize University debates with debating societies. Lobby student unions to ban Israeli goods on campus and coordinate symposiums on the Palestinian conflict to increase the awareness of the conflict as many are misinformed from mainstream media about the state of the people of Gaza. Note: Most students from all backgrounds would definitely attend such events and most student societies would collaborate in such endeavors.
7) Boycott Israeli Products: There are many alternatives available that we can forsake the many companies that either directly or indirectly endorse Israel. Check out http://www.foa.org.uk/campaigns/consumer-boycott, http://www.bdsmovement.net/ and http://www.ipsc.ie/campaigns/consumer-boycott
Even though, the situation in Gaza is gloomy and even though the situation is intensifying with each day that, it is pertinent that we reminisce Emily Dickinson’s  invigorating words when she said,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers, That perches in the soul,And sings the tune without the words, And never stops – at all.And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard, And sore must be the storm,That could abash the little Bird, That kept so many warm 
Despite the continual onslaught pouring on the people of Gaza from the Israelis with full backing from the Western sovereignties, we must never give up in being steadfast in support of our fellow brothers and sisters in Gaza. The world confronted South African apartheid and many other skirmishes against injustices & oppression. History is testimony that every tyrannical regime may have a short lived spectacular rise but also a very swift disastrous fall. May Allah, The Most Gracious, The Especially Merciful bless our brothers and sisters in Gaza with patience and victory. May Allah, The Most High bless us all with guidance & steadfastness and May Allah, The All Forgiving bless us all with a place in the highest level of Paradise.
Hamas is in the process of inflicting a historic defeat on the Israeli army in Gaza. It may not be on the same scale as the defeat that Hezballah inflicted on Israel in 2006, but its repercussions are likely to be felt for just as long.
– Asa Winstanley 
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