Friday, November 6, 2009

Palestinian-American discovered Gaza trip "would change his life"

Report Back from Viva Palestina was a "persuasive argument" for more support
Two Palestinian-Americans, Mohamed El-Housiny and Thaer Ahmad, gave emotional accounts of their participation in the "Viva Palestina" delegation to Gaza in July 2009 to a packed auditorium at the University of Missouri--Kansas City on Thursday, November 5. The talk sponsored by the UMKC Muslim Student Association also featured a brief presentation by Rev. Cindy Howard, who participated in an Interfaith Peace Builders delegation to Palestine and Israel in August. Rev. Howard discussed meeting with representatives from a broad spectrum of Israeli and Palestinian society, including visits to the Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem and Bi'lin, the site in the West Bank famous for weekly protests against the building of the wall deep inside Palestinian territory.

At age three, one of the event speakers, Mohamed El-Housiny, recalled the unforgettable scene watching his grandfather get thrown to the ground by Israeli forces in Gaza. He then mentioned his eyes were open anew following the terrible massacre of Palestinians this past January. He gave an incredibly moving eyewitness account of the scenes of devastation in Gaza, as well as sharing stories told by victimes of the brutal attacks.

How bad is it in Gaza? While the stories retold by Mohamed and Thaer gave a strong personal message, statistics tell a different story of the dire situation. 1300 Palestinians were killed including 400 children, thousands wounded, thousands of homes were destroyed, as were a great number of schools, businesses, hospitals, and mosques. 40,000 Palestinians are still homeless. 13 Israelis were killed. The guest speakers reported that all aid has to go through Israel according to the 2005 Gaza disengagement plan. The recent Israeli attacks caused $4 billion damage in 22 days, which amounts to three times the annual income of Gaza. The UN estimates the need to deliver supplies from 80-90 vehicles per day, yet Israel only allows 5-15 vehicles in per day. The siege of Gaza has reduced the fishing zone from 15 miles offshore to only 3 miles. Israel profits from the transfer and storage of supplies with much of the financing going back to fund the occupation.

Thaer grew up in the West Bank and thought he would only be an observer on the Viva Palestina delegation, but after his first interaction with the Egyptian government he "knew it would change his life." The Egyptian government was reluctant to allow the Viva Palestina vehicle convoy to pass through to Gaza, holding the delegation for thirteen hours at the border. He commented on the strength of the Palestinian spirit to maintain their livelihood despite the crushing siege. He recalled three young girls telling their story, noting one strong-minded ten-year old girl demand to know "what did these girls [her friends] do to deserve this." One of the girls lost 26 family members during the attacks.

He saw the damage to schools and remembered hearing how schools were used as a safe haven from the attacks. He found it difficult to explain how ruthless the attacks were to target schools with civilians hiding inside.

During the question and answer period of the event, one audience member asked how Palestinians in Gaza are living in the devastation. Thaer said he saw storekeepers open their stories and sweep sidewalks despite a lack of customers. He was amazed to see how they found resolve to endure the death and destruction. "The fact that they get up in the morning each day -- that's resistance!," remarked Thaer.

Mohamed reported another humanitarian aid convoy led by Viva Palestina will commence December 5 in London before continuing through Europe, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt before traveling to Gaza. Viva Palestina convoy organizers are seeking individuals to participate in the convoy. See for details.

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