Eyes in Gaza, a book which Quartet reprinted as an updated edition two years ago, remains as relevant today as it was after Israel’s onslaught – which to all purposes destroyed the Palestinian enclave of refugees and Hamas fighters, causing thousands of deaths and a tragedy almost unparalleled in modern times.
So it is refreshing for a change to read that Kate Rothschild, a daughter of one of the world’s most famous Jewish dynasties, and notorious for leaving her husband, Ben Goldsmith, for a rapper, is found in Gaza risking kidnap, on a humanitarian mission in search of a solution to the problem that fresh drinking water is in short supply, adding to the miseries of the trapped inhabitants.
Charlotte Edwards, writing for The Times, caught up with Kate leaning over the balcony of their hotel in Gaza City, having a fag.
Below, to the thud and jungle of Arabic music, women are swimming fully clothed in the pool, where across the road is a Hamas military camp. Edwards describes Kate as ‘calm, her Lady of Shallot hair hoicked into an untidy ponytail,’ while the interviewer states: ‘I’m not, still sweating from a manic check of the room – shower, wardrobe, cupboard under the basement – for hidden jihadists.’
She adds: ‘It’s exactly a year since the fifty-two-day bombardment of Israeli F-16s and while the danger of kidnapping is low, I’m wondering if, in this Hamas-governed, Fatah-operated enclave – with a smattering of Islamic State-supporting Salafists – someone may make an exception for a daughter of the world’s most famous Jewish dynasty. After all, the Rothschilds helped build Israel – including the Knesset and Courts of Justice, and the Balfour Declaration – official British support for a Jewish home in Palestine – was actually a letter from Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild. So if you’re going to target anyone… Don’t worry, Kate smiles, pounding out her fag, “If they come I’ll point at you and say that’s Kate there.”’
Without meeting Kate, I find her a woman of immense courage who must have realised that such a trip is fraught with danger but, nevertheless, discarded her own safety to give succour, and alleviate to some degree what such a tragedy causes to a civilian population trying to survive.
‘And there is an additional unspoken layer to her commitment; her father loved this land. Some Israelis have called her a traitor,’ Edwards says, ‘but Rothschild remains the queen of glacial reserve.’
But for me, a most moving e-mail Kate subsequently sent to her interviewer sums it all up. She says:
I could write page after page on Gaza. I fell in love and had my heart broken countless times. I wept at the devastation but also laughed with the brilliant, funny, brave people I meet. The humour is like Israelis: dark, matter of fact. It’s not surprising; both nations were born into war, front-line living, shoulder to shoulder to death.
Humour helps them cope. Gaza is an embattled yet magical place, noble and proud in the face of extreme, unacceptable suffering. I leave the region with the same heavy feelings people, much brighter and more eloquent, have described through the years.
I have just one small, unfurling seed of optimism; knowing that if water could be disentangled from war, it presents a genuine opportunity for cooperation and relationship-building between neighbours. In all the gloom there is a glimmer of hope and its right there, in the water.
What a considerable woman she’s proved to be. People like her, with such empathy and courage, are rare to find.
Perhaps peace, after all, is still within reach.