Born in Tavistock, Devon, into the family of an experienced British Arabist diplomat, Sir Harold Beeley KCMG CBE, Vanessa Beeley was to be uprooted just a couple of months later to move with her father and mother to an official posting in Geneva. In 1967, her father, a lifelong advocate for Palestine, was appointed to work in Cairo as peace envoy. In this post, he was also accompanied by his wife and a now three-year-old Vanessa. Immersed in his Middle Eastern passion and profession, her father lived for his work. As he worked, the impressionable mind of a very young Vanessa was flooded with the sights and sounds of Arab culture. Memories from that time, be it a souk or a mosque, are still with Vanessa today. Vanessa’s father retired at age 55 in 1969 and the family returned to London, where, in 1976, he opened the World of Islam Trust, to help the mutual understanding of oriental and occidental cultures.
Back in Britain, Vanessa returned to school. Perhaps this where the gutsy Vanessa Beeley personality started to show, as she was outspoken for the underdog and often in trouble. She did some studies in journalism as a teenager, but this was not to stick as a profession, and she later entered the wider corporate world. However, this life was badly shaken by the loss several family members in quick succession, and it was ultimately the death of her father in 2001 that was to be the key life-changing event for her.
Reading and studying all her father’s confidential papers, Vanessa came to understand the real man within the rather austere father figure she had known. Perhaps for the very first time, Vanessa came to understand her father himself and really to grasp his passion for Palestine, together with his motivation to stand up against the theft of land for Europeans and for the growing Israeli Zionist state. Her new understanding and her own passion led her to return to Cairo. This, in turn, led to the opportunity to work in an orphanage in Gaza.
Achieving entry into Gaza without papers by the tunnels, Vanessa was to quickly immersed the realities of life in ‘the Strip’ and the harsh realities of Israeli aggression and violence, which was unleashed shortly after her arrival. As she says:
A thirteen-year-old boy was mown down by an Israeli Apache helicopter in front of our eyes. This was to set the scene for my life over the next eight to nine years.
She later states:
I never heard hate. I heard confusion and disbelief in a prison controlled by Israel. I found humanity in a bomb-strewn environment. There was still life, love and weddings.
Please join us in this powerful, fascinating and emotional audio interview with Vanessa Beeley as she tells Brian Gerrish more of her personal experiences as a very gutsy woman journalist reporting from Gaza and later Syria.
Also in this series: Vanessa Beeley’s frequent colleague Eva Bartlett