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Peace activist brings joy to bleak Gaza City

Fiery, passionate and emotive, Gibsons resident Anita Couvrette is serious about peace.

Fiery, passionate and emotive, Gibsons resident Anita Couvrette is serious about peace.

Couvrette recently returned from a Code Pink peace delegation in Gaza City where she met with community leaders, visited schools and hospitals and helped in the construction of children's playgrounds.

But for Couvrette, the story of day-to-day life for the Gazans is more important than her own story.

"The first day of the itinerary was to go see the incredible damage that is still sitting there, frozen in time. That was the eeriest part. It just sits there," she said. "[The buildings are] like bombed out shells with vacant eyes bearing testament to this horror that was dumped on the people."

Couvrette said she saw a city of about 1.5 million people living in an area the size of the Sunshine Coast where sanitation, health services, water treatment and government infrastructure had been destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, the January siege of Gaza by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). The IDF launched a 22-day assault on the city in response to the election of Hamas as the Gaza government.

Couvrette said the Gazan people's troubles are compounded by the borders being virtually closed for all. Only 30 to 40 essential items are permitted into Gaza, and no citizens, regardless of circumstances, are allow to leave.

"Many people call Gaza an open air prison. Other people say it's worse than a prison because in prison, people are fed. In Gaza, they're being slowly starved. If it wasn't for tunnels and the black market, everyone would totally be in dire straits," she said.

Couvrette's delegation, along with three others, were nearly prevented from entering Gaza through the Egyptian border. Tireless negotiations by her delegation members with Egyptian bureaucrats resulted in their safe passage into Gaza and allowed the peace mission to proceed.

Despite scenes of violence and loss, Couvrette was able to find some beautiful moments that underline her commitment to bringing help and awareness to the life Gazans now face.

Couvrette and the rest of her delegation were lucky enough to have accommodations with a Gazan family whose home had been spared in the bombing. The family went to great sacrifice to feed and shelter Couvrette and the other Code Pink delegates, resulting in a lasting bond.

Couvrette also found warm moments with the doctors, woman politicians and local leaders, who she said are grateful for some attention from the outside world to their plight.

"The things I remember most are the places where hugs happened," she said.

A warm gesture of peace was not all the Code Pink delegates brought, though. Part of their mission was to install three new playgrounds for the children of Gaza.

After installing the first two, the delegates learned it was difficult to work while curious kids mobbed the work sites in excitement.

Couvrette, who works with children on the Coast and has experience in clowning, was assigned the job of entertaining kids while the workers assembled the playground. She blew bubbles and played games like Ring Around the Rosie, sometimes with more than 150 kids to keep an eye on.

"My job really would be to keep the kids as far away from the building as possible. Me and my bubble bear and my skills as a clown in the hot sun for three or four hours, that was really hard work," she said.

"That was the last really full day in Gaza and by then I had heard so many sad stories. I was so overwhelmed by that point, I wasn't sure if I blew the bubbles for the children or if I blew the bubbles for me because I couldn't take it anymore," she said.

Despite the seemingly endless strife in the region, Couvrette maintains faith that peace can be achieved.

Her impressions of the citizens of Gaza she brought home are of a loving people who value family and education above all else and that the majority of people there seek no wider war with Israel.

"If all the parties in the Middle East abided by the rule of law, we might see peace in the Middle East, but all of them need to do that," she said. "[Gazans] don't hate their Jewish neighbours. They hate bombs."