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.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Biddun Maia, Fish Heyya (Without Water, There is no Life)

Since I started working at Middle East Children's Alliance, the MAIA Project to bring clean water to the children of Palestine has become closest to my heart. All of our projects are important for people in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, but the MAIA Project is connected to my history and my family. It takes me back to the days when I struggled with my family to bring clean water to our house so we could drink, cook and, sometimes, have a shower. My mother, sisters and I would carry gallons of water in heavy containers on our heads. Providing this essential for our family made my mother physically strong, her arms and shoulders shaped by her efforts, but her health suffered greatly. Much work and time is required to achieve the basic necessity of clean water. I still remember the weight of the water and the great responsibility on our necks and backs everyday.

Israel controls and uses 89% of the water resources in the West Bank, leaving 11% for the 2.5 million Palestinians. The Israeli Occupation continues to limit Palestinian access to clean water as form of collective punishment by controlling the water resources and distribution and by destroying the water that we are able to get. During Israeli military incursions, and especially during curfews, when we could not leave our homes, Israeli soldiers would shoot the water storage tanks on our roofs. Our water would pour down the sides of our buildings unused. During the recent attack on Gaza, Israel targeted the entire water infrastructure including the largest water purification system in Gaza. They also targeted electrical generators that supported water purification and sewage treatment. This kind of collective punishment is also used against Palestinians inside Israel. Palestinian villages “unrecognized” by the Israeli state are not connected to the national water grid that serves all Jewish communities, and the residents suffer from a lack of clean water.

In 1994 and 2001 I visited Black townships in South Africa. When the inhabitants in the townships explained their daily lives, they focused on the scarcity and difficulty in obtaining clean water. Water, they said, was only for the white people of South Africa. I immediately understood and thought that we could substitute Palestinian refugee camps for the South African townships. It is the same system of oppression. During apartheid access to public spaces, especially public beaches, was restricted according to race. The beautifully maintained beaches were accessible only for the white people. This is the same situation found in Palestine now. Israel severely restricts our access to the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and Lake Tiberias. Palestinians are forced to apply for permits from the Israelis to access these sites, even for a simple visit. Even when limited access is allowed, such as in Gaza, the coastline is often flooded with untreated sewage as a result of damage done by Israeli bombardments.

As I was writing this article, I spoke with Dr. Mona El-Farra, MECA’s Project Director in Gaza. We were discussing the current water situation and she was saying that the tap water in her apartment was unusable. She said “Ziad, the water here is polluted and undrinkable, more than that it is unusable for cleaning. Some people have started to lose their hair from showering with this water. The new business in Gaza is selling clean water from tanks around the city. Of course it is expensive and since few people are employed they cannot buy the water. People here are constantly sick from the lack of clean water.” She added that as a doctor she is seeing an increase in kidney disease, dysentery and other serious medical conditions related to polluted water. If people are lucky enough to survive the Israeli air strikes and sniper fire they go on to face the threat of dirty, dangerous water.

Images from Gaza show water tanks driven around the cities, people waiting in lines for water, and children carrying empty water containers searching for water to fill them. Children in Gaza are missing their childhood. They are defined as children by their age but they live as survivors, not as children. They are taking responsibility to protect themselves and their families. When I was a child in a refugee camp in the West Bank, our struggle to obtain basic necessities to survive was the same. Thirty-five years later, Palestinian children are still forced to grow up too soon.

The Middle East Children’s Alliance is working to support the rights of children, particularly the right of Palestinian children to survive and flourish. In the last two years, MECA’s Maia Project has succeeded in building 22 water purification systems in primary schools and kindergartens giving nearly 25,000 children access to clean water. As a result, thousands of mothers will feel less frightened that their children might be harmed by polluted water. Dr. El-Farra has witnessed the precious moments of accomplishment and pride when a new unit is installed.

MECA’s Maia Project seeks to expand to all the schools in Gaza so more children can realize their right to clean water. In South Africa apartheid has ended, but water injustice is still something the inhabitants of the Black townships and other marginalized communities struggle against on a daily basis. In Palestine, we are still struggling against the Israeli apartheid system that deprives us of our basic human rights, including the right to one of the most important things in life: Water.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thank you for standing with us on our path to freedom - A letter in support of ILWU Local 10 from Gaza

Dear ILWU Local 10 members,

I am writing to you from the Gaza Strip to thank you for your union action in refusing to unload an Israeli ship and to tell you a little bit about our life here. Like everyone in Gaza, I have lived through the 3-year siege and decades of Israeli military attacks. That is why your solidarity touches me.

I want to tell you one Palestinian child's story. On 9 June 2006, 12-year-old Huda Ghaliya went for a picnic with her mother, father, brothers and sisters. After arriving on Gaza's beach, Huda repeatedly shouted, heartbreakingly, “Daddy, Daddy, ” while searching for the rest of her family after Israeli forces shelled the beach in northern Gaza. The entire family was wiped out, and dozens more were injured. The casualties of the attack, including Huda, were brought to Al Awda Hospital where I was working. Some of my colleagues, including seasoned emergency healthworkers, could not bear to go to the child’s room. Huda kept insisting that “mum and dad did not pass away, they are in another hospital.” When a TV crew arrived, the cameraman collapsed at the scene. I burst into tears.

What happened to that child will follow her for the rest of her life. She saw her entire family killed on a lovely sunny morning that was meant to be the start of a joyful day. 9 June 2006 was not the first or the last time that Palestinian children, living under Israeli occupation and the siege of Gaza, lost family members.

The latest assault against Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, was a preplanned, systematic, and massively destructive attack on the people of Gaza. Israel should be held responsible for war crimes and the UN report by Judge Goldstone proved that these were crimes against humanity.

The recent events on-board the Freedom Flotilla was another act of terrorism and further proof that Israel does not abide by international law. Even though this act recalled previous war crimes against the Palestinian population in Gaza, people were shocked and in disbelief that Israel could commit this aggression against civilians in international waters. It showed again that Israel is above the law as long as the people of the world stay silent.

This makes the genuine act of the Oakland dock workers who refused to handle the "Zim Shenzhen" ship so important for us in Gaza. We, who live under the siege and continuous hardships, were so impressed by this act of solidarity, as well as the many other brave acts over the years to support our struggle to reach our inalienable rights. While the majority of the world is silent, we appreciate your action which gives us hope because we know that we are not alone and forgotten. One day the people who act against all types of injustice will ring the bell, and injustice will come to an end. Alone we cannot reach our goal, but with your solidarity, we will.

Your act of solidarity gives us tremendous hope. Together we defeated South Africa’s apartheid regime and together we can defeat the Israeli apartheid and occupation.

At the moment, we at Middle East Children's Alliance are running a supportive and educational project for the children of the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City. We named our project LEARNING ON THE RUBBLE because 18 months after Israel's brutal attack against Gaza, they do not allow essential building materials to enter Gaza. Israel allows ketchup and fizzy drinks into Gaza, and then tells the world that there is no siege!!!! Meanwhile they deny us many essential materials, including medications like chemotherapy for cancer patients, and spare parts for medical equipment, as well as a suitable amounts of dairy products. The list is too long to mention. Unemployment has reached 60%, and 80% of the population is living on international aid.

When I visited the site of LEARNING ON THE RUBBLE, I could see the shadow of trauma on the kids’ faces, as well as the physical scars on their bodies, either caused by the Israeli soldiers' aggression or by being trapped under the rubble when Israeli bulldozers demolished their homes. The ones that survived became homeless in a matter of minutes.

Some of these children were trapped next to the dead body of a family member. I met one woman who lost her husband and son. Tearfully, she told me that her son, aged 13, slowly and agonizingly bled to death in her lap over 12 hours. Had ambulances and medical teams been able to reach them, her son would not have died. But the Israeli army did not allow health workers to enter the area to evacuate the injured for days. When teams from the International Red Cross were first allowed into the area, they were shocked and horrified by the sights of children and women trapped under the rubble, injured, hungry, cold, and terrified.

Israel’s violations of health human rights has become routine, it is the norm now instead of a terrible exception. In the last assault against Gaza, more than a dozen health workers were killed while on duty. I have witnessed dozens of incidents similar to the ones I've written about today. Israel has no respect for human rights, including health human rights, even though the Fourth Geneva convention guarantees those of us living in Gaza, or anywhere in the world, these fundamental rights.

Gaza’s population suffers many additional hardships. Electricity is frequently off, making it harder to write to you. Water is not suitable for drinking and is completely unavailable in some areas. This has a great impact on people’s health, as does the inadequate sewage system for such a densely populated area. We have endured decades of occupation and we need our freedom so we can begin the long process of rebuilding our society. Only freedom will repair the physical and psychological damage that has been done.

On this small piece of land where we all feel alone, isolated, and forgotten because of the Israeli siege, we were so impressed and empowered to learn about the courageous act of the Oakland dock workers who refused to load or unload the "Zim Shenzhen". This act is an effective tool against Israel to pressure them to lift the siege and end the occupation.

With this act, your union proclaimed its membership in the international family and refused to accept state aggression and injustice inflicted on other people. Though the distance and the Israeli siege keep us physically apart, we thank you for standing with us on our path to freedom.

Now is the time for all of us to stand together and say “enough!” to Israel’s brutal acts against humanity.

With love and solidarity,

Dr. Mona El-Farra

Dr. Mona El-Farra is a physician by training and a human rights and women's rights activist by practice in the occupied Gaza Strip. She was born in Khan Younis, Gaza and has dedicated herself to developing community based programs that aim to improve health quality and link health services with cultural and recreation services all over the Gaza Strip. Dr. El-Farra is the Director of Gaza Projects for the Middle East Children's Alliance, the Health Chair of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip, and a member of the Union of Health Work Committees. Dr. El-Farra has a son and two daughters.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Gaza Mourns Again

Dear friends and supporters,

With great sadness I am watching the news of what is happening on board the flotilla. The cruel and harsh act by the Israeli occupation army does not surprise us, it is another episode of the occupation practice against the Palestinian people and its struggle for freedom, it is an act of terrorism against all the international humanitarian forces that work for peace and justice .

Despite the horrific losses, we will take inspiration from the blood that has been shed in the Mediterranean sea this morning, with the strong belief in the justice of our cause, and the clear cruelty and racism of the Israeli aggressor.

Gaza today is a sad city, all its children, women and men are traumatized while we are under the siege and the occupation, but amidst the daily details of life’s difficulties under occupation we promise you that together with your solidarity we will continue our steadfastness, struggle and work for peace and justice

From Gaza with love

Mona Elfarra

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shining Lights from out of the Darkness

Mohammed F. Al Majdalawi, MECA volunteer and Assistant Coordinator of ‘Lets Learn English’ in rural Gaza, describes the importance of reaching out not only to Palestinian kids in rural areas, but their mothers too.

"Why not us? Why can’t we speak English? What’s the problem?" my children ask me all the time.

This mother has three daughters and two sons. “When they ask me to teach them English and I cannot give it to them, they ask me why.” she exclaims. “I explain to them that it is because I spent my whole life under occupation but this does not explain things any further to them, they still ask me ‘Why?’ and I am ashamed that I have no answer for them.” For a myriad of reasons she had dropped out of her prep school aged 13. Her family hadn’t been able to support her studies, the transport restrictions with Israeli checkpoints, the curfews, the extra demands to help her family and community in these difficult times, not to mention the pressures around starting her own family. Now she is determined that her children can have the opportunities of which she was deprived.

“So I come here to learn English and I hope that this will be the last time that we live like this, forever."

So our project is intent on teaching English to women and their children with Ajyal Association, called ‘Lets Learn English’ focusing on rural areas. During my work as both an assistant coordinator for English language teaching and as a documentary film director, I saw the hopes in the faces of many women and their children who want to speak and learn English. In this project we aim to teach children and their mothers, exploring creative ways such as songs, videos and participation in group and partner activities. We work with volunteers like social workers and English students in universities, using simple materials like my laptop, even recording songs mixed in Arabic and English.

For example, the song ‘baba means father, and mama means mother’. This is part of the lyrics of a song about names of family members and the kind of tool used for children and their mothers to use and remember them. Our group of trainers work together to design these classes, such as the personal information in English segment. Again we didn’t have the entire material available, but that didn’t stop us from creating our own materials from simple equipment

It is a delight when we saw mothers challenging each other, one asking the other in arabic, “If you’re so good at speaking English, can you translate ‘I’m drinking tea’?”, to which the woman replied, yes, “I am drunking tea”

It was one of many funny incidents as the women show no fear in their attempts to speak English. Another woman said not only was she continuing the teaching of English at home to her children, she had even begun to teach her husband too.

Sarah, a coach in the ‘Let's Learn English’ projects spoke about how the teaching methods were sinking in:

“When we had a revision class on days and months, colors, body, and time, I wrote on the board the letters of the alphabet and told the women to write a word for every letter. Many women specifically remembered the words taught in the class.

The Children in the Project

Another coach Shahd, describes his experience with the children from the ‘Let's Learn English’ project:

“Amani Abdelal is a very cute girl. She was waiting for me in front of the Ajyal Association, the Creativity and Development building. When she saw me coming, she ran to me to give me this card with a very pure smile. I was surprised by her kindness and very impressed by the simple way she had designed my name. I thanked her and asked her why she had made this beautiful card for me. She answered me saying that she loves me and loves learning English in this project. They were very simple words full of innocence. However, she affected me very much and she let me feel the taste of success.”

As a Palestinian in Gaza under a siege, a military occupation and still reconstructing our lives after the bombings in early 2009, I believe we must do what we can on the ground to bring a smile to people, giving them the benefits of the English language in a creative way. I also appeal to the international community and people who love peace and freedom to break the silence, take moral and legal action towards the people of Gaza, demanding the provision of basic needs, the minimum of international protection and work to support the rights of Palestinian people which for so long have been deprived, especially for children. Our children are our future, so we must work together so that we can make this future better than the present. The Universal declaration of Human Rights states that all children should have the right to education, and Palestinian children are as deserving as any others.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Israeli Military Order = Pass Laws and Ethnic Cleansing

by Middle East Children's Alliance Associate Director Ziad Abbas

Last week, Israel began implementing new military orders designed to reduce the number of Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Claiming to “prevent infiltration” into the West Bank, Military Order 1650 legally categorizes tens of thousands of Palestinians as criminals simply for living in their homeland. The order affects all Palestinians and their children who have been denied residency status since 1967, any Palestinians from Gaza living or staying in the West Bank, and any foreign nationals living or visiting the area. People who fall under these categories can now be deported, fined 7,500 NIS, or jailed for up to 7 years for living in the West Bank without a special permit issued by the Israeli state. In addition, according to Military Order 1649, judgment of deportation orders resides with committees appointed by local military commanders, effectively making appeals impossible. Unless we stop it, the effect will likely be as devastating as it is intended. Order 1650 divides Palestinians from each other, permanently separating those living in the West Bank from those in Gaza. It also makes the hundreds of internationals who are monitoring the human rights situation illegal and subject to prison terms and deportation. It makes it difficult if not impossible for the new generation born outside of Palestine to return to visit family and their homeland. Most of all, it makes the tens of thousands of residents of the West Bank who currently hold expired permits criminals on their own land. The land that was stolen from their forefathers is now being stolen from the next generation through a military order.

This policy is just the latest assault on the Palestinian people; we have been living behind walls, barriers, and fences since the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948. Israeli occupation policies such as military checkpoints, curfews, Israeli settlements, military orders, jails, borders, and the colors of ID cards have all acted as walls that deprive Palestinians the right to control their own lives and land. For the Palestinians, the new Military Order 1650 is just another measure among many taken by the Israeli occupation to maintain control of the Palestinian people and their land. Unfortunately, many of the walls we as Palestinians live behind are unseen by others around the world whom are unaware of the details of the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. At times, however, the Israeli state enacts policies that show its true nature to the rest of the world. For example, the overpowering apartheid wall is a concrete visible fact built in front of the entire world exposing Israel’s apartheid regime. It is a 500,000 mile long fact, constructed out of concrete, that you can see, feel, take a picture near, and draw on, however you cannot easily go through it. This wall exposes to the people of the world the struggles Palestinians have continued to go through since Israel’s establishment in 1948, presenting clear visible evidence of Israel’s apartheid policies which can no longer be ignored. I personally believe that the apartheid wall will eventually fall and become a part of history, a piece of evidence of the Israeli Apartheid system in Palestine. I am sure that apartheid policies such as Military Order 1650 will fall in the same way. Some day, the people of the world will look at this order with the same sense of shock and shame as we now do at the inhuman racist “pass laws” of the former South African Apartheid regime.

Palestinians such as myself have begun to realize and reflect upon the personal ramifications that will result from Military Order 1650. The impacts will negatively affect not just our lives, but the lives of our families. For instance, my brother-in-law, who was born in the Gaza Strip but moved to the West Bank after 1967 when he married my sister, will no doubt be impacted, as well as others who are married to people living in East Jerusalem, Palestine '48 or the West Bank. Additionally, others who have been granted permits from the military occupation to visit or to live with their relatives in the West Bank and have decided to stay longer will be affected. Moreover, certain human rights organizations have estimated that 200,000 Palestinians will be immediately affected by this new military order, and thus will be living in fear of being uprooted, deported, or arrested at any moment. No doubt, the Israeli state is counting on some people to become afraid enough so that they will take initiative and leave voluntarily as a result of the lack of security that this military order has created.

This new military order does not only target Palestinians, but also the international activists who remain in the West Bank in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Thus, in addition to reducing the Palestinian population this order aims to suppress significant international support for the Palestinian cause. We have heard about hundreds of people who have been barred entrance across the borders of Israel and Palestine, including those Palestinians born in the Diaspora. Miltary Order 1650 unlawfully justifies and allows policies such as these continue denying certain individuals entrance into Palestine. One example among many of this denial of entry took place in December 2009 when a young Palestinian born in America named Nadine Al-Shrofa attempted to enter Palestine from the Jordanian border to visit her family. Following five hours of integration, Israeli immigration stamped her passport denying her entrance to the West Bank, despite the fact that her relatives live there as well as in the Gaza Strip. Another friend of mine succeeded to visit Palestine for the first time last year to connect with her family and roots. After withstanding hours of interrogation and threats, she fortunately succeeded in entering and visiting her family. She had planned to return to Palestine this year, however this new military order will unfortunately make this trip an impossibility. After she heard what happened to Nadine, she fears returning and being barred entrance into her homeland. She has come to realize that despite the good relations which exist between Israel and the United States her American passport will no longer offer her privileges to be able to enter into Palestine.

The military order will have its intended effect, an intention that is not difficult to see, and one that many others have written about. Many Zionist leaders continue to believe that the growth of the Palestinian population, including Muslim and Christian Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and Israel will continue to threaten the Israeli Jewish majority. Palestinian population growth is perceived by many Zionist leaders as a ticking time bomb that will interfere with their ultimate goal of maintaining a purely Jewish state. Clearly, by enabling the expulsion and detention of large numbers of people in the West Bank, this military order serves the Zionist goal of reducing the Palestinian population in order to create a pure Jewish state. The reality, of course, is that an ethnically “pure” Jewish state is impossible.

Moreover, the Palestinian population is increasing rapidly. This has left the Israeli state to desperately attempt more and more strategies of ethnic cleansing which are increasingly hard to justify under international scrutiny. As we saw in Gaza in 2009, the wellspring of violence seemed bottomless. In fact, several Israeli politicians, including the current Prime Minister Netanyahu, have vowed to take any measures necessary in order to reduce this threat against an all Jewish Israeli state. Historian Pappe describes how, in December 2003, Benjamin Netanyahu brought back to life Ben-Gurion’s ‘alarming’ statistics that proclaimed a need to keep the Palestinian population under 20%. Netanyahu stated that “if the Arabs in Israel form 40 percent of the population, this is the end of the Jewish state.” He added, “but 20 per cent is also a problem … if the relationship with these 20 percent becomes problematic, the state is entitled to employ extreme measures.” (Pappe, 2006, p. 250) Their measures not only include overt violence, but also legislative enactments such as Military Order 1650 that manipulatively attempts to justify Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians while upholding Israel’s democratic mask. After taking the land and forcibly expelling millions of Palestinians in 1948, Israel labels those who return “infiltrators” in their own land. By criminalizing the indigenous population and those who come to support them, Israel justifies the detention and expulsion of entire families as well as those who stand in solidarity with them. Through the manipulative and ambiguous military order, Israel falsely conveys to the world that all they are doing is enforcing a law on people who have violated certain rules set by the state.

This is an old, vicious game. In fact, Military Order 1650 is a part of the ongoing ethnic cleansing policies that have been applied in Palestine since before 1948. Due to similar policies that legislate building permits, residency requirements and land ownership which have been enacted over decades, tens of thousands of Palestinians have lost their right to reside in Jerusalem, causing the Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem to become the majority and the Palestinians to become the minority. While these policies have effectively seized the land, it has been at a large cost in public opinion and has not solved the problem; Palestinians are still in Palestine. Current desperate measures such as the Apartheid Wall and Military Order 1650 indicate that Israel is in a state of urgency to eliminate the demographic threat as quickly as possible. Israel finds it necessary to cause large numbers of Palestinians to leave every day as it desires a mass exodus of the Palestinian population in order to speed up their goal of achieving a strictly Jewish state.

The numbers explain why. As of December 2008, the Israeli population was at 5,542,400 and the Palestinian Arab population within Israel was at 1,476,500. If we add the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip we see that 5,500,000 Palestinians are living in historic Palestine. In addition, the annual growth rate of the Jewish population is at 1.6%, while the Arab population is growing at 2.6%. If these trends continue, in time the Arabs will once again become the majority of historic Palestine. The threat is not just in historic Palestine, but also within Israel’s own borders. By 2030, Palestinians within Israel are projected to be 24% of the population and Jews 72% . This threatens Ben Gurion’s insistence to maintain the Palestinian population below 20%. Despite the fact that the Zionist leadership around world works very hard to encourage Jews to immigrate to Israel, the Israelis will nevertheless face the problem that they are unable to demographically catch up with the Palestinian population.

Um Mohamed, one of the well known midwives in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem has delivered thousands of Palestinian children in the camp and surrounding areas. Before and after the first intifada, the Israeli occupation soldiers became aware of her status as the main midwife in the camp. They would aggressively ask her if any “hablanim” (terrorists in Hebrew) were about to be born. She would smile and confidently say “yes, a new Palestinian child is coming.” This would irritate the Israelis. At one point, she mentioned to me that many more children than usual were being born. As she counted nine months back, she realized that the people of the camp were under long curfews at that time and were not allowed to leave their homes. This was why so many more babies than usual were born nine months later. She laughed, as she realized that the Israelis who would get angry at the birth of Palestinians, have actually created an environment where Palestinians have not much else to do but make more babies. The use of curfews as part of the collective punishment of Palestinians aims at making the lives of Palestinians impossible so that they leave, thus, reducing their population. However, according to Um Mohamed’s anecdote, the curfews are actually helping to strengthen the Palestinian demographic as the population is encouraged to increase. It becomes evident that the same policies that oppress the people have become the policies that fuel liberation.

Like the Apartheid pass laws in South Africa, Military Order 1650 will not last. When the people of South Africa were dispossessed of their land, forced into Bantustan homelands and forced to carry passes, the laws were only effective for a time. Many were rounded up and arrested. However, as a result many more rose up in protests that could not be silenced by the bloodshed of military bullets. In the same way, Palestinians will never be defeated by this new military order, nor by future orders that attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestine. Prior to and following “al nakba” (the catastrophe of 1948), Israel has used many different kinds of military orders to ethnically cleanse Palestine in order to achieve the Zionist dream of having a Jewish state. However, what the Israelis may not realize is that the Palestinian cause is actually strengthened by the escalation of military orders. As the escalations on the ground make life more difficult for Palestinians, they at the same time create a stronger sense of desire and hope among Palestinians to make their dream of being free in their homeland a reality. We can expect this next period to be very brutal as Israel attempts these expulsions.

Before the international community realized what the South African pass laws actually meant, students marched against the pass laws in 1960. During the protest, Apartheid officials opened fire killing 69 people in cold blood marking the famous Sharpville massacre. Let us not wait for more deaths before we understand and act against the pass law Israeli military order 1960. Let us hope the international community does not wait for another massacre like the one that took place in Gaza last year before they speak out. Please act now – join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign ( to stop the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Divestment Could Save Lives

There has been an intense debate at UC Berkley over a student senate bill calling for divestment from two companies. This bill and this vote is about withdrawing financial support from companies that concretely contribute to the deaths of children. It is a very human response to a very terrible reality. General Electric and United Technologies supply engines, propulsion systems, and engineering support for the Israeli military's Apache Helicopters, F-15, and F-16 planes that, without a doubt, kill children.

The Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) has been working with communities in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq for 22 years. Our staff and beneficiaries have witnessed the devastating effects of these two companies time and time again. During "Operation Cast Lead" in January 2009, we called Adham, a young man in Gaza, to check on him and his family. He told us, "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." We spoke to him and other young people who grew up in programs MECA supports daily as they recounted tales of death and destruction for three long weeks. In 2006, we took photos of a building destroyed by an F-16 in the residential neighborhood where our project director lives. This time, no one was killed. But it was the exception, not the rule. 22 Palestinian children were killed in a two week period that summer. How many more will we stand by and watch die?

Some individuals and groups are trying to paint this bill as one-sided or political but when it comes to children's lives, there are no sides. On Wednesday, the Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley (ASUC) will have the opportunity to override President Smelko's veto of this bill and we hope the fact that this bill specifically addresses Israeli war crimes will not sidetrack the debate and stand in the way of our individual and collective responsibility to children in the Middle East and beyond.

Whatever happens on Wednesday, we know this bill is just the beginning of an important effort to end brutal attacks on the children we serve in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon. We thank the students who put this bill forward and the student senators who had the courage to support it despite the campaign of threats and intimidation waged against them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Maia Project Billboard: From LA to Palestine Clean Drinkable Water is a Human Right

This Maia Project billboard designed by MECA Art Director and Alliance Graphics co-founder Jos Sances is currently up in Los Angeles. The space for Jos' design was donated to MECA by John Knight and is part of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture's project How Many Billboards? Art in Stead. This large-scale urban exhibition debuts 21 newly commissioned works by leading contemporary artists, presented simultaneously on billboards in Los Angeles in February and March 2010.

Photos: Art Hazelwood

Friday, February 5, 2010

Some videos from the Gaza Freedom March

Now that we have a faster internet connection we've finally posted a few videos of our time in Cairo with the Gaza Freedom March. They are just small snapshots of some of the demonstrations in Cairo trying to draw attention to the siege of Gaza.

(you may recognize the t-shirts from their action deshelving israeli goods in supermarkets in France check out that video)

My Year in Palestine

I have often spent weeks, or even months, at a time in Palestine but 2009 was my first year of really living there. People often ask me what my life is like but I can rarely find an adequate response. I think through my last few days and find life can be mundane there. I spend much of my days on a computer and could really be anywhere in the world. But then there are days or moments when something happens that is so absurd and upsetting that it could only be Palestine.

Life in occupied Palestine meant meeting families in Jerusalem who had been thrown out of their homes by Israeli settlers, passing through three military checkpoints just to reach the nearest movie theater, and constantly fearing for the safety of family members and friends. But there is another, equally powerful side of life here, and that is the strength of community that I saw and was welcomed into as I sat around tables of 10, 20 and even 30 people, danced all night at weddings, and laughed constantly and defiantly.

My home is just across the street from Dheisheh Refugee Camp in the Bethlehem District. It is seven miles away from Jerusalem. A few days ago my husband pointed out it’s less than full length of the Bay Bridge, a distance that thousands of people cross daily. But for Palestinians living in the West Bank it is an almost uncrossable divide. Each person needs a permit from Israeli military authorities. If a permit is granted then one needs to pass through a highly militarized checkpoint with hand scans and a series of metal detectors, remote controlled gates, and x-ray machines for purses, shoes, etc. When I lived near the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint in the beginning of the year I would wake up at 3am to the sound of heavy traffic as Palestinians from all over the southern West Bank lined up to go to work in Jerusalem. I never knew seven miles could be such a long commute.

And for Palestinians in Gaza, Jerusalem might as well be on the other side of the world. I knew many people that needed medical attention and tried for months on end to get the right papers to come to hospitals in Jerusalem. Israel rarely let any of them out of their open air prison.

My US passport lets me circumvent these obstacles and for me going to Jerusalem was just a matter of a 20-minute bus ride. Many times during the year I delivered visa applications and letters from friends and MECA partners who are not allowed to reach this part of Palestine. It was always a sensitive trip because so many people would have loved the opportunity to walk the streets of the Old City in Jerusalem again, to go to dinner at a relative or friend’s home, or to buy fresh bread from a bakery near Damascus Gate. I could deliver papers and bring back this bread but I could not give them these experiences that the Israeli occupation had taken away.

In the summer I had the opportunity to use my privilege to help out with a summer camp for Palestinian refugee children whose families are from 40 different villages. At 7am the children piled into the back of the bus while I sat in the front seat with my blonde hair down and a big smile ready for the Israeli soldiers who had the power to let us pass or to send us back. Months later I don’t know if I have found the words for this moment. I felt at once gross for flaunting my white skin and blonde hair and playing into a deeply racist, colonial mentality and also excited to be able to ease the trip for these children who had never seen their lands.

The five-day camp was full of emotion for me and even more so for the children. Each day we hiked through woods planted by the Jewish National Fund to cover up the remains of some of their villages. We also drove into Israeli towns built on top of more of their villages and found Palestinian houses, mosques, and graveyards tucked in between new townhouses. As we explored their village lands we sometimes found a landmark that a grandparent had told one of the children to look for and other times we did not. Either way it was painful. The children were made to feel unwelcome visitors on their own lands. Together they dreamed and talked through what it would be like one day when they got back what was rightfully theirs.

Throughout the trip I was at once outraged at Israel and also aware of the responsibility I have as a United States citizen for what Israel has done with our tax-funded aid and what the US government does to the indigenous population. I recalled a Bay Area shopping mall near my parents’ home that is built on top of an ancient Ohlone burial site. One entrance to the mall is called Ohlone Street. On my trip with the children we went to my husband’s village, Beit Jibreen. The Israeli town built on his village’s land is named Beit Guvrin. The truth is always just below the surface.

My year ended with the Gaza Freedom March. I met Barbara and 1400 other activists from around the world in Cairo. We had moments of extreme frustration at not being able to break the siege of Gaza and also moments of extreme hope as we demonstrated for Palestinian rights and cheered the Cairo Declaration, which laid out a framework for international solidarity with Palestine against Israeli apartheid. For a full year I tried to get from the West Bank to Gaza. I could make local phone calls to our Project Director in Gaza, and to youth and staff at our partner centers, but Israel prevented us from meeting in person throughout the year. Now, Egypt, supporting the siege from the south, was keeping me out again— along with the other international activists, and an unknown number of Palestinians trying to return home.

My year in Palestine was an opportunity to watch, to learn, and sometimes even to contribute. It was a pleasure to see so much of MECA’s work first-hand and to begin developing new and stronger relationships on many levels.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Going home but not giving up

On Saturday morning Barbara and I went to meet Dr. Mona El-Farra, MECA's Director of Gaza Projects. She had been outside of Gaza visiting family and was in Egypt en route to Gaza this week. Dr. Mona ordered a tourist van for us and a few other friends and we set out towards Al-Arish. We planned to stay overnight in Al-Arish and then head to the Rafah border crossing early on Sunday morning. There was no guarantee we'd get in but with invitation letters from partners in Gaza in hand we thought we should at least give it a try.

As we left Cairo behind I began to daydream of clean air and meetings with friends and partners in Gaza who I haven't seen in nearly two years. But the daydream didn't last long. Long before the first official checkpoint Egyptian police stopped our car, took our passports, and returned us back to Cairo. Dr. Mona who had solicited help from the Palestinian ambassador in Egypt to get back to her home in Gaza was also turned back. Her anxiety about finding a way back home increased.

That night the three of us met to review and discuss MECA's work in Gaza. We talked about evaluation plans for "Let the Children Play and Heal" since the pilot phase will end in January. We made lists of the photos and information we need about the schools and kindergartens we will partner with in the Maia Project. And since the siege continues and it is becoming more and more difficult for international activists and friends to reach Gaza and witness the situation firsthand we brainstormed ideas for bringing stories to you wherever you are.

We set plans for filming interviews with several of the 58 university students in Gaza receiving scholarships through MECA this year, with children and youth at our partner centers, and with children and teachers at the schools where MECA and Afaq Jadeeda have worked together to provide clean water. We will use this footage to give you all a glimpse of daily life in Gaza and to share some of the small successes of MECA's work with community organizations and schools in Gaza.

Then on Sunday morning Dr. Mona set out again (alone this time) to attempt the trip to the Rafah crossing and on to Gaza. Ten checkpoints and seven hours later she finally reached the crossing. And several hours later we received the great news that she had managed to reach her home in Gaza City. We were all relieved.

After the news of the many checkpoints along the road to the border, Barbara and I decided not to attempt the trip again. Though many other activists have stayed on in Cairo in hopes of entering Gaza we felt that the Egyptian government had made its position clear: those of us who came with the Gaza Freedom March would not be allowed to even reach the border with Gaza.

It's been difficult for us to follow the mainstream and alternative news while in Cairo but we hope the GFM has succeeded in putting Gaza back on the front page around the world. And we are excited to see where the new steering committee of five committed solidarity activists will lead us with the Cairo Declaration, which sets ambitious goals and strategies for our movement moving forward, as our guide.

Barbara has gone on to the West Bank to meet with friends and partners there while I am in Jordan catching up on emails and computer work. We both head to the US later this week.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Check out photos from today's demonstration

We went to the Israeli Embassy in Cairo today to demonstrate. It was great to be talking about the heart of the issue (Israel and it's occupation and other crimes) rather than just demonstrating in the streets of Cairo.

Some of our photos are posted and a video courtesy of Sam Husseini.

(We still can't post any videos because of slow internet but will when possible)

Off to a closing meeting with Gaza Freedom March participants and will write more later.

Barbara and Josie