JULIA Gilkes nervously dips her eyes as the tape recorder clicks on - it's her first interview and she isn't sure what to expect. Just out of the West Bank, she's here as a messenger of the children of Palestine, the innocent victims in the spiralling violence tearing the country apart. She's nervous because she's not sure she will do a good job, it's too important for her to fail. She desperately wants to be the voice of those children who protest against the soldiers by sitting in the road with gags over their mouths as Israeli tanks thunder past them.
The hot chamomile tea in her hand is pulled close to her face after the photographer finishes taking pictures, she would have preferred a strong Cyprus coffee and less personal attention. Julia Gilkes does not want to be seen as a hero, despite her selfless devotion to Palestinian children over 12 years of work with non-governmental organisations in the region. Unfortunately, I couldn't give her the coffee or agree with her modest self- assessment. She is a hero, but of more importance to her is for the rest of the world to know the reality of life for Palestinians in Israel.
"It really is a catastrophe for these people. Palestinians are living without food, water or electricity. Dead bodies lie rotting in the streets. Families are ripped apart and men are tortured by the Israeli soldiers." Gilkes doesn't condone the acts of Palestinian terrorists, which is why her message is from the unheard, unseen children. However, she does pity all Palestinians. "Don't people ask themselves why are these people giving up their lives?"
Like all decent people, Gilkes is mortified by the horror and destruction of the suicide bombers but firmly believes the Israeli army is guilty of far greater acts of terror.
Long before the recent escalation in violence, Gilkes was in a queue at a checkpoint waiting in her car to get into Ramallah. She witnessed a husband and wife being refused entry. The woman had gone into labour. He pleaded with the soldiers but they refused to listen. Compelled to act, Gilkes offered to take the man's wife over the checkpoint in her car, utilising her privilege of working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO). The soldiers still refused. Beside himself, the man drove away trying to find another way of getting to a hospital through less patrolled back streets.
In a separate, more recent incident, at the same checkpoint another husband and wife waited in line as every person in front of them was abused and angrily refused entry by the soldiers. These Palestinians had spent hours getting the appropriate papers and were given no reason for refused entry. If they questioned the decision, they were lucky to get away with just verbal abuse. This woman was also pregnant, in labour, but in difficulties. The man begged for an hour while his wife screamed in agony. The soldiers laughed in his face. The husband returned to his wife and did what he could to help her give birth as the soldiers watched on. The baby died in his arms.
Gilkes lets out an emotional sign as her head drops. "In the media it is projected that these soldiers are going in to find the terrorists, but what they are doing is trashing people's homes and offices, and destroying their belongings. Everyone is treated like a terrorist."
"Last Sunday, 100 Palestinians were forced out of their flats at gunpoint. It was the middle of the night, dark and freezing. The soldiers made them stand outside for four hours while they set up an observation/sniper base at the top of the building." Gilkes voice cracks slightly, some of these people she knew personally.
"Then they were forced into one small flat, and half of them were children! There was one bathroom, they soon ran out of food and water and they cut off the electricity."
She has witnessed still worse. F16 fighter planes and helicopter gunships firing into refugee camps. On the following day an opinion poll suggested Israeli leader Ariel Sharon's popularity had risen from 48 per cent to 78 per cent in two weeks. "One million people are living in fear of their lives."
Gilkes admits that something snapped in her after that. The following day she sat next to a Bhuddist priest holding a placard saying 'Think about the children'. Tanks were firing over their heads.
The emotional strain of her message makes her pause, she realises people need to understand why the situation has reached such a barbaric state rather than just hear a roll of a list of horrors.
In her eyes, the problems between Israelis and Palestinians were made worse by the recent peace accord. The separation of the country into zones has been the catalyst of the recent tension between people. Palestinians were given different colour cards identifying the area they were from. It was supposed to define boundaries, like a border, but for Palestinians it has also meant loss of freedom of movement.
Israeli soldiers used the cards to stop them moving through the country. Students were prevented from travelling to their universities. Others were stopped from going to Jerusalem to pray. People in need of an operation to save their eyesight couldn't access the eye hospital. Children with disabilities who need specialised medicines that could only be obtained in Jerusalem would queue up at the checkpoint in the hot sun for hours waiting for a soldier to let them pass. Some would, others would be refused for no reason. Naturally the tension built, it was a boiling pot with the heat on full.
The memories are both painful and vivid. At 61, Gilkes is a mother of two and became a grandmother for the third time very recently. She had completed a hugely successful career in education that had taken her around the UK, nobody would have blamed her for settling into the cottage she always dreamed of and tending her garden. But when the opportunity arose 12 years ago to work in the Middle East, she took it.
Initially, she entered the occupied territories as a volunteer, the idea was to stay for two years. She quickly realised that she wanted to stay for longer and could do a lot more. Her role has been to develop the education system as an early childhood education advisor working for UNICEF and then for various NGOs.
Her commitment to her work has been unswerving; she stayed through the Gulf war and carried on despite reaching retirement age over a year ago. Reluctantly, she admits that one of her reasons for leaving now is personal. Her father lost his battle against cancer last September, and looking after her 81-year-old mother has fallen on her after both her sisters took the responsibility for a while. But while back in the UK she will not forget about the struggles of her close friends in the Middle East, she intends to write a book chronicling her years there.
She admits the hostility she has faced from Israeli soldiers and fundamentalists has, at times, been frightening. Regularly, soldiers at checkpoints try to intimidate her, verbally abusing her for trying to help people in need. She has lost count of the times they have accused her of taking an Arab lover or carrying a bomb. For some women in their 60s it may have worked, but Gilkes is trained as a mountain walker. She just focused on her destination.
Asked if she would return, her answer suggests that she will take the opportunity should it arise. When pressed on her thoughts about the dangers of going back and the bravery she displays by doing so she shrugs dismissively. "I'm not a hero." She wants the focus to be on the people she has left behind, the ones who are fighting for a normal life. The little children who stand in the street and throw stones at the tanks, they are the brave ones."
Copyright Cyprus Mail 2002
NEITHER side in the Cyprus dispute is going to get everything it wants, but both Greek and Turkish Cypriots will gain more than they will lose from a settlement, British Foreign Office Minister responsible for Cyprus and EU enlargement Peter Hain's said yesterday.
At a bicommunal lecture entitled 'Our Future in Europe' at the UN- controlled Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia last night, Hain, who is on a two- day visit to the island, said he applauded the two leaders who were currently involved in direct negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem.
"For any negotiation to succeed, there must be give and take on both sides, he said. "Neither side is going to get all of what it wants. But both sides will gain: a win-win for all the peoples of Cyprus. I believe that it will prove possible to find a settlement which respects everyone's vital interests. It is essential that this is achieved."
He said that despite the slow progress of the talks, there was still time to achieve the "best case scenario".
"Although the note of concern over the slowness of progress struck last week by the Security Council needs to be heeded," he added.
President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash have been chided by the UN Security Council for failing to make enough progress until now to make a June agreement possible to coincide with the close of Cyprus' EU accession negotiations.
"The UK, like all its EU partners, wants a re-united island to join the EU, " Hain said.
"Such a win/win situation would be best for everyone - for all of you, and for all of us: the UK, the EU, and the region as a whole. We want to see Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots playing a full role in the institutions of an enlarged European Union. We believe you have much to contribute to the EU, as well as to gain from it," he said adding that the EU was determined to find ways to help make a solution work.
"Accession by a re-united Cyprus would be an example to all Europeans of what Enlargement can achieve," he said.
The solution of the Cyprus problem would give "a massive boost" to the reconciliation of Greece and Turkey, added Hain. "And who seriously doubts that, if Turkey joins the European Union, that historic dispute will be over? There is an opportunity here to be taken or to be missed. Let us hope it will be taken."
The British politician said he had taken the risk of speaking of a brighter future before it was secured. "I have done so because I believe a settlement can be achieved this year, and that we can all find ourselves, as partners and friends, working together for the future of Europe. Whether we do so is up to you and to your leaders," the told the invited Greek and Turkish Cypriot audience.
Hain will today meet Clerides and hold a working lunch with Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides. He will also meet Denktash, as well as with British members of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus.
Copyright Cyprus Mail 2002
CONSERVATION work being carried out in the ancient amphitheatre of Curium outside Limassol, have caused outrage in both tourists and tour guides, who claim the £2.8 million works are destroying the ancient archaeological site.
The spark that set off the flurry of concern is the use of heavy machinery to remove the plaques from the top row of seats at the amphitheatre. People were also worried about the presence of bulldozers on the site, fearing the heavy digging machines would cause considerable damage to Curium's famed mosaics.
However, Director of Antiquities Sofoclis Hadjisavvas told a news conference at the site yesterday that to suggest that archaeologists wanted to destroy anything of archaeological value was like saying a doctor preferred killing his patients.
"We are preservationists, not destroyers," he said.
Hadjisavvas explained that the amphitheatre had been reconstructed in 1950, and that the plaques had been set there with concrete, so in order to do any work, the scientists had to carefully remove the plaques with heavy machinery.
"As you saw when you entered the amphitheatre grounds, the refurbishing crew, who are all members of the antiquities department, not the civil engineers, are removing some plaques. Under the plaques, you can see that there is concrete. The concrete was placed in the 50s when the amphitheatre was reconstructed."
Hadjisavvas went on to explain that in order to keep an archaeological site safe and in working order for visitors, preservation work needed to be carried out constantly.
"If you don't look after a house it will eventually collapse, and if you don't take care of Curium, the site will just eventually be destroyed", Hadjisavvas said.
The antiquities boss added that the plaques were being removed in order to install underground wiring to upgrade the amphitheatre's electrical system, used in theatre productions.
"The plaques are new, they come from Kivides", he says, "if any ancient plaques are removed, this is only to recondition them".
Further works will take place in the stage area, with the construction of a wooden stage and the installation of portable dressing rooms to accommodate actors.
"All works carried out on the grounds are to the visitor's benefit and to improve the amphitheatre's function in its present form."
But the amphitheatre is not the only place the scientists will focus on. Special covers or shelters are to be constructed over the mosaics, and a special membrane will be used to protect them from UV radiation.
"We have also been accused over that, because we are using bulldozers, but the presence of the bulldozers is necessary in order to bore holes in which we will attach the shelters, Hadjisavvas explained. "We cannot hang the shelters from the clouds."
A new cafeteria and museum are also to be constructed on the site, including an information office. Hadjisavvas said that in no way would the new buildings cause any damage to the site and reassured the public that the buildings were to be constructed in a special way so that they could be removed if the need arose. The project is expected to take up to 18 months to be completed.
Copyright Cyprus Mail 2002
PEOPLE could start having heart problems as young as 20 or 30 if they display all risk factors at an early age, a doctor at Nicosia's Makarios Hospital warned yesterday.
Paediatric cardiologist Dr. Panayiotis Zarvos told the Cyprus Mail that, although bad eating habits and a lack of exercise would not immediately be detrimental to a child's heart, they could and would affect them later in life.
The specialist was referring to a local study that showed 10 per cent of children, aged between 11 and 12, had seven to 11 per cent of their arteries blocked, and that their diet and physical condition showed they were predisposed to heart conditions, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
The risk factors involved in later life heart problems were the same worldwide, said Zarvos.
"Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), hypertension (high blood pressure), smoking, obesity, hyperglycemia (such as diabetes) and psychosocial tensions (such as stress) all contribute to heart problems in adulthood."
"Lifestyle can compound the problem as well," he said, "depending on whether you exercise a lot, or are a couch potato."
But, Zarvos said, medical professionals could modify high cholesterol levels by regulating a person's diet.
"Saturated fats, found mainly in animal fat, should be reduced. This includes all forms of fast food, bacon, sausages, liver, kidneys and particularly brains. That is the worst of the lot. You can eat beef, pork and lamb depending on the amount of fat on it, but it's better to eat white meat such as chicken, rabbit, turkey and fish. Dairy products such as butter and cheese are also very high in saturated fat"
He said that although people believed they should eat liver because of the iron, they should not.
"Iron can be found in spinach and pulses," he said. "You do not need to eat liver to get iron."
Children, he said, should be eating more polysaturated fats such as fish, vegetables and pulses so that they learn healthy eating habits.
"Studies have showed that problems can start as early as infancy," said Zarvos, "depending on what kind of milk children are being fed".
He said some milk was much higher in fat content than others, and that the best form of milk for a child to take was breast milk.
"But because mothers are not always able to breast feed, it would be best if they checked the nutritional chart on the side of the powder milk to ensure that it is neither high in fat, sugar or salt."
Children pick up bad habits at an early age, he said, and by feeding them foods rich in fat, sugar and salt, they will become accustomed to them and want them later on in life.
Prevention must start at a very early age, Zarvos said.
"Although children do not have blocked arteries as such, you can spot slight changes. For instance, their artery walls are thicker than those of children that eat healthily and exercise. In fact, post mortems on US soldiers showed significant evidence of coronary artery disease in men as young as 20."
Parents should remember to make frequent visits to their paediatrician, he added, saying there were charts that outlined what weight a child should be, according to its height and age.
"If the child is not within those parameters," he said, "then there is a problem and something must be done about it." He could not say what energy intake a child should be taking, since it all depended on a number of factors including levels of physical activity.
"The more a child exercises, the more it can eat."
But, he said, that meant eating more polysaturated fats and natural source carbohydrates such as honey, fruit, pasta and rice and not saturated fats.
"Eating habits have to start early on in life. Parents frequently push their children to finish everything on their plates, when in fact they are actually satisfied well before that. We should listen to children. They know when they've had enough and stop. By pushing them, they learn to eat more than they should and then carry on overeating when they are older.
"But this does not mean giving them pizzas and burgers. Instead parents must give them healthy meals, like the so-called Mediterranean diet I mentioned before - rich in polysaturated fats. This will then teach them to like these types of food and they'll eat them when they're adults.
"Likewise, active children tend to be active adults. That's why parents should insist their children get outside and exercise. If they don't get into the habit at a young age it will be much harder later on."
Although risk factors do not affect a child's health immediately, the more risk factors it displays later on in life, the higher the chance of developing a problem at an early age and the more serious that problem will be.
Zarvos said that an extreme case of a child living in a smoky home, who is diabetic, obese, eats very fatty, salty foods and has higher blood pressure than normal, could easily have a heart problem as early as 20.
"Even though children won't notice the problems yet, they are already predisposed to them through bad dietary habits and lack of exercise. They might not have high blood pressure yet, but it will be higher than another child that eats normally. My advice is that they change their eating patterns and fit more activity into their lives."
Copyright Cyprus Mail 2002
The campaign will end on May 13, and aims to prevent and clamp down on the dangerous and illegal use of such explosives.
In the past, people using firecrackers and fireworks have been killed, maimed or burned in accidents. Many of those hurt are children.
Police said they would be co-operating with local, community, church and educational authorities to see that students and youths were well informed of the dangers.
Pharmacists will also be given a list of chemical products the police consider to be combustible and have been warned not to sell any amount, however small, to anyone under the age of 18.
Police called on chemists, sellers of hunting equipment and shops to help them avoid any accidents this year, warning them that according to the law they have a duty to do so.
Easter is on May 5.
Copyright Cyprus Mail 2002