Sunday, January 9, 2011

Attacks on Palestinians in Jerusalem

It's 10:41am on Sunday and already a very difficult morning for Palestinians in Jerusalem. Today, like every day, their efforts to live in peace have been thwarted. Already one Palestinian community organizer was called in for interrogation, a second arrested, and construction began on a new illegal settlement in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood.

As soon as I turned on my computer, I read about the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel in Jerusalem. Israeli settlers have official Israeli permission to tear down this hotel to build a new settlement (illegal under international law) in the heart of a Jerusalem neighborhood. This illegal project is funded by Irving Moskowitz, a businessman in the US that has donated to many efforts to takeover Palestinian land. For those of you nearby, a protest has been called for 4pm today.

At 8:49am I received a call from the Wadi Hilweh Information Center. The center's director had just been called in for interrogation for the second time since a judge ordered his release on Friday. Jawad is an energetic young man working to improve the situation of his community in Silwan by organizing children's activities at the Madaa Center and also working to educate the international community about the history of Silwan, a Palestinian village in Jerusalem. He was arrested last week (while working with children) on suspected assault but then released two days later for lack of evidence. Jawad has since been called in for interrogation twice. According to the information center, Jawad has been questioned about his activism in the local community. This amounts to harassment and intimidation by the Israeli police.

*UPDATE* The Israeli police are now seeking to ban Jawad from Silwan, the neighborhood in Jerusalem that his family has lived in for generations. There is a hearing tomorrow and I'm hoping against the odds that the judge will not approve this request.

Just a few minutes ago, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee announced that Nidhal Abu Gharbiya, a Palestinian organizer in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was arrested by Israeli police while watching the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel. Since he was simply observing Israel's illegal activities, I can only conclude that his arrest was another way of silencing Palestinians demanding the right to live in their homes.

Every day, Palestinians in Jerusalem face the threats of illegal Israeli settlers, state repression, and lack of equal rights and services. But this morning is an extreme example. One Israeli activist posed the question: "Is Israel taking advantage of the jammed news cycle in america to push forward in East Jerusalem?" Probably not. But still, I hope you will share this information to make sure Palestinians in Jerusalem are not forced out because no one is watching.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011: More than words necessary to make it “happy”

It's only the second day of 2011 but I can't bring myself to write “Happy New Year” anymore. Living in Palestine, these words were made hollow by the death and destruction all around me.

The start of a new year is always a time of reflection for me and I thought back to New Year's Day two years ago, hoping that this year would be different. In 2009, I was glued to the television watching live footage of Israel's savage attacks on Gaza. I stayed by the phone trading text messages with friends and colleagues in Gaza that were desperate for contact with the outside world as the bombs and white phosphorous rained down. And on my computer, I followed the unfolding story about the murder of Oscar Grant by BART police in my hometown of Oakland, CA.

This New Year's, I went to Nablus, a city in the north of the occupied West Bank. My mom and husband had never visited the market in the old city and we spent hours walking through narrow passages under impressive stone arches taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling marketplace. But everywhere we turned, there were memorials for Palestinians killed by the Israeli occupation. Plaques with the names of the dead, posters with their photos, and rubble from partially destroyed buildings were a constant reminder that this beautiful city holds painful memories for many of the residents.

As we walked through Nablus, we learned that a Palestinian woman in the village of Bil'in had died. Jawaher Abu Rahma was rushed to the hospital the day before after inhaling concentrated tear gas fired by Israeli forces at a demonstration against the Apartheid Wall. Her death is the latest in a long list of deaths, injuries, arrests, and torture in this village, all carried out by Israel.

Today, Ahmad Maslamani was killed by Israeli forces at a checkpoint near Nablus and Israeli airstrikes hit Jabalya Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip. This camp is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with more than 100,000 refugees living on 1.4 square kilometers. I can only imagine the fear and trauma that children and families are experiencing in this camp as they are reminded that life under Israeli occupation is always precarious.

Two years ago, I thought that something could change. I thought that people like Oscar and Jawaher would have a chance to make a difference with their lives, not just their deaths. I thought that the world's outrage and shock would build into a movement that listened to their voices and demanded their rights. But today, I am still receiving notice by texts, emails and in the market place that nothing has changed.

I hope that together we will transform 2011 into a year of freedom and justice for people in Palestine, Oakland, and all over the world.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Palestine

Growing up, Christmas was a special day filled with family and friends. We would gather early at my parents' house to sit around the fireplace in our pajamas drinking hot chocolate and opening presents. Then we'd cook a big breakfast together and those of us without other relatives to visit would go for a long walk on the beach. Christmas meant taking a day off from whatever else was going on to be with family.

I'm now living in Bethlehem, Palestine which has its own rich Christmas traditions. But taking a break from the “real” world for a day is not a luxury that people living under occupation can take. I tried to revive some of my family's traditions but though we are living within driving distance of the Mediterranean and Red seas as well as Lake Tiberias, these are all places my husband is not allowed to go. His Palestinian ID card means it is illegal for him to reach these areas. Even Gaza's Mediterranean coast, another area supposedly under Palestinian control, is out of reach for him and others with West Bank ID cards. (Actually, Gaza is out of reach for pretty much everyone as Israel continues its blockade for the third year.)

My husband and I took a walk to his parents' house in the nearby Dheisheh Refugee Camp instead. It was another reminder of Palestinian dispossession as we walked amongst the 12,000 people now living in this camp. 62 years ago these families were living in 45 different villages near Hebron and Jerusalem. But most of the camp residents have never even seen their villages though in some cases the village lands are just a few miles away from the refugee camp.

Christmas night we went to a festival in the nearby town of Beit Sahour. We watched a riveting performance by Al-Funoun dance troupe while enjoying hot tea and falafel. But there too, we found reminders of the Israeli occupation when a group of French visitors came late because 5 members of their group were arrested by Israeli soldiers in the city of Hebron while protesting the illegal Israeli settlers who took over Palestinian homes.

When I came home and watched the news, the Christmas round-up in Palestine included Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, closure of all Gaza crossings, eviction orders for a Palestinian family, and two homes demolished in Jerusalem. Christmas in Palestine is like any other day decorated with lights.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Drought in Dheisheh

Yesterday morning, my sister-in-law jubilantly walked into the kitchen announcing “I think I'll do laundry today! No, I'll wash the floors today and do laundry tomorrow.” I've been staying with my in-laws in Dheisheh Refugee Camp and it was the first day that they had running water in more than two weeks. She wasn't the only one with a cleaning plan. Later in the day I picked up my niece at a neighbor's house and found the neighbor busily scrubbing the floors of her own home while her teenage daughter watched my niece. Since late spring, the residents of the camp have gone without water for days and weeks at a time. Everyone was working fast so as not the waste the opportunity.

Meanwhile, the hum of motors filled the camp. Electric pumps were filling the water tanks on the roof of every home. They will probably only have running water for a few days so the tanks are a way to store up some water for cooking, bathing, and cleaning while they wait for the water to come again.

Palestinian cities and villages get water more regularly than the refugee camps, but they are all working with what's leftover after Israel confiscates more than 80% of the water in the West Bank for use inside Israel and in illegal Israeli settlements.

I live in an apartment building not far from my in-laws (I can actually see their roof from our kitchen window). Though we live in a city, we also haven't had running water in weeks and our water bill has skyrocketed since last spring when the building’s well ran dry. The building manager has been forced to buy Palestinian water back from Israeli companies so he can fill up the water tanks for each apartment.

The lack of water isn't just a challenge for personal use. The prices of fruits and vegetables are exorbitant this year as a result of the drought and Israeli policies. Many Palestinian farmers in the West Bank have less produce to sell because there is no rain and it's both difficult and expensive to access other water sources. This is compounded by Israel's ban on produce from Gaza entering the West Bank. Ordinary Palestinians have no other choice to but to purchase the more expensive Israeli produce.

It's December and we should be experiencing cold and rain but it's 74 degrees and sunny today. There's only been one day of rain so far this fall. I remember it well – I think everyone does. If there isn't a long rainy season this winter that spells hardship now but bodes even worse for next summer when heat and dust are overwhelming and people need water to survive. Of course, the Israelis living in illegal settlements all around us (I can also see a settlement from my kitchen window) are surely not feeling the effects of this unnatural season. Their government makes sure that there is Palestinian water running in their homes built on Palestinian land while the rightful owners of the land live beside them in separate and unequal conditions.

Meanwhile, washers are running, women are scrubbing, and pumps are humming as long as the water is flowing. Without water, without rights, and without freedom Palestinians continue, as they have for decades, to try to make every day life as normal as possible in the most abnormal conditions.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gaza in 5 Hours

By Dr. Mona El-Farra

Merla and David from Medical Teams International were two of the few foreigners who have been allowed to visit us here in Gaza. After they stayed 5 days in the West Bank, they arrived at the Erez checkpoint, by the city of Beit Hanoun in Gaza. This northern border crossing is one one of the two ways to enter into Gaza, the other is the Rafah crossing where it has become almost impossible for foreigners to enter. There are few exceptions and they include very special considerations (and luck) and are time consuming, uncertain and a hassle.

I started my 5 hours journey into Gaza with Merla and David, my special guests. Any guests who enter Gaza are special- they open a new window forged of love and solidarity, and it sends a clear message that we are not alone and forgotten.

Our first stop was the Al Assria Medical Center in the Jabalia Refugee Camp. We then visited the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip. My guests were very impressed by the facility and our success in implementing an MRI machine for Gaza, the first of its kind. I was pleased and proud to hear their comments , it also empowered me to continue working hard to improve and promote our health facilities which serve the most needy patients in Gaza.

Every day is a hard and continuing struggle to meet the different health needs of over 1.5 million people in Gaza, and the demand only increases. The occupation and siege continue to deteriorate an already dire health situation. Everyday hundreds of patients need to be referred for treatment outside of Gaza. This, of course, is impossible because of the borders, siege and a devastating financial situation...most Gazans, women, children and the sick are brought closer to poverty every day.

UNRWA School

In one of the UNRWA schools at the Shatea Refugee camp, my guests could see and feel how happy the students were while drinking clean purified water, recently provided by the Middle East Children’s Alliance ( MECA). MECA implemented 25 water purification units in Gaza schools and kindergartens over the last 2 years, through their Maia project. We were able to see the impact and importance of what it means for these children, trapped by the occupation and indifference, to have access to clean drinking water. The Maia project works to combat that indifference

Dancing with Children at Afaq Jadeeda

In the south of Gaza, the guests danced to Palestinian folk music with children at the Afaq Jadeeda Association. This is part of Let the Children Play and Heal, a project that provides psychological support for children dealing with trauma, also funded by the Middle East Children’s Alliance.

We finished the tour by meeting the Samouni children in the Zaytoun Area, where we met Adie Marmoukh who is an activist from the Manchester Palestine Solidarity Committee and also with the International Solidarity Movement. The scene of Aidie and these children, receiving an English lesson on a pile of rubble was such an intimate and moving moment. The children were happy to have an opportunity to learn.

I do not mean to romanticize the situation in Gaza. It is so unbearable. Especially for all of us who have to live day to day, trying hard to be steadfast and helping to build community and hold it intact.

Gaza, the old city

Just before leaving Gaza we paid a visit to the Greek Orthodox church, named for St Porphyrius, which was built in the 5th century, one of the oldest churches in the world. The Archbishop who received us was so kind and our meeting was very informative. We also visited the Great Omari mosque, which is not far away from the church, and is the oldest and largest mosque in Gaza.

Despite everything, Gaza is is not only defined by war, occupation and siege. It has a history and a civilization that has stood so proud against all the historic and environmental changes, the natural and man made disasters. Against all odds, I love my city, my home.

As David left Gaza, his parting comment was, “You deserve a better life.” Against all odds, a better life will be realized for all of us.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water in Palestine by Nora Barrows-Friedman

Thanks to Nora Barrows-Friedman for this special post on water in Palestine! Today is Blog Action Day 2010 and the focus is water. We hope this piece will contribute to awareness, discussions, and solutions to the water crisis around the world. - MECA

“The wind finally came to Palestine,” a friend of mine told me on the phone today, from his home in Battir, a small village near Bethlehem. “Now we can finally breathe.” He said he was relieved that the sweltering Palestinian summer was nearing its end and Autumn was showing its colors in the parched hillsides and in the air. But the water in my friend's home, in his village and across occupied Palestine is still slow to trickle, as it has been for months.

As Jewish Israelis enjoy trips to the beach, neighborhood swimming pools, unfettered access to clean drinking water, state-of-the-art sewage treatment infrastructure, and endless amounts of running water in their homes, Palestinians in communities separated by boundaries, walls, and checkpoints brace and prepare each time the weather heats up and the antiquated wells dry up. For weeks on end – especially in the refugee camps inside the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip – there simply is no water coming from the tap, and people are forced to purchase bottled water just to meet their daily needs.

For Palestinians under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and in Palestinian-Bedouin communities inside Israel itself, water has historically been a precious commodity especially in the summer months – which can stretch, like this years', for over five months – because of the ongoing resource theft of groundwater tables by the Israeli state and the economic blockade the government continues against the people in Gaza.

According to current statistics by Amnesty International, Israel takes 80% of the water in the Mountain aquifers in the north (one of many water sources available to Israel, including the state's full access to the Jordan River, which runs inside the occupied West Bank); while Palestinians in the West Bank are left with just the remaining 20% of that one aquifer, and are prohibited from accessing water from the Jordan river altogether.

However, in Gaza, 95% of the groundwater is extremely polluted and deemed unfit for human consumption, according to new reports from Israeli human rights organization B'tselem ( The water crisis has entered into a troubling phase as Israel maintains its suffocating blockade against the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped inside the strip. This blockade, which has been in place as collective punishment following the Hamas party's political takeover in 2007, prevents entry to hundreds of items – including essential industrial materials needed to repair the water infrastructure.

The Electronic Intifada reported on B'tselem's findings back in September (

“Citing reports from the United Nations' Environment Program, the Palestinian Water Authority, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility and international aid organizations, B'Tselem's report says that children are being especially affected by the water crisis in Gaza. The report references the over-pumping of groundwater, combined with poor wastewater management systems and the toxification of ground soil from waste disposal sites -- where asbestos, medical waste, oils and fuels were dumped after Israel's three-week attacks in 2008-09. As a result, according to B'Tselem, chemicals such as chlorides and nitrates are contributing to excessive diseases and internal injuries, especially in Gaza's children.

Israeli air strikes during the winter attacks also damaged wastewater treatment plants in Gaza, and damaged thirty kilometers of water networks, eleven wells and six thousand residential water tanks. Reports estimate that the damage to the water infrastructure amounted to approximately $6 million.

"According to international aid organizations, twenty percent of Gazan families have at least one child under age five who suffers from diarrhea as a result of polluted water," B'Tselem reports. "A UN study published in 2009 estimates that diarrhea is the cause of 12 percent of children's deaths in Gaza. The lack of potable drinking water is liable to cause malnutrition in children and affect their physical and cognitive development."

Moreover, the blockade and the bombings have affected the sewage infrastructure as well. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza City released a shocking report in August on the toxification of the sea itself because of the deterioration of Gaza's wastewater treatment plants.

“Gaza's current wastewater treatment facilities were constructed with an operational capacity of 32,000 cubic meters of waste a day,” states the report (

“With a growth rate that is one of the world's highest -- an estimated 3.6 percent annually -- Gaza's surging population has overwhelmed the capacity of the waste treatment facilities, and Monther [Shoblak, director general of the Coastal Municipality Water Utility] estimates that the facilities are now receiving at least 65,000 cubic meters of waste daily. Unable to handle more than half of its intake, much of the sewage is directly transported to the sea, where it is dumped completely untreated. Much of this sewage washes back onto Gaza's shores, polluting the beaches and creating toxic swimming conditions for the countless children and adults seeking escape from the intense summer heat,” the report continued.

Facts like these are staggering, and nothing new to Palestinians who have experienced decades of humanitarian crisis. So, what do we do about this deliberate water emergency unfolding across Palestine, especially inside the Gaza strip, and especially affecting the most vulnerable population, the children?

Berkeley, California-based Middle East Children's Alliance has taken direct action against the water crisis in Gaza, launching the Maia project to provide Palestinian children with clean, safe drinking water. Maia is Arabic for water.

According to their website,, the project began “when the Student Parliament at the UN Boys’ School in Bureij Refugee Camp, Gaza were given the opportunity to choose one thing they most wanted for their school: They chose to have clean drinking water. MECA’s partner in Gaza heard about this vote and, after meeting with representatives from the school and the Student Parliament, came to MECA to see if we could respond to the children’s request for drinking water. MECA provided the funds to build a water purification and desalination unit for the school in 2007.”

MECA's interest in simply providing something we here in this country, and in most industrialized places across the world, take for granted – clean, safe, drinking water – is intrinsically aligned with their 22-year old philosophy that Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese children deserve a better and healthier future than the one they've acquired under so many years of occupations and wars.

This philosophy includes the radical notion that there are already incredible people on the ground who are already working hard to better their communities, and international donor support should compliment and sustain that locally-based work. MECA says they are working in partnership with various community organizations “to build water purification and desalination units in schools throughout the Gaza strip...We have provided clean water to twelve large UN schools in Palestinian refugee camps and to ten kindergartens in refugee camps, towns, and villages,” they say.

MECA is appealing for generous donations to combat the aggressive and unraveling humanitarian crisis in Gaza by building water purification systems in Palestinian childrens' schools.

“A large purification unit for a UN school in a refugee camp costs $11,300. The UN schools run in shifts due to overcrowding and each unit provides drinking water for 1,500-2,000 children and staff. A small purification unit for a preschool or kindergarten costs $4,000 and serves 150-450 children. Many of the small units are located in community centers with after-school programs and summer camps so the units serve these children as well. Many organizations, individuals, and schools around the US are raising the whole cost of a unit in their communities,” MECA says.

There's always so much despair when I talk or think or write about Palestine – but through this project, and with the work that MECA's staff in California and in Palestine have been doing for so many years, I know it's possible to make an extraordinary difference in children's lives.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Keeping Hope Alive in Gaza

By Dr. Mona El-Farra

Children are everywhere here in Gaza. They make up more than 60% of the entire population because the average family size is 7.2 people. Crowded towns, refugee camps and cities cram over 1.5 million people into these 360 square kilometers, making Gaza one of the densely populated areas of the world.

Between the Israeli occupation, the siege of Gaza, and the internal Palestinian divisions, children in Gaza have been, and continue to be deprived of many of their basic rights. The right to play, to live in suitable homes, to live in a safe and healthy atmosphere, and to have access to food and clean water.

In short, children in Gaza are not living in safety. They are not living with the rights we are supposed to provide them.

In Gaza we know that our situation will not improve overnight so we look to our children as the future. All efforts to support our children are extremely needed and appreciated by the community. The accumulative work of everyone who cares in the local and international communities will affect the future of the hundreds of thousands of kids who experience poverty and the threat of military attacks on a daily basis . This creates an immediate need to make life easier and tolerable through entertaining activities and relief services. I don't expect we can make quick, dramatic changes given the complexity and deterioration of the situation in Gaza. But certainly I believe the effects of these efforts will prove to be important in the future, particularly in the lives of these children and their families.

In such complicated circumstances with endless needs for children, the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) is working hard to make life tolerable for children in Palestine. In my day-to-day life, I can see the effects of MECA's work. When I was at one of the UN schools where we implemented a water purification system, one of 15 systems we supplied so far this year, I was touched to hear the different stories and positive comments from the families, the teaching staff, and the children. We all know the importance of good clean water but many people take drinking clean water for granted. This is not the case for people who are deprived of it in Palestine, India, or countless other locations around the world. In the Gaza Strip, more than 90% of our water is not suitable for drinking.

The university scholarships project targets students and whose families would not be able to educate their children without MECA's support. I see the huge impact of the psychosocial program “Let the Children Play and Heal” that has already reached more than 110,000 children throughout all of Gaza, plus providing vital trainings to hundreds of mothers that empower them to take action to help their own families and communities. I went several times to the Zaytoun neighborhood this summer to observe “Learning on the Rubble,” a project that provided intensive educational and psychosocial support to children in a particularly impoverished and traumatized area of Gaza. None of these children can be completely healed while the occupation and siege continue but I believe our work meets the children's most urgent needs and contributes to their chances for a good future.

I feel privileged to see the successes of MECA projects and partnerships on the ground. I feel proud to be part of the team of MECA. I tell the children of Palestine more and more about MECA's work and about the committed people abroad who work hard to help the Palestinian people. I try to educate the entire community about the genuine great work in support of the Palestinian people's rights and the continuous work to expose the colonial racist nature of the Israeli occupation that is happening around the world. I understand that our freedom is not an easy task to be achieved but to be sure there are growing solidarity efforts to achieve peace and justice and MECA is an important part of them. MECA's work and the work of all the friends and solidarity activists around the world make me feel not alone and not forgotten and I convey this message everywhere in Gaza where my people live one day after another working hard to endure the most difficult situation.