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Published on 19 April 2024

Think of others (those who have lost the right to speak) - Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet 

Hey, I'm Eleanor, a recent uni graduate passionate about social justice and – like many of us – seeing the horrors and destruction of Gaza online has moved to act for peace and justice in Palestine. Two weeks ago, I attended the ‘Ceasefire Now Parliamentary Lobby Day’ to ask MPs to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Palestine. In talking about my experience here, I wanted to both share the process of the lobby day itself and reflect on the emotions that surfaced through campaigning in the face of such a horrifying humanitarian crisis. How do you maintain hope in the face of a seemingly unfeeling power? Sometimes campaigning to powerholders feels like shouting at a brick wall, and now I was being let behind that wall, I was curious to know to what that would look like.

A group of over 100 campaigners from across the UK gathered in London on Thursday 14th March 2024 to meet with their local MP in the UK Parliament.

The lobby day started at around 10am in the Emmanual Centre, joining campaigners from across the UK, including my Christian Aid colleagues and the constituents they’d mobilised. One Christian Aid campaigner had arrived from St Andrews, Scotland waking up at 3am to make the nearly 6-hour train trip down – an honestly inspiring commitment! 

The organisers’ impressive efforts were evident, managing over 100 constituents from all over the UK. The scale of the coalition was impressive: Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Action Against Hunger, Friends of the Earth, Islamic Relief, War Child and Parents for Palestine.  Oxfam campaigners first gave us training and advice on how to speak to MPs, which I found super useful; it can be easy to get nervous and have all my preparation vanish from my head. I wrote the three demands most important to me and why this would be better at aiding Palestinians that current government/opposition stances, jotting this all down in my notes app. Though I was also grateful that one of the Oxfam representatives said, “you don’t need to memorise every statistic – the MPs will often be familiar with those themselves – the most important part is the emotion behind it, showing why you care as a constituent.” I did feel that emotion behind it, remembering the stories of people who had suffered conflict. I particularly wanted to talk about a young Palestinian man (my age) who had spoken at a vigil near my constituency and his call to the international community. Oxfam platformed Palestinian voices just before the lobbying started. Dr Hanin Abou Salem, a doctor from Gaza told us about how she was completely unable to describe to her mother - who has lost her sight - the footage of what was happening in Gaza.

When my group was called, we walked the 10 minutes to the Houses of Parliament, showing our formal invites and going through security. It was exciting! I’d never been there before, and I got to see so much – including inside the House of Commons debate chamber I’d seen so often on TV! But being in the seat of power can be confronting to the reality of your own comfort. The contrast between the lives of those under peace and the lives of those suffering conflict is always harsh, and the grandeur of Parliament sharpened that feeling. The stately entrances, ornate carvings, chandeliers, sculptures. As the catering staff brought snacks and drinks round the room, I thought about Palestinian poet’s Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Think of Others”. The first line goes: “As you prepare your breakfast, think of others (do not forget the pigeon’s food)”. It’s a call to not run from that unease. The unease that while we ate, that there were people suffering starvation as a weapon of war. The unease that as we spoke to MPs with the power to make a difference, we were still seeing collective inaction from the UK Parliament.

But that call not to run is also what we as constituents were answering through our lobbying. The lobby room was booked for  several hours, with MPs and their staffers coming in to mill around and speak to people. I went up to speak to everyone I got the opportunity to, urging them to take Christian Aid’s demands seriously. I was warmly surprised by the coalition of MPs from across the political spectrum. Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (Labour) gave an impassioned speech, emphasising the importance of our shared humanity. Hearing about the Christian Aid constituent who had travelled 6-hours, Alison Thewliss (SNP) called the constituent’s MP to make sure that her long journey didn’t go unanswered. I spoke at length with Flick Drummond, the founder of Conservative Friends of Palestine.  Even though my MP, Jo Churchill – a minister, hadn’t attended, Flick told me that she knew Jo well and that she would personally pass on the message on that I cared about this as her constituent.

A group of over 100 campaigners from across the UK gathered in London on Thursday 14th March 2024 to meet with their local MP in the UK Parliament

As someone that has been actively engaged in emailing my MP for a long time, receiving the standard following-the-whip-public-approved email response can be disheartening. Now that we’d got through to speak to someone in person, meeting them eye to eye to explain why we cared was a lot different. I no longer felt as if I was shouting a wall – everybody that we spoke to was receptive to listening, motivated in ending suffering. I’m not saying this to say that MPs are secretly all great – especially, I think uncritical calls to ‘be nice to politicians’ can often be an underhanded plea to not hold them to account – but rather I mean that change through pressure is possible. The UK government’s complicity in this conflict has been horrendous, the number lives lost as Parliament has waited to call for a ceasefire is staggering. But speaking to the MPs and their staffers, I got the sense that – through repeated public pressure – that things were moving.  

That sense of repeated public pressure was where I really understood where the change was coming from.  MPs repeatedly and specifically said that emailing them really made a difference in how they prioritised their issues; Alison Thewliss said that her inbox was flooded with people demanding a ceasefire, that it was easily the top issue people were currently contacting her about. And that sense of public togetherness is what brought me the most hope. I thought about how my email calling for a ceasefire was one of thousands.  I thought about how so many different people that had come together – not just NGO campaigners, but students, workers, retired people, parents with their young children. Whilst I felt the unease about us all being in Parliament, I took a lot of hope from the fact it was “us all”. You maintain hope in the face of an unfeeling power through making it feel. 

Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ends: “As you think of others far away, think of yourself (say: If only I were a candle in the dark.)”. I love the “if only” in this line. It’s a reminder to think of “being a candle” as continually aspirational, it’s a warning to never to get self-congratulating or complacent in our efforts to make a more just world, but it’s also trust and encouragement to not give up, to keep pressuring. Two weeks after our day in Parliament, the UK voted for the United Nations Security Council’s resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza for the rest of Ramadan. This was an answered prayer, and we still need to maintain pressure on the UK government: that action is taken to ensure the ceasefire happens, that it becomes permanent, and that steps are taken for a just and lasting peace.  

If you would like to email your MP, follow the link here.

Christian Aid are demanding that the UK government:

  • Vote for an immediate & permanent ceasefire 
  • Stop arms sales to Israel  
  • Call out all international humanitarian law violations 
  • Fully fund UN-relief in Gaza 

You can find Mahmoud Darwish’s full poem here: Think Of Others - Palestine Advocacy Project