Sunday, 13 December 2015

I Would Like My Son to be Happy

The first town you come to after crossing through the separation wall at Erez border crossing into the Gaza Strip is Beit Hanoun. At once you are confronted by a destroyed block of flats, all that remains of most buildings in this area are concrete slabs and shells of what were once buildings. When the Israeli military moved through the neighbourhood in July 2014, their intent was to remove all obstacles in their line of sight.
Imad’s  (name changed) family home was one of those buildings. A two storey house in the middle of town, it still stands, but the first and second floors, destroyed in aerial raids, are still unliveable. Holes in the walls were artillery punched through the concrete are covered by blankets and tarps to protect Imad and his 19 family members, who all live on the ground floor, from the elements.
Thirteen-year-old Imad sits next to me in the ‘courtyard’ of his house. The reluctant centre of attention, he answers politely when questioned. Imad is the youngest of 10 children. As his mother is a Palestinian refugee, he attends a United Nations (UNRWA) school where his favourite subject is English. Imad’s passion however is for sport. He is a keen football player, bike rider (but he doesn’t have one) and swimmer, although he is not allowed to swim in the ocean – it’s too dangerous to be on the beach.
He is most animated though when he tells us about his photography project. Although the project is finished and the camera was damaged in the last war, Imad describes with enthusiasm the photos he took. He wants to become a photographer, and he would like a computer to help him edit and bring his dreams to life.
None of Imad’s family have stable work. When his father and older brothers are lucky, they get occasional day labour jobs, but with twenty people to feed there is never enough, ‘luckily’ says Imad’s Dad, his wife is a Palestinian refugee so they are entitled to food coupons and basic support from UNRWA.
Despite these extremely harsh realities, there is joy and hope in the faces of the family sitting around the courtyard. That hope has its roots in World Vision’s sponsorship program: the difference for Imad and his family is the support they have received from World Vision as a result of the funds available from Australian sponsors.
This support, over recent years has supported Imad’s family to pay school fees, purchase equipment and uniforms, and to cover Imad’s extra curricula activities, like photography. Imad’s father has attended a Job Creation course with a local agricultural corporation and had work experience with a local farmer. Imad’s mother has attended a Psychological First Aid (PFA) course, an essential skill to identify and help people (especially children) to cope and respond to traumatic events, such as war.
In the wake of the war, Imad attended a Child Friendly Space (CFS) where, with about fifty other children he enjoyed the dancing and games. Imad’s family received food coupons, toys, and hygiene and first aid kits. World Vision also provided food items to the UNRWA school where with about 5,000 other people Imad and his family sheltered for a month.
As we finish up our visit with Imad and his family, his dad says to us that if he could have anything, “I would like my son to be happy”. There is so much more that could be done in Gaza and for children like Imad.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A Sweet Peace Initiative

Before the 2014 Israeli offensive on Gaza, Abd Kareem and his neighbours had a good business from their citrus trees, vegetables and honey. But, by the time the 50 day war was finished this farming community "looked like hell". The bombs had left huge craters in the fields, the irrigation pipelines and infrastructure were destroyed by military hardware and the trees were uprooted and destroyed.

When I was here in February this year the community had already filled in the craters, levelled out the land, erected fences and with help (from Australian Government funds) were repairing and rebuilding the water infrastructure. And despite these setbacks most of the farmers in the area re-planted crops in time for the season. Water is life, and today, with the repair of the water pump and the other work, the farming area is almost unrecognisable. Talk about resilience, this is not a behaviour that you can teach, this is not an attitude that is natural - but here in Gaza, as in many fragile contexts, people have learnt that if it is going to get done, they need to do it.

The neighbours came together and replanted, repaired and rehabilitated. Today, citrus trees are in fruit, vegetables are being harvested and the bees are producing honey. (But not a lot yet.) Before the war Abd Kareem's bees were producing about 50kg of honey per hive, but today, with a limited supply of food, while the production is improving, it is only about 6-8kg per hive. The citrus trees have flowered but, take a quick panoramic view of the area and there are not many other trees or flowers, it's pretty barren on this, the Gaza side, of the separation wall.

But on the other side of the impenetrable 60km, 7-9m high grey concrete slabs punctuated regularly by imposing fortified guard towers - on the Israeli side of the separation wall - there is lots of food for bees. And so it is that these Gazan bees are ignoring the blockade rules, the separation wall, the dual purpose list and the politics of humankind. They are buzzing the wall, helping out the Israeli farmers by pollinating their crops, pinching the nectar and returning to produce Gazan honey.

Now that's what I call a peace initiative.