One hundred and eighty people crammed into St John’s Church on Saturday to witness a series of talks, music and theatre, some broadcast live from the West Bank.
The event, ‘Voices from Palestine, Voices for Peace’ was organised by Totnes Friends of Palestine (TFoP) and coincided with calls for a ceasefire from many places in the world, although not from Britain’s government or the Labour Party.
The evening was opened by Deborah Parsons, Totnes Team Vicar.
Clare Coyne, Spring Up Foundation trustee, read a statement from Sahar, a teacher based in Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza.
“Missiles light our sky at night,’ she said. “In the morning we hear explosions instead of nightingales. We get used to seeing children beneath the rubble.”
Nick Bilbrough, Hands Up Project founder, introduced The Well, a play written and performed by children in Gaza, before Martin Goldschmidt spoke about Palestine Music Expo, which mobilizes young musicians in the Occupied Territories.
He introduced Ahmed, who talked of life in the Gaza Strip.
“Everyone has lost someone. About 14,000 have been killed now, half of which are women and children. We’ve no water, food, medicine. The homeless take refuge in hospitals, which are then bombed.
“We’re humans not numbers.”
May, a 23-year-old studying medicine in Hebron, shared details of life under Israeli occupation, the increasing checkpoints in the West Bank, the risk of being shot if you stray near the separation wall or try to harvest olives.
Despite there being no Hamas presence in this part of Palestine, arrests and beatings have increased since the October 7 atrocities.
She spoke of her friend’s 15-year-old brother, shot by a sniper, the bullet killing him despite efforts by May’s father to save the boy.
“We’re pleased to see the marches,” she said. “They keep us going.”
Alaa, a Palestinian activist, spoke of her family in Gaza, who from sunrise search for those surviving the nightly bombing.
She described how queues form for bread, how seawater is laced with sugar to render it drinkable.
“Often bread is bloodstained,” she said. “You clean it off and eat it anyway.”
Ben Yeger from Combatants for Peace spoke of his time serving in the Israeli army, and his decision to choose a non-violent path.
“I vowed to never carry a gun again,” he said. “The colonialist settler programme needs to halt. This war’s not in my name.”
He introduced Rana, who spoke from Bethlehem about the CfP joint cultural initiative, one that “respects the lived experience of Palestinians and Israelis”: “We must extend grace to each other,” she said. “We must find an alternative to the violence, stop dehumanising each other.”
Another play, Welcome to Earth, was performed by children collaborating in different languages. The Hands Up Project has been trying, unsuccessfully, to make contact with the Gazan trio of the group. Finally, the audience watched a film of Gazan schoolchildren singing a traditional Palestinian song, Oh, My Home, beneath a 5,000-year-old olive tree.
The event raised £800 for Medical Aid for Palestine and 90 people signed the petition demanding MP Anthony Mangnall call for a ceasefire.
TFoP currently holds weekly vigils on Thursdays at 5.30pm outside the Civic Hall.