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.