Thursday, December 31, 2015

A life without fear

If I had one wish for 2016, it would be for a life without so much fear.

Not just for myself, but for the whole wide world.

Because fear seemed to overwhelm too many people over the past year. Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of the unknown.

I have quite a few scuba diving friends who usually travel to Egypt or Thailand in search of sunshine and fun at this time of year. Now, for obvious reasons, they are abandoning their sense of adventure this time around.

People don’t want to travel in the face of the threat posed by ISIL terrorists, and who could blame them in the wake of attacks in Paris, Tunisia, and Egypt over the past year? 

Nobody wants to risk their life for a holiday and the fear is understandable following the appalling scenes in Paris in November. But it seems so sad that people are letting fear rule their lives.

By not travelling, they are not meeting ordinary Muslims, which is scary too at a time when xenophobia and racism are on the rise across Europe and North America.

How can we possibly understand each other if we never interact any more?

The saddest image of 2015 was that of a three year old boy from Syria washed up on a European beach in late August. His family’s bid for freedom, their desire for a new life, ended in appalling tragedy.

In the wake of the subsequent outcry, it was hard not to forget that some of the newspapers who raised the most concern had been referring to “swarms of migrants” only a week before.

Some papers used the migrant crisis, caused by military intervention by the West, as an excuse to generate fear.

Across Europe, people were being told that the migrants entering Europe included ISIL terrorists determined to cause havoc.

The reality was that toddler Aylan Kurdi and his family were fleeing fierce fighting in the northern Syrian town of Kobani. His parents took desperate measures in a bid to escape terror and to build new lives in Canada.

In my own case, fear dominated life far too much and curtailed my ability to live in the moment. I had a seven month battle with the MRSA bug, only getting the all-clear in late May, which seemed to be incredible timing just after I took voluntary redundancy from a job I’d held for 22 years.

It’s too easy to let fear take over, to worry about an uncertain future, when none of our futures are set in stone.

During my daily visits to the clinic in Galway, I built up a huge affinity with a small group of community care nurses who did wonders to boost my spirits and speed up my recovery.

When the nurse who took care of me most dropped dead suddenly, leaving a devastated husband and three young children, I had more time to contemplate how fleeting or temporary life can be.

I will never forget how much care and attention I received from that nurse during one of the most troublesome periods in my life.

She taught me a lot about acceptance and the importance of focusing on the positives in life.

During 2015 I completed courses in digital marketing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and I’ve experienced new jobs.

And yet I’ve allowed the judgement and uncertainty which followed the redundancy to dominate my life and take away from my sense of fun and adventure.

It’s too easy to close your mind, to allow your world to shrink.

It’s too easy for Europeans to distance themselves from ordinary Muslims, to build up an irrational fear of the unknown. Terrorists don't represent ordinary Muslims any more than the kind of people who shoot up US abortion clinics represent Christians.

And I've been guilty of my own irrational fears.

It’s too easy for someone who has been made redundant to despair that he or she will not find a rewarding job.

We all have spontaneity, adventure, bravery and excitement within us, if we don’t allow our lives to be dominated by fear. 

So that’s my only wish for 2016, not just for myself but for everyone on the planet . . . that our lives won’t be dominated so much by fear and that we will see the huge possibilities out there in this crazy, cruel, but wonderful world. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Selling our 'neutral' souls

A disturbing video popped up on my Facebook timeline this week.

It showed two little boys, the younger aged no more than three, running from airstrikes, with terror in their voices and tears in their eyes.

They were crying out for their mothers, as a distressed adult bundled them into the back of
US troops at Shannon Airport
a van.

Behind them, the dust and debris disguised the fact that ten children had just been killed. Their school had been destroyed.

If it had happened in Europe, we would be expressing outrage and changing our Facebook profiles in sympathy with the victims this week.

If it happened in Europe, people would clamour for justice and contact their politicians to express their horror and despair.

But the little boys live in Syria, and to them and their families it must seem that the world doesn’t care. Their city of Damascus has been shelled countless times in recent weeks, but we never see the images of the destruction on our nightly TV news channels.

The harrowing two minute film I saw came from Al Jazeera, rather than any European, Irish, or British network.

These are the invisible victims, the ones who do not seem to matter to those in power.

Their terror seemed in such contrast to the scenes of joviality in the House of Commons a couple of weeks back, when a majority of British MPs voted in favour of airstrikes across Syria.

As they laughed and voted for war, those who opposed their views were branded as “terrorist sympathisers”.

We don’t know from the video whether the boys live in an ISIL controlled area or not, all we see are two little boys with terror on their faces.

This is the reality of what our Governments in the West do in our name.

And the Irish can’t moralise, either, as none of us has a clue what has been going on at Shannon Airport for the past 13 years.

We know that American warplanes stop there every week to refuel, on their way to and from ‘renditions’, tours of duty, or bombing missions across the globe.

Nobody knows what’s inside those giant planes, because nobody in authority at Shannon has bothered to check.

And when two TDs took it upon themselves to try to inspect those planes, they found themselves in a ludicrous situation – facing the District Court, required to pay fines, and then facing an hour and a half to two hours in jail when they refused to pay those fines.

Such a waste of taxpayers’ money, such a terrible compromise of the concept of Irish ‘neutrality’ just months before we celebrate the heroes who fought for our freedom, and neutrality, back in 1916.

If you want to see how good the security is at Shannon, have a look for the old footage of Galway activists Margaretta D’Arcy and Niall Farrell trespassing onto the runway a couple of years ago.

It’s never a good idea to wander onto an airport runway on a Sunday afternoon, but the activists were determined to make a point.

To their huge surprise, nobody noticed that they had cut a fence and entered the runway – even though they were wearing bright orange boiler suits, as an expression of sympathy with the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

Shocked that nobody seemed to notice them, or that nobody approached them, Niall eventually rang the authorities to tell them what he’d done. Eventually, after taking the call, the Airport Police arrived to remove them from the runway.

The same Airport Police have never once, to anyone’s knowledge, boarded one of the US military aircraft to find out who or what is being carried on board.

If you are flying from Shannon on a midweek night, you can often find that civilian passengers are outnumbered three or four to one by US troops buying plastic leprechauns, shamrocks, and bottles of whiskey on their way home from Afghanistan, Iraq, or Pakistan.

For all you’d know, those same troops could have blood on their hands as a result of bombing missions all over the Middle East.

But we never hear about those missions and we didn’t hear much about the Medecins Sans Frontiers hospital which was destroyed by US air strikes a couple of months ago.

We don’t know who bombed the school in Damascus this week, either. 

And, doubtless, the two little boys in the video shared by Al Jazeera don’t care who bombed their school. Russian bombs cause the same damage, heartbreak, and destruction as British, French, or Syrian bombs and are unable to distinguish between fighters and innocent civilians.

The monthly protest at Shannon Airport

So, like the MPs who joked and ridiculed Jeremy Corbyn MP as they voted in favour of air strikes in a far-off land, we should hang our heads in shame.

Because, while US troops continue to use an Irish civilian airport to facilitate bombing missions across the globe, we, too, have blood on our hands.

But who’s complaining as long as Shannon keeps busy and the soldiers keep buying their plastic leprechauns?

Only Mick Wallace and Clare Daly and a handful of others, notably the Shannonwatch people who protest once a month, while the rest of us turn a merry blind eye to what’s really going on. 

Our authorities don’t seem to have the time, resources, or desire to find out what’s happening with the US military at Shannon, in a so-called ‘neutral’ country, but they can afford to send a TD to jail for two hours. 

It’s not today nor yesterday that the Irish began to sell out their principles in the pursuit of fools’ gold.

No doubt the children of Syria would find the whole thing ludicrous, if they hadn’t got far more pressing matters on their innocent minds.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The less we know, the easier it is to hate ...

The less we know about each other, the easier it is to hate. And did you ever get the impression that, for all our technological advances over the past few decades, we live in increasingly intolerant times?

Last week, it seemed that a third of the people I knew on Facebook turned their profile photos blue, white, and red in sympathy with the victims of the terrible terrorist atrocities in Paris the previous weekend.

Of course they had every right to do so, they were horrified by the images they'd seen on their TV screens.

But why sympathise with victims in one place, and not another? Those who wondered why Sky News don’t broadcast 24/7 from bombed out cities and towns in Syria, Palestine, or Afghanistan were told that people have a right to sympathise with terrorism victims in Paris, simply because they live closer to us.

US troops in Shannon: How many of us ever ask what destruction they cause?
And it’s true. The Irish do have more connections with the French than we do with people in Palestine, Iraq, or Syria. But we do the people in those countries a great disservice by airbrushing them out of our lives, when our own governments in the West play a big part in their troubles.

We let airplanes fly through our airports on their way to bomb them, we sell arms to despotic tyrants who abuse them, we turn a blind eye to human rights abuses, and then we wonder why some of them have an irrational hatred for people in our part of the world.

We didn’t see Sky News outside the Afghan hospital bombed by the US last month, but the channel spent an entire week broadcasting from Paris, interviewing victims, who had gruesome stories to tell about how a night out at a rock concert, a football match, or a restaurant turned into a nightmare in which 130 innocent people lost their lives.

Significant elements of the media make it clear that some lives are more important than others. Whether due to geography, inconvenience, or simple editorial policy, Sky never showed us interviews with the victims of the Beirut terror attacks which claimed 43 lives just 24 hours before the Paris attacks.

A suburban neighbourhood full of ordinary people became a "Hezbollah stronghold".

A few weeks earlier it was “politically inconvenient” to dwell on the bombing, by US forces, of the Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) hospital which claimed 30 lives. It wasn’t an act of terror, it was “human error” we were told. And it doesn’t rest easily with our narrative about who the good and the bad guys are.

So the victims of bombings in Afghanistan or Beirut never make it onto our TV screens and we don’t play their national anthems to honour their dead at our football games.

We say it “could have been us” when we talk about Paris or London, but never consider that ordinary people in far more troubled places are also trying to just get on with their lives.

Perhaps some of the refugees fleeing Syria are ISIS terrorists, hell-bent on causing havoc across Europe. But the vast majority are ordinary people who are escaping horrible lives in war zones. No father or mother puts a toddler into an unsafe boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea unless they are fleeing genuine horror.

Selective viewing renders a joke of objectivity. When 2,200 people were murdered in Gaza last summer, it was hard to find a reporter in the UK or Ireland – apart from Jon Snow on Channel 4 and a few others – who was willing to travel to the enclave and gather heart-breaking stories from the survivors.

So we didn’t get exposed to their grief, in the same way as we’ve been horrified by the loss of so many innocent lives in Paris.

It’s been horrible to go on social media in recent months and to see all the Islamophobic bile being spread about the thousands of refugees who are seeking new lives in Europe as an escape from the war-torn Middle East.

We didn't hear about the French air raids on Syrian towns back in September and few make a connection between European intervention in that strife-torn region and the terrorism on our own doorstep. But how could they not be related?

So the people who set off suicide bombs in Paris are a threat to civilisation, but the people who drop bombs on Syria and Iraq with no risk to their own personal safety are hardly ever highlighted by the media.

They don't strap on suicide vests outside crowded theatres, they press a button well out of reach of their victims.

Since 9/11, Muslims are blamed for the misdeeds of a tiny minority of extremists in a way which would have been absurd if the same criteria were applied to the Irish during the IRA bombings in the UK in the 1970s.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, but you’d never think that if you read through the comments on some social media sites. I’ve seen people call on their Governments to “nuke the bastards” as though wiping out the entire population of some cities or regions would eliminate the threat posed by terrorists, instead of creating a whole new generation of jihadists.

It is in the interests of the extremists on both sides that ignorance should prevail.

And it takes some degree of ignorance and extremism to believe that a place in paradise awaits those who shoot young rock fans in a crowded theatre on a Friday night.

When we go to Egypt, Morocco, Jordon or Tunisia on holidays, we get to enjoy fun times with ordinary, decent Muslims. The interactions work both ways – they get jobs in the tourism industry and to see that not all Westerners are as decadent or arrogant as they’ve been portrayed in their own biased media.

When we stop travelling – which is understandable in the wake of suicide bombings – our Governments can stoke up hatred against the Muslim world and continue to justify the sale of arms to regimes which have no regard for human rights.

We have seen this type of ignorance in Ireland for too long. When Catholics and Protestants attend different schools, play different games, support different sports teams, and even work in different places, it’s too easy to build up an irrational hatred for each other.

But it’s also in the Catholic Church’s own interest to keep children of different faiths apart from the moment they attend school.

Technology has changed our lives so much in recent years. We can now record or watch the news on our mobile phones 24/7. We can be connected no matter where we are, day or night.

But if we continue to put barriers between ourselves and ‘other’ civilisations we continue to be as ignorant about each other as Muslims and Christians were a thousand years ago, during the Crusades.

When our media only highlight terrible loss of life in Paris, New York, or London, rather than atrocities which take place around the world with far more regularity, they add to the false perception that there is some sort of Holy War going on between “us” and “them”.
Protesting against US troops in Shannon

Most people, whether they live in Paris or Beirut, only want peaceful, happy lives. But you’d never think that innocent lives in Beirut matter much if you relied on the likes of Sky News for your information about what’s happening in the world.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why are we so selective in our grief?

Unlike many of my Facebook friends, I didn’t change my profile photo this week. I got home after a Saturday afternoon in town to find that a host of people had adopted the blue, white, and red tricolour after being prompted to do so by Facebook itself.

It’s not that I don’t care. France was the first country I visited outside the island of Ireland as a teenager in the 1980s. A summer holiday on the west coast opened up a whole new world of possibilities for a youngster who had never been outside of Ireland until he was 14. 

I like France. My brother is fluent in the language and once lived in Paris. My cousin married a wonderful Frenchwoman. I’ve had fantastic holidays scuba diving off the coast of Hyeres, partied and enjoyed rugby games in Toulouse, and enjoyed city breaks in Lyon, Paris, and Marseille.

The terrorist attacks in Paris were horrific and the reaction completely understandable. 

I have been teaching English part-time as I build up a freelance journalism and content writing business and one of my students missed class on Monday and Tuesday because his mother lived near the scene of one of the attacks. He had been sick with worry all weekend.

But seeing all these flags as I flicked through my timeline made me feel uncomfortable. 

I wondered why so many of my Irish friends were expressing public sympathy with the French victims of terror when so many horrible events happen every week without any reaction on our shores.

I didn’t see any Lebanese flags on my timeline after 43 people in Beirut were blown up by the same horrible ISIS terrorists just 24 hours before the French attacks.

I didn’t see any Russian flags when so many people were blown up over the Sinai desert the previous weekend.

I’m probably unusual for an Irish person in that I’ve been to the Sinai at least a dozen times, thanks to my love of scuba diving. I’ve become good friends with Egyptians, Bedouins, and British people thanks to all my travels, which proves that travel broadens the mind.

People I know are hurting right now because people are afraid to visit Egypt, understandably, any more. Their businesses are suffering and they could yet close down if people from Europe stop flying to the Muslim world.

Understandably, the tourism industry in Tunisia disintegrated after the shocking gun attack on tourists on a beach a few months ago. People want to relax on holidays, not to be in fear for their lives.  

But this separation of the world into "us" and "them" is part of the problem.

If people don’t travel, we don’t get to meet ordinary Muslims. We don’t break down barriers. And they lose their jobs in countries which don’t have any social welfare systems, playing into the hands of the extremists who want them to hate the decadent western world.

It’s easier to hate people when you never meet them, as I found out during a gap year in Nicaragua in 2010 when I was astounded by the amount of American expats who had an irrational hatred of Muslims.

43 people were blown up in Beirut on Thursday and nobody mentions it on Facebook. It got a five minute mention on BBC or Sky News.

A sad dog in Paris, considered more newsworthy than a dead child in Palestine 
A MSF hospital was bombed by the U.S. three weeks ago and we didn’t see interviews with the survivors on our news.

Almost 130 people were killed in Paris on Friday night. They were ordinary, innocent people enjoying a night out, at a rock concert, a restaurant, or a football match. Yes, it's horrible. But suddenly BBC and Sky News were broadcasting for 48 hours non-stop from the crime scenes and people changed their profile photos.

If Kay Burley and Sky News broadcast 48 hours non-stop from Gaza last summer maybe they might have influenced public opinion and stopped the murder of 2,100 people, including 550 children.

But that’s the problem. Sky News don’t focus on all the hardship the people of Gaza, effectively trapped in an open air prison, have had to endure over the years. 

Kay Burley brought journalism to a new low this week when she tweeted a photo of a dog looking sad in Paris. She was rightly ridiculed.

The Daily Mail used the Paris attacks for their own right-wing agenda, likening migrants fleeing the war in Syria to rats just as the same paper demonised the Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

News channels spend a full week broadcasting 24/7 from Paris so we are bound to have more sympathy with the victims. They treat a bombing in Beirut as a ‘non-story’ and move on as though nothing has occurred. We don’t care because we don’t see the victims on our TV screens.

If the wide world could witness the huge injustice being suffered by the people of Palestine, perhaps their lives could change for the better and they would feel less of a grievance against those of us lucky enough to be born in Western Europe.

We didn't see their families or the survivors being interviewed constantly over a 24 hour period on Sky or BBC last year. It’s easy to label them as “terrorists” when we never see them, even though 1.8 million people – many refugees from what is now Israel – have been living in deplorable conditions for years.

ISIS are depraved fundamentalists, but they are not fools. They see that killing people in France generates ten times more publicity than a bomb in Beirut.

Meeting ordinary people in the Middle East challenged my own preconceptions built up through the Western media.

By being so selective in our grief we play into the hands of the extremists and the cynical people in the West who sell them arms.

Wasn’t it George Orwell who wrote that some lives were more important than others? Well, the media in Europe and America make that abundantly clear every day.

The ignorance about Muslims in America and now Europe is alarming. The more we divide up the world into important (Paris, New York, London) and unimportant (Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq) victims, the worse the division becomes.

ISIS are scum and that doesn't mean I disrespect the grief French people have been going through over the past week.

By all means mourn the terrible loss of life in Paris.

But let's not be so selective about our grief. The loss of any innocent life is a tragedy, whether it's in Paris, Beirut, Gaza, Sharm, or London.

We are all human. It might be easier to relate to a tragedy in Paris, simply because we’ve been there, but that should not prevent us from learning about gross injustices in other parts of the world.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Learning compassion from absolute horror

One of the things which dismays me most about the seemingly never-ending “conflict” between Israel and Palestine is the way in which a people who suffered so much (or their descendants) have been able and willing to inflict such suffering on others.

It forces you to question human nature when you see how Zionists have occupied, colonised, and demonised the people of Palestine over the past seven decades; even though we should never forget the absolute horrors which prompted so many Jewish people to seek a new homeland in the 1940s.

It’s appalling to think that there were 11 million Jewish people living across Europe at the start of World War Two and that the Nazis’ insane “Final Solution” resulted in the loss of six million of them in just a few years.

Europe should, rightly, feel shame. That shame extends to the island of Ireland, where a closed society in its second decade of independence effectively shut its doors on the persecuted Jewish people who tried to flee the Nazis in the 1930s. 
Tomi Reichental wore a yellow star during his talk in Galway

Our own shameful history was alluded to during a talk in a crowded lecture hall in Galway yesterday, when a survivor of the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp said that lessons from the Holocaust should be applied to the current refugee crisis facing Europe.

Over 300 people crammed into the lecture hall at NUI Galway to hear Tomi Reichental speak, and everyone of us was overwhelmed by his generosity of spirit as he recalled a childhood which was unthinkable to every Irish person in the room.

Tomi has written an absorbing book about his experiences as a Jewish child in war-time Slovakia and his subsequent transfer to the concentration camp where so many people lost their lives.

Just nine years old when he was captured by the Gestapo, Tomi urged Irish people to embrace diversity and to learn to live with different traditions when he referred to the thousands of refugees who are currently fleeing the Middle East for new lives in Europe.

“People tend to blame other people for their problems,” said Mr Reichental. “We have a lot of foreign people in Ireland now. If you hear somebody blaming somebody else because they are a foreigner or have a different skin colour, speak out. Don’t become a bystander. Get involved. It’s wrong.

“In the 1930s, Ireland closed the door to the Jewish people. We have a refugee crisis across Europe now. We have to learn to live with different traditions and embrace them, not to exclude them. The Holocaust must not be compared to anything that has happened since, but we must learn from it.”

Mr Reichental, who lost 35 extended family members in the Holocaust, said that he did not speak about his experiences at Bergen-Belsen for over 55 years.

He never discussed his experiences with his late wife, although she knew he was a Holocaust survivor. It was only when he retired, and after she passed away, that he began to write down his experiences 12 years ago.

He has since become a hugely popular figure with schoolchildren all over Ireland, as he regularly tours the country to talk about the Holocaust and what it was like to be a nine year old boy playing among piles of decomposing corpses.

“It is very important that I can speak to as many people as I can, because I feel that I owe it to the victims. I lost 35 people from my family. By speaking to young people, I hope that the memory of the Holocaust will be carried for generations to come,” he said.

“For over 55 years, trauma stopped me from speaking about it. But there are not many of us left, especially here in Ireland, who can talk about our experiences in the concentration camps.”

Tomi recalled an idyllic early childhood in rural Slovakia, where his family had been a part of the community for generations. All that changed when he was six years old, when the Government introduced harsh anti-Jewish laws.

“In 1939, the propaganda against the Jews began. Hatred was building up against Jewish people. I remember my aunt sewing a yellow star onto my coat. I was kicked out of the village school because I was Jewish and had to attend a separate school in the town.”

Yesterday, he wore a yellow star on his jacket with pride, to remind everyone in the room of the indignity faced by people living under the Nazi regime.

He said that deportations began in 1942 and 58,000 Jewish people were transferred from Slovakia to Germany. His father, a farmer, had a special document which allowed him to stay because he was contributing to the Slovak economy.

But his parents eventually had to flee their home village. They changed their names and he was with his mother, grandmother, brother, aunt and cousin when they were picked up by the Gestapo in Bratislava in 1944.

He recalled the crowded ‘cattle car’ which transferred them to Germany and the fear in the eyes of the adults, who had heard about the gas chambers and extermination camps from people who had managed to escape and return to Slovakia.

“The moment the door closed behind us, our civilised life ended. I will never forget it. There was no privacy, no hygiene. I remember the smell and that people were crying. The people in the camp were like skeletons in their striped pyjamas. Their heads were shaved and we could not tell if they were men or women.”

He said Bergen-Belsen was not an extermination camp, but people could not live on the amount of food they were allocated each day. The calories allocated to the prisoners were insufficient for many of them to survive.

“There were 1,000 people living in huts which were designed for 200 people. We used to play ‘hide and seek’ among the decomposing corpses. That’s how dehumanised we were. We were living in this open graveyard for months, with bodies all around us,” he told the audience.

“Typhoid and diphtheria were the biggest killers, but people were dying of starvation and cold in their hundreds. The soldiers who liberated the camp in April 1945 said they could smell the stench for two miles before they reached the camp.”

Mr Reichental moved to Ireland in 1959, but said he never wanted to talk about his experiences until he retired in 2004. Since then, he has spoken to thousands of students in schools all around Ireland and featured in an RTE television documentary. 

“My wife never knew what happened to me,” he said. “She just knew I was a Holocaust survivor. I lost her to cancer 13 years ago. Then I retired 12 years ago. I thought I would enjoy my retirement, but then I realised I needed to tell my story. I realise now that I am one of the last witnesses of this horror and I feel that I owe it to the victims.”

During a question and answers session after his talk, I was the only person in the audience to raise the issue of the occupation of Palestine with him.

I asked him whether or not it upset him that Palestinians were now being “dehumanised” by the Israeli media, and Jewish people “dehumanised” by the Palestinians, in ways which were eerily similar to how Jewish people were portrayed, horribly, in the German and Slovak media in the 1930s and 1940s.

Clearly uncomfortable with the subject, he said that the Middle East should not be judged by the same standards as European countries.

He said that he had served in the Israeli Army for a while in the 1950s and had never, ever been trained or taught to hate the Palestinians.

His message was one of peace and he encouraged the Irish to embrace refugees, to offer them meaningful and viable lives, as a response to the current crisis.

Children in a Nazi concentration camp
Mr Reichental received a standing ovation at the packed NUI Galway lecture theatre, before staying on to sign copies of his book, ‘I Was a Boy in Belsen’.

His powerful story was a timely reminder of the absolute horror which led to the foundation of the state of Israel, even though I firmly believe that the Holocaust no longer provides an excuse for how badly the Palestinian people have been treated under the occupation for decades.

Those of us who care about Palestine and the Palestinians sometimes tend to forget the trauma suffered by the entire Jewish population of Europe just seven decades ago.

Not that the Holocaust provides any excuse for the barbarism inflicted on the people of the West Bank and Gaza in recent years.

Like Tomi, we all have to learn from the horrors of the past, to ensure that people are never discriminated against because of the colour of their skin or their religion. If we were all a bit more like Tomi in respecting diversity, there might be some hope for the people of Israel and Palestine.