One woman tackles two of Gaza’s toughest challenges

We Are Not Numbers, February 23, 2018

A Gaza man with a SunBox

Two of the Gaza Strip’s most pressing challenges are a blockade-induced shortage of both electricity and building materials. And, in this conservative, patriarchal society, it’s a young, female engineer who is tackling both.

Twenty-four-year-old Majd al-Mashharawi, a 2016 graduate in civil engineering, first figured out how to turn ash and rubble—of which Gaza has a lot—into a material she calls “Green Cake” that can replace cement. Now, she is turning her attention to renewable energy technologies, starting with a solar kit named SunBox. Now in the piloting phase, SunBox is, she says, the first off-the-grid solar kit in Gaza.

“Gaza has an extreme shortage of electricity—receiving just three to six hours a day. But the entire Middle East suffers from a lack of sufficient electricity,” Mashharawi says. “This severely affects both quality of life and opportunity for economic growth. But the region has a resource that can be harnessed—an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, making solar energy an ideal source of electricity production.”

Mashharawi researched solar options in use in Africa and India, where electricity outages also are common. However, she ended up turning to China for the most applicable solution. Her SunBox product is a small solar energy collection kit she imports, modifies to accommodate local electrical outlets and voltage and sells for US$355—a price her market research shows is affordable to most households. (She hopes to partner with microfinance businesses for those families who need to pay in installments.) The kit generates 1,000 watts of electricity—enough to power four lamps, two laptops, two phones, an internet router and a TV/fan/small refrigerator for a full day, before needing a “refresh” (using either the sun or the electrical grid, when available).

Mashharawi (far right) using a SunBox to power a light and laptop

If the Gaza launch goes well, Mashharawi is already dreaming of expanding into other markets—West Bank refugee camps, Syrians in Jordan and off-grid Bedouin communities throughout the Middle East (perhaps the largest of the populations, at an estimated 3.2 million).

Early inspiration

Mashharawi attributes her entrepreneurial spirit to her 11th grade math teacher.

"He forced us to find a way to solve math assignments on our own—rather than simply memorizing the formulas. It was the first and most difficult challenge of my life," she recalls.

This led Mashharawi to spend her entire, three-month summer holiday figuring out the "why" behind the answers so she could compile a booklet to distribute to other students. Mashharawi considers this her first startup.

“I didn't know how to change it into a business, however,” she laughs. “I was young and unaware of how businesses work.”

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Invitation – JAI-ATG Olive Picking Program 2018

A program for Civil International Solidarity with Palestinians
October 13th (arrival) – 22nd (departure), 2018
West Bank, Palestine
Register online now

The JAI together with the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) are organizing the 15th annual Olive Picking Program of 2018. This agricultural event is of special significance to the Palestinian economy when all energies and efforts are mobilized.

Besides olive picking, the program features introductory presentations about the current situation in Palestine and the effects of the Apartheid Wall, tours in the old city of Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem, in addition to evening sessions, cultural event and social gatherings.

Read about

The JAI Olive Tree Campaign
The Olive Picking Program and last years’ programs’ reports.
Reported attacks on farmers and land in Palestine.
Attacks on Olive Tree Campaign’ planted fields.

More Information:

  • An optional evening program will also be organized during the Picking Program, which includes film screenings or professional presentations on certain topics related to Palestinian life under occupation related international campaigns.
  • The cost of the program including accommodation in a double room, meals, guides, local transportation and other relevant expenses is $750. Requesting a single room at the hotel would cost the participant $200 Extra. Any extra night(s) accommodation (before the night of the 13th/14th of October, or after the night of the 21st/22nd of October 2018) is beyond the scope of the program and the participant has to pay extra for.
  • Accommodation can be arranged at a hotel or with a local family.
  • A tour guide will be present with the group at all times for facilitation purposes.
  • Travel from and to the airport is NOT included in the cost but can be arranged for (100 USD per person for each drive, unless sharing with a group of other participants).
  • Please do NOT fill and submit the registration form before booking your ticket, in order to fill your arrival and departure information in the same record.
  • Upon registration, you are automatically admitted to participate in the program (without having to wait for confirmation from our side), and you will receive further information / replies accordingly.

Proposed daily schedule (subjected to minor changes)

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Six Miles Out: A Day in the Life of Gaza Fishers

On the windy evening of January 4, 2017, 33-year-old Muhammad al-Hissi of Gaza set out with 13 of his brothers, cousins and uncles to make a living the only way they know how: fishing. But he never came home.

The family was spread out in three different boats, with the waves choppy and stiff, when the Israeli Navy appeared on the scene. The 60-ton ship rammed into Muhammad’s wooden boat and crushed it like a rock on an egg. Palestinian fishermen and the Israeli navy searched for Muhammad for three days, but his body was never found. The boat’s electric generator may have dismembered his body.

Muhammad was one of two Palestinian fishermen killed by the Israeli navy in 2017. Four others were injured, 14 were detained and five boats were seized. However, shootings at Gaza fishermen by the Israeli navy are daily occurrences, terrorizing and forcing many to abandon the sea. This pattern is set to continue into the new year, with the recent decision by Israeli officials to restrict Gaza fishermen to 6 nautical miles instead of the recently allowed 9 (only in the southern coast).

Help us shine a light on this violation of the right to earn a living. A new, short documentary “Six Miles Out” – produced by the We Are Not Numbers team in Gaza, with funds from the Solidarity with Gaza Fishers project of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition — features al-Hissi’s brother and cousin, who take us with them for a night of fishing. You will see for yourself just what it’s like when Israeli “hornets” suddenly appear on the scene.

Please share this 11-minute film on social media with a personalized observation. Send a link to your followers via email (this is actually the most effective). The film is subtitled in French, Spanish and Greek (use the the Youtube “gear” icon near the bottom left to turn on different languages). What can viewers do to help? They can donate to We Are Not Numbers, a Gaza-based youth storytelling project, to keep its work going. They also can visit the Freedom Flotilla website to find out how to support the 2018 sailing to challenge the blockade of Gaza’s seaport.

In solidarity,
David Heap, on behalf of Canadian Boat to Gaza
Pam Bailey, Founder and Director, We Are Not Numbers

Read more: Freedom Flotilla to Sail Again, for Freedom of Movement and a Decent Future for all Palestinians

Gaza’s health system close to collapse as electricity crisis threatens total blackout

World Health Organization warns hospitals could be plunged into darkness by end of February without fresh funding to keep emergency generators running

Babies born prematurely are crammed into an incubator at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, where experts say ‘dangerous overcrowding’ has become commonplaceBabies born prematurely are crammed into an incubator at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, where experts say ‘dangerous overcrowding’ has become commonplace. (Sarah Helm for the Observer)

Rebecca Ratcliffe, The Guardian, 3 Jan 2018

Hospitals in Gaza will face an almost total power blackout by the end of February unless funding is secured to keep emergency generators running, the World Health Organization has warned.

An ongoing electricity crisis in Gaza has left hospitals reliant on emergency generators for up to 20 hours a day, while medical staff have been forced to cut back on basic services such as equipment sterilisation and diagnostics. About 500,000 litres of fuel are required each month to sustain critical care in Gaza, but funding will only cover hospitals’ needs until the end of February.

Dr Mahmoud Daher, head of the WHO’s Gaza sub-office, said the health system is on “the edge of collapse”. Without urgent fundraising, hospitals will face a disastrous situation, he said. “There are at least 200 babies and people in intensive care units. It would be a really fatal situation for them. There are dozens of people who are going to surgical operations that would be affected.”

Fears over the humanitarian situation intensified following a series of tweets by Donald Trump on Tuesday, in which he threatened to cut funding for the Palestinian Authority unless it recommences peace talks. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, earlier said the US would cut funds to UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, unless the authority went back to the negotiating table.

Dr Andy Ferguson, director of programmes for Medical Aid for Palestinians (Map), an organisation that works with hospitals and other healthcare providers across Gaza and the West Bank, said electricity outages in Gaza, combined with medical shortages and severe restrictions on freedom of movement, were creating a medical emergency.

Difficulties with sterilising equipment have caused a rise in hospital infections, he added, while power fluctuations have damaged sensitive medical equipment.

“Worsening maternal malnutrition and increasing rates of premature and low-birthweight babies have led to instances of dangerous overcrowding in the neonatal intensive care unit in al-Shifa hosptial,” said Ferguson.

Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in Gaza CityPalestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power cut in Gaza City. (Mahmud Hams, AFP Getty Images)

As a result, explained Ferguson, incubators designed to accommodate one baby were often occupied by several. “Medical staff are having to look after as many as seven critically ill babies each at a time, compared to the UK standard of 1:1 or 1:2 care. Overcrowding of this type makes adequate monitoring and infection control impossible.”

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Gaza Lights: Electrical Power for People Under Siege

The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA)

Many mothers told us the same story. Their children are so scared of the dark they won’t even get up at night to use the bathroom. One mother brings home rubbing alcohol from the clinic where she works to make a small fire so her children can have light to do their schoolwork.” –Amal Abu Moailqe, MECA Gaza Staff, Mechatronics Engineer

“Gaza Lights” provides households in the Gaza Strip with electrical power by providing a rechargeable system that generates electricity for approximately 12 hours and includes three lights, a fan, and a mobile phone charger.

The Electricity Crisis in Gaza, Palestine

The Gaza Strip has been deprived of adequate electrical power for most of the last ten years. In the beginning of 2017, most residents were getting five to eight hours of electricity per day. As summer approached, that declined to just one to three hours. This effected almost every aspect of daily life: storing perishable food and medicines, performing basic household and care-taking tasks; studying and work; phone and internet communication. Household fires have occurred from the use of candles and cooking with wood fires.

The Gaza Lights Project

Gaza City in the spotlight: hesitant hope in a city where everyone still wants out

As the UN’s day of solidarity with Palestinians nears, Gazans have restored a hesitant bustle

Miriam Berger, The Guardian, Saturday 25 November 2017

Fishermen off the coast of Gaza City, which is home to a 5,000-year-old port. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
Fishermen off the coast of Gaza City, which is home to a 5,000-year-old port. (David Levene, The Guardian)

Today Medinat Ghazzah, or Gaza City, is running on empty – and yet still going. Gaza City, the Gaza Strip’s principal urban centre, carries various scars of war. Since 2006, Gaza has endured one civil war between Palestinians, three wars between the ruling Hamas militant group and Israel, a decade of Hamas’ repressive rule, and a crushing blockade by neighbouring Israel and Egypt – all of which have crippled the economy and turned the tiny territory into a site of humanitarian crisis.

Gaza City’s dusty buildings and bumpy roads, many still damaged or half-rebuilt from the last war, are at times reminiscent of facades found in Egypt and the Palestinian West Bank. But it is the crushing monotony and suffocating limits of life that define the city for residents who have walked the same streets for a decade without a chance of getting out. Still, the city carries on, with coffee shops, traffic, clothes stores, restaurants and even a new upscale mall offering diversions for those who can afford them.

Palestinians attend Friday noon prayer beneath the fallen minaret during the 2014 war.Palestinians attend Friday noon prayer beneath the fallen minaret during the 2014 war.

The city’s framework, like the rest of Gaza, is innately tied up with politics. Gaza was once part of Britain’s Mandate Palestine. Then came Egyptian occupation in 1948, followed by Israeli in 1967. Now, for the last decade, Hamas, which the European Union has designated as terrorist group, has ruled the tiny territory while Israel controls most borders.

Limited visitors

This month – on 29 November – brings the United Nations international day of solidarity with Palestinians. Gazans, however, don’t see much of the international community these days. That’s in part because Israel strictly limits entry to the Gaza Strip, with mainly journalists (Israelis and Palestinians excluded) and aid and development workers allowed through. Even then, UN bodies and NGOs working in Gaza constrain much of the movement of their foreign staff due to security protocols. Along Gaza City’s highly polluted coast are two expensive hotels that are considered the “safe zone” where aid workers and many journalists stay.

The five-star Arcmed al-Mashta Hotel, built in 2011The five-star Arcmed al-Mashta Hotel, built in 2011

Facing an ineffective and corrupt government, the UN and NGOs have stepped in. Gazans are grateful – but know they can do better and mistrust the politics that dictates where funds are directed. Around much of Gaza are signs thanking Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates for funding reconstruction projects. But the Arab countries have pledged far more for reconstruction than they’ve actually delivered, while many Gazans feel acutely abandoned by the Arab states and international community, and know new buildings still go first to those with Hamas connections.

Gaza City in numbers

40 – rank of Gaza city in 2014 list of most densely populated cities worldwide. At the time, the population of Gaza City and surrounding area was estimated at 750,000.

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Israel and the US are trying to prevent publication of a ‘blacklist’ of companies doing business in the West Bank

Israel West BankBusiness Insider/Julie Bort

Josef Federman, Josh Lederman, Jamey Keaten, Business Insider, November 27, 2017

  • Israel and the Trump Administration are working “feverishly” to prevent a database of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements from being published.
  • Dozens of major names are expected to appear on the list, including 100 local companies and 50 international companies, mostly from the US and Europe.
  • The UN’s top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, ordered the compilation of the database in March 2016.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Weeks ahead of the expected completion of a U.N. database of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements, Israel and the Trump Administration are working feverishly to prevent its publication.

While Israel is usually quick to brush off U.N. criticism, officials say they are taking the so-called “blacklist” seriously, fearing its publication could have devastating consequences by driving companies away, deterring others from coming and prompting investors to dump shares of Israeli firms. Dozens of major Israeli companies, as well as multinationals that do business in Israel, are expected to appear on the list.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day,” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, told The Associated Press.

The U.N.’s top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, ordered the compilation of the database in March 2016, calling on U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein to “investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on Palestinians.”

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements, built on occupied land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, to be illegal. Israel rejects such claims, citing the land’s strategic and religious significance, and says the matter should be resolved in negotiations.

Israeli officials say that about 100 local companies that operate in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have received warning letters that they will be on the list. In addition, some 50 international companies, mostly American and European, also have been warned.

The companies have not been publicly identified, but one official said they include Israeli banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, bus lines and security firms, as well as international giants that provide equipment or services used to build or maintain settlements. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

The only company to confirm receiving a warning letter has been Bezeq, Israel’s national telephone company. Bezeq’s chief executive, Stella Handler, posted a copy of the letter sent by Zeid’s office in September on her Facebook page. It accused Bezeq of using West Bank land for infrastructure, providing phone and Internet services to settlements and operating sales offices in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

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