Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gill Dye - A Personal Tribute to a Remarkable Woman

In my life I have had the privilege of knowing some amazing and inspirational people. On 14th February we lost one of the most amazing, my friend Gill Dye. It has taken me this long to feel able to write something, partly because it has been so painful to do so, but also because I so want what I say to do her justice. Most people will never have heard of her, she got on with her mission quietly but with the kind of determination that moves mountains. Despite her failing health, she convinced us all that she would get better, having battled against cancer the damage to her lungs was limiting her life, but not, we believed wrongly, cutting it short. When just before Christmas she was told she wouldn't be able to fly again she was devastated but then began working out alternative routes to get to her beloved Israel/Palestine. As someone at her funeral on Thursday remarked, if pure will power could keep someone alive Gill would have lived forever! Not just because she loved life, but more importantly because she had so much more to do and who else was there who would do it?

Simon Hughes, Patrick Hall, Elias Chacour, Gill Dye, Alistair Burt - Elijah Trust Westminster 2007

As a friend Gill was someone who would never judge you, would be that listening ear regardless of her suffering. You always felt that she put your pain before hers. The only time she ever chastised me was over the height of my heels - reminding me that a time would come when I would have to settle for sensible shoes - although I had to remind her that on the three occasions I went flying while we were on a trip to Israel - I was wearing flats at the time!

Gill was a remarkable woman on so many levels, her faith had a depth that I have never encountered in anyone else. Her suffering both emotionally - losing her husband Peter and her son Jon over the past 7 years - and physically, battling cancer herself, was dwarfed only by the depth of suffering she felt for the Palestinian people. And yet that suffering which would have shaken the faith of many, just made her stronger and more of a witness to the love of God. Gill was Director of Elijah Trust and as such was an advocate not just for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, but for their brothers and sisters in the occupied territories. While I was preparing what I wanted to say on behalf of the trustees of Elijah Trust at her funeral - I came across an email exchange which for me summed her up. She had written in some detail to the members of Labour Friends of Israel about the attack on Gaza, urging them to be true friends of Israel and tell their friend that what they were doing was not only wrong but counter productive. One response, from Eric Joyce MP suggested "In truth, I suspect that your intention in all of this is simply to feel good about yourself. Can I suggest you take up carpet bowls instead." Clearly she rattled his cage! What he had failed to understand was that Gill, like many of us, had come from a Christian Zionist background, along with her husband Peter, a Baptist Minister, she had travelled a long painful road to a realisation that there could be no peace without justice and that a system which oppressed others and denied them justice and equality was totally at odds with her faith.

Peter and Gill founded Elijah Trust as a result of reading "Blood Brothers" and meeting with "Abuna" Elias Chacour . Abuna, now Melkite Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee, says in his tribute to Gill -

"She was very special to me, close to my heart and devoted to our projects of
education. You know in the past years the Elijah Trust which she headed
efficiently till she became physically weak. This trust has been very
helpful in building the Miriam Bawardi Elementary School for 985 children.

She used to come to the school as if she were coming to her own family. We
always felt that she is so far from the Holy land; we wanted her to be
closer. Now she is very close to our memory, to our heart."

And Elijah Trust also supports the work of Mossawa and the Committee for Educational Guidance for Arab Students

Jafar Farah, Director of Mossawa said of Gill -

"From the moment we met with Gill, we knew she was a special woman. Her interest and commitment to us as both an organisation and as the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel was always strong and evident in her concern for us. Even during her difficult times in the past 2 years, she still maintained contact and tried to find ways for our issues to be heard.

On the professional level, Gill and the Elijah Trust are not just friends, but allies for justice and peace in our region. Over the years they presented our issues to church communities as well as political leaders and NGOs in the UK.

As friends and family, we will find a way to commemorate Gill here in Haifa. Her love for us was never faltering, and we will miss her visits and the care we felt while she was with us."

And Sofi Dalal from SEGAS -

"Gill, when no-one believed in us, you helped revitalize our work. Thanks you and to your efforts as the Director of the Elijah Trust, you supported our dormitories, and today we have 30 Arab students safely living in our dorms which you helped to renovate or these students and generations to come. We saw in you a giving soul that gave love to all those around you. You took us into your heart and we took you into our hearts."

There is no doubt Gill has left a lasting legacy, both physically and spiritually. For those of us left behind our challenge is to seek to take on her mantle. To ensure that her work continues and that in seeking to build peace in Israel/Palestine the important role the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel can play is fully utilized. That will surely be the most fitting memorial for such an exceptional woman.

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