Creating new perspectives since 2009

Connecting over carrots from Belfast to Rafah

January 9, 2024 at 4:44 pm

A picture of the carrots grown by Assistant Professor Brendan Ciarán Browne allowed him to connect to Palestinians in Gaza in December 2023

I don’t profess to being much of a grower of fresh fruit and vegetables. However, I recently planted a variety of seeds in my greenhouse and I am beginning to reap the (very partial) rewards of a modest harvest.

Like anyone who tries something without doing proper research in advance, my inaugural homegrown carrots were stunted by a failure to bury them deep enough. I was, nevertheless, overjoyed with my haphazard and disfigured crop, turning to share this delight on social media platform X.

Posting carrot content, I thought, was a fairly innocuous act of muted self-aggrandisement, and admittedly an outlier on my twitter feed, one which has been focused on advocacy, capturing the horrors of a western-sponsored genocide of the Palestinian people, my own way of ensuring that those who have chosen silence and denial are unable to avoid what is presented before their eyes.

And yet, this simple picture of homegrown carrots, produced in my back yard in Belfast, brought me back into direct contact with Gaza. My inbox went ping with a message from Rafah, the Gaza Strip’s southern-most city.

Looking at the message, I was greeted with a picture of my carrot content shared back at me, alongside a simple message that said: “This post made my day.” A wonderful conversation ensued, the content of which will remain private, with an even more remarkable realisation that both the sender and I share mutual friends in Palestine. Since then, I have to admit, I have been completely overwhelmed, thinking more than ever about the importance of our transnational connections.

READ: UN body calls for independent probe into Israel’s targeting of journalists

Social media has been a crucial feature of Gaza’s communication to the outside world, a necessity for a people living under a siege that is nothing short of another crime against humanity to add to the ever-expanding Israeli charge sheet. Through various social media platforms, the horrors of a genocide in Gaza have been documented and disseminated to a global audience. In activist circles (and beyond), Gaza’s digital content creators, including journalists, are household names. Their determination to ensure that the world can never claim “we didn’t know” is as humbling as it is inspiring.

Despite being some 2,536 miles away as the crow flies, social media has made the physical distance between my home town of Belfast and Gaza irrelevant. Every social media engagement, no matter how seemingly innocuous, reaffirms our bonds of connectedness and enhances our transnational camaraderie.

Palestine has taught me everything, more than I can articulate fully and accurately, not least the importance of connection to a land that is rich and fertile.

Anyone who has spent meaningful time there will appreciate the true taste of a Palestinian tomato, or a cucumber that actually has a flavour.

It was in Palestine that I learned to cook properly, being fortunate enough to live in a beautiful, old Arab house in Bethlehem, one that had a large garden which was my landlady’s pride and joy. I would regularly help her water the land, trim the branches and gather up the produce as it fell from the trees. The garden was an oasis of calm where we spent most of our evenings, planning our work at the nearby Al-Quds University.

READ: Former senior US Defence official, ex-diplomat condemns US stance on Gaza as ‘indefensible’

It was also in Palestine that I learned the importance of using all that the land can provide. I learned how to cook with the seasons, and developed a cadre of recipes that incorporated all that was growing outside: lemons, apricots, rosemary, mint, almonds and olives, to name but a few.

Beyond developing ways of combining a hotchpotch of fruits and vegetables into one meal, I learned the value of treating the land with deep respect. Look after the land and it will look after you. I witnessed the relentless labour of my landlady, her daily irrigation of the soil, her pruning, and her meticulous gathering of all that had been produced.

In a world of over-consumption and resource exploitation, I learned the value and importance of zero waste. Preserves and chutneys were made with anything that was left over. I learned the value of community, witnessing our landlady take extra fruits and vegetables from her patch, delivering to our neighbours on the street who didn’t have much by way of garden space.

Palestine taught me so much, and yet I continue to learn from it every day. The bonds of Palestinian connection to the land are unbreakable, deeply rooted and will never be relinquished, despite the genocidal intent of those who show nothing but reckless disdain for a land they claim to own.

READ: 30 Kuwait groups call on gov’t to back South Africa’s case against Israel a ICJ

So, to the person who sent me the direct message, and who will remain anonymous, thank you. I am glad that I chose to post that picture of my “higgeldy-piggeldy” carrots on Sunday, and I am equally glad that it made your day. For what it’s worth, your message made mine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.