'My eyes were opened by Palestine journey'
BASKING in olive groves under a hot sun sounds like an ideal holiday, but for one Whitstable resident it was an eye-opening experience.
When Richard Stainton went on an olive harvest tour in Palestine, in the Middle East, he stayed with families in Bethlehem, visited a refugee camp and saw the towering 350-mile wall, dubbed the Apartheid Wall by some, because it divides Israelis and Palestinians.
Almost 40 per cent of Palestinians in the West Bank are aged under 14.
Mr Stainton, 66, says not only are they growing up under military occupation but their prospects for employment and safe and secure family life are limited.
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He said: "I saw so much and met so many interesting people that it is difficult to share my experience with other people in a manageable way. But during the trip what Palestinians most frequently said to me was 'please just tell people what you have seen'."
A year on and the things Mr Stainton saw on the tour with Zaytoun, a company importing Palestinian produce to the UK, are still clearly on his mind.
So the Sydenham Street resident is holding a free slide show called West Bank ABC at Whitstable's Labour Club tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday at 7pm.
He has chosen to illustrate his travels with an alphabet of 26 photos, each letter matching a photo and accompanied by a few words.
He explained: "Each letter of the alphabet prompts a theme or idea.
"O was for olive because olive growing is a way of life and basic source of income for many Palestinian families. At the same time that means to survival is threatened by the building of illegal settlements and wanton destruction of olive trees – many of them hundreds of years old."
He also chose wall for W.
"This is the 350-mile long barrier that is being built by the Israeli government. In some places this is a ten-metre high concrete construction with watchtowers, and in more rural areas a razor wire fence, but wherever it goes it divides communities, bars Palestinian farmers from their own olive groves and blocks Palestinians travelling without special passes."
Israel was established in 1948, when many Palestinian families were displaced from their homes and villages. Since then they have demanded the right to return.
Many fled to neighbouring countries but others stayed in camps in Palestine and many elderly residents still brandish keys from their original homes, in the hope they will one day return.
The entrance to the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem (pictured) has a giant key over its entrance as a symbol of the right to return.
Richard said: "So far, that hasn't happened and the key is the symbol of that continuing struggle.
"From our armchairs in the UK it is easy to think of refugees as living in tents but many Palestinians have been refugees now for 65 years so the refugee camps in the West Bank have become block buildings – but they are still not 'home'."
Mr Stainton is a member of the Faversham and Whitstable Palestine Solidarity Campaign – which was set up two years ago.
He was asked by the group to share his memories and impressions of the trip.
"Throughout my adult life I have believed in fairness, justice, human rights and greater equality. During the 1990s I became increasingly aware of the Palestinians' struggle for justice and human rights and I decided I want to campaign in support," he said.
"It is also shocking to me that the international community – particularly the United States which gives Israel the biggest share of US aid – does not demand a fair deal for the Palestinians and allows Israel to continue its illegal settlement building and inhuman siege of Gaza.
"Like an increasing number of other people I think and say that what has happened to the Palestinians is wrong and needs to be put right."
For more information about the group's campaigning and how to join visit http://favershamwhitpsc.wordpress.com.