Visiting the Middle East

Busy week so only just catching up on blog now – first there was a visit to the Middle East and then it was the Trident vote. So here goes with my retro-blog, part one…

I am not going to do a blow by blow account of my two days in Israel and one day in the West Bank. So instead here is an over-arching view of the impressions and information gleaned from the trip.

I was travelling with my Liberal Democrat colleague, Michael Moore, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. We were going under our own party’s steam as we wanted to avoid any possibility of pressure from either side.

We had briefing after briefing after briefing – from military intelligence, to politicians, to journalists. On both sides, almost everyone we met had a different view of the situation.

What is virtually indescribable is the intensity with which each person we met gave us their briefing – as if a desperate plea for us to see it from their perspective. And the emotional intensity of such onslaughts was draining as for those three days I was caught up in the Middle East’s cauldron of troubles.

I learned a huge amount. This is my first trip as International Development spokesperson, and whilst I will constrain my travel to those areas where I believe it is important to visit personally – it was clear to me on this trip that for situations like this one, there is very little to compare with seeing for yourself and hearing for yourself – from both sides.

My key request for the trip had been to add in a visit to a school to see what aid was doing in terms of education in conflict zones – which I have made my priority for campaigning for the Lib Dems. Save the Children therefore arranged for me to visit the Kalandia School which serves the Kalandia Refugee Camp in Ramallah. They had arranged one of a series of workshops being carried out with a local partner – Pyalara (Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation).

The class I met was a group of around thirty 15 year old girls. The idea was to empower young people to get their voices and issues heard. Two women from Pyalara were trying to get the girls to understand how to use the media to raise their voices about their problems. In an earlier workshop they had identified their biggest problem as early marriage. It stopped their opportunities and their futures – but culturally it was very difficult to speak up on the issue. Three of the girls in the class were married already. The workshop went through how to identify the key story, how to raise it in the media and how to campaign to get the issues around early marriage into the media etc.

It was such an eye opener in terms of how bad things can be, how much needs doing and how vital work is being done through aid agencies to build the capacity for the future.

More to follow soon … but in the meantime you can see some photos from the trip on my Flickr account.