John McColgan to exhibit portraits from Palestine visit

Riverdance impresario met fishermen, farmers, settlers and rabbis in West Bank and Gaza

 

“I went with a very open mind, to try to meet people on the ground and understand how people were affected,” says John McColgan of his visit to Gaza and the West Bank in May. What he found is documented in an exhibition of photographs that opens in Dublin on Thursday.

For the Riverdance impresario, who travelled to the region with the aid agency Trócaire, it was an eye-opening trip. “I was really unprepared for what I found in terms of the human rights abuses, the settlements on Palestinian land, the open-air prison that is Gaza and the hopelessness that some of the people feel,” he says.

Critical of occupation

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In one picture are a husband and wife who lost three children in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Another shows Rabbi Arik Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights, which helps Palestinian farmers in the occupied territories.

“What really struck me was the stoicism and the dignity with which the Palestinian men and women could recount stories of the abuse that they have been through,” says McColgan. “What spoke to me was the faces. A lot of the portraits I did were people just looking into the camera . . . It really touched and affected me.”

McColgan also spoke to an Israeli government spokesman and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust musuem in Jerusalem. He describes his as “a partisan view, without apology”. While he can see the “understandable fear” that many Israelis feel, “it doesn’t forgive or allow for how they conduct their authority. It’s not a justification for human rights abuses, for air-raids on civilians.”

One of the threads running through the collection is a focus on Israelis who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

On the prospects for peace, McColgan heard little optimism.

“But it’s not intractable. It mustn’t be. We think of 30 years of violence and bitterness in Northern Ireland, and seemingly irreconcilable differences. To some people I met, Northern Ireland at least gave them hope.” The exhibition This is Palestine opens at the RHA Gallery at Ely Place in Dublin on Thursday and will run until October 18th.