Thursday, August 2, 2012

Op-Ed: The subtle costs of constant Mideast war

Originally published in the Saturday, June 30, 2012, edition of The Record, a North Jersey newspaper, on the editorials page - A13.

Growing up in North Jersey, I have fond memories of summers spent outside playing, laughing, and enjoying my time off from school. I hold memories of weekends at the Shore or the town pool with my family, and of weekdays spent at summer camp with friends.

Yet for millions of children around the world, my reality is only an unimaginable dream.

Last summer, I spent three months living and working in the Gaza Strip at the invitation from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which supports more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

In Gaza, 1.7 million people live in a sealed off enclave no bigger than twice the size of Washington, DC. More than 1 million residents are refugees and depend on support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Due to the Israeli blockade, unemployment is at 45 percent, and 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day. There is little hope for the children, descendants of Palestinians who, in 1948 fled homes and land in what is now Israel.

With the dire economic situation in Gaza, most families focus on what they need to do to survive.  Finding ways for their children to enjoy their summers off from school is not a priority. Given the conditions of violence and hardship, I could not think of a more important place for there to be a summer outlet for kids.

UNRWA has provided this outlet for 250,000 children each summer with its Summer Games in Gaza- until now. Due to a funding shortfall, the Summer Games in Gaza were canceled this year.

Having witnessed what these games meant to the children, this could not have been a more devastating blow. These kids are constantly surrounded by conflict and challenges, the likes of which, we as Americans cannot even begin to understand. The Games were the only safe outlet available to them each summer. The kids I saw at the Games were full of excitement and energy. From interviewing their families, I knew them to be ever eager to welcome me in and share their stories. I quickly learned that the games were a sort of therapy for them.

At a time when Americans are concerned about our security and hope for Middle East peace, the cancellation of the Summer Games, is in direct opposition to our interests. It leaves 250,000 children and 9,000 teens, who would have been employed for the Games, vulnerable and feeling as though the world has abandoned them yet again. Instead of spending their summer healing, enjoying the company of friends, learning and growing, or earning money, they will now be left with potentially dangerous alternatives. For $50 each, Gaza’s children could have had the summer they deserved. Instead, the international community has decided not to help the most innocent of victims in this conflict.

If there was no siege on Gaza, this would have been a non-issue. The siege is illegal under international law and collectively punishes an entire population for the uncontrollable actions of a tiny minority within Gaza. In talking to Gazans for three months, every single person I asked about rockets fired into Israel (now, by small militant factions, not by Hamas) – Israel’s ongoing excuse for the siege – said they wished they would stop, but it is out of their hands. Instead of being treated with dignity, they are punished, and their children, who deserve this the least, suffer the most.

Without this siege, UNRWA’s normal budget would not have been stretched so thin, and it could have better allocated funds to provide a safe haven for these children, rather than have to worry about ensuring people are fed. The deteriorating situation means the children of Gaza will sit idle this summer wondering why we continue to ignore their plight.

We can do better. Each year, over $3 billion goes to support Israel’s military while the next generation of Palestinians are growing up under siege and occupation, struggling to get by. This is not in the interest of the United States; it does nothing to further the ideals we believe in. It is up to us to insist that Republicans and Democrats alike focus on the next generation of Palestinians if there is ever to be hope for peace.
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Julia C. Hurley, a Park Ridge native, is a Washington, DC,-based non-profit professional and human rights advocate who raises funds for projects related to children and development in the Middle East. She serves as volunteer Adopt a School Campaign liaison for the American Friends of UNRWA. 


Since The Record never published the piece online, here's an image of the print version.

Rebuttal by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach found here: http://www.northjersey.com/news/opinions/israel_070812.html

4 comments:

  1. Gee, you forgot to mention Hamas burning down the UNRWA summer camps last year, and the fact that the US provides hundreds of millions of dollars a year to support UNRWA, but UNRWA apparently feels the interests of Palestinians are better served using that money to fund public relations flacks and trips around the world by its leadership to raise money and criticize Israel.

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  2. It's so easy to make snide remarks behind the veil of anonymity, but you're sorely mistaken. Hamas did not burn anything last year, or even before that. Your comment shows how little you know about the social fabric of Palestine, and Gaza in particular. A small group did vandalize the site for the kite world record event last year (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39168&Cr=Gaza&Cr1), but they were not tied to Hamas, which actually assisted with providing security following the attack, and for many other events. The US does give $260M per year to UNRWA, most of which goes to education, healthcare, job creation, etc. for the most vulnerable in the camps.

    As for the "public relations flacks and trips around the world to raise money and criticize Israel," again, you're mistaken. The only time UNRWA criticizes Israel is when it is doing something that is counter to international law or that is exacerbating the already horrendous humanitarian situation. I don't know who you've been talking to, but UNRWA has no "PR people"...they have a communications department like every other organization or company on the planet.

    My friend, you need to open your eyes.

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  3. Salam Alikum sister,

    I was born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents. My parents moved from there to Canada about 12 years ago. Currently, I am 19 years old and going to university for an undergrad degree in Engineering. My plans right now are to finish up my degree, and then to help people around the world who haven't been as fortunate as me. Ever since I have seen videos of Palestines in refugee camps, their land being robbed by the people of Israel, and their fathers and children being put into jails for no reasons what so ever . I have had a burning desire to help them.
    My questions are,
    How did you get into Palestine?
    Did you go alone? or with an organization?
    Would I be able to get into the West bank or Gaza from Israel ( I am a pakistani muslim with canadian citizenship)
    How about going to Gaza from the Rafah Border? (How is the situation there)?
    Thank you, and peace be upon you.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment and questions. Please do note that this isn't "the people of Israel," but more the government. The entirety of the country should not be blamed, just like we wouldn't blame the entirety of the American public for the disgusting actions of the government. There are some wonderful Israelis doing incredible work to help the Palestinians. They should not be forgotten.

      That said, to answer your questions...

      1) I got into Palestine the first few times - to the West Bank - via the Egyptian and Jordanian border crossings. I simply crossed, went up to Jerusalem, and took the #18 bus from East Jerusalem into Ramallah. I had a much easier time than most because I'm a white, blonde, American, but it is possible. When I went to Gaza, it was a MUCH more complicated process and you can read the gist here: http://matadornetwork.com/trips/how-to-travel-to-gaza/

      2) All the times I went, except for my first trip to Gaza, I went on my own. There are many great organizations to go with and volunteer with though and a quick Google search can turn many up.

      3) You may struggle with entrance to be very honest. Your Canadian citizenship will help, but the Israelis tend to scrutinize Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, etc. more. During one trip, my boyfriend at the time, who is Zoroastrian (Pakistani/Indian background), was flagged because his middle name is the same as a city in Iran. We were held and questioned for 8 hours at the Egyptian border crossing, but were eventually let through. This was also not his first run in like this as he had worked in Israel and the West Bank a few times before. So it will be a challenge. My suggestion would be to go via Jordan or Egypt so if you are denied, you're able to turn around and go somewhere vs. being put on a plane out of Ben Gurion.

      4) You really cannot go to Gaza right now, period. Given what just happened, it's closed, and will be for probably a long time now. Even then, the coordination is extremely difficult and not feasible without the proper invitations as a foreigner.


      Hope that helps!

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