For Pradyumna Jairam (22), a postgraduate student, till recently Gaza was a ‘burning issue’ that touched him mostly as bad news.
And outraged him. But now it has faces and names: Asma and Mafaz, the pretty Palestinian girls he had befriended in University of Gaza; Jihad Muhammad, who was less of a security guard and more of a friend; and all the people who welcomed him with moist eyes and warm hugs.
Jairam was one among 60 Indians who went as part of 160 member rainbow coalition — the Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan — crossing 7 countries by land. “When I think of Palestine, now I think of people I’d met. I feel like calling them up for updates,” he says. The last time he had spoken to them, he learnt that the farmer who had shaken hands with him, in the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel, was shot by an Israeli sniper for trespassing on the land he’d been farming in for 40 years.
Jairam’s friend, Salman Usmani (26), a photographer, thought it would be like a ‘concentration camp’. “But Gaza was like Vasant Kunj or Mayur Vihar. Gazans don’t need aid or sympathy. They want dignity. They just want us to listen to their stories of living under siege,” says Usmani.
After Hamas, the militant Islamic group, took over the control of Gaza in 2007, Israel intensified its economic blockade. “They are under double siege — from Israeli attacks and moral policing by Hamas,” says Jairam. The response to the caravan was overwhelming; people poured on to the streets, held their hands and cried. “What have I done to deserve this, I asked myself. I will go back again to see them,” he says.