By Gen Sanders – Ramallah, West Bank
Delivering the most extreme blow to Gaza since 1967, Israel’s 22-day "Operation Cast-Lead" killed over 1,300 people, 895 of which were civilians (OCHA, January 24-26, 2009), left almost 5,000 people injured, caused a colossal amount of damage to every thinkable type of public and private infrastructure, and is responsible for an extraordinary amount of human suffering which appears to have no end.
The assault has undeniably left a humanitarian crisis in its wake. As people begin picking up the pieces of their shattered lives (and homes), urgently required aid has finally started to trickle in – albeit very slowly. When it comes to the unreasonable inefficiency of getting vital aid through Israeli checkpoints and border crossings, as well as its tenuous safety when it finally gets there, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) could tell you a story, or two.
On the 28th of December 2009, the second day of Israel’s appalling assault on Gaza, PARC called an urgent meeting for all active Palestinian NGOs to discuss a possible intervention plan. A popular relief campaign was agreed upon and agricultural committees in rural areas immediately began collecting donations from rural farmers in the West Bank. Saleem Abu Ghazaleh, the Director of the Fair Trade Department of PARC, choked back emotion as he explained “the farmers are very poor people but they give what they can, without a second thought, in order to help.” Indeed, when Gaza bleeds, the West Bank grieves, as evidenced by the massive demonstrations of solidarity since the assault began.
Up until January 26th, this Popular Campaign has collected over 75 tons of humanitarian aid in the form of olive oil, food, powdered milk, clothes, mattresses, blankets, and shoes – to name only a few; the majority of which were so generously donated by rural farmers in the West Bank.
Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time that PARC have mobilized for a quick response to the suffering of fellow Palestinians. In 1987, during the first intifada, PARC launched a campaign to provide assistance to those living under the tight restrictions of an Israeli imposed curfew that lasted months. Then, again in 2002, when the Israeli army invaded the West Bank, PARC initiated a campaign to benefit the hardest hit communities in and around Jenin. It is, in effect, the efficiency, competence, and professionalism of a good organization like PARC that manages to get results – and fast.
Sadly, the biggest obstacle that PARC has faced during this campaign has been “finding a way to get the goods to Gaza,” says Abu Ghazaleh. Perhaps a difficult reality to ingest, but this is really the bottom line here: how will we get the aid from here to Gaza, which happens to be a mere 100km away? For all intents and purposes it should be a simple process, but ever since Israel imposed a crippling blockade on the Strip 19 months ago, nothing is simple anymore. While Gazans starve or freeze to death, and fresh food donations rot and go to waste, PARC is still waiting to be granted access to Gaza by Israeli officials.
The Gaza branch of PARC was severely damaged by the Israeli offensive and its employees now all find themselves in the field, collecting data on the damage inflicted on the agricultural sector. As a result, PARC has had to entrust someone else – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – with the important job of distributing the aid it has collected. There is no need, apparently, to worry about UNRWA’s accountability and whether or not the food will actually reach the people since, according to Abu Ghazaleh, “UNRWA is an honest, transparent, and accountable organization that will do the job as best they can.” They also happen to have access to 1 million people in Gaza and already have permission from the army to distribute aid. But, before anyone can distribute anything, of course, the shipment has to get in to Gaza.
Unfortunately, that is not the end of it. When the shipment gets in it is not UNRWA that poses a threat to its safekeeping, but the Israeli occupation forces. In yet another complete disregard for international law, they successfully proved that they had no qualms about shelling tons of vital aid with white phosphorous munitions resulting in, obviously, their complete destruction (Amnesty International, January 15th, 2009).
Despite all of these setbacks, however, PARC has not lost any of its resolve or commitment to offering humanitarian assistance. Without losing a beat, PARC continues to do what is does best; that is, function efficiently and effectively in order to serve those who need it most in Palestine.
(Since 1983 PARC has been a leading Palestinian NGO working in the field of rural development, environment protection, and women empowerment. They offer superior technical assistance and support, along with extension services, to individuals and organizations working in similar fields. For more information please visit their website http://www.pal-arc.org.)
– Gen Sander currently lives in Ramallah, West Bank. She teaches a beginner’s photography class at Aida Refugee Camp, and works in the advocacy department of PARC. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.