Tear gas, rubber bullets, and intense mental strain, – all in the name of love. How far would you go for the person you love?
As a child, Brittany-Star-Camus travelled and moved a lot with her family but always felt a powerful commitment to help others, and became particularly passionate about Palestine, its people and the culture. She tells me how she remembers returning to Dublin at the tender age of 13 and asking her older brother to take her to a protest that was taking place for the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. Now an adult, Brittany devotes her time working as an aid worker at Human Appeal Ireland who carry out humanitarian aid in Palestine. This is where she met co-worker Kifah Ajamia, a Palestinian refugee, and, undoubtedly, the love of her life.
Kifah Ajamia and his family came to Ireland in 2011 as refugees after fleeing the escalating war between Palestinians and the Israeli government. He became very active within the Human Appeal Organization too, working closely with his volunteer coordinator – Brittany. In October 2015, only months into their relationship, the two decided to travel to troubled Palestine, together, to visit Kifah’s extended family and friends who continue to live in refugee camps – as prisoners within their own country – and so Brittany could continue her charity work in the place that she always felt a connection to. During their planned travel, however, fighting in the region began and their safety was uncertain. Their journey there was trying, but particularly so for Brittany who was severely interrogated; enduring seven checkpoints with armed guards before being granted entry to Palestine with Kifah. Brittany recalls her memories of two of the seven checkpoints:
“I remember being interrogated by an Israeli soldier at one of the checkpoints. He was saying some awful things to me like they were going to chop my head off and that Kifah doesn’t care what happens to me, and that he thinks I’m worthless and scum. It didn’t process with me at the time that this man was holding a gun to me that could kill me at any minute. What I went through was only a tiny increment of what people from that part of the world have to go through every day. And even though it was hurtful at the time, those experiences really deepened my respect for Kifah and anyone living under those dreadful conditions”.
“At the Jordanian checkpoint, there are two different routes to bring you to the Israeli checkpoint: one is for Europeans and Americans, the other is for Arabs. When we arrive there was a bit of trouble about which route I should take and they tried to separate Kifah and I. Kifah had to tell the guards at the Jordanian border that we were married so they would let us travel together so we could avoid being separated”.
After the exasperating journey, Brittany and Kifah stayed within a family complex at the refugee camp for three weeks where they were totally submerged in the culture and lifestyle of the local people. Brittany commented about how normal life is there, despite the often-skewed media presence, and the on-going threat of war. She highlighted the impact that western civilisation has on that part of the world:
“A young girl in the camp we were staying in came to Kifah and me for advice about wearing a hijab after some classmates had begun picking on her for wearing it. Girls there had told her that it was hiding her beauty. My ideas were quite warped of Palestine before going there but the entire culture is becoming far more westernised. The majority of people don’t wear hijabs and most women wear jeans and a top as opposed to a full-bodied cloak. Palestine, Syria, Lebanon – they’re all very moderate with a big mix of ethnic cultures. I was drinking beer and smoking cigarettes without any problem. At the end of the day, these people are the same as us”.
Despite the conditions there, locals continue to live relatively normal life in between the random bursts of fighting, and while there, Brittany and Kifah were unfortunate enough to get caught up in a random attack, resulting in the pair being tear-gassed and fired at with rubber bullets. I asked her what it felt like, and her response was striking:
“Because I was with Kifah who had experienced being tear gassed before, it brought such a normality to it. Kifah and other people around us were making jokes. I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my face. It was very sore and really hard to breathe. The stinging didn’t stop for a very long time. It was a weird empathetic experience. In a strange way, I was glad that it happened so I could get a glimpse of what these people have to go through”.
While most couples tend to experience disagreements or trouble on their first trip away together, Brittany tells me that their trip to Palestine has brought them closer, and how she has unearthed a profound respect and appreciation towards Kifah and anyone in his situation.
“If anything, going to a place like Palestine has brought us closer together. I feel closer to him than anyone in this world and I think sharing all of those frightening experiences helped that”.
Although Brittany has since left Human Appeal Ireland, she and Kifah continue their work to help Palestinian refugees – together. They are hoping to return to Palestine very soon to continue their efforts and to help Kifah’s younger cousin Ramzi – who was left severely injured after a gun attack. The couple has started a special GoFundMe campaign to help raise enough money to get Ramzi life-saving treatment.