A letter from Gaza to the Natives of Standing Rock

Israa Suliman, WE ARE NOT NUMBERS, November 15, 2016

Dear Native Americans,

Although we are of different color, religion, culture and place, I have learned, as I read about the protests at Standing Rock, that we have much more in common than differences. When I read your history, I can see myself and my people reflected in yours. I feel in my core that your fight is my fight, and that I am not alone in the battle against injustice.

My ancestors were not the only ones who lived in Palestine. Jews, Christians and Arabs all lived side by side in my country. But my ancestors—including my grandparents and great-grandparents—were the indigenous people, just like you. And they suffered the same fate as your people. America's policy of occupation and displacement through forced marches like the Trail of Tears, and the gradual transfer of so many of your people to massive, impoverished reservations, hurts me deeply because it is so similar to the ethnic cleansing of my ancestors by the Israeli military occupation in what we call “al-Nakba” (the catastrophe). We know what you know: that our land is sacred.

In 1948, my ancestors—along with nearly a million other Palestinians—were frightened away or forced off their lands, in some cases at gunpoint. More than 10,000 others were massacred. Hundreds of our villages and cities were completely destroyed in a systemic plan to erase our identity—just as yours has been under continuing assault.

Native Americans' Trail of Tears
Trail of Tears

Palestine today is just 22 percent of our original homeland. Like you, some of my people (an estimated 1.5 million) must live in degrading “camps” (our word for reservations), where living conditions are "comparable to the Third World." Like your reservations, they are characterized by high rates of unemployment, poverty and suicide.

Many other Palestinians (about 6 million)—now including descendants of the original residents—are scattered elsewhere around the world, just as yours are around the United States. Today, not only has the military occupation taken over our land and declared it "the state of Israel," but it continues to carry on a policy of expulsion, demolishing Palestinian houses in the little bit of land we retain, building illegal settlements and preventing free movement with a network of “security checkpoints.”

Nakba
The Palestinian Nakba

Like you, we don’t control our natural resources. Just as you were not consulted about the Dakota Access Pipeline that will traverse your land and contaminate your water supply if installed, we are not consulted by Israel, which wants to mine the gas supply in our harbor for its own use and monopolizes the water supply in the West Bank for the green lawns of its own residents—leaving Palestinians parched and dry. In Gaza, where I live, only 10 percent of our water supply is drinkable due to the conditions in which we must live. We too know that “water is life.”

When I was young, I saw how the media portrays negative images of you, especially in Hollywood films—depicting you as uncivilized, savage, racist and drug abusers. Likewise, my people are portrayed as terrorists, “backward,” misogynists and anti-Semitic. And yet no one regards whites as all the same.

Like yours, our resistance has been labeled as acts of terrorism and violence rather than as a fight for survival and dignity. That's not surprising, since this is the policy of every oppressor who seeks to criminalize others to justify its acts. It is the oppressor's way to create its own version of reality to rationalize its behavior and brainwash the masses. And it is the oppressor's plan to make the colonized feel weak and alone. But you are proving they won’t succeed and I want you to know that my people are with you.

Seeing your women, elders and youth stand together to protest the pipeline and your exclusion from decision making is so inspiring! It gives us strength to go on with our own struggle.

As a Palestinian in Gaza, I have grown up feeling detached from the rest of the world as Israel tightens its decade-long blockade. I am sure many of you feel the same way. But we are not isolated. We are “soulmates” in the way that counts.

Mentor: Pam Bailey

Keep Gaza Children Warm

Anees Mansour, gofundme, November 5, 2016 

We are about to enter the winter season in Gaza. The houses can’t handle the weather as they are not insulated properly and we only get about eight hours of electricity a day. The conditions are extremely difficult.

We’ve been working with children from some of the most marginalized communities for over a year now putting together summer camps and educational workshops which has resulted in terrific participation and results.

But now we need to deal with the absolute basics: we just need to keep the children warm.

Public response and support of our work has been tremendous in the past and we’ve raised enough money for many activities. So now we’re looking for help to provide warm Jackets to the children here in Rafah.

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. Each jacket costs $20. The more money we can raise together, the more children we can keep warm.

Winter is close and we expect it will be harsh so we are aiming to raise this money in just a few days.

You can see photos of our previous work in the last year here:

For any further information, don’t hesitate to contact me:

    Anees Mansour  
    anemansour at gmail.com
    phone 009705986990

A special appeal from our friend Anees Mansour in Rafah

The Hope and Peace Foundation has now been providing services for Rafah children for one year. The program is going to lose the lease on the building they are presently using, unless they raise six months worth of rent by the end of this month, through this on line funding campaign. Please see the link below for more information. Anees wrote:

My friends,

I hope you, your families and your loved ones are doing well. I would like to wish all my Muslim brothers and sisters Eid Mubarak.

The 1st September was the final day of the building rental, and this is where we practice our activities with the kids. We received an evacuation note from the building owner to evacuate the building. As you all may know that we have been doing our best since August 2015 to serve the children of Rafah via the art and cultural activities. As a team we believe these kind of activities are extremely beneficial to the kids, where we can keep them away from the bad psychological situation. We are all together here to support those who in need our help. So we are hoping to achieve our goal as soon as possible through this link: http://www.launchgood.com/ ChildrenOfPalestine

Let me thank you all for all of your kindness and support.

​Best Wishes
Anees

Gaza: Abandoned in the Middle of Nowhere

, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, June 28, 2016

During a brief pause to hostilities in July 2014, families returned to eastern Gaza, which saw some of the heaviest bombings. Photo Credit: Oxfam / Flickr

Palestinians in Gaza are largely forgotten. They are an invisible people inhabiting a world without rights and possibilities. Over Israel’s near 50-year occupation, Gaza and the West Bank were reduced from a lower middle-income economy to a dysfunctional economy disproportionately dependent on foreign assistance. Gaza is under immense pressure from a continued blockade, now in its tenth year. Egyptian restrictions on the movement of people through Rafah, “which has remained largely closed… since October 2014, including for humanitarian assistance”[1] increased internal discord and hindered intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

There are stunningly high levels of unemployment and poverty. According to the World Bank, unemployment currently stands at 43 percent and in excess of 60 percent for Gazan youth. Yet, while Gaza’s economic demise is well documented, the blockade’s societal impact is often neglected. The blockade created a series of long-term, chronic conditions in Palestinian society,[2] including the destruction of civilian space, changes to social structure and health status, widespread trauma, a dramatic change in popular attitudes, and finally, a widening generational divide.

As United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Spokesman Chris Gunness notes: “The juxtaposition of hopelessness and despair, contrasted with the transformational potential of Gazan society, has never been so palpable.”[3]According to the World Bank, the Israeli blockade alone—which has severed almost all of the territory’s ties to the outside world, virtually terminating Gaza’s critically needed export trade—decreased Gaza’s GDP by at least 50 percent since 2007.[4] Egypt’s near total termination of Gaza’s tunnel trade—a vital, albeit underground economic lifeline—dealt an additional and extremely damaging blow. On top of this, the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, or Operation Protective Edge (OPE), worsened an already bleak situation by reducing Gaza’s economy by an additional $460 million.

This set in motion what one local analyst called a “dynamic of disintegration” that produced a range of unprecedented socioeconomic changes. Combined with the ruinous impact of the blockade, OPE was resulted in extensive damage to or destruction of homes, schools, health facilities, factories, businesses, sewage and water treatment infrastructure, and agriculture — effectively resulting in the destruction of civilian space. At least 100,000 people found themselves homeless, resulting in an estimated 75,000 being displaced, 11,200 being injured, at least 1,000 becoming permanently disabled, and 1,500 children becoming orphaned.[5]

Gaza’s society was radically leveled, particularly with the virtual destruction of its middle class and the emergence of an unprecedentedly new class of “poor.” Perhaps emblematic of the damage done to society, particularly since the imposition of the blockade, is Gaza’s rising infant mortality rate (IMR). IMR not only measures the health status of children, but also of the whole population. For the first time in more than 50 years, the IMR in Gaza increased from 20.2 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 22.4 in 2013. Neonatal mortality rates, or the number of children who die within four weeks of birth, experienced a dramatic increase from 12.0 in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013, an uptick of nearly 70 percent. In Gaza, there is also a documented rise in domestic violence and child labor, as well as considerable anecdotal evidence for an increase in prostitution. No doubt the blockade, coupled with the last three wars in Gaza, is a contributing factor.

According to local health officials, 80 percent of adults in Gaza suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. During OPE, all sectors of the Strip were subject to or threatened with some kind of attack. According to Yale Professor Brian Barber, “OPE was uniquely crippling because no one was free of risk, and no place was safe to find refuge. It was, in a sense, universally and inescapably terrorizing.”[6] Every child over the age of six has seen three wars, and at least 400,000 children are in need of immediate psychological intervention, according to the UN. As a result, OPE has created a profound sense of collective dread and desperation that has less to do with the war than the inhuman conditions left unchanged since the war. People have never felt less safe and secure or more devoid of hope.

The people of Gaza once maintained more nuanced views of Israel, but now see little possibility for peace. There appears to be a greater generational divide between the “older” Oslo generation (and earlier cohorts), who had some insight into Israel and the world beyond, and those born since Oslo, who have little insight, if any. Gaza’s population is very young, with nearly half of the population being 14 years of age and younger. This is extremely dangerous, especially in the absence of effective leadership and in an environment that offers so little. Furthermore, the generational divide appears to be shifting. Young people, some reportedly as young as 10-12 years, are assuming responsibilities reserved for individuals far older. Children are forced out of school to work and help support their families; in some cases, they even head households.[7] Even before OPE, almost 30 percent of all young people aged 16-17 were out of school in Gaza and the West Bank. People, especially the young, are acutely aware of what they are being denied. How long can they be expected to accept their own deprivation?

Reconstruction is so painfully slow that no one in Gaza, save international organizations, discusses it anymore. By November 2015, only 170 homes out of 18,000-19,000 destroyed or severely damaged were rebuilt.[8] By April 2016, according to the UN, nearly 3,000 homes were rebuilt or made livable. Not surprisingly, “an estimated 1.3 million people [out of a total population of 1.8 million] are in need of humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip in 2016.”[9] These people have a range of skills, but are deliberately denied the right to work by Israel, the United States. and the European Union. They are instead forced into a debilitating dependency on foreign aid. Foreign donors are almost non-existent in the context of reconstruction, because the majority of promised monies—approximately 65 percent–has yet to materialize.[10] Even if donations were waiting to be funneled in, longstanding Israeli restrictions obstruct the importation of needed construction materials, despite an easing of certain restrictions in recent months.

Because of security concerns, Israel prohibits the entry of a range of items into Gaza, , including wooden boards thicker than 1cm.[11] Thus, many Gazans must salvage building materials, yet another example of the normalization of violence and illegality, which the international community continues to accept. An official with the Israeli human rights organization, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, captured Gaza’s situation, noting: “In the rest of the world we try to bring people up to the humanitarian standard. Gaza is the only place where we’re trying to push them down—to keep them at the lowest possible indicators.”[12] The assistance provided by international donors is not meant to raise people out of poverty, but to maintain their survival within it. It is not meant to alter the structures of unemployment and dependency, but to sustain and reinforce them. It is not meant to alleviate the causes of suffering but, simply, to manage them.

What will happen when Palestinian despair defines Palestinian identity?[13] Will Israel respond, as it long has, by building more barriers and inflicting more misery? Will the international community respond by providing more sacks of flour and bags of rice? Palestinians working in major media outlets were recently instructed by their home offices not to cover Gaza in depth. “Barring a major event” they were told, there were to be “no human interest stories, no day-to-day coverage, and no focus on suffering.” This is, the media staff are told, in order “to diminish any linkage with the West Bank and any understanding of Gaza and what has happened to it. Gaza is abandoned in the middle of nowhere.”[14] As long as occupation and colonization continue, there can be no resolution and no conclusion. What Gaza needs, what all Palestinians and Israelis need, is for the occupation to end and for liberation to begin.



Sara Roy (Ed.D. Harvard University) is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies specializing in the Palestinian economy, Palestinian Islamism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Roy is also co-chair of the Middle East Seminar, jointly sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and co-chair of the Middle East Forum at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Dr. Roy began her research in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in 1985 with a focus on the economic, social and political development of the Gaza Strip and on U.S. foreign assistance to the region. Since then she has written extensively on the Palestinian economy, particularly in Gaza, and on Gaza’s de-development, a concept she originated.

[1] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs OPT, Gaza: Internally Displaced Persons, April 2016, p. 4.
[2] For a more detailed discussion of social impacts, see Sara Roy, “Afterword – The Wars on Gaza: A Reflection;” in The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development, Third Edition (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2016); and Sara Roy, UN Security Council Arria-Formula Presentation on Gaza, in Israel-Palestine Non-governmental Organization Working Group at the United Nations, Reflections One Year Later and Charting a New Course for Gaza—UN Security Council Arria-formula Meeting, United Nations, New York, July 20, 2015.
[3] “Interview: The UN in Gaza,” Middle East Policy, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, Spring 2016, p. 145.
[4] World Bank, Economic Monitoring Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (Washington, DC: World Bank, May 27, 2015), p. 6.
[5] See Roy, “Afterword – The Wars on Gaza: A Reflection,” pp. 398-399, 415-416; Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry Established Pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution S-21/1, Executive Summary, June 24, 2015, pp. 6-7; Human Rights Council, Report of the Detailed Findings of the Independent Commission of Inquiry Established Pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution S-21/1, June 24, 2015, p. 154; and United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs OPT, Gaza: Internally Displaced Persons, April 2016, p. A.
[6] Email exchange.
[7] Sami Abdul Shafi, “Economic Shift in EU Policy in Palestine: Capturing Lost Opportunity; Restoring Dignity,” Chatham House, September 2015, Draft.
[8] Security analyst, Jerusalem, November 2015.
[9] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs OPT, Gaza: Internally Displaced Persons, April 2016, pp. 1 & 10.
[10] As of September 2015.
[11] In October 2015 Israel reported that gravel would be removed from the dual use list, but 19 items remain, many of them critical for reconstruction.
[12] Cited in Lani Frerichs, “Belligerent Occupation and Humanitarianism in Gaza,” A.M. Thesis, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, April 25, 2010, p. 8.
[13] “Interview: The UN in Gaza,” Middle East Policy (Spring 2016).
[14] Telephone conversation, November 2015.