My trip to Gaza 2015

The Gaza Strip from April 2-8, 2015 (but it felt like one year)

 This is Kamal in front of his home in Beit Hanoun.

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Kamal LOVED his garden and tried to help me imagine how beautiful it used to be. Later he showed me pictures on his phone and his colleagues at Oxfam went on and on about what a beautiful garden it had been and how much work he had put into it. This is what is left.

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Kamal became very emotional when his cat jumped from behind a piece of metal into his arms. He said he felt ashamed that he was no longer able to take care of his own cat.

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I had seen photos like these before — destroyed factories in Shujaeya. But seeing this factory (ice cream? juice? I forgot) with Kamal made it totally different. I could see reflected in his eyes how it used to be with people working, trucks coming and going, life in action. I could feel the tragedy in a way I hadn’t before.

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This severely damaged nonprofit organization served people with disabilities. I found the name of it ironic given all the death: The Society for the Right to Life.

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The only action in Shujaeya in the late afternoon were these young men picking up rubble. They took turns posing for pictures delivering rubble to a middleman who would sell it to be ground up and re-used.

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I especially liked these two — cousins I think — who held up stones and said, “Five shekels! Tell the world that we work for five hours to earn 5 shekels! And every time they said, “five shekels” they broke into a hysterical laughter that made me laugh. Hard. Amazing.

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And here’s a photo from a friend’s house that speaks volumes about the challenges of living in Gaza where electricity comes for 6 hours and then not again for 18 (or 8 on 16 off during good times). How do you use the bathroom at night when there is no electricity?

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Still, Gaza is stunningly beautiful. From this balcony, you can see the least affected part of Gaza City, and it looks especially good because the destroyed buildings in the lower half of the photo have been cleared away (unlike Khuzaa and other places) — they were police buildings.

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It was a productive trip. Here I am with the  Steering Committee members from Gaza of our new initiative, Aid Watch Palestine (Jaber Qudih, left; Ibrahem Shatli, middle and Amal Zaqout, far right) and Heba, our team coordination assistant (2nd from right).

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And here I am with Heba and 7 of the 9 writers who will write “glimpses of daily life” stories for the Aid Watch website (at a lovely new cafe).

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And although I was really, really, really busy, I did spend a little time going around to talk to people about the reconstruction situation. Here is a cement distribution warehouse that was closed (smack in the middle of a work day).

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And here is another cement distribution warehouse that was open but not operational. The manager let me take photos of the empty warehouse and explained that he expected a new shipment “any time now.” He gave me lots and lots of information about how bad the cement situation is, including how he personally had been assessed for cement back in September, but he has yet to receive any information about whether he’ll be getting any cement or when. He also talked about the irony of how people who need cement badly get approved after waiting long period but then don’t have the money to buy the cement, or they borrow money to buy cement and then sell it at a profit on the black market to buy food, since they don’t have enough money to do the repairs to their home anyway.

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There was some steel (also tightly controlled because it is considered “dual use” by Israel).

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And yes, the place was monitored by camera.

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We finally found one cement distribution warehouse in Jabalia City that actually had cement!

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Customers were very happy to get it, but there were surprisingly few.

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But the manager of the facility was not so happy. He said he’s obligated to accept truckloads without inspecting them, and when he finds damaged materials like these, he’s not allowed to return them. That’s the problem with monopoly.

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Then we stopped in to watch some work being done to construct a temporary shelter caravan funded by Jordan.

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I was told this is a high quality caravan because the walls are insulated, unlike some of the others.

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The caravan is a big improvement over the makeshift home the family is living in now on the site of their demolished home.

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The mom was younger than I am but had 11 children (two died in the last war and one permanently disabled). Her grown daughter was sweeping the dirt floor when I arrived. They made me fresh lemonade.

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I really liked this woman. Her name is Ghalya.

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In case you were wondering, Hamas signs are visible. One time the car I was in was stopped at a checkpoint. The officer said he wanted to remind us to pray for the prophet.
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United Nations and international NGO signs are also everywhere like at this World Health Organization voucher distribution center (which was not too busy, for reasons I don’t know).

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I was very fortunate to be hosted by dear friends, Najla and Jason Shawa in their super comfortable home — despite the difficulty I had keeping track of which water was for drinking, which for hair washing, and which for body washing. I got to play with baby Zoozoo and meet Najla’s famous (and super nice) mom, Rawya.

 

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As I posted on Facebook earlier today, there is only one word to describe what is happening in Gaza: betrayal.

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Israel devastated Gaza, but “aid” helps keep it that way

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

Marking six months since the ceasefire in Gaza, 30 international aid agencies joined together to issue a statement titled, “We must not fail in Gaza.” At face value, this warning is a responsible step by credible international humanitarian and development actors. Yet, a deeper reading reveals that the statement is neither candid nor wholly truthful. How can we solve the appalling conditions in Gaza or elsewhere if aid actors actively participate — including through this statement — in mystifying the public about what is really going on and where responsibility lies?

Accountability cannot be achieved without honest, critical, constructive discussion about what is really happening. We must tell the whole, complex, discomforting truth, even if it leads us to conclude that “aid” isn’t as helpful as we want to believe it is.

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It is not wholly truthful to say, “We must not fail in Gaza” when we have already failed in Gaza. Nearly 2 million people remain essentially imprisoned under military occupation in one of the most densely populated areas of the world. The international community has legal, moral, and professional obligations to hold Israel accountable for these and other violations against Palestinians, but it does not do so. Admitting failure could allow aid actors to stop investing intensive efforts and massive resources in a flawed system. It could open up discussion leading to radical change.

It is not wholly truthful to say 100,000 Palestinians remain displaced when there are nearly 7 million Palestinians displaced. Like other oft-repeated statistics, the number “100,000” actually hides the bigger picture. This number does not include those still displaced from the last Gaza war in 2012; and it does not include those without homes because the Israeli blockade bans sufficient materials to meet the natural growth in demand for housing. It certainly does not include the total number of Palestinians who are not home because they have no homeland. Confronting the problem holistically could allow aid actors to extract themselves from complicity.

It is not wholly truthful to say that the international community is not providing Gaza with adequate assistance because little of the $5.4 billion pledged in Cairo has reached Gaza, as if Palestinians are merely entitled to compensation for recent war damages. In fact, the international response is inadequate because “aid” is offered as consolation for 67 years of statelessness. In fact, decisive political intervention is the only way to achieve a long-term solution.

The recent statement by aid agencies is written in the sophisticated, passive language for which the aid system has become known:

The Israeli-imposed blockade continues, the political process, along with the economy, are paralyzed, and living conditions have worsened. Reconstruction and repairs to the tens of thousands of homes, hospitals, and schools damaged or destroyed in the fighting has been woefully slow.

But whose responsibility is it to reconstruct homes? It is the responsibility of the very same aid actors who signed the statement! Why is it their responsibility? Because they have been contracted to do so by governments that are legal duty bearers, given Israel’s failure to act to ensure the wellbeing of Palestinians under occupation. These actors accept that responsibility, claim the authority to fulfill that responsibility, and are compensated to fulfill that responsibility.

So how can United Nations agencies and tens of international non-governmental organizations declare, “…we are alarmed by the limited progress in rebuilding the lives of those affected and tackling the root causes of the conflict” as if they were mere bystanders?

We must do better! Rather than blame others and plead powerlessness, every one of us, in every sector — public, private, international and local — should reflect honestly about the role we play in maintaining this failed system. We must summon the courage to risk change.

Here is the text of a statement those same agencies might have published had they been willing to speak truthfully. (These are sentiments already whispered in the back rooms of most agencies working in Palestine.)

The Joint Statement by Aid Agencies That Should Have Been Published

We have failed. The recent Gaza war is simply more proof that we, the international community, refuse to exert effective pressure to implement any of our hundreds of UN resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling into question the credibility of our commitment to a global governance system where all people can enjoy freedom, equality and basic rights.

“Aid” has not been an effective tool to offset or mitigate this failure. Taking Gaza as one of many examples, we have accepted funding on behalf of Palestinians and we have paid ourselves handsomely to achieve objectives that we knew to be unachievable within the constraints of our system. We hereby admit that the aid system should be dismantled and radically re-envisioned as a form of solidarity driven by a commitment to justice.

Because we are truly as committed to justice and the rule of law as we always claim, we intend to remain in Palestine with Palestinians until their rights are achieved. We do this as true humanitarians not as careerists, so we will not accept compensation beyond what we need to subsist by local standards.

Furthermore, we will not allow ourselves to be used or blocked. We will insist that our governments act in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (especially Chapter seven, Articles 41 and 42) giving effect to UN decisions via economic, diplomatic and other measures.

We will rebuild Palestine so that it can be free of the need for aid: enjoying territorial integrity, with control over its own natural resources and borders, and able to receive Palestinians from around the world if they choose to become citizens.

We will do this because true help in a situation of inequality requires us to take a stand on the side of justice. We understand this will require us to take risks, but we are driven by our conscience to do what is right.

Donor complicity in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights

“In this policy brief, Al-Shabaka Policy Member Nora Lester Murad examines aid through the lens of “complicity” and exposes shortcomings in current legal frameworks. She argues that regardless of the limitations of applicable law, international aid actors are fundamentally responsible to those they seek to assist and must be held accountable for the harm they cause or enable. She identifies the areas in which questions need to be asked and concludes with some of the steps that Palestinian civil society and the international solidarity movement should take.”

Download the full paper in English and Arabic on the Al-Shabaka site, and please share your comments here.

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Rant on Humanitarianism

This piece was first published on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace.

It is 3am and my left index finger taps involuntarily on the laminate desk because I’ve been told by someone I respect that I am wrong or just crazy (but oh so politely) to find it very strange that the distinction between what is “humanitarian” and what is “developmental” in terms of aid is so arbitrary and from my point of view illogical because (stay with me here) there is a “Humanitarian Imperative” that obliges international actors to provide tents for Palestinians in Gaza and food so they don’t starve, at least not quickly, but there is no “imperative” for those same actors to demand – I’m talking about actions not words – that Israel allow building supplies and equipment in through the checkpoint which they control or that they allow yummy, beautiful, quality Gaza products into the world market so that Palestinians in Gaza can support themselves rather than be 80% dependent on aid (that was a pre-war figure) and please don’t start now about Egypt because OF COURSE Egypt has control over the crossing at Rafah and is complicit in obstructing trade and aid—though never say the word “denying” trade and aid, I don’t know why, maybe because then it’s a crime against humanity? (I am not sure if that is true) and anyway, what does that have to do with the sense of betrayal and isolation and hopelessness that is driving thousands of Palestinians to seek to escape illegally by sea and drowning! drowning! Those young people who stayed alive through the hell of bombardment, the shaking of the ground, the thundering of the skies, the collapse of the world around them for the third time in the last six years and now they so urgently want to escape that they push themselves onto rickety boats (flashing images of Haitians flailing in rough waters), my God, the world is going to hell, and yes I started that last verse with an indictment of Egypt, against whom I feel even more powerless than I do against Israel, which is pretty darn powerless, but this is, obviously, a digression from my main point which had to do with how totally bizarre and sick it seems to me that the “Humanitarian Imperative” is not a HUMAN imperative (forget law now, law makes my head hurt and all those people who say that my arguments are weak because they aren’t grounded in law make my head hurt too because my arguments are grounded in JUSTICE PEOPLE, yes JUSTICE which is an imperative, no?) I mean, isn’t it imperative for us as human beings to prevent the injustices that lead to the humanitarian crises that then invoke the Humanitarian Imperative to respond in very limited ways? (stop telling me that humanitarianism cannot and should not be political and that the whole point and value of humanitarianism is that it is not subject to politics when that only makes sense to me between 9am and 5pm and not at 3am when I can see so clearly that nothing is more political than saying “our job ends when people eat” and I know you’re yelling-35825_640frustrated that I’m “twisting” what you mean, that we are not limited to humanitarianism but that it protects a minimal space for required intervention on non-political grounds OKAY OKAY I get that but it is sooooooooooooooooooooo not enough in today’s world where we are the perpetrators of the humanitarian crises to say that we are only obligated to respond to the symptoms—and if I am the only one who sees that then I am truly insane) And anyway, isn’t action imperative for us too – to protect the sanctity of our own humanity, if not the law – and what I mean by that is that every time we use this sterile terminology to justify not doing something that we know to be right in our [she pounds very hard on the squishy place above the belly button that processes everything] then we are less, less, less AND the people, in this case Palestinians, that we let down, because they are now absolutely sure that they can’t rely on anybody in the world to hear and realize and act on the fact that they are suffering terribly (I already said that I know that they are not the only ones in the world!), not due to a tsunami or an earthquake but from the unnecessary and immoral acts of an OECD and UN member state that enjoys all kinds of upgraded trade relations and cultural exchanges and stuff that Gaza is denied, denied, denied, denied, but it is ME I remind you who is naïve and confused when I say that this has got to stop people, the WHOLE mess of inequality and violence—economic, cultural, sexual, physical because it’s so very tiring (if you can’t tell) trying to understand the world we live in today and what my role in it is as someone who is compelled by a Human Imperative and who is angry and disappointed that we’ve found so many legal, professional and administrative ways to not get involved when we’re needed like telling 1.8 million traumatized human beings (who, by the way, would share a piece of bread with you if it was the only thing they had) that “we’re only obligated to provide you with tents and not to use all means necessary to ensure that you live with dignity in homes that are safe and that when you go to the beach you can swim in water that is not polluted by raw sewage and that you feel no compulsion to drown yourself because you feel alone. I want to say to the Palestinians in Gaza, to the Bangladeshi sweat shop workers, to the kids who go to school barefoot in El Salvador, to homeless women on skid row in Los Angeles: you are not alone (and I really wish that someone would tell me that I am not alone at 3am) but then again, I might just be wrong or crazy (but not in the legal sense!).