Fatima Brejia (more commonly known as Um Hassan) is an organic farmer, community activist, founder of a local women’s organization, and most recently the head of the Al-Masara Village Council! She is the first Palestinian woman to be elected head of a village council.
Watch this video to learn more about Um Hassan and the amazing work she does for children and the rest of her community!
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).
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).
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.”
Mashharawi’s independence and a yearning to travel have driven her to work hard to build a future—no minor task in a society that is both conservative, restricting women’s freedom, and oppressed by a blockade.
"I know very well that the world around us is advancing, while our lives in Gaza are frozen,” she says. “But instead of wasting time complaining about how bad our situation is, I prefer to seek solutions for problems."
One of those challenges confronted her family when her brother got married and her father wanted to add a floor to their home for the new couple. However, that was impossible because he could not obtain any cement. In fact, today, nearly four years after Israel's war on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014, an estimated 4,500 families still are living without a permanent home. Exacerbating the housing shortage is population growth and restrictions imposed by Israel on the importation of construction materials. The UN Population Fund predicts the population of Gaza, already the densest place on earth, will more than double to 4.8 million by 2050. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of the cement needed has been allowed into Gaza since the Israeli offensive.
That challenge was one of the reasons she came up with the idea for her first product, Green Cake—a material made primarily from coal or wood ash, then cured with steam—with a fellow student. The environmentally friendly brick is fire-resistant and only half as heavy as cement blocks and costs 50 percent less. Nevertheless, Mashharawi and her partner struggled to attract support at first, and the other student later abandoned the project. Fortunately, Mashharawi stuck with it.
A startup incubator run by the Islamic University of Gaza helped fund the first production round in September 2016, and now she rents office space, employing three people. To date, her company has provided the material for parts or all of three new homes.
"At first, I didn't get any help from others," she recalled. Mashharawi borrowed money to develop the project, ignoring the disapproval she received for being a woman in a traditionally man’s field. Then she heard about the Japan-Gaza Innovation Challenge, a two-day workshop and business competition. Two of the 10 competing teams were given the top prize, and Green Cake was one. Mashharawi was invited to tour Japan and then doors started opening.
"Travelling was such a big dream for me, but until then, I could never achieve it," Mashharawi says. Earlier, she had won a scholarship to study for a year in Berlin, and obtained the necessary visa, but she couldn’t get permission to leave Gaza from the Israeli government. Egypt’s Rafah crossing never opened.
“I applied several times to get a permit to leave Gaza, and each time they refused me. So, I lost the scholarship," she sadly recalls. She again was denied the opportunity to travel when she sought to travel to Dubai for the international Hult Prize competition for social-enterprise start-ups.
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.
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)
Saturday, Oct 13, Day 1: Arrival. Meeting representatives from the organizing institutions for an overview and discussion of the program.
Sunday, Oct 14, Day 2: Half day picking olives at a selected field. After lunch, political tour and sightseeing in Bethlehem, including the visit of a refugee camp. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.
Monday, Oct 15, Day 3: A tour in the old city of Hebron. Visiting the Ibrahimi Mosque. Guided tour in Hebron old city, market, H1/H2 areas, Shuhada street. Visiting a glass factory. Free time. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.
Friday, Oct 19, Day 7: Full day of picking olives at a selected field, lunch included. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.
Saturday, Oct 20, Day 8: Tour in the Old City of Jerusalem. Lunch, followed by a a tour with Israeli activist around Jerusalem. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.
Sunday, Oct 21, Day 9: Half day picking olives at a field. Lunch. Advocacy session and future planning. Evaluation meeting with institutions’ representatives, followed by a musical evening. Overnight in Bethlehem.
Monday, Oct 22, Day 10: Departure.
It is our pleasure that people are taking part in our mission in Keeping Hope Alive together and to learn more about daily Palestinian life under the Israeli military occupation.
A joint program of East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine, works for Peace with Justice in Palestine, based on Humanitarian and Christian Values, by mobilizing the world movements of YMCA and YWCA, churches, church-based organizations, UN agencies, and other relevant organizations to influence decision-makers and prompt actions that contribute to end Israeli occupation and all its violations of International Law.
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.
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 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.”
Generators are also in need maintenance, the WHO warned, but hospitals are unable to carry out repairs due to restrictions on moving goods into Gaza.
“We have been told by doctors in a neonatal unit that there were periods when staff in the units were forced to make manual ventilation to patients in intensive care because the generators didn’t function,” said Daher. “It’s a matter of seconds sometimes.”
The WHO’s latest figures show hospitals are experiencing severe shortages of drugs and medical disposables. Of 516 medications on the essential drug list, 223 (43%) were at zero stock levels in November, which means central supplies will be totally depleted in less than a month. At the end of November, drugs used in the emergency departments and intensive care units were at 48% zero stock, while power shortages have made it harder for hospitals to collect and store large quantities of blood.
There are also “dramatic decreases” in the proportion of people securing permits to access healthcare outside Gaza, said Daher. In October, 45% of patients who applied to the Israeli authorities for such treatment were unsuccessful. Figures are expected to show that there were fewer exit permits granted in 2017 than in any year since the WHO began monitoring applications.
“Map knows of at least 30 patients who died in 2017 after being either prevented from exiting by Israel or unable to secure financial coverage for their referral from the Palestine Authority,” said Ferguson.
The Israeli government has yet to respond to a request for comment.