Yesterday was mostly a happy day.
Happy because we spent the morning in a refugee camp based high school for boys where we were welcomed as if we were royalty. I have been to a great many school assemblies in my time but never one like this before.
At first the speeches, poems and songs were offered to us all – sitting among the boys and the Authority officials – in a formal and disciplined way. I realised shortly after my arrival that Palestinian men love to make speeches and I understand here that this craft is finely honed as part of the curriculum. The passionate and fiery delivery of fine words, young man followed by young man, was greeted with delight by classmates. There couldn’t be broader smiles across the hundreds of teenage faces – that certainly isn’t something you get to see every day back home.
Soon the formalities began to melt a little in the sunshine and by close of play – after being spoken at, drummed around, sung with, danced with and applauded wildly just for being there, it was time to go to see the cement being poured onto the now complete roof of the new house.
I was asked – just before we left – to say some words in thanks.
I told the boys that I had fallen in love with Palestine and was proud and privileged to take their stories back to Scotland where I would work hard, as they are doing in school, to open the eyes of Scotland to what is happening to the Palestinian people.
I told them that our national flower is the thistle as it grows strong, with its face to the sun, in conditions other flowers would wither in, and no matter how much others might try to control its growth it survives with pride.
I tried, in the few moments I had with that microphone in my hands, to explain to them that as I was walking along a road looking at the wall – that concrete aberration slashing across the beauty of the land – two things happened. I fell in love with Palestine and I realised that we shared the thistle and all it stood for.
And they stood up and roared approval. I have never felt so moved in a school assembly. I really pray those boys can keep shining.