Gaza’s plight matters to the world

Elizabeth Kucinich in Gaza
Elizabeth Kucinich in Gaza (UNRWA USA)

Elizabeth Kucinich, The Hill, June 23, 2016

This month, U.S. congressmen, including Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), were refused entry into the Gaza Strip at the Erez crossing while on a fact-finding mission in Israel-Palestine. Israeli authorities, without elaboration, claimed that their application had not met the criteria necessary to enter. Apparently elected U.S. congressmen inspecting American taxpayer-funded projects and reviewing U.S. aid to Palestinians in Gaza is not worthy criteria.

Bernie Sanders’ representatives to the Democratic platform committee have brought the plight of the Palestinians into the national political debate. This could become a breakthrough moment, presaging policies that address the security of both Israelis and Palestinians as being mutually inclusive.

Some have suggested that the members of Congress may have been turned away from Gaza by Israel through the influence of the U.S. State Department, attempting to prevent Democratic members from elevating the issue of Israel-Palestine. Whatever the motivation, in that moment of rejection, those Congressmen experienced a small taste of the restrictions on freedom of movement that Palestinians live daily. For the Palestinians in Gaza, living under a blockade that just entered its 10th year, virtually all movement in and out is prohibited.

As I watched the Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2014, I was desperate to help. I looked to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, mandated with providing essential services for Palestine refugees, and joined the board of its nonprofit arm, UNRWA USA. Last spring, I traveled with UNWRA USA staff to the occupied Palestinian territory — the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip — to visit our projects, ascertain living conditions and witness for myself the political and economic situation. The trip was my first to Gaza. Had the other members of Congress been permitted to enter Gaza, they may have seen for themselves what I witnessed firsthand.

At Erez, the Israeli-controlled crossing into Gaza, I passed through chutes that resembled the herding bays that lead cattle into an abattoir — a standard feature of Israeli checkpoints throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. As we waited for our entry to be approved, young Israeli guards paraded around with automatic weapons.

Elizabeth Kucinich visiting Gaza school children

Once in Gaza, I met Palestine refugees who had faced unimaginable tragedies, like Amal*, a mother who fled the war in Syria with her 13 children. After a perilous journey, they arrived in Gaza only to find themselves under Israeli fire a few weeks later. I met the Nasser family from northern Gaza, whose home had been destroyed in the 2014 assault. I heard their account of fleeing their home under the cover of darkness, petrified, with distraught children and a pregnant mother. When I met them, they were still living in a collective shelter in an UNRWA school with hundreds of other families, a full nine months later.

Two years after the latest Israeli assault, rebuilding in Gaza is going at a snail’s pace. Over 12,600 houses had been completely destroyed, 6,500 severely damaged, and another 150,000 uninhabitable due to damage. Tens of thousands of people remain internally displaced as the lack of funds and Israeli restrictions on building materials hamper efforts to rebuild.

Three major Israeli assaults on Gaza in the last eight years have left their mark, and the scars are not just physical. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is visible throughout the communities I visited, and beyond. Eight-year-old Gazan children have already experienced three devastating military incursions. Children, living in constant fear, experience nightmares and bedwetting. According to the UNRWA, PTSD rates rose 100 percent in 2012 — 42 percent of patients were under the age of 9. The 2014 assault compounded their suffering. The UNRWA’s community health program provides invaluable support to these children and their parents, through group and individual counseling. I sat on the floor and saw the relief that came to a group of children in an art therapy session held at the school that was serving as their shelter.

The Israeli military assaults may be periodical, but the blockade is a constant. This June, the illegal Israeli blockade on Gaza began its 10th year. Israel, with the help of Egypt, prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and air, and the movement of people and goods in and out of the coastal enclave is restricted to just three crossings. The blockade means all food, water, energy, building supplies and medical supplies are controlled by Israel. Only Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases have a faint hope of leaving. The U.N. has repeatedly highlighted the illegality of the blockade as a form of collective punishment and called for it to be lifted, but to no avail.

Due to the blockade, Gaza has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Eighty percent of the population relies on the UNRWA for humanitarian aid, and the agency will provide critical food assistance to an unprecedented 1 million Palestine refugees there this year. This food insecurity is entirely a man-made problem.

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Child Psychological Support by Anees Mansour

Hello from Gaza. My name is Anees Mansour, one of a group of volunteers working with at-risk children in Rafah, Gaza. With your help we’ve already done so much this year, we’ve put on a summer camp, a series of educational workshops, art therapy and performance sessions. From the photos below you can see some of the great results we’ve had.

The public response to our work has been so supportive – so thank you. Our new initiative is to train 18 new volunteers to provide psycho-social support to the children we work with here in Rafah. To reach more children we need more volunteers and we need to train them in basic counselling and art therapy. You don’t need me to tell you how badly the children of Gaza need a creative outlet in a safe space. Rafah is one of the poorest areas in Gaza and the psychological pressures on children are, frankly, brutal. We are working to create and maintain some small safe spaces for them to grow and your ongoing help is central to our efforts.

Rafah is in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, Palestine on the Palestinian-Egyptian border, with an estimated area of 55 km and home to a population of 270,000 people, of whom a large proportion are children. Rafah is one of the poorest areas in Gaza, which, of course, is suffering from a prolonged, brutal siege. All and any help is appreciated.

you can see the pictures of our past projects @
• Gaza Summer Camp
• Our Right To Play
• Our Health in Our Hands
• Field Trip

For any further information , don’t hesitate to contact me at: anemansour@gmail.com or by phone on 00970598699046

Thanks in advance!

A Samira Project Success Story

This is from the Middle East Children’s Alliance project assistant in Gaza, who tells us that the program now has 220 children enrolled over two shifts. Photos are taken with consent, and A’hed’s first name is used with the family’s approval.

 


Related articles:

  • Samira Project Children’s Counseling
  • Samira Counseling Photos

  • A’hed is a nine year old boy. He joined the project from the early beginning – in August 2015. During the primary activities of that month, like ice-breaking and introductory activities, the psychologist noticed that there was something wrong about A’hed. “I noticed that he was very aggressive and very nervous during the activities. He attacked his colleagues more than once, he was moving a lot during the activities, he was sensitive and he refused to make any relationships with the other children,” said psychologist Haneen Jomaa.

    She explained: “These regular symptoms showed that A’hed is suffering from a severe psychological trauma. I talked to A’hed privately in order to complete a form about his case. After several questions, I figured out that his father had died during the last war on Gaza in 2014, his mother left him and his sister after his father’s death, and they live now in their uncle’s house.

    In conclusion, his family was broken, his mother was uneducated, and he and his sister faced serious economic problems. As a result of this session with A’hed, I called his uncle’s wife for a meeting to complete the parents form with her. I asked her to speak freely and honestly about A’hed in order to help me healing him. During her speech, many problems showed up.

    “A’hed was suffering from bed-wetting, he was terrified from the frequent assault of his uncle, he was a forgetful, his requests must be done immediately, he was treating animals cruelly, and, finally, A’hed once set fire to the house!” said his uncle’s wife painfully.

    A’hed was classified as a special case immediately. He was in need of special psychological support sessions. A joint plan was prepared by the psychologist and the teacher to follow-up his case. The psychologist tended to integrate him into activities which focus on various problems, such as getting rid of the fear, babbling, hesitation and isolation.

    A remarkable improvement appeared in A’hed’s behavior and educational achievement. He was starting to answer questions without any hesitation, concentrating on his lessons, his marks in several subjects increased, and his love and passion of studying appeared in his commitment and discipline in the various activities of the project.

    In addition, the material and moral motivation played a major role in his improvement. For example, his grade last year was 52%, but in the first semester of this year, his grade was 70%. “Regardless of this great improvement, A’hed needs more work in order to reach the required level,” said Haneen Jomaa.

    “I Like to spend my time in the Women’s Union Center studying and playing with my friends. It’s much better than my house.” A’hed said.

    Samira Project Children’s Counseling

    Gaza Mental Health Foundation

    At the request of the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP) has agreed to raise funds for the Samira Project in Rafah.

    This project was requested by the Rafah branch of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. It will provide psycho-social counseling for 150 children with disabilities in Rafah and their families.

    The project is scheduled to run for one school year and start in September, so we need to move fast. Out of a total cost of $14,900, all but $4000 has been raised or committed by MECA and the sponsoring group. MRSCP has agreed to raise and contribute the final $4000.

    Because of the short time frame for this effort, we have decided to try to raise the funds quickly though our own donations and appeals to you, our strongest supporters. MRSCP has pledged $1000 directly from our treasury, and members of our core group have pledged another $500. We have about $200 in our humanitarian project account that we will also contribute.

    This leaves us with a balance of $2300 to raise by September.

    PLEASE CONSIDER MAKING A PLEDGE TO HELP US WITH THIS PROJECT. Any amount will be appreciated, but a contribution of at least $50 would be really helpful. As always, all contributions to MRSCP are tax-deductible.

    If you are able to pledge, please reply to Donna Wallbaum, dwallbaum (at) gmail.com. She will contact you with directions about how to contribute. (You can, if you prefer, send a check made out to MRSCP, marked “Samira Project”, and mailed to MRSCP, P.O. Box 5214, Madison, WI 53705 — but please let Donna know that the check is coming.)

    As always, thanks for your support.


    Related articles:

  • Samira Counseling Photos
  • A Samira Project Success Story

  • THE SAMIRA PROJECT

    In July and August, 2014, our US tax dollars helped pay for a 50 day Israeli bombardment of Gaza that killed over 2000 people including hundreds of children and severely injured thousands more. Entire families were wiped out, and every child in Gaza knows someone who was killed, injured or made homeless or destitute. This was only the latest in a long string of military attacks by Israel, and the UN estimates that as a result, the number of repeatedly and severely traumatized Gaza children who need psychological support and healing is in the hundreds of thousands.

    The Gaza Strip was already one of the poorest and most densely populated places on earth. As a result of repeated Israeli attacks and the ten-year-long Israeli/Egyptian siege and blockade of Gaza, 80% of the people live under the poverty line and unemployment is around 60%. The educational system is overcrowded, unstable and inconsistent. Public services have been weakened more and more, especially psychosocial support and other programs serving mainly women and children. This situation has been made even worse by the conflict between Fatah and Hamas, which means that public employees like teachers often go unpaid.

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    Fighting Israel with a camera and a stethoscope

    Raymond Deane, The Electronic Intifada, 31 July 2015

    Night in Gaza by Mads Gilbert (Skyscraper Publications)

    Since 2006, Israel has launched four merciless assaults on the besieged and defenseless Gaza Strip. After Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009, with its 1,400 Palestinian fatalities, the Norwegian surgeon Dr. Mads Gilbert published the best-selling Eyes in Gaza.

    That book, a record of his and co-author Erik Fosse’s experiences in Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital during the massacre, made him the object of a relentless campaign of defamation by Israel and its fellow-travellers.

    In July 2014 Operation Protective Edge, the most recent Israeli onslaught, inflicted more than 2,200 Palestinian fatalities, including 551 children. This attack was also partly witnessed by Gilbert; in its wake the Israeli authorities did not stop at defamation, but imposed a permanent ban on his entry to Gaza, reportedly for “security” reasons.

    In the preface to his new book Night in Gaza, Gilbert comments: “When a pen, a camera and a stethoscope are seen as security threats, we know we are dealing with a regime that is afraid of the truth and that believes power confers rights.”

    Clearly, however, the ban on Gilbert stems less from fear of the “small, black Sony … compact digital camera” that he carried wherever he went, even into the operating theater, than hostility to his unapologetically political stance.

    Not neutral

    “The medical profession cannot … be detached from society,” he tells us in his preface. “I am not neutral. I have taken a side. This book is a plea: in favor of the Palestinians.”

    A photograph of a Palestinian nurse giving the victory salute as he deals with an emergency is captioned: “The health workers see themselves as part of the popular resistance.” And in his final, valedictory chapter, he proclaims that “the social aspect of [medical] work … means supporting all measures to reduce social inequalities … it is what makes the medical profession a political tool.”

    Of course, the State of Israel also sees the medical profession as a political tool, periodically sending teams of doctors, soldiers and press photographers to the sites of natural disasters (Nepal, Haiti, the Philippines) while hindering alleviation of the disaster it has created in Gaza.

    If Israel’s politicization of medicine is designed ultimately to further the Zionist project of dispossession and conquest, Gilbert’s political stance is, on the contrary, taken in defense of Palestinian rights and universal human values.

    Gilbert’s small black camera, nonetheless, may arouse certain reservations. One approaches the very cover with trepidation: a photograph of a little girl’s head swathed in a sheet, her eyes closed. A glance inside the cover reveals that she is not in fact dead but anesthetized: a “beautiful moment of serenity amidst all the chaos of the nightmare that was the Shujaiya massacre.”

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