< Report One: Greetings from Gaza, Palestine

Voices of Conscience: Delegation to the Gaza Strip
November 7, 2012

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports.

Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.  As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Submitted reports may be edited for clarity or brevity. Trip reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.


Greetings from Gaza, Palestine
By Diane Adkin

Greeting from Gaza, Palestine, after waking up to the sounds of the Mediterranean ocean on our first morning here!  We spent Sunday in Cairo preparing for our trip with group meetings and a visit to the American Embassy for security briefing and paperwork.  I was sorry to leave behind two members of our group because of illness, but very grateful to IFPB and our wonderful leaders for their continuous networking with their extensive contacts on our safety and plans. 

The trip across the Sinai was uneventful and we waited in Egyptian Rafah as long as Noam Chomsky did last week, so not bad.  In contrast, entry into Gaza was a warm welcome by the Palestinian border control and a representative of the Rafah City Council, along with our hosts, the Palestine Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and coffee served in an elegant meeting hall with sofas arranged in a square like an oversize Palestinian living room. The message was that they and the people of Gaza were grateful and encouraged by our visit in spite of the siege. 

Gaza is ready for visitors.  Our hotel is elegant and new, in the Arabic style, an apparent collaboration with the Swiss and the French.  A new mosque is almost complete on the shore.  Anything that can't be made here had to come through the tunnels, adding expense and time that hopefully will not be necessary soon.  But these building projects employ Palestinians and can help the Palestinian economy.        Palestinians and those that love Palestine are saying that donor aid and the dependency it brings are strangling the country and will not lead to an independent Palestinian economy.  Must see:  Donor Opium, a short video, and must read:  Rethinking Aid to Palestine by Nadia Hijab. 

What Palestinians need is the American and European political will to stop Israel's colonization and end discrimination.


An Emotional Arrival
By Cathy Sultan

Our arrival into Rafah yesterday was an emotional one. We received a red carpet welcome honoring our leader and co-delegates, Cindy and Craig Corrie, and their daughter Rachel who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003.

As we crossed the Gaza Strip to reach our hotel along the Mediterranean we were greeted with waves and cheers. We were told our visit would be greatly appreciated by the people of Gaza but their enthusiasm nonetheless brought tears to my eyes.

Today we met with human rights groups, with political leaders from many Palestinian political parties, and with the leader of Gaza agriculture to the water commissioner.

We topped the day of with dinner with the UN's deputy director in Gaza who commended our courage and expressed his appreciation for our show of support for the people of Gaza under siege since 2006.


Some Facts about the Gaza Strip
By Cathy Sultan

This morning our delegation met with OCHA, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  We learned the following facts about the Gaza Strip:

  • Gaza is like an open air prison 45 km. Long and 5-12 wide with 8 UN refugee camps where 55 percent of the population is 18 or younger;
  • Loss of land, movement, security, access to security and assistance;
  • Where in 2000, 26,000 people passed through Israeli controlled crossing and in 2011 the number was 167;
  • 85 % of fishing areas off limits.  When Oslo was signed in 96 the area allowed was 20 miles, today it is 3 miles;
  •  In 2005, 9000 truckloads of goods entered Gaza. In 2011 the number dropped to 270;
  • 80% of Gazans are unable to provide for themselves.
  • 95% of water in Gaza is undrinkable;
  • 80,000 tons of raw sewage is dumped into the sea because Israel denies the entry of raw materials necessary to build proper processing plants;

In sum, Gaza is a humanitarian crisis and as Noam Chomsky said on his visit here 10 days ago: "I never imagined it could be this bad."

It is that and more!


On Communication: The Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children
By Colleen Toomey

We visited Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children today and all I could think about was how I wished my mom could be here with me to experience this. She has been studying American Sign Language for years now, and I never fully appreciated the great positive potential of her studies until now.

The Atfaluna Society offers a variety of services for deaf children and their families free of charge. Talking with the doctors and teachers who work there, we learned that Gaza experiences seven times the amount of children born with hearing issues compared to the rest of the world.  Additionally, 1.7% of the entire Gazan population has hearing issues.

The Atfaluna Society educates children in Arabic sign language. In addition to educating youth, they fulfill many vital functions: they undertake diagnostic evaluations of individuals with potential hearing issues, operate field teams to screen children all over Gaza, run other early childhood intervention initiatives, offer counseling as well as sign language lessons for families of those with hearing issues, and run practical technical training courses for career development. Their efforts ensure that the hearing impaired children and adults of Gaza have the opportunity to communicate and function well within Gazan society, in a much more comprehensive way than I've ever seen in at home.

My favorite part of the tour came at the end, when our guide was discussing the three international sign languages. She told us that Arabic sign language is used in the Middle East, and American Sign Language is used in North America, while European sign language is the more internationally well known sign language. These are three distinct languages and it can be hard for new people to communicate when first meeting, just as hearing individuals face difficulties when meeting a foreign newcomer. What is telling, she said, was that while deaf individuals may have some difficulty communicating with each other at first, they work at it until they eventually find a way - often better than hearing individuals ever do.

Some people view hearing issues as disabilities that make it difficult for individuals to function within society; in Gaza, not only is this entirely not the case, but it appears that those who speak in sign language have a lot to teach us about how we interact with our brothers and sisters of the human race.

We must always attempt to communicate, and when it seems impossible to understand each other, that just means we have to keep trying. It took coming to Gaza to give me hope and to remind me that when it comes to communicating with others, as with all things, when there's a will, there's a way.


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