Open Doors for Refugees — Madison

Here is the latest update from Open Doors for Refugees about the expected Syrian refugees coming to Madison. Open Doors is looking for furniture, household items, and gift certificates for the families.


Dear Friends,
 
There’s been a tremendous outpouring of support for Open Doors, especially since the election.  Thanks to all of you who’ve contacted us.  Keeping you informed and engaged, our third-Wednesday-of-the-month general meeting is next week, December 21st,at 7:00 PM.  This time it’ll be at Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound St.  Everyone is invited. 
 
160 refugees are slated to come to Madison this fiscal year (October-September), 110 through Lutheran Social Services and 50 through Jewish Social Services.  LSS has already settled several families this year (and many in years past), while JSS is about to receive their first family.  While the future of the refugee program is very uncertain, it looks like it’ll be very busy for the next few months.
 
And with the influx of refugees, we need donations of furniture and household items.  The number of refugee families coming in the next few weeks will more than deplete the donations we have on hand (which we had to stop collecting because we had run out of storage room).  However, we’ve recently received additional storage space, we especially need furniture at this time, and we have room to put more of it.  If you’d like to donate either furniture or household items (sorry no clothes), please email us at OpenDoorsForRefugees@gmail.com for more information about what we need, pacing the donations, and scheduling a pickup of larger items.
 
Finally we’ve set up a gift certificate program, which is a great and more direct way to help refugees.  Donors get a choice of where to get gift cards, all gift cards will go directly to refugees, and refugees will get purchase choice, which they don’t otherwise often get. 

Interested in getting involved? We have our December meeting coming up and would love to see you there!

    Date: December 21st
    Time: 7:00-8:30 PM
    Location: Temple Beth Israel
    1406 Mound St.
    Madison, WI 53711

OpenDoorsForRefugees@gmail.com
https://www.facebook.com/OpenDoorsForRefugees/
http://www.opendoorsforrefugees.org/

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.

Continue reading

Vote for our Gaza photo in Global Giving contest!

Our photo (above), taken by Mohammad Mansour, was selected as a finalist in Global Giving’s 2016 Photo Contest! This picture was taken while the first pallet of Luci Lights that we sent was being distributed at the Women’s Project Center in Rafah, Gaza. If we win the competition, we will put the prize money towards sending another pallet — our hope is that we can give a light to every child in Gaza, to help them and their families cope with the difficulties of daily power outages.

Voting is easy — just click this link to find our photo. Then, check your email to confirm your vote! We love to see photos of the children that are receiving the Luci Lights, it is a great reminder of how important this project is.

Thanks for your support, and don’t forget to vote this week!

Best,
Donna


Project #18427

Brighten the Future of Gaza’s Children

by Rebuilding Alliance
Story  Reports  Photos  Share

Summary

Help send solar-powered lights to the children of Gaza so they can do their homework at night when the electricity goes out. We found a way to ship pallets of Luci Lights, personal solar lanterns, through the blockade to Non-Governmental Organizations in Gaza, working with them to distribute to children and families in need. This is a precedent-setting initiative that will empower Gaza's next generation, and tell their stories, help open the blockade, and bring hope and safety to all.

$134,390 total goal
$17,637 remaining
774 donors
4 monthly donors
1 year active

Challenge

Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip live in darkness every day. Electricity is limited by the 10 year-long blockade. Now the power plant is shut down, giving families only 4 hours of electricity in each day. When the lights go out, everything stops. Nightly tasks become impossible without dangerous kerosene lamps or candle flames. Imagine being a student and not having light to finish your homework, or a little child without a nightlight.

Solution

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

April 5, 2016
Noga Kadman on Erased from Space and Consciousness


Noga Kadman speaks about her book Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948
7:30 pm, Elvehjem L150, UW-Madison Campus.

“Poignant, sensitive, and compassionate, Kadman’s deeply-informed inquiry exposes graphically the process of ‘demographic Judaization’ of Palestine, in physical reality and cultural comprehension.” – Noam Chomsky

A dramatic transformation took place in the landscape and demography of Israel after the 1948 war, as hundreds of Palestinian villages throughout the country were depopulated, and for the most part physically erased. How has this transformation been perceived by Israelis? Kadman’s talk suggests some answers, based on a research that systematically explores Israeli attitudes concerning the depopulated Palestinian villages. Noga Kadman lives near Jerusalem and is an Israeli researcher in the field of human rights and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a licensed tour guide. Her main interest is to explore the encounter between Israelis and the Palestinian presence in the landscape and history of the country. She is co-editor of Once Upon a Land: A Tour Guide to Depopulated Palestinian Villages and Towns (in Hebrew and Arabic).

Sponsored by: The Havens Center, Comparative US Studies, UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, the Dept. of Geography, and the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project