Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Palestinians of all ages and backgrounds volunteer for Gaza

By Lynda Franken - August 18, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [BDS]
Tags: [Gaza] [Gaza Blockade] [BDS]

A Palestinian woman prays over the grave of a relative at Sheikh Radwan cemetery, northwest of Gaza City on July 28, 2014. (AFP/MARCO LONGARI)

“We felt fear for a while but our eager and ambition were strong enough to continue,” Dr. Hani Siliman Salamah told Palestine Monitor, as he recalled his journey throughout Gaza to deliver much needed medical supplies to the strip’s besieged population.

Crowdfunding in Gaza 

Dr. Salamah is a Palestinian pharmacist who lives in Gaza. He is the coordinator of a group of twenty volunteers, all Palestinian pharmacists, who started raising funds to deliver medical supplies in Gazan hospitals since the latest round of hostilities began last June. 

The first project started on the 27th of July, called Emergency Appeal – Gaza War 2014 (EMGAZA). Funds were raised via crowdfunding-platform Indiegogo, a website where one can present projects to the world in order to raise money. Salamah’s group raised more than $11,000 dollars for EMGAZA in 15 days. 

Dr. Salamah and his team bought the supplies from private medical drug stores in Gaza-City. He explained this choice by saying that the frequent closing of Gaza’s border crossings make humanitarian convoys a “mission impossible,” adding that buying the supplies in Gaza supports the enclave’s stores financially.

“These stores have permanent permissions for trade, not aid, from the Israeli officials (who) allow them to get medicines and related stuff from the West Bank and Jordan as well,” he told Palestine Monitor.

Salamah said his work as a pharmacist in Gaza for over 10 years sped up the process of getting the supplies: “I organized to get all the needed medicines (…) within one week since I have a good relationship with most of the drug stores in Gaza.”

The medical supplies were delivered to three different hospitals in the coastal enclave: al-Awda hospital in the northern city of Jabaliya, UHWC hospital in central Gaza-City and al-Zahara hospital in the southern city of Rafah. 

“I chose these 3 hospitals, because they are not governmental hospitals that can get support via Ministry of Health or official vessels. […] Two of these hospitals (al-Zahra and al-Awdah) are located in areas where most of its residents are refugees and poor,” said Dr. Salamah.

The journey to deliver medical supplies on 10 August was not without danger. After a 72-hour ceasefire came to an end two days earlier, Israeli air strikes resumed, killing 16 people before a new truce started at midnight. 

“During our way to Rafah city, we heard 3 massive explosions near al-Nussirate refugee camp in the middle of the Gaza strip and we saw smoke rising up from one of the buildings. This incident was 600 meters far from us.” 

Salamah says he and his team were scared for a while, “but our eager (sic) and ambition were strong enough to continue.”

After the success of EMGAZA, he started EMGAZA2, which is specifically aimed at helping disabled people. An Israeli airstrike hit a rehabilitation centre for the disabled in Jabaliya on 12 July, killing three patients and a nurse.  Dr. Salamah told Palestine Monitor he will try to include the hospital in the new project, depending on how much money is collected. 

Shopping for Gaza 

Dr. Salamah may call sending a humanitarian convoy to Gaza a “mission impossible,” but several other Palestinian initiatives have done precisely that – and were very successful in their missions.

The Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) started a campaign to collect donations for Gaza on August 5. Volunteers from PMRS issued flyers at the three Bravo supermarkets in Ramallah, asking customers to donate groceries. The purchased products were put in a box outside for future shipment. 

The volunteers at Bravo seem remarkably young, most of them teenagers. Haya, 13, had her first day as a PMRS volunteer at Bravo last Friday. She handed out flyers for “one hour or two,” telling Palestine Monitor that donating groceries is a way “to help Gaza if you can.” The most needed items on the list, according to her, are female hygiene products and baby items, specifically disposable diapers.

Her statement echoes a statement made by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti to Palestine Monitor last week. As part of a PMRS-team that crossed into the Gaza Strip, he witnessed a serious humanitarian crisis. Barghouti told Palestine Monitor that the lack of hygiene has led to the propagation of several diseases, making hygiene products even more necessary.

The flyers issued at Bravo explicitly stated that donated products should not be Israeli. Bravo, the largest supermarket chain in the West Bank, started boycotting Israeli products earlier this month. Their official Facebook page named six Israeli suppliers that Bravo will cut from its assortment. It also stated that their intention is to expand this list with other Israeli suppliers in the near future. 

The aim is to send the boycotted products back to their Israeli producers, said Bravo’s marketing manager Yousef Sider to the Palestine News Network (PNN). “Israel occupies our land, our air, and also occupies our stomachs, and we’re going to free ourselves from this occupation,” Sider told PNN. 

PMRS has long supported the boycott of Israeli products and welcomes the Bravo initiative. Their mutual campaign that was initially set to last a month, however “might be shorter, if the ceasefire holds,” an external relations officer at PMRS told Palestine Monitor. She explained that a different campaign would be initiated in that case, as sending trucks to Gaza is an expensive matter. 

So far, PMRS has sent ten trucks, holding more than 200 pallets of supplies. Apart from the donations of Bravo-customers, “a large influx of private donations (were) brought by people to our offices,” according to the PMRS-officer. All trucks arrived in Gaza, two of them with a two-day delay at the Kerem Shalom border crossing due to its closure. 

Coordinating with the Israeli authorities to get permits, takes about twelve hours, the external relations officer explained. The rather fast pace is due to cooperation between the Israeli authorities and the truck companies. “For the trucks to enter Gaza and reach their final destination, it takes a total of 1 or 2 days, including the coordination time,” she said. 

Another initiative including successful shipments to the coastal enclave is the 'House of Life’ youth movement’s initiative for Gaza, called Qawarib ('boats’). Qawarib collects donated goods from all major West Bank cities in Ramallah and has made two successful trips to Gaza to deliver a total of 343 pallets of aid.

The help given is much appreciated in Gaza. Dr. Salamah received letters of appreciation from all three hospitals he visited. As the letter of the UNWC hospital states: 

“Definitely, yours and others support will save lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and will empower them to face the many challenges they are currently experiencing.” 

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