Poetry and Motion - Amnesty's Annual Lecture at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
Award-winning author Jackie Kay began this year’s annual Amnesty Scotland Annual Lecture with a poem. Her son Matthew, sitting beside her on the stage, had made the documentary Over the Wall about a British football team’s trip to the West Bank in Palestine, and this was her introduction to his journey.
The poem makes reference to keys (“Stars glitter and shine like keys in the sky”), which Jackie explains are the keys to the doors of homes lost in the occupation, keys Palestinians took with them and pass down through generations in the hopes that they will one day return.
“Can we remember?
Can we forget?"
The poem’s last lines returned again and again as Matthew described his journey and showed us clips of the tense, poignant and often hilarious experience of leading a group of young British footballers through the Middle East during the Arab Spring. The transformation was remarkable.
At the team’s first match in Egypt, the focus was decidedly on themselves, and the object was simply to win: players for whom a tie was as good as defeat liberally dealt blame in very unsavoury language (which may have shocked some of the more genteel members of the audience) and appeared generally self-absorbed.
By the second match Matthew showed us in the Balata refugee camp, the players were beginning to see things in a different light. The Balata refugee camp was established in 1950. With a current population of 30,000, it is the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, though residents are packed into a space of less than half a mile.
With the horrendous living conditions in clear view, the British players could not help but be reminded of the daily struggles of their refugee opponents. Suddenly, winning the match was no longer a priority.
“The media, politicians in the West, don’t do the situation any justice,” said one player.
In one of the most poignant scenes, the players visit a school. It is clear that the children have been indoctrinated with a strong political message from a very young age, but having witnessed what their families are up against, the players understand: they are worried about their culture. They must remember, they must not forget where they came from, so parents and teachers pass it on and pass down their house keys to the new generation.
By the final game, football had taken on new meaning: “It’s more than a game, but the score doesn’t really matter,” says Matthew. Football is a gateway, a key to engaging with communities. He explains how the locals saw his camera as an opportunity to clear their name, to show that they were not terrorists, and that they belong to their land, their homes.
The key is remembering and not forgetting: remembering who we are, not forgetting the past; but also learning who others are, the story of our opponents on the pitch. Because when we understand the cares, tragedies, joys and challenges of others, winning ceases to be so important.
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