- 16 Jun 21
A group of Irish artists and humanitarians recently projected a ‘visual message of care’ for Gaza that went viral. Here, Caoimhe Butterly, one of the organising team, past volunteer EMT on ambulances in Gaza and filmmaker, reflects on what informed their action.
In a recent video of the aftermath of the latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza, an older man is interviewed. Gesturing towards the rubble of the destroyed homes around him, he says, almost to himself, as if the camera is a distraction; “The war is over. But after the war comes the suffering”.
A number of us involved in the Gaza visual projection on the Cliffs of Moher have witnessed some of that suffering, and the liminal spaces between trauma and survival in its wake, first-hand.
Our group of artists, lighting technicians, filmmakers, events producers and human rights campaigners named ourselves ‘From Ireland With Love’ because what we wanted to convey through our visual message – more than anything – was love, tenuous hope and a ‘seeing’ of that grief.
We watched, as did so many others around the world, the footage of a bereft 6-year old, Suzy Ishkontana, being unearthed from the rubble of her home, of 5-month old Omar Al Hadidi being held in the arms of medics in Al Shifa Hospital, of the flattened house of 10-year old Aziz Al Kolak – survivor of the air-strike that killed his mother, father, two younger siblings and numerous other members of his family.
We held our own children that bit closer during the eleven nights of bombardment watched long-distance, reading the words of Palestinian parents in Gaza as they expressed their lack of safety, their powerlessness to protect.
We witnessed the consistent courage and commitment of Gaza’s healthcare workers, of exhausted hospital staff, of paramedics and First Responders on the frontlines of response, often systematically targeted, teaching life even in days so dominated by death.
We held, also, memories of daily survival amidst the ongoing siege. Of quiet early morning conversations between fishermen as they walked to the port in the dawn light. Memories of the humour and dignity of farmers in Deir Al Balah and Beit Hanoun and of the small hands of children in ours, gleefully guiding us through refugee camps, bringing us home to meet their parents. We remembered inter-generational families with their picnics on the beach at sunset, breathing in the freedom of the sea.
We thought of Gaza’s – of Palestine’s – students, musicians, carpenters, parkour runners, artists, book-sellers, physiotherapists, surfers, spoken word poets, chefs, trauma counsellors, hip-hop MCs, watermelon vendors, football players, animators, seed-savers, factory workers, weavers, feminists, filmmakers, educators, carers- of their tenacity and endurance, building and re-building, after each bombardment.
We listened to and learned from the uncompromising narrative re-shaping of young Palestinians in the diaspora and Sheikh Jarrah- their eloquence and truth-telling- and their calls to hold the line, this time. We watched the footage of Palestinian refugees in Jordan running towards the border, running home.
Our action in response to that seeing, was one of wanting to bring the duality of Gaza – life and death, trauma and survival, suffering and deliberate joy, grief and beauty – closer to those on our own island nation.
The projection- conceptualised and coalesced by filmmaker, artist and friend, Dearbhla Glynn and a group of other creators including Brian Gormally, Sara Howlin, Ian Malone, Ruairi McKiernan, Kane O’Shea and Tom O’Dea- was our humble offering.
A symbolic ‘beam of love’ that was dedicated to Suzy, Omar, Aziz, Roula, Yara, Hala, Diana, Yahyah, Ibrahim, Tala and so many others.
Through it, we hoped to make the seas between us a place of connection- from one coastline to another, from one people to another.
The powerful images of that solidarity-writ large at night above the ocean on the Cliffs of Moher- were captured by photographers Maurice Gunning and Gavin Gallagher and posted online. In the days following we received messages from people around the world, many of them Palestinian, expressing the emotional resonance of the light projection and the intent behind it.
Media coverage of the action has framed it as ‘artivism’ which it held elements of, in the use of the symbolic, of visual interruption – in this case in beautiful surroundings – as a means of expressing dissent and solidarity beyond borders.
But more than anything, To Gaza With Love was a symbol of creating space for pause, and breath, of a glimpse of a lighthouse within storms of injustice, even if only a very brief one.
And, most importantly, it was a reminder of the ever-present hope that exists in the enduring heartbeat of Gaza.
Read Caoimhe's May 2021 essay, 'Life and Death in Gaza', here.
Picture credit: Maurice Gunning