From Gaza, with Love

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gaza in 5 hours

16th of November 2010, Gaza

Myrla and David from Medical Team International were thankfully two of the few foreigners who were allowed in to visit us in Gaza. After their 5 day stay in the West Bank they arrived through the Erez crossing in Beit Hanoun, Gaza’s Northern border checkpoint. It’s the only civilian entry point other than through the Rafah border in Egypt, barring some very rare exceptions through the other Israeli crossings.

I started my 5 hour journey around Gaza with my special guests - nearly all guests who enter Gaza are special, they open a new window of love and solidarity, and a message so clear that you are not alone and you are not forgotten.
Our first stop was the Al Asria Medical Centre in Jabalya refugee camp before visiting the Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip. The guests were very impressed by the facility and our success to get the MRI FOTR Gaza. I was pleased and proud to hear their comments, it also empowered me to continue working hard to improve and promote our health facilities for the most needy of patients in Gaza.

Everyday carries a hard struggle to meet the different needs of people and not only their health needs.
The occupation and siege contributes to the deteriorating of the already dire health situation. Each day hundreds of patients referred for treatment cannot receive it due to the borders siege and their financial situation.

UNRWA school
In one of the UNRWA schools at Shatia Refugee camp, the guests could feel and see the children’s happiness that they could now drink clean soft water. It was the result of a MECA project to install 25 water purification units in Gaza schools and kindergartens over the last 2 years

Dancing with Afaq children
In the south of Gaza the guests danced to Palestinian folklore with Afaq Jadeeda children, as part of the ‘Let the Children Play and Heal’ project, a psychological support project funded by MECA.

We finished the tour by meeting the Samouni children of the Zaytoun area, where we met Adie Mormech who was teaching them. Adie is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions and has worked around Action Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Manchester in England.
The scene of Adie and the kids, in the English lesson, ‘Learning on the Rubble’, was so intimate and moving.
The children were happy learning and having fun too.

The situation in Gaza is not romantic, it is so unbearable especially for us who have to live one day after the other trying hard to remain steadfast and help the community to stay intact

Gaza the old city

Just before leaving Gaza we paid a visit to the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius, the third oldest church in the world, built in the 5th century next to a mosque. The Archbishop who received us was so kind and very informative. We also visited the Omary mosque, not far away from the church, which was previously the Marnaas temple through history converted to a church and then to a mosque.

Gaza is history and civilization, the third largest city in Palestine - not only war, occupation and siege.
It has stood so proud against all the historic and environmental changes – even natural upheavals like earthquakes.
The odds have been against us.
It is my city I like despite all those odds.

Before he left, David said, ‘you deserve better life.’

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Keeping Hope Alive in Gaza

Keeping Hope Alive in Gaza
7th November 2010

Dr. Mona El-Farra
Children are everywhere here in Gaza. They make up more than 60% of the entire population because the average family size is 7.2 people. Crowded towns, refugee camps and cities cram over 1.5 million people into these 360 square kilometers, making Gaza one of the densely populated areas of the world.
Between the Israeli occupation, the siege of Gaza, and the internal Palestinian divisions, children in Gaza have been, and continue to be deprived of many of their basic rights. The right to play, to live in suitable homes, to live in a safe and healthy atmosphere, and to have access to food and clean water.
In short, children in Gaza are not living in safety. They are not living with the rights we are supposed to provide them.
In Gaza we know that our situation will not improve overnight so we look to our children as the future. All efforts to support our children are extremely needed and appreciated by the community. The accumulative work of everyone who cares in the local and international communities will affect the future of the hundreds of thousands of kids who experience poverty and the threat of military attacks on a daily basis . This creates an immediate need to make life easier and tolerable through entertaining activities and relief services. I don't expect we can make quick, dramatic changes given the complexity and deterioration of the situation in Gaza. But certainly I believe the effects of these efforts will prove to be important in the future, particularly in the lives of these children and their families.
In such complicated circumstances with endless needs for children, the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) is working hard to make life tolerable for children in Palestine. In my day-to-day life, I can see the effects of MECA's work. When I was at one of the UN schools where we implemented a water purification system, one of 15 systems we supplied so far this year, I was touched to hear the different stories and positive comments from the families, the teaching staff, and the children. We all know the importance of good clean water but many people take drinking clean water for granted. This is not the case for people who are deprived of it in Palestine, India, or countless other locations around the world. In the Gaza Strip, more than 90% of our water is not suitable for drinking.
The university scholarships project targets students and whose families would not be able to educate their children without MECA's support. I see the huge impact of the psychosocial program “Let the Children Play and Heal” that has already reached more than 110,000 children throughout all of Gaza, plus providing vital trainings to hundreds of mothers that empower them to take action to help their own families and communities. I went several times to the Zaytoun neighborhood this summer to observe “Learning on the Rubble,” a project that provided intensive educational and psychosocial support to children in a particularly impoverished and traumatized area of Gaza. None of these children can be completely healed while the occupation and siege continue but I believe our work meets the children's most urgent needs and contributes to their chances for a good future.
I feel privileged to see the successes of MECA projects and partnerships on the ground. I feel proud to be part of the team of MECA. I tell the children of Palestine more and more about MECA's work and about the committed people abroad who work hard to help the Palestinian people. I try to educate the entire community about the genuine great work in support of the Palestinian people's rights and the continuous work to expose the colonial racist nature of the Israeli occupation that is happening around the world. I understand that our freedom is not an easy task to be achieved but to be sure there are growing solidarity efforts to achieve peace and justice and MECA is an important part of them. MECA's work and the work of all the friends and solidarity activists around the world make me feel not alone and not forgotten and I convey this message everywhere in Gaza where my people live one day after another working hard to endure the most difficult situation.
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Hello from Gaza with Love

Hello friends, supporters
Again I say I am sorry, I have been so involved with my field work, and not to mention the very many power-cuts, it really interrupted my writing and this year's summer has been so hot, it has felt endless. On the other hand I've been so lucky to have 2 great and lovely women stay with me during the summer. I organized their schedule in Gaza, they came in solidarity with us in Palestine, for me it was a very fullfilling time on both a personal and public level, it showed the true meaning of solidarity - that we are not alone and never forgotten. Norma Turner from Manchester PSC, and Wendy Foster from USA, all my love and respect to you, and to all those who believe in the Palestinian people's rights and who believe that solidarity is commitment to Palestine, where the injustice is so clear, I LOVE YOU ALL

Solidarity is the Way...

ILWU Local 10
July 21st 2010

Dear ILWU Local 10 members

I am writing to you from Gaza, to thank you for your union action in refusing to unload an Israeli ship, and to tell you a little bit about our life here. Like everyone in Gaza, I have lived through the siege and military attacks from Israel. That is why your solidarity touches me.

Huda Ghaliya (aged 12 at the time) repeatedly shouted, heartbreakingly, “Daddy, Daddy, ” while searching for the rest of her family after Israeli forces shelled the beach in northern Gaza. It was 9 June 2006, while she was on a picnic with her mother, father, brothers and sisters. The entire family was wiped out, and dozens more were injured. The casualties were brought to Al Awda hospital, where I was working. Some of my colleagues, including seasoned emergency healthworkers, could not bear to go to the child’s room. Huda kept telling me “mum and dad did not pass away, they are in another hospital”. When the TV crew arrived, the cameraman collapsed at the scene. I burst into tears.

What happened to that child, which will follow her for the rest of her life, was to see all her family members disappear on a lovely sunny morning, meant to be a joyful day. It was not the first or the last time that Palestinian children, living under the occupation and the siege of Gaza, lost family members. Many parents lost their children, and many children lost one or two parents, or siblings.

The latest assault against Gaza on December 2008, was frankly an act against humanity, in a preplanned, systematic, destructive way. Israel should be held responsible for war crimes, and the UN report by Judge Goldstone proved that these were crimes against humanity.

What followed recently on board the flotilla was another act of terrorism and yet another proof that Israel does not abide by international laws . Even though this act recalled previous war crimes against the Palestinian population in Gaza, people were shocked and in disbelief that Israel could commit this aggression against internationals in international waters. It showed again that Israel is above the law as long as the people of the world stay silent.

This makes the genuine act of the Oakland dock workers who refused to handle the "Zim Shenzhen" ship so important for us in Gaza. We were so impressed by this act of solidarity, as well as many other acts that have been done continuously to support our struggle to reach our inalienable rights, we who live under the siege and continuous hardships. We feel that the majority of the world is silent. We appreciate this sort of activity, and we feel that there is hope, that we are not alone and forgotten. One day the people who act against all types of injustice will ring the bell, and injustice will come to an end. Alone we cannot reach our goal, but with your solidarity, we will.
This act of solidarity gives us hope, together we defeated South Africa’s apartheid regime and with your support we can defeat the Israeli apartheid and occupation.

At the moment, we are running a supportive, educational, and (for them) entertaining project, for the children of the Zaytoun neighborhood. We named our project LEARNING ON THE RUBBLE. Even 18 months since the attack against Gaza, Israel does not allow essential building materials to enter Gaza. They allow ketchup and fizzy drinks into Gaza, and tell the world that there is no siege!!!! They deny entry of many essential materials, including medications (chemotherapy ) for cancer patients, and spare parts for medical equipment, as well as a suitable amount of dairy products. The list is too long to mention. Unemployment has reached 60%, and 80% of the population is living on international aid.

When I visited the site of LEARNING ON THE RUBBLE, I could see the shadow of trauma on the kids’ faces, as well as the physical scars of their bodies, either directly caused by the Israeli soldiers, or from being trapped under the rubble when the bulldozers demolished their homes. They became homeless in a matter of minutes.

Some of these children were trapped next to the dead body of a family member. I met one woman who lost her husband and son. Tearfully, she told me that her son, aged 13, slowly and agonizingly bled to death in her lap over 12 hours.

The army did not allow health workers to enter the area to evacuate the casualities, and when the International Red Cross workers were first allowed into the area, they were shocked and horrified by the scene, especially those children who were trapped in the rubble, injured, hungry, cold, and terrified .

Israel’s violation of health human rights became a routine act. I witnessed dozens of such incidents during my work, which show how Israel has no respect for human rights, including health human rights, even though the 4th Geneva convention guarantees those rights. In the last assault against Gaza, more than a dozen health workers were killed while on duty.

We continue our life under the siege, which deprives us from freedom of movement outside and into Gaza, despite the partial lifting of the siege, which is not enough. What we need is a complete lifting of the siege.

Gaza’s population suffers many hardships. Electricity is frequently off, making it harder to write to you. Water is not suitable for drinking and is completely unavailable in some areas. This has a great impact on people’s health, as does the inadequate sewage system for such a densely populated area.

On this small piece of land and with the mentality of people who live under siege, we were so impressed and empowered to learn about the courageous act of the Oakland dock workers who refused to load or unload the "Zim Shenzhen". This act is an effective tool against Israel to pressure them to lift the siege and end the occupation.

We simply felt that these workers and your union expressed their membership of the international family, and refused to accept state aggression and injustice inflicted on other nations, even though we live far away on the other side of the globe.

The is the time for all of us shout and say, “enough!” to Israel’s brutal acts against humanity.

With love and solidarity,

Mona Elfarra

In Gaza I Live

The story of the borders opening
MAY 20, 2010

My story today is not mine it is the story of the borders opening, the borders that are between Gaza and Egypt , and the trial of thousands of people struggling to get through to leave Gaza for different reasons, students , patients, etc… Do I have to give justification for the right of people to move freely in and out of their home, do I need to start using numbers and to mention the different international laws that guarantee this right? I don’t need to look academic and accurate while telling you one side of our way of living under occupation – academic analysis of such a situation is a fantasy. On the first day of the borders opening a few hundred, out of thousands who need to leave, left Gaza.
Many were turned back and one of them was a junior doctor (dr. Abed Qasim) who works at the Red Crescent Society. He has been granted a scholarship for specialization in radiology at Cairo University and on his finishing his degree he will join the radiology department, where we recently managed to get funds for an MRI machine. Dr. Abed has been trying to travel since February, he tried twice and was not lucky enough to cross the borders, it is frustrating for us working in the health field, and one of many frustrations we meet every day in a very challenging environment. We want to upgrade our services and promote our health teams, it is a high priority needed especially given the small and closed area we live in and with all manner of things deteriorating every day. We face the problem of continuous power cuts and a shortage of essential medication supplies, not to mention the need to transfer patients to outside Gaza for further treatment when movement in and out of Gaza represents a big ordeal, a nightmare.
Dr. Qasim could not make it outside Gaza, and maybe he will not make it out on time, to arrive for the beginning of his course. I felt depressed not being able to do anything to help and I felt helpless, but like all of us here in Gaza I have learned how to deal with the abnormal as a normal pattern of life.
And again this is odd and against the nature of things happening on the same day Mr Y. Jaro RCS chair could not make it outside Gaza for his son’s wedding! I am sure without the need to give examples that tens of other patients could not cross either.
Life continues in Gaza and people learn how to cope and adapt themselves, but for how long? I have no answer, but for sure it is one episode of our struggle for freedom and return, I see this in the eyes of people and hear it from them every day during my work and life in Gaza.