GazaEarlier this month, football clubs from Gaza and the West Bank traveled to face one another in the Palestine Cup for the first time in more than 15 years. Shijaiyah United of Gaza faced West Bank’s Al-Ahly squad, and more than 2,000 fans of both teams alike were in full attendance at Gaza’s al-Yarmouk stadium.

League winners from Gaza and the West Bank were previously allowed to travel and meet for the Palestine Cup; however, this has been restricted by Israel since 2000 due to security risks and concerns. The Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the governing body in charge of Palestinian travel, granted the clubs’ requests.

Prior to the contest, COGAT announced in June that it would be easing travel restrictions to and from Gaza and the West Bank. The change was made to accommodate Palestinians traveling to celebrate during the month of Ramadan. Residents were allowed to apply for travel visas, which allowed them to visit immediate family members. For the first time, bus services and airports were open to transport residents between Gaza and the West Bank.

Upon the team’s arrival at al-Yarmouk stadium, Al-Ahly’s Khaldon al-Halman said, “I am full of honour and pride, this is the first time I have ever visited Gaza and I can’t find the words to describe my feelings.”

Geographically, the two regions are only separated by a few dozen miles, but the match was momentous due to Israel’s strict travel restrictions for Palestinians. The meeting was even more noteworthy considering the recent history and events of just this past year.

Hostilities erupted between Israel and Palestine this past Summer. Throughout the course of the conflict, the United Nations estimated that approximately 18,000 homes and structures of Gaza were destroyed by airstrikes and shelling. The structural destruction has left an estimated 108,000 Gazans homeless.

“We are all coming from underneath the rubble. Every player knows someone who was killed or injured, every player has had their house destroyed,” says Ibrahim Muajib Wadi of Shijaiyah.

For an area that has endured decades of turmoil and violence, the local football clubs have inspired a common pride, and Palestinian unity has blossomed as a result. This has provided hope in a form unavailable anywhere else.

“I support both teams! It’s one country, and both will represent Palestine if they win, It’s a celebration for Palestine, for all of us,” says Mohammed Yahya, a young spectator at the second game of the two-part series final.

The ruling powers, Hamas and Fatah, govern Gaza and the West Bank respectively and are, in theory, striving towards a unified Palestine. Relations, however, have not always been smooth between the governing bodies as they share a history of political gridlock.

This divide has left Palestine separated physically, as well as politically. However, despite the geographic and diplomatic split that currently exists, the politicians’ unification has manifested itself among the people in an unconventional way.

Palestinians are hopeful that the match symbolizes a continued sign of freer movement through Israel. For now, Palestinians are reveling with pride from the ability to support their football teams in person.

While Shijaiyah won the second and deciding match 2-1 over Al-Ahly, the experience provides the people with an invaluable boost to morale and generates a hopeful optimism. In regards to the final score, Wadi understood the contest’s importance, “In the end, the only winner is Palestine.”

Frasier Petersen

Sources: Washington Times, The Guardian, Yahoo, New York Times
Photo: The Guardian

Israeli Hospitals Treat Palestinians
An Israeli Defense Force (IDF) reserve unit has been specifically tasked with providing medical and humanitarian assistance to Palestinians. The unit is staffed by medical professionals who administer training exercises designed to mimic potential emergency situations in the field.

In addition to realistic conflict and disaster training scenarios, there is an emphasis on providing unquestioned care to any and all patients regardless of nationality or religion.

Capt. (Res.) Dr. Yishai Lev, a commander in the company, comments on its conceptualization, “The idea of adapting the unit actually came from our soldiers who recognized the need for it in the field.” This implies the civilian impact of the conflict was clearly witnessed by multitudes of IDF forces who were inclined to work toward a solution.

In reference to the humanitarian motive, Lev adds, “This medical care stems from our commitment to the Jewish and modern value of human rights.” The IDF company also collaborates with Palestinian medical services in an effort to help establish a more robust medical infrastructure.

An unfortunate truth, however, is that some Palestinian patients are reluctant to receive care from Israelis in fear of the cultural backlash from their societies back home. Israeli hospitals are aware of these concerns and have emphasized that doctors must provide all patients with exceptional treatment and care.

Yazid Fallah, a medical coordinator at a hospital in Haifa states, “We calmed them down and said there is no such danger in an Israeli hospital. We see humans and not antagonists. Israeli patients try to make the Palestinian patients feel comfortable. They believe that they are all in the same boat.” The hope is that upon their release, patients will share their experiences in efforts to change prevailing attitudes.

The IDF reserve company is not an isolated instance of Palestinian aid, as there is a recent precedent and history of aiding impacted civilians. During the midst of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict this past summer, the IDF opened a field hospital intended to treat Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire.

The wounded civilians in Gaza far outnumbered the capacity for the region’s hospitals. Facilities were ill-equipped and often under siege during operation. This unfortunate truth was realized by the IDF and was the catalyst for setting up the field hospital.

The hospital was strategically placed in between Gaza and Israel at the Erez border crossing. Situated in Northern Gaza, the Erez border is the only legally sanctioned crossing to and from Israel, which at the time, received a heavy influx of foot traffic. Border patrols were said to have been prepared for 5,000 crossings per day.

It is also the location of the first casualty of the summer’s conflict after an Israeli volunteer was killed by a mortar. The primary function of the field hospital is to extend emergency type care to patients, but it was capable of servicing other medical needs as well.

A statement released by the IDF read, “The hospital will include an emergency clinic, pediatric and gynecological services, a delivery room and even overnight hospitalization when needed. The staff will include doctors, nurses, x-ray technicians and lab technicians.”

Regardless of diplomatic allegiance, efforts of preventing innocent suffering are always commendable. In reference to this sentiment, Lev states, “When people are in need of care, we can’t afford to be indifferent.”

Frasier Petersen

Sources: Breaking Israel News, Doctors Without Borders, United With Israel
Photo: Flickr

reconciliation

Olive oil: in a salad, it brings together flavors and nutrients with healthy and delicious results. In the Middle East, it brings together farmers in Israel and Palestine to change a narrative typically consumed by violence and hatred.

Olive Oil Without Borders is a project of the Near East Foundation, which has spent the past 100 years promoting reconciliation and development in the region. So far the project, which ended its first iteration in 2014, has brought more than $20 million into the Palestinian economy and involved more than 3,000 Palestinian farmers.

The project, which is also supported by USAID, was started due to production surpluses in Palestinian olive oil and production deficits in Israeli olive oil. This means that Palestinian producers were creating more oil than they could sell, while Israeli producers were having trouble meeting a heavy demand. Through this problem, a solution was born—something that could unite those pitted against each other by a troubling political situation.

Thus, in 2005, Olive Oil Without Borders was founded. Objectives of the project include economic empowerment and cooperation, as well as cooperation to promote reconciliation in an area torn apart by conflict and blame.

This is done through mutual training and education, with the knowledge and techniques of farmers of both nations being used to support advancement in the industry. According to olive farmer Muhammad Hamudi, the program brings about cooperation simply through the fact that it is mutually beneficial. “We have things to teach, they have things to teach. They use modern techniques, we have experience and knowledge.” Often times, working together can be brought about not by desire, but by necessity.

The second edition of the project launched in January. This project has the potential to bring more money into the Palestinian economy, advance production techniques in the olive oil industry and bring about lasting reconciliation to a long-lasting conflict, one olive at a time.

Andrew Michaels

Sources: Global Citizen, Good Magazine, Olive Oil Without Borders, Olive Oil Times
Photo: Good Magazine

funding_crisis
The United Nations is in the midst of its most severe funding crisis to date and the amount of people affected by it is continuing to rise.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is one of the UN agencies most heavily affected by a lack of funding. After a recent emergency meeting conducted by its Advisory Commission, the UNRWA said that “drastic measures” would have to be taken if the current deficit of $101 million couldn’t be funded before the upcoming school year.

If the deficit is not met, the academic year could be delayed for over half a million students in the middle east across nearly 700 schools. The UN stresses, however, that there is still enough funding available to provide “immunizations for children, primary health care, relief and sanitation and some emergency programmes” through the end of 2015.

The UN has also stated that from September and on it can’t ensure the stability of those resources.

“Education lies at the very heart of the identity and dignity of Palestine refugees and of what UNRWA stands for,” says a UNRWA press release concerning the issue. “Our schools also provide a measure of stability in a very unstable region. Possible delays in opening the school year would also have grave implications for host governments.”

These budget cuts also have a serious effect on Palestinian refugees currently living in the Gaza Strip. Children who attend school in the region received $20 cash vouchers until very recently, when that service stopped entirely along with free meals provided at schools.

Coupled with additional UNRWA assistance is often what families depend on. Continuing to cut these services could have severely life-altering consequences.

“Our conditions worsen every day,” Bilal Mekdad, a Gaza Strip refugee, told the Anadolu Agency. “We fear the day we will find ourselves in the street.”

Alexander Jones

Sources: Anadolu Agency, UN 1, UN 2
Photo: Anadolu Agency

Palestine
When it comes to the polarizing issue of the $400 million of foreign aid the United States is giving to Palestine, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says, “There’s a new game in town.”

On January 7, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a new bill in the wake of Palestine’s application and recent acceptance to the International Criminal Court. Rand, Graham and their proponents argue that this action is in direct conflict with the one of United States’ three stipulations regarding aid to the West Bank, which is that the Palestinians will never seek to persecute Israel at the Hague.

Graham believes this bill presents a change in the dynamic between USAID, Palestine and Israel. Formerly, Israel fought against cutting assistance to Palestine and viewed international aid as an investment in national security and a movement toward the elusive “two state solution.” Rand and Graham now believe that it is time for the tide to turn in favor of a more aggressive statement.

“I cannot tell you the number of times the Israelis have engaged me to try to stop an emotional reaction by the Congress to terminate aid,” Graham said to Foreign Policy. “[But now] I’m going to lead the charge to make sure the Palestinians feel this.”

This aggressive approach is lauded as a defense of Israel, one of the United States’ closest allies. Yet research has shown that making the people of Palestine “feel” the loss of roughly $400 million could have the opposite effect, putting the civilians of the West Bank at a greater risk than ever before.

Primary defenders of the “cut aid” camp argue that aid to Palestine is akin to bankrolling the terrorist group Hamas. When they look at that $400 million, they see missiles pointed directly at Israel’s iron dome. What they do not see is the 515,000 Palestinian civilians who have been raised from poverty by the affordable water programs, infrastructural efforts and humanitarianism that flow from this aid.

According to an investigation done by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), USAID to Palestine has been carefully vetted and primarily channeled through in-kind efforts to change lives on the ground. In 2011, they found that the majority of aid was focused on the building of five hospitals, six clinics, the upgrade of 23 schools and the revamping of over 20 small- and medium-sized water systems. It was used to computerize hospitals in the main city of Mendabollah and provide 127,000 people with access to potable water.

“These aids are very helpful for us,” said Dr. Niha Sawaheh, head of the ER at the Palestinian Medical Center (a USAID project hospital) in Ramallah. “When they stop, they will affect us.”

What happens when the aid stops is not a theoretical question to Sawaheh. It is a recent memory. When the United States froze half of their allocated funds to Palestine in 2011, the hospital saw sharp declines in efficiency and diagnostic potential. After those cutbacks, the new, computerized CT system sat unused in Ramallah’s largest hospital, yet there was no discernible decline in Hamas-initiated bombings of Jerusalem.

Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian government, commented that “by such a decision, [Congress is] punishing the Palestinian public in education, and in health, in a way that is very, very difficult to understand.”

Research has shown that declines in public education, health and accessibility to necessities such as clean water have little effect on ethnically charged violence like that between the Israelis and Palestinians.

In their famous 2010 paper, Professors Christopher Blattman and Edward Miguel of the University of California Berkeley argue that “greed” or the desire to improve one’s living conditions by targeting another regime is a much more powerful incentive to violence than is “grievance” or deep-rooted primordialism. “At present,” they write, “the economic motivators for conflict are better theorized than psychological or sociological factors.”

Removing the programs that allow Palestinian civilians to live above the margin — where they do not have to live on Hamas’ assurance that the downfall of Israel will put water in their wells and computers in their hospitals — will not, as some argue, quench Hamas’ thirst for terror. Rather, it would push those who in better times would not raise arms to Israel to resort to those same desperate measures. From this perspective, it is likely that Israel (America’s ally) would be the one to feel the effects of the $400 million cuts, not the terrorist groups hell-bent on Israeli destruction.

As this bill and others like it move through Congress, there is no doubt heated debate over “our duty to Israel” and the “message we send to Hamas” will circulate. Yet from a national security standpoint, the answer is simple: $400 million can buy lasting infrastructural development, something that in 30 years will drive off more missiles than even the iron dome.

Emma Betuel

Sources: Berkley, NPR, Foreign Policy, Huffigton Post, Al-Monitor, GAO, FAS, Reuters
Photo: Caritas

Child's Cup Full Fights Poverty In Palestine - TBP

One in every two Palestinians is classified as poor. The loss of significant economic resources during the Israeli occupation, including 82% of the nation’s groundwater, has lead to significant damages to the Palestinian economy. The real gross domestic product in Gaza is 10% below its 2005 level, and 66% of the population in the West Bank struggles with food insecurity. In Palestine, and particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, conflict has caused great suffering.

Yet, in the face of suffering, there is hope.

Founded by the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa in 2008, Child’s Cup Full promotes the development of local enterprises in Palestine through the sale and manufacture of children’s toys. These toys are built by refugee women, who are trained and paid through the program. The training and payment of these women promotes the development of marketable skills, along with the creation of networks to further develop local markets.

In addition, proceeds from these sales go toward developing childhood development and education programs in communities reached out to by Child’s Cup Full.

The toys sold by Child’s Cup Full are educational and eco-friendly. In price, they range from a $5 set of building blocks to a $225 Darzeh heal. Each toy, crafted by Palestinian women and supporting both the training of adults and the education of children, holds infinite potential to change lives in Palestine. By promoting education, Child’s Cup Full works with great potential to break the cycle of refugee poverty in the West Bank.

Behind it all, Child’s Cup Full has one message: global poverty need not be an endless cycle. By fighting refugee poverty through economic development and education, Child’s Cup Full ends this cycle by empowering victims of global poverty.

Toys from Child’s Cup Full can be ordered at http://childscupfull.org

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: Reuters, Child’s Cup Full, Read Little Muslims, Tulsa World
Photo: Child’s Cup Full

Over the course of the last 14 years, 1,500 Palestinian children have died at the hands of Israel. This high number could be in part of the fact that for children in the Palestine community, there is not a lot to do to occupy the time. With no extra activities around, children get involved in things they probably should stay away from, like protesting.

For example, every Friday since December of 2009, Nabi Saleh’s residents have marched in protest at the confiscation of their land and the consequences they are faced with are tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and occasionally even live fire. There have been more than 100 imprisonments of villagers since demonstrations began and a large proportion of these people are teenagers, who can be held for days, weeks or months.

To help alleviate this and save the children of Palestine from violence, founder of SkatePal, Charlie Davis, 27, had raised enough funds to build Palestine’s first ever skate park. SkatePal was created in 2012 and is a volunteer-run, nonprofit charitable organization. One of the main reasons Davis wanted to build a skate park here was to give the children something healthy to detract their attention from the violence going on in the community.

Currently, SkatePal has 12 volunteers but only two who live in Palestine. Among one of the two is 18-year-old Adham Tamimi, who says that if he wasn’t skating, he would “probably be involved in protests, drugs and stuff like that. But I don’t need drugs or any other stuff, like demos, to be a rebel, because skating is way more than just an extreme sport. It’s a lifestyle that I have to commit to.”

The second volunteer in Palestine is 16-year-old Aram Sabbah. He was involved in a protest in July in which thousands across the West Bank marched in protest against Israeli aggression toward Gaza. To show their protest, kids were throwing stones and when Sabbah ran out of stones to throw, he went to get more and was injured. The Israel Defense Forces blew a hole in Sabbah’s leg.

After the accident Sabbah, still skated around even on his crutches, which actually seemed to help him learn new tricks. In his good fortune, none of his bones were broken and his crutches will only assist him for a little longer.

Moving forward, Davis and his team of volunteers with SkatePal, will design and build three new skateparks throughout Palestine. Thus far, SkatePal is at about 75 percent of their donation goal, 15,000 pounds ($24,872.)

Brooke Smith

Sources: Vice, Washington’s Blog
Photo: Flickr

refuge in gaza
The number of displaced persons in Gaza has skyrocketed in the past week, leaving thousands of families without homes, food or protection from the violent conflict. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is utilizing all its available resources to aid Palestinians in dire need of protection and security. For example, U.N. schools provide a much-needed sanctuary for those seeking refuge in Gaza from the rain of missiles and military advances.

According to Christopher Gunness, the spokesman for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the number of displaced persons has doubled, with the count rising from 22,000 to over 40,000 in merely one day.

Gunness describes the scope of the strife, saying, “This is a watershed moment for UNRWA, now that the number of people seeking refuge with us is more than double the figure we saw in the 2009 Gaza conflict.”

After 10 days of aerial and naval bombardment, the Palestinian Ministry of Health has reported more than 2,260 injuries, and the U.N. Protection Cluster maintains the current death count is at least 312 people, including at least 70 children.

UNRWA is offering asylum in the 44 schools located in Gaza. People staying at these schools receive one meal a day courtesy of UNRWA in conjunction with the World Food Program.

Along with the temporary safety provided by the U.N. schools, the U.N. is working to distribute non-food items to families’ housing relatives who are homeless due to the fighting.

The U.S. recently pledged $47 million in aid to Palestinians affected by the violence. According to the State Department, $15 million of this will be allotted to the UNRWA, and the remainder of it  “will be rechanneled to meet immediate needs.”

The U.S. donation will go toward meeting the UNRWA’s $60 million dollar request for international assistance.

Al Jazeera interviewed Robert Turner, the Director of Operations for UNRWA in Gaza, who voiced his concern, saying, “The speed with which this has happened is staggering.”

While the fighting and political tensions rage on in Gaza, the U.N. is focusing its attention on the innocent civilians most in need of assistance: the families and children without a safe place to ride out the storm of missiles.

-Grace Flaherty

Sources: Al Jazeera, UN News Centre
Photo: Aljazeera

palestinian children in gaza
The turmoil between Israel and Gaza is ramping up, as violence between the two nations escalates hourly. Rockets, bombs and aerial assaults punctuate the region more and more as hostilities increase, with no signs of de-escalation or avail.

The circumstances are claiming the health and lives of many, as more and more deadly weapons are detonated not just daily, but hourly. Both sides of the conflict are seeing gross casualties, injuries, displacement, and devastating psychological distress.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated regions in the world, with 1.7 million people inhabiting 139 square miles. The Israeli military has dropped leaflets over certain areas of the Gaza Strip, warning civilians to flee or find shelter because of a coming air strike. Though the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claim they do not want to hurt civilians, they released a statement saying that the civilians, “…must know that remaining in close proximity to Hamas terrorists and infrastructures is extremely unsafe.” Nevertheless, at  least 72 Palestinians were killed last month, including Palestinian children.

UNICEF describes the deadly situation and its effects on children in the area, reporting that 19 Palestinian children have been killed as a result of airstrikes in Gaza over the past three days. Countless other children have been injured by rocket attacks.

On Thursday, July 10, an air strike killed five children in Palestine.

Physical harm is not the only consequence of the violence. Mental distress and upset are also extremely threatening and damaging. There has been focus on Palestinian children in particular, especially by Save the Children, a prominent children’s charity based in Washington, D.C.

Osama Damo, a communications manager for Save the Children, says that Palestinian children are at risk of psychological distress and disorders at night, because, “Military operations often take place during the night.”

Among children, the psychological distresses resulting from the regional climate and circumstances include PTSD, behavioral issues, feelings of helplessness and fear, trauma and sleeping disorders.

Some child welfare organizations are acting throughout the region to provide protection for children during dangerous raids.

Although it is the holy month of Ramadan, Gaza City is deserted. Thousands of inhabitants have fled or remain hidden inside buildings, rendering the usually bustling city a ghost town. It is safer to remain inside than it is to risk injury outside.

“We feel so scared,” says 10-year-old Karmen. “It’s Ramadan now, and we want to enjoy the holiday.”

Though this deeply rooted conflict is claiming the lives of many, it is important to consider the innocent children on both sides.

– Arielle Swett

Sources: UNICEF, Aljazeera America 1, Aljazeera America 2, NPR, BBC
Photo: The Telegraph

medical aid
The World Health Organization warns of the critical medical situation within Palestine and the Gaza Strip. The four days of rocket attacks from both Palestine and Israel has left those in Gaza in a critical state.

The recent violence has increased medical emergencies, and the Palestinian healthcare system is struggling to cope with the new burden. WHO reported that large amounts healthcare debt, in addition to medical and fuel shortages, have severely crippled health services in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Unless the international community takes immediate action, Palestinians will not be able to have their basic medical needs met.

With the most recent strikes by Israel on Gaza on June 11, 2014, the death toll in Palestine has reached nearly 100. Over 570 people have been injured since the conflict started on July 6, 2014. Those in Gaza continue to fight back, and it appears that the conflict will only continue to escalate.

The fighting has weakened the already inadequate medical system in Palestine, and especially in Gaza. WHO is now making an international plea for funding and medical aid to help Palestinians receive urgent medical care.

To make matters worse, the hospitals in Gaza only have 10 days worth of fuel left to run the buildings. The lack of fuel is alarming, as the fighting continues to interrupt electricity. In an effort to conserve money, the hospitals are only performing operations on those in life-threatening conditions. Those with less threatening, but still serious, medical problems cannot receive treatment.

The Israeli airstrikes damaged a hospital, three clinics and a water sanitation facility in a refugee camp in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The organization reports that hospitals in East Jerusalem are struggling financially because of unpaid referral services, and there is a shortage of medications in both the West Bank and Gaza.

While the attacks on Israel have left multiple civilians injured, the poorer and militarily inferior Palestine is grappling to provide essential services for those injured and affected by the conflict.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health, with backing from WHO, is making a pressing appeal for $40 million in aid, enough to provide critical medical supplies for six months. The United Nations has also stepped in to help organize the relief effort.

The hope is that with numerous aid agencies involved in bringing the severity of the situation in Palestine into the international spotlight, hospitals will receive the supplies they need, and victims of the fighting will receive the care they desperately require.

– Kathleen Egan
Sources: The New York Times, WHO, Ma’an News Agency
Photo: The New York Times