From Gaza, with Love

Friday, July 24, 2009

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound: Gaza in 24 hours

As soon as I arrived home I felt a great relief, if that is the right word. I had been unable to return home to Gaza since before the 23 days of bombing of Gaza earlier this year, because of the ongoing siege. I am not sure that the word relief summarizes my intense and conflicting emotions. Mixed feelings of relief, happiness, but also disorientation continued to overwhelm me. Gaza my beautiful home, yes my beautiful home, my beautiful people, who are trying so hard to live. To continue from one day to another. Despite the odds, the hardships, the deaf ears of the world.

The same day of my arrival home, July 9th 2009, I could see from my balcony the rubble of what had been at one time Arafat's headquarters, The whole building was completely demolished , leveled to the ground, blowing out the windows on one side of my apartment building. It is the same place where one my cousins was killed in the first day of the attack assault against Gaza last December -January.

I now see a different Gaza, and it is not the Gaza I have known, it is like a city after an earthquake.
Many of the historically important buildings were leveled to the ground. I decided to postpone my field visits to the different areas where the assaults were the most savage and brutal. I thought it might be a good idea to wait for the arrival of the delegation of US citizens who were due to cross the border.

In the meantime, I met some dear friends and workmates who came to say hello. All of them were loaded with war stories and the panic they faced during the attacks against Gaza. One friend who was a political prisoner, who spent 15 years in the Israeli jails said to me, "I never felt afraid of anything there like the fear I felt this time." I find it strange to even write this sentence, but while we Palestinians are determined to continue our struggle, the reality is that this assault against Gaza was severe and fierce, and cannot be forgotten- we will feel its effects as a people for a long time.

Our friends from the US were only granted visas to visit Gaza for 24 hours. As I waited, I pondered 'How can we condense or begin to understand what children, women and men went through during 23 days of the assault in a 24 hours visit?'

Upon the arrival of the VIVA PALESTINA USA delegation, I sat at the borders to receive the delegation with some colleagues from PNGO ( Palestinian Non Governmental Organizations' Network). It was a touching and affectionate moment for me, to see American, British and French activists of different ages and ethnicities united under one goal, voicing to the world "Gaza you are not alone, you are not forgotten, despite the shameful stand of the governments of the world, we stand with you, the people of Gaza!"

We had to get immediately to work, and were fortunate to have a solid team of colleagues. I was accompanied by Barbara Lubin, Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) Director, Reem Salhi, an activist lawyer and human rights advocate, Danny Muller, a MECA volunteer, Travis Wilkerson, a filmmaker and professor, Jaiel Kayed, a computer expert and Palestinian American, Talal Abu Shaweesh,, director of New Horizons,Ehab Musalaam a trainer and meca voulnteer, and Mohammed Magdalawi, a Gazan student and MECA volunteer.

In Nussierat refugee camp, we were invited by New Horizons to see the activities of their project, loosely translated as 'Let them Play and Heal,' a program treating childhood trauma sponsored by the Middle East Children's Alliance. We had the chance to see hundreds of children's happy little faces, singing along with the debka performance, which was one of many activities working to help the children recover after the war trauma. There were around 500 kids ,6-12 years old boys and girls with their mothers, as the project targets mothers and their children,

We then visited Albureeg School, where MECA has implemented water purification and desalinization systems to provide clean drinking water for schoolchildren. This is one of three water treatment projects MECA has recently implemented in the refugee camps, and we aim to build many more with the help of our friends and allies. We then moved to the north and while the van was going on, we could clearly see many demolished homes everywhere, and tent cities around the homes where families now lived. The tents

We could not miss the Zaytoun area, where one of the many tragic events of the war occurred at the home of the Samoni family. The van went through neighborhood after neighborhood, through areas of vast destruction. How can I convey to you what I have seen in the little faces, eyes of sadness mixed with hope and excitement? On top of that some of the kids who had broken or missing arms and legs, post operative scars, who are living in the rubble of their former homes, and with their little voices they tried to tell us their stories.

I listened to their stories. I stopped writing about the rest of our activities, the rest of our day, the rest of my return home. At that moment I felt, and still feel, 'I don't want to hear or listen, I just want to cuddle these children and help them to forget.' But I want the world to remember what was done here in Gaza, and that those of who are picking up the pieces, as hard as we try, we cannot forget.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Gaza From a Distance, But on the Horizon

July 7, 2009

By Dr Mona El Farra

It has been too long since I have been in contact with all of you. During this time, I have been incredibly busy and my situation has been constantly changing. Traveling between England, where my children live, and Cairo, where I have been fundraising for an urgently needed MRI machine, leaves me watching Gaza from a distance. However, I have had daily contact with my friends and colleagues in Gaza, and have also been visiting Palestinian patients from Gaza in Cairo. Listening to their stories and firsthand accounts reminds of the tragic reality for my people.

It is hard to believe that the cardiovascular and cancer patients in Cairo from Gaza are the lucky ones. I have to stop for a moment to recognize what it means to be Gazan: that we refer to some who are terminally ill as the lucky ones. Very few succeed to cross the border of a siege imposed with the help of Egypt, but dictated by Israel and the US, while the vast majority must stay behind the bars in the prison that is Gaza.

With broken heart, I watch the sluggish dialogue between Palestinian factions. We live and suffer under the occupation, and the lack of unity makes the problem of living under occupation more complex. By staying divided, we are giving to Israel a golden gift-we know they are no partner in peace, and their first rule as colonizers is to celebrate any divisions, and then conquer

Today however, I am inspired to meet with 198 activists of all ages, ethnicities and political backgrounds, many from the United States, united in one idea – Viva Palestina, Live Palestine! United to pass a message of solidarity – that you, Palestine are not alone, you are not forgotten. Justice will prevail. We, a humanitarian convoy of medical aid, will cross the borders in the coming days, on a 2nd humanitarian mission to share in the struggle of the men, women, and children who live under this unjust siege and embargo.

I will continue to challenge myself to write more frequently, and I challenge you to support our work by becoming involved and making a donation to humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. Visit Viva Palestina!

Dr. Mona El Farra is a Palestinian physician who lives in Gaza and is a Project Director for Middle East Children's Alliance. She cam ne reached for

MRI Appeal for Gaza

June 29, 2009

Dear all

The already deprived health services in Gaza have deteriorated to unprecedented levels. The strictly imposed Israeli/Egyptian siege on the population creates a severe lack of proper health facilities, especially on the secondary and tertiary levels; and the recent Israeli assault against Gaza has made it extremely difficult for the health providers. Medical care providers in Gaza are forced to try to make the balance between emergency services and routine health care services but without the necessary equipment and capacity.

The rate of malnourishment among children is steadily increasing in Gaza, as is the psychological trauma and its ongoing impact on women and children. These are just two of the many dire outcomes of the siege and the military attacks which have caused rising inflation at the same time as unemployment soars.

The number of patients who have died because they were not allowed the basic right to seek medical care outside of Gaza has surpassed 400. Gaza, including its health care system, has been isolated from the rest of the world.

As a response to this isolation, economic hardships, and the deteriorating health situation, the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip recognizes the importance of adding an MRI machine to its diagnostic center in Gaza. This additional quality service will be the second one in all of Gaza. And the Red Crescent is committed to making MRIs available to patients at a very low cost and at no cost for patients who cannot afford any fee.

Around 2000 people per month will benefit from this highly sophisticated and needed diagnostic procedure. Many of those patients will get the right diagnosis at the right time, as timely medical diagnosis is the first step in effective health management.

This diagnostic procedure will be able to diagnose different kinds of health problems, which are too many to list, but include early stages of cancer, neurosurgical cardiovascular ,and orthopedic diseases.

The cost of an MRI machine is $1.2 million, which includes staff salaries and site preparation. The Red Crescent Society has secured $650,000—more than half the total cost—through generous donations from individuals who have continually supported our services and trusted our role in the society through the years.

We appeal to you to help us to reach our goal and to make this strategic and developmental project a reality for our Gaza patients.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Mona Elfarra

Red Crescent Society for Gaza Strip

PS: For more information please contact us to provide you with the detailed proposal of the project .