Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day 2 in Gaza: More death and destruction

Today we visited Jabaliya Refugee Camp, one of the areas hardest hit by Israel's brutal attacks on Gaza earlier this month. Mohammed Al-Majdalawi, a volunteer with MECA, showed me the ruins of the refugee camp. Residents reported that they had no electricity or running water, nearly one week after Israel's unilateral ceasefire.

Pharmacies, schools, and homes were indiscriminately hit in Jabaliya. Mohammed's family was forced to evacuate their home because of intense bombing. He told me that though they are living in a refugee camp, not their original land, they consider themselves lucky to have a home at all. Thousands of people are still living in crowded UN schools turned to shelters because they have no where else to go.

Earlier in the day I went to the Zaytoun area of Gaza City. I saw families gathering wood from charred trees. The continued blockade of Gaza is adding insult to injury as these terrified families build fires to keep warm and cook due to the lack of cooking gas. Residents from the neighborhood told me stories of wild dogs coming to eat their dead neighbors, relatives bleeding to death because Israel would not allow emergency workers reach the area, and Israeli soldiers entering homes to beat and then kill people.

I have been in Gaza just two short days and have already witnessed so much death and destruction. The scale of the effects of these attacks is enormous. MECA is doing a small part by sending a mobile intensive care unit, 3.5 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons fortified baby cereal, thousands of crayons and coloring books. $1.5 million worth of medicine for children and infants as well as 40 wheelchairs are still en route to Gaza. But we must keep the world's attention on Gaza. We must give these children an opportunity to heal and to live out their lives in freedom.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Gaza needs many years to heal

A message from MECA's Director of Gaza Projects, Dr. Mona El-Farra, who is in Egypt coordinating shipments to Gaza while Barbara Lubin is meeting with MECA's partners on the ground in Gaza.

Hello friends

I am still in Cairo. With a sad heart I am watching home from a distance. The hardest days were when I went to the Rafah Crossing point. I was only one kilometer away from Gaza, but could not enter. I was told that as a Palestinian with dual nationality, I can get in but not out.

While at the border I was greatly touched by the expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian people. I met doctors from Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Greece, Turkey and many other countries who came to help the people of Gaza in defiance of Israel’s savage attacks on children, women, and men. We must all work on continuing and expanding these solidarity efforts on different levels. We cannot let Israel get away with its crimes against humanity in Gaza.

I want to thank you all for your solidarity as well as for your practical support. Whether you donated one pound or thousands of pounds, your support and your continuous protests let the people of Gaza feel that they are not alone and will never be forgotten.

I am still in daily contact with friends, relatives, and fellow doctors back home. And I conveyed to them your messages of support and solidarity. I also visited dozens of the injured who were transferred to Egyptian hospitals. They are in great need of rehabilitation after their wounds heal.

I want to share the results of your concrete support for Gaza*:
3 ambulances
20 tons of medicine
30 tons of powdered milk and fortified baby cereal
50 wheelchairs
Thousands of coloring books and crayons for kids
Thousands of meals handed-delivered daily to displaced families taking shelter at UN schools

I thank you all, with a special thank you for the teams of volunteers in different areas of Gaza who worked under fire to meet the needs of our community, and for the emergency workers who worked tirelessly to reach the injured and dead. Time is gold in saving lives but Israel deliberately delayed and shot at emergency vehicles leading to the death of 15 emergency workers and countless Gazans.

The 22 days of Israeli attacks on Gaza was just one episode in a long line of catastrophes for Palestinians. Our struggle for justice and freedom continues.

*Much of these supplies come from MECA but other individuals and organizations have also turned to Dr. El-Farra to help them send emergency support to Gaza.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Gaza

After 10 grueling hours at the Rafah Crossing point between Egypt and Palestine on Wednesday, Sharon Wallace (a long-time MECA supporter) and I finally entered Gaza.

There are so many stories to tell from our first day in Gaza. So much pain and destruction. But there is one story in particular that I think the world needs to hear. I heard about a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children to 'give as a gift to Israel.' As she screamed in horror they repeated the demand and told her she could choose or they would choose for her. Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her. Today I learned that the concept of 'Jewish morality' is truly dead. We can be fascists, terrorists, and Nazis just like everybody else. And the international community must demand that this never be allowed to happen again. **PLEASE READ UPDATE FROM BARBARA BELOW**

Sharon and I stayed with a family in Rafah Refugee Camp on Wednesday night. They warmly welcomed us into their home and shared tales of horror from Israel's three week war on Gaza. Today we drove through Rafah, Khan Younis, Nuseirat Refugee Camp and Gaza City.

The destruction and trauma in the Gaza Strip is even greater than I expected. Any attempts at describing what we saw will fall short. Instead I want to share these photos.
Al Quds Hospital, Gaza City, was directly hit by Israeli artillery shells on January 16. Patients had to be evacuated as much of the hospital went up in flames.These photos are all the ruins of homes in residential neighborhoods. 4000 homes have been completely destroyed and 20000 partially destroyed.

To all who care about the children in Gaza:

I have just returned from 3 and a half weeks in Egypt and Gaza with Dr. Mona El-Farra delivering an ambulance, 4 tons of much needed pediatric medicine, tons of milk and baby cereal, 29 wheelchairs, and a truckload of crayons, magic markers, paper and coloring books for children in Gaza. It was a very trying visit.

I have been to Palestine many times over the past 21 years but never have I seen anything like what I saw this time. I will never forget the sadness, the smell, the destroyed homes, schools, mosques and cemeteries. I want to make clear this is not an apology but an explanation of what happened.

While I was away I told a story that was told to me by several people about a family in Gaza. This story received much attention and many people wanted more information so I contacted
my friend Talal and asked him to research the story. Here is his response:

Dear Barbara,

It's the first time i have had internet. I hope you are and all of our friends.

I heard from Dr. Mona that you are under great pressure because of the story you have published about the crime of that woman. Be sure that it was a fact and we are ready to receive any investigation committee to check out the facts. But as you know during the wars and when death is very close, the popular memory interferes and colors the action with it's special details.

We all heard the story on the local radio as I narrated it to you. But when you wrote the story and you faced so much pressure I decided to investigate and caught the real story.

It's not so far from from what you reported because the victims are the same...the story happened in Bourij Camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip. The Israelis called the woman Manal Albatran and told her that they wouldn't kill her or her husband Hussein Albatran, instead they would make them die of sadness because they would kill her children. The next day they shot her house with a rocket killing her and 5 of her children.

The dead:
Manal Albatran 30 years old
Walaa Albatran 12 years old
Islam Albatran 11 years old
Belal Albatran 10 years old
Ezzeldin Albatran 8 years old
Ehsan Albatran 7 years old

The father who is an employee at an UNRWA school and the youngest child were saved.

This is the real story and I hope the amount of victims will convince others to believe the crimes we face. Thanks a lot for your appreciated visit and I hope to see you again soon.

Talal Abushawish

Ambulance enters Gaza!

One of the perks of spending hours at the Rafah Border crossing was the gratifying experience of seeing MECA's ambulance cross into Gaza. We are donating this ambulance equipped as a mobile intensive care unit to the Palestine Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip, a wonderful organization that has received and distributed MECA's shipments of medical aid over the years. Several of their ambulance were destroyed and their emergency workers killed and injured by Israel earlier this month.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


It doesn't get more bizarre than this. Two ceasefires.

Last night I watched Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, announce a unilateral ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza. But when I spoke with friends in Gaza today, the buzz of Israeli drones was still loud and clear in the background. Israeli troops are still on the ground in Gaza, separating the north of the strip from the south. A Palestinian farmer was killed and his son injured this morning as they walked outside their home to survey the damage*. This is not the dramatic sigh of relief that people in Gaza have been waiting and praying for.

Meanwhile, Palestinian political factions announced their own ceasefire this afternoon. They are giving Israel one week to withdraw from Gaza. I suspect they will keep their word on this because people in Gaza are tired of the constant attacks and loss of life, and Hamas’ popularity may decrease if they give Israel an excuse (not a reason) to continue its horrific attacks on civilians.

I feel like I’m missing something – some vital piece of information that explains the logic behind these ceasefires. It is so obvious to me that a meaningful and lasting ceasefire must be singular and must be agreed on by all parties. But logic has never been a key piece of Israeli diplomacy. With the full and unconditional support of the United States, Israel doesn't need to bother with diplomacy or logic. Israeli politicians make and then break promises as they see fit, label anyone they don't want to deal with as a terrorist, bar human rights observers and international politicians from seeing things they don't want them to see, the list goes on.

I've looked for the logic too in the claims of victory coming from Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It seems clear that there are no winners, just thousands of losers. In Gaza the death toll is 1,300 with more bodies being pulled out of the rubble by the second. More than 5000 people are injured and 100,000 homeless. Refugees who were driven from their homes by armed gangs in 1948 are refugees a second time over. 16 hospitals and 60 schools were hit. The damage is immense. There were Israelis killed too, 3 civilians. But I can’t put the deaths of the Israeli occupying soldiers side by side with those they killed.

Of course people in Gaza welcomed these “ceasefires”. “A chance to bury our dead,” one friend cynically called it. It is a chance to look for missing friends and relatives, to go back to their neighborhoods and sift through remnants of houses, to venture out for food and other necessary items. "I'm back in my house with my family, we're lucky that there's not too much damage. But when I went looking for Dr. Mahmoud I didn't even recognize the spot where his house had been."

For aid agencies, these “ceasefires” are a chance to distribute food, to safely transport goods (though not between north and south), to assess the situation. MECA sent funds to our partner, Afaq Jadeeda Association, to cook meals and buy whatever supplies are available and deliver them to displaced families in the southern Gaza Strip. There is a lot of work to be done.

But what next? What about the Israeli imposed blockade of Gaza that left families without food, children without schoolbooks, and hospitals without medicine? How do Gazans rebuild their lives under the constant threat of another Israeli attack?

No matter how many ceasefires are in place, the international community must keep up the pressure on Israel for an end to its apartheid occupation in Gaza and the West Bank as well as of Palestinian citizens inside Israel proper.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

$1.5 million of medicine en route to Gaza

Barbara Lubin, Founder and Director of Middle East Children's Alliance, at Cairo airport amidst boxes of medicine for children and infants including antibiotics and vitamin supplements. MECA's shipment for 4 tons of medicine left Cairo today.

Dr. Mona El-Farra, MECA's Director of Gaza Projects, along with Sharon Wallace and other friends label the boxes of medicine "Gift from Middle East Children's Alliance for the Children of Gaza"

Barbara, Dr. Mona, Sharon and other friends in Egypt went to label the boxes carrying four tons of medicine - including antibiotics and vitamin supplements - for children and infants in Gaza. These medications were requested by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip and Ard Al-Insan.

On Monday, Barbara will try to enter Gaza to donate an ambulance equipped as a mobile intensive care unit as well as medicine and supplies for operating rooms.

On Tuesday, MECA's donations of wheelchairs, powdered milk, fortified cereal, and coloring books and crayons are scheduled to arrive in Gaza.

There's little cause for hope

I think close involvement with Palestine leads to clinical depression. For 61 years Palestinians have been massacred, driven from their homes, and lived under military occupation*. The whole world has discussed roadmaps, negotiations, and the ever-illusive peace while 15-year-old Muhannad is taken from his home in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp and sentenced to 18 months in an Israeli prison for throwing stones, while nine-year old Yousef's teeth are crushed by an Israeli settler because his family continues to live in their home in Hebron*. There's little cause for hope.

Though nothing new, these last three weeks in Gaza are indeed horrifying. "The worst catastrophe of my lifetime" according to a friend living in Gaza. The stories and images of pain and trauma are everywhere. "I don't know where my brother is", "For days we bled", "One bullet hit my hand and the other went through my back," "I cannot stay in one place; it's too dangerous," "8 of my relatives have been killed", "They bombed my whole neighborhood", "Mama! Mama! Where's mama?!"***

I am thankful to have lived a life that keeps me one step removed from these experiences. But I also know that we must all be made to understand what it is like for a child in Gaza****.

Because if you and I stay one step removed, we may never have the courage to call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. We will sit comfortably in our homes and wish "both sides" would accept a ceasefire, will look for a way to send food or money so these children can survive but not live.

Yes, there is very little cause for hope as the bombs continue to rain down on Gaza. But there are a few events and actions that make me wonder if Palestinian history may finally be reaching a new chapter.

Last week in Turkey, an Israeli basketball team was driven off the court by angry protesters. This week, Bolivia and Venezuela severed ties with Apartheid Israel. Yesterday in San Francisco activists blocked the entrance to the Israeli consulate as part of a series of direct actions at Israeli consulates in Canada and the US*****. Our governments may be unwilling to utter even one more of criticism, the United Nations might be paralyzed by balance and bureaucracy, but you and I can make sure that Israeli products, musicians, and sports teams are not welcome in our homes or communities.

I hope we won't wait for the next Deir Yassin, the next Qana, or the next Jabaliya. The children in Palestine are running out of time.

Resources for actions:

*Before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians living inside Israel proper were subjected to military rule.
**I know both these families
***Taken from phone calls, news clips, and articles during the current Israeli attacks on Gaza
****Read these articles to get a sense of the situation for children.
Children 'paying price of Gaza war'
Shelled family recounts Gaza horror
*****Video from Turkey, Article about Bolivia and Venezuela, Photos and article about Israeli consulate action in SF

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Visiting Gaza's Injured at the Palestine Hospital: This is the Moment for Change

Today was exhausting but productive.

Dr. Mona and I went to the Palestine Hospital in Cairo today to visit civilians injured in the Israeli attacks on Gaza. More than 200 injured children, men and women from Gaza have been transferred to hospitals in Egypt for immediately needed medical care; however thousands of injured civilians are still trapped in Gaza.

Dr. Mona spent much of the day speaking with doctors and patients at the Palestine Hospital. “Many patients have arrived at the hospital with severe burns from white phosphorous. But the doctors and hospital director also believe Israel is using new weapons. For the first time they are seeing patients who have very small injuries or entry wounds but when they do x-rays there is severe damage inside. Many of my colleagues in Gaza have also observed new types of injuries that are difficult to treat.” She added, “Unfortunately, medical workers in Gaza are too busy trying to save lives and they don’t have the time or possibility to investigate.” Israel continues to prevent international journalists from entering Gaza.
I met with four patients and say the real, human cost of Israel’s criminal attacks on Gaza. Today I spoke with a boy from Khan Younis who had both his legs amputated, along with countless other injuries to his body. More than 1000 people in Gaza have been killed, including hundreds of children.

After leaving the hospital we went on with our aid work for Gaza and purchased 5 tons of baby cereal that will feed 3000 children (6 months +) for one month. I know this aid work is important.
But it is wrong to call for humanitarian aid, a ceasefire, or rebuilding Gaza without addressing the the root of the problem. The people of Gaza need their freedom. Without the Israeli occupation that uprooted them from their homes in 1948; destroyed countless acres of agricultural land; closed Gaza's borders for imports and exports; and bombed houses, universities, hospitals, and mosques, the people of Gaza could live in dignity. They wouldn't need to wait for the international community to send help because they could provide for themselves. Now is the time for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Every Second There is a Bomb

by Adham Khalil, in Jabalya Refugee Camp, Gaza

January 13, 2009

It is very horrible here. Today was the worst. There were lots of F-16s above us and white phosphorous falling from the sky.

I didn't sleep last night. The sound of shelling in the north and east kept us all awake.

Most of the time we don't have any electricity in my house. So when the power comes for an hour or two the whole family is busy. We charge our mobiles, pump water, bake bread. But I have seen so many horrible things on TV that sometimes I wish we could stay without power.

So far, my own family is okay but I feel shy to speak about my family. I don't think like that. Everyone in Gaza is my family. We are suffering collectively as we are being punished and forgotten collectively, and we are dying.

It is very dangerous here and everywhere in Gaza. By 5 PM the streets are empty. Not even one person goes out of their homes in my area. But even in our homes, we are not safe. I swear sometimes I can smell death around us.

It is not true to say this is a war between Hamas and Israel. I am an eyewitness in Gaza and though you may think that Gaza is a country and Hamas is a great and powerful army, these are lies. The Palestinian factions do not own tanks, warplanes, or warships. They have homemade rockets, simple weapons. They cannot do anything against Israel's great and powerful army.

We are living under complete siege with daily killings and our houses destroyed. Hamas and other Palestinian factions are trying to defend Palestinians from the continuing massacres, invasions, and airstrikes. The Israeli occupation and actions in Gaza are terrorist actions, as are many of their actions and policies dating back to their ethnic cleansing campaign in 1948.

But I think this, right now, is the worst catastrophe I will see in my life.

I don't have any guns or weapons. I struggle by simply telling the truth. Many people have asked me if there is a way to send money or food. But what we really need is our freedom and an end to the fire.

Don't keep silent about the Israeli massacres and Holocaust against Palestinians. The demand for an end to this siege must be louder than the bombs that rain down upon us.

To help MECA send more medical aid to Gaza for thousands of sick and injured people living under siege, visit

Adham Khalil is a resident of Jabalya refugee camp and a youth leader at the Al-Assria Children's Library. His blog, Free Free Palestine, is at

This report was compiled from Adham's text messages and phone calls, and was adapted for publication by staff at Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) due to the difficulties imposed on Gazans to communicate freely with the outside world.

Solidarity and Resistance to Total Destruction: Update on MECA's Emergency Shipment for Gaza

by Sharon Wallace

I feel like I have been here for weeks, not just four days. I've never been involved directly in acquiring material aid. It is a frustrating, tiring, and, at times, maddening process. But after four days of Cairo traffic, long office visits, and too many phone calls we have been quite successful. We have acquired an ambulance that is equipped as a mobile intensive care unit. Speed in medical response saves lives. This is the ambulance that was requested. Gaza has lost many of its ambulances due to break downs and also due to Israeli targeting of ambulances.

Wheelchairs are also needed and we obtained 45 of them. Our contacts in Gaza have asked us to send powdered milk, water (6L bottles), small blankets, and baby cereals. By tomorrow evening we will have all of this lined up and by Thursday we plan to be back at the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Cairo.

The Arab Doctors Union is helping us transport the aid and drive the ambulance. The coordination of solidarity is amazing. Everyone seems either to be involved directly or want to assist in some way. We visit the warehouses to purchase goods and they donate additional amounts (for example: 5 extra wheelchairs, extra milk, etc.).

In between tasks, Dr. Mona, Barbara, and I swap stories and experiences over the years in Palestine, Iraq, Central America and other areas one or the other has been involved in. As we talk, Dr. Mona's phone rings, another call from the depths of horror in Gaza. "They are bombing again--from the air, from the sea"; "I've lost my neighbor, my cousin, my child" The stories stop time and hurt the heart. One man called and told us about his neighbor, a 70 year-old man. He is terrified. He was sitting on his step, awaiting another night of missiles. Then he suddenly jumps up and tells his friend, "I must leave, excuse me, I may die tonight so I have to go and make love to my wife." And off he went.

Sharon Wallace is a member of Louisville Committee for Peace in the Middle East and a long-time supporter of the Middle East Children's Alliance. She is in Egypt with MECA staff Barbara Lubin and Dr. Mona El-Farra procuring items for an emergency shipment to Gaza.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gaza is Sinking in a River of Blood

A Message from a Gazan to the World

By: Mohammed Fares Al Majdalawi

January 11, 2009

I want to write about the suffering of my people and my family in these days of siege against the people of Gaza. 888 people have been killed and more than 3700 injured. The Red Cross has accused the Israeli military of repeatedly refusing to allow ambulances to go to Zeitoun area, so those who are injured become those who die; a premeditated and purposeful violation of human rights.

In my house we can't get basic needs. No food. No bread. No fuel. No future. Yesterday, my father went to the bakery at 5 AM. He waited 5 hours to get one loaf of bread, which is not enough for my family because there are 11 of us. So today it was my turn. I went to all the bakeries -- all were closed.

There is no safe place we can go. We cannot communicate with our relatives and friends -- networks are down as missiles rain on our homes, mosques and even hospitals.

Our life is centered around the burials of those who have died, our martyrs, At night our camp, Jabalya Refugee Camp, is a ghost town, with no sounds other than those of Israeli military aircraft.

There is a horror in every minute and it is clear especially in the lives of children. For example, there were five sisters in one family killed from the Israeli occupation while they stayed in their home. But there are 800,000 other children in Gaza, all afraid, all waiting for someone or something to help them. They are caught in a prison that is becoming a concentration camp. Every day we sleep and open our eyes to the Israeli crimes of killing children and women and destroying civilians' homes. My words are unable to convey my feelings about this life in Gaza.

I have two messages to the world, to those who claim they love peace and seek freedom.

Imagine your life consisting of no electricity, destroyed homes, the sounds and strikes of missiles, day and night, and the only hunger as great as that for food is the hunger for an end to this occupation and siege. Imagine it is not just you but your children and your family who tell you through their eyes and cries: "We are afraid of the missiles." "We cannot sleep." "We may never sleep again." Imagine you are the dam and the river of blood has turned into a flash flood. How long could you stand it?

We wouldn't have to stand it any longer if the world stood with us. If they demanded an end to the siege and the killings and demolition of houses for our children. If they demanded assistance reach the people through rallies and sit-ins.

Finally, I invite you to come to Gaza and see the Holocaust. Because despite the siege, the barriers, the killing of my people and homes, and the total destruction of our lives by the Israeli occupation, they can not and will not kill the will of our people for equality and justice.

Mohammed Al Majdawali is a university student, member of Al-Assria Children's Library, and volunteer with Middle East Children's Alliance. He lives in Jabalya Refugee Camp with his family and aspires to be a professional filmmaker.

To help MECA send more medical aid to Gaza for thousands of sick and injured people living under siege,

UPDATE: At 1PM EST ( 1/11/09), Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) received a message from Mohammed that all the homes in his neighborhood have been destroyed. He and his family are now staying at the UNRWA school in Jabalya, the same location where 43 people were killed in an Israeli attack last Tuesday. He cannot reach his brother and doesn't know if he is alive.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Photos from Rafah and Purchasing Supplies

On Friday, I visited the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Cairo. Dr. Mona wanted to assess the situation at the border before coming with our trucks next week.
Trucks of aid waiting to enter Gaza. Friday, January 9, 2009

A bomb hits Rafah, just a few hundred feet from where we are standing at the border. Friday, January 9, 2009.
Dr. Mona and I met people working with the Arab Doctors Union at the border. This turned into a great partnership as the Union offered to pay for the transportation of our shipment to the border. Now all of the donations to MECA can be used on buying much-needed medicine and supplies. Friday, January 9, 2009.
Dr. Mona and I browse different wheelchair models from a company in Cairo. I know quite a bit about wheelchairs and was able to select the best model to send to Gaza. Saturday, January 10, 2009.
After two weeks of constant Israeli attacks and almost two years of living under siege, the children in Gaza are very traumatized. One of our trucks will include crayons, coloring books, toys, and soccer balls. In a way, these items are emergency supplies too. Saturday, January 10, 2009.

We are waiting now for our ambulance to be ready (it will take a few days) and then we will head back to Rafah with our trucks holding the ambulance, wheelchairs, powdered milk, baby cereal, emergency room supplies including anesthesia drugs, and children's toys. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip will meet us at the border and distribute these supplies to help children and families in Gaza.

Meanwhile the WHO is sending four tons of medications for children and infants by air to Tel Aviv and then into Gaza. MECA purchased this shipment at a discounted rate thanks to the help of Medical Teams International.

I am so thankful to all of MECA's supporters and partners who are making this shipment possible. In the face of so much death and destruction, your support for children in Gaza means so much.

But what the children need more than anything is an end to the Israeli airstrikes, tank shellings, and ground invasion. Please continue to send letters, write op-eds, attend demonstrations, and build campaigns for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. It is up to all of us to make Gaza a safe place for children.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Real News About Gaza

I arrived in Cairo late Thursday night to accompany an emergency medical shipment to Gaza. I had been following the news about Gaza very closely from the United States. For the last two weeks the TV and radio were constantly blairing in my home, office, and car. I read the newspaper every morning. But in the last day and a half I discovered that the situation for children and families in Gaza is even worse than I thought.

Yesterday I drove to the Rafah Crossing point between Egypt and Gaza. Watching Gaza from a distance of only 300 feet, I saw Israeli airplanes and drones flying over Palestinian homes. I heard shelling from tanks. But even worse, I heard loud booms that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. For a few moments I felt the same excruciating fear that people in Gaza have been living with for fifteen days and nights.

Last night at the hotel I watched Al-Jazeera news with my colleague, Dr. Mona El-Farra. She translated for me as a young boy in a Gaza hospital described seeing his mother, brothers, and sisters killed. I saw photos and video clips of the 230 dead children, the four children who were found without food and water next to the bodies of their dead parent, and hundreds of babies and children with shrapnel wounds, burns, and every other injury imaginable. We don't see this on the news in the US.

The difference in media coverage between the Arab world and the Western, sanitized media is shocking. There is no way, living in the United States, that the people can know about the horror that people in Gaza are living day after day.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009 greetings from Palestine

Dear Friends and Family,

It's 2009 but I have a hard time calling it a new year. I didn't go to a new year's eve party - they were all canceled out of respect for the people in Gaza. Instead Hazem and I went to dinner with a few friends and came home to once again watch the news.

The broadcasted firework displays, which have always amazed and dazzled me, only reminded me of the sky in Gaza. The lights flashing in their sky killed 6 more people last night. Since Saturday, 400 people have died and more than 2000 are injured. But these numbers barely scratch the surface of the death and destruction.

Islamic University in Gaza City has been turned into rubble. 20,000 students watched their futures crumble.

Hospitals do not have the supplies they need to treat the injured after 18 months of an Israeli blockade. Many of the critically injured could have lived but now they are dying too.

A mother in Gaza explained to a journalist that her children kept saying that they wanted to die with her. They no longer dared to hope their family would survive so they asked simply that they not be left alive without a mother.

The people in Gaza who live through this horror will not be able to go on with their lives. How could a child return to classes at the same school where she watched her classmates die? How could the remaining members of a family rebuild their home in the same place that their mother/brother/child was killed? I know people around the world have come back to life after massacres but it's hard to imagine how people in Gaza will. Especially with the knowledge that Israel could do this again at any time.

It's devastating and nothing we can do now will change any of this. It is just too late.

But still I find myself trying to do something useful. It's too painful to passively take in this information. I've been working closely with Dr. Mona, a dear friend and colleague from Gaza, to send medicine. We started working on a shipment last month but even then the task of getting medical aid into Gaza was daunting. Truckload upon truckload of food, medicine, and other basic supplies were turned away at the border each day. Through Dr. Mona's connections MECA will be able to send in both the vital medications for children and infants that we've been working on as well as emergency supplies that were requested by organizations in Gaza.

Surely this shipment will help some of the victims of the air strikes recover and will help curb the high levels of malnutrition among children. It may even save the lives of children with asthma or serious infections. But what about next week, next year, or the next generation?

There are demonstrations around the world, calls for boycotting and sanctioning Israel, letter-writing campaigns, etc. These are all important and will, I hope, contribute to change. I've been uplifted by the emails and photos friends have sent about the responses to these attacks in their communities.

But the mainstream media is telling such a different story then the one I have seen and heard. I have been updating the MECA website with news about Gaza for the last six days. This has been almost more difficult for me than watching images of five dead sisters pulled out from under their collapsed home or of dozens of bodies splayed on the pavement and the few survivors screaming and kissing their dead friends. I go from one article to another, one news source to another. I search for an article that doesn't try to justify Israel's actions, doesn't try to equate homemade rockets with American-made F16s and apaches. It's hard to find in English.

So I want to say a few things about the ceasefire, targets, and self-defense in my own words.

During the six-month ceasefire between Israel and political factions in Gaza, it was Israel that consistently broke its commitments. Israel killed 22 people in Gaza and injured another 62 during the ceasefire. And at the beginning of this school year, notebooks and school supplies weren't allowed into Gaza (very reminiscent of the sanctions on Iraq). Would you renew a ceasefire that brought continued attacks and continued shortages of food, medicine, and electricity? What would be the point of choosing to die slowly?

The statements from Israeli spokespeople have made me physically ill. Their line about hitting targets reminds me of an argument I had at Brown University right after the US started bombing Afghanistan. The anti-war group I was a part of at the time was highlighting the devastating costs of our bombing campaigns on the people in Afghanistan. An angry student told me that our bombs are so smart we could hit a nickle-sized target on the ground. That may be true but when a bomb hits the nickle, how much of the surrounding area does it blow up too? I've been to Gaza several times over the last five years. I've even been to Gaza when F16s are flying overhead, targeting people in illegal extra-judicial assassinations or buildings. It's a very crowded place and when Israel attacked the Ministry of Interior in 2006, the impact woke me up in an apartment several blocks away and the family next door lost their home. but thankfully not their lives. Just now, Israel carefully targeted a Hamas leader in another illegal assassination. Nine of his family members were killed along with him.

The other question that comes to mind for me is just how smart are the people controlling the smart bombs? Three days ago a military drone blew up a truck and eight men while they were loading oxygen canisters used for welding. Israel maintains they were grad rockets but the photos and reports tell a different story.

The second line Israel keeps feeding an unquestioning media is that it is defending its citizens. The idea that the rockets are a match for the fourth most powerful military in the world is laughable. As is the idea that you can kill people into submission. I don't know if the people in power never learn or if they have ulterior motives. Honestly, I don't care to understand their thinking - it is too inhumane.

I'll leave you with this short message I just received from a friend in Jabalia Refugee Camp, Gaza:

I want to write about suffering of my people and my family in these days
In my house we can't get basic needs such as, No foods, No bread ,and Natural gas
Yesterday , my father went to bakery from 5 AM he waited 5 hours even get one A bundle of bread.
This bread not can't enough for my family because consist of 11 members .But today I go to all bakeries. I can't find any loaf of bread due to be closed.
We and my family cannot communicate with our relatives and friends because of the lack of the connecting network also every hour we have a martyr or even more because of the raining missiles on our homes , mosques and even hospitals ,There is no safe place we can go to.
In the day our life concentrated in burial of the martyrs who were thousands in hospitals after a short farewell or even without a final look because of the time shortage those martyrs are graved in groups imagine that a group of martyrs graved in one grave.
At night our camp like ghosts city no sound but the sound of the various military aircrafts in every attack our heats and the children hearts is shaking.
There is a horror in every minute and it is clear especially on the children, for example, there was four sisters in one family killed from the Israeli occupation ,when stay in their home, and there is children in the south of Rafah.
Also, A woman was going to the bakery to buy bread for her family when she was walking in the street killed the Israeli occupation.
I have two message to the world.
My message to the lovers of peace and freedom in the world.

The First message:
Imagine your life is no electricity ,destroyed homes , voice missiles of the day and night , and no food.
Imagine your children and your family tell you we are afraid of the missiles can not sleep from the Voice of the aircraft.
Imagine you and keep the commentary.

The second message:
Make to end the siege and stop the killings and demolition of houses for our children and to provide assistance to the people through rallies, sit-ins.
Finally, I invite you to come to Gaza and see the Holocaust.

Wishing (and working) for a better future.


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