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News 28 Aug 14

Bosnians Dig Deep for Relief in Gaza

A series of events in Bosnia has shown the strong level of support in the country for the victims of the conflict in Gaza - where the de-facto siege stirs memories of Sarajevo's own experience in the 1990s.

Eleanor Rose

Two Palestinian film directors won an award at the recently closed Sarajevo Film Festival - further confirmation that victims of the conflict in Gaza enjoy strong support among many people in Bosnia.

Left-wing British film director Ken Loach flew to Sarajevo to present the Katrin Cartlidge award on August 21 to two Palestinian filmmakers, Abdel Salam Shehadeh and Ashraf Mashharawi, praising their “courage to resist”.

Loach said: “I know the people here will know the struggle and bravery you need when you are under siege, and you feel the pain of people of Gaza like no one else. These two people are not only surviving, but are making extraordinary films.”

The symbolic gesture formed part of a range of activities by Bosnians who have staged protests, lectures and fundraising events since Israel began air strikes on Gaza in July.

The chairman of Bosnia’s Palestinian Diaspora Association, Mohammad Hamad, meanwhile on Wednesday said he hoped to raise €200,000 this summer for humanitarian projects in Gaza, where Israeli military operations that began on July 8 have left more than 2,100 dead and 250,000 displaced.

Hamad said Bosnians had already donated €25,000. Hostilities in Gaza have paused as the result of an open-ended ceasefire announced on Tuesday, but humanitarian aid is still needed.

Hamad said he hoped to raise €200,000 this summer for relief initiatives in conjunction with the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, as well as leaders of the Sarajevo municipality of Novigrad, and a collection of community organisations.

The details of the campaigns were not yet decided, but would be made clear in the coming weeks, he said.

Hamad added that €25,000 had already been raised, and that one man, who experienced the 1992-95 war in Sarajevo as a child, had donated a month’s wages.

“I know that his salary is not more than 1,000KM [€500] but I was so impressed when he called me and said he wanted to donate,” Hamad said.

“When I opened [the envelope he gave], it contained 1,000 KM. Can you imagine? When I said ‘It’s too much,’ he said, ‘No. Please, I know what they are suffering. I suffered this, too,’" said Hamad.

About 400 people took to the streets of Sarajevo on July 18 to protest against Israeli bombings of Gaza.

Meanwhile, Sarajevo’s Mayor, Ivo Komsic, sent an open letter to diplomats based in Bosnia, asking them to appeal to their governments to help end the violence between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza.

Bosnians have a history of supporting humanitarian projects in Gaza, with which they identify for a number of reasons, but mainly to do with the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995.

In 2009, locals raised €100,000 for projects to rebuild two schools, as well as fund a water project in the north-Gaza city of Jabalia, called the Well of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Support for Palestine in Bosnia is, however, mainly confined to the country's Muslim community. Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska – the smaller of Bosnia’s two entities – in July announced “unconditional support” for Israel’s military activity in Gaza.

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