The Task Force for Palestinian Human Rights (Episcopal Diocese of Oregon) with the support of the Right Reverend Diana Akiyama, presented a webinar “Water is Life, Water for Gaza” on November 16, 2021. The guest speaker was Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch, the Executive Director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA). MECA is a nonprofit organization working for the rights and wellbeing of children in the Middle East. Mr. Shamrouch, who is a Palestinian refugee from Dheisheh Refugee Camp outside of Bethlehem in the West Bank, specifically focused on the Maia Project (Arabic for water) and the urgent need to provide clean drinking water for the children of Gaza and their communities. Through generous donations from members within the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, family and friends including the Portland chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace; we exceeded our goal of raising $16,000 to pay for the construction and maintenance of one water desalinization and purification system for Al-Fardous Co-Ed Elementary and Girls’ Preparatory School in Gaza, serving 2400 students. The Task Force is especially grateful for everyone who contributed to this endeavor.

The Maia Project began when Student Parliament at the UN Boys’ School (Bureij Refugee Camp, Gaza) were given the opportunity to choose one thing they most wanted for their school – they chose clean drinking water. Since launching in 2009, the Maia Project has installed 73 systems, which includes a maintenance contract for five years, serving over 90,000 children in UN schools and kindergartens.

The urgent need of clean drinking water and other life essentials such as freedom of movement and opportunity, health care, and human dignity for the people of Gaza has arisen after a series of historical events spanning some seventy years. With the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, around 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes during the conflict. Out of this number, 160,000 to 190,000 Palestinians fled to Gaza where they became internal refugees. Following the subsequent 1967 War, the Israeli military occupied Gaza until 2005, when the Israeli government relocated Israeli settlers who lived in the Gaza Strip. In 2006, Hamas surprisingly won a free election in Gaza over the Palestinian Authority. However, this election was not recognized as legitimate by Israel, the United States, and much of the West. In 2007 Israel and Egypt established a military blockade on Gaza by air, land, and sea, which is still in effect today.

Gaza is a 140 square mile territory along the Mediterranean Sea bordered by Israel and Egypt with a population close to 2 million, two thirds under the age of 24. The military blockade restricting the flow of people, goods and material in and out of Gaza, has made the Gaza Strip virtually uninhabitable. The consequences of this blockade include:  inadequate water and sewer treatment systems, limited electricity access to four hours per day, a high rate of unemployment, an overstretched health care system, poor nutrition and psychological trauma. In response to the dire situation in Gaza, humanitarian organizations such as MECA and the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) have administered programs that offer assistance to meet the basic needs of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

The Center for Disease Control considers access to safe drinking water a human right, not just a privilege, so that every man, woman, and child should have full access to clean water and sanitation services. 97% of water in the Gaza Strip is unfit for human consumption as it is polluted with untreated sewage, agricultural chemicals and brackish sea water, and even unfit for bathing. About one quarter of illnesses in the Gaza Strip are from water born pathogens. On at least three occasions since 2007, tensions have flared leading to Israeli bombing operations severely damaging the Gaza Strip. As a result, Gaza’s infrastructure has been seriously destroyed and the continuing siege of Gaza has created a shortage of building materials, fuel, electricity, food and water.

Similar to the situation in the Ukraine today, the ongoing crisis in Gaza exemplifies an ongoing man made tragedy. In both instances, the vast majority of people who suffer are civilians and non-combatants. While it is very important for the world community to respond by providing aid to these people who are displaced, suffering, and vulnerable; we should do so by humanizing their narratives, not merely viewing them as numbers and statistics. The various programs administered by MECA emphasize these human connections, as does the social media platform initiated by youth in Gaza called WE ARE NOT NUMBERS.

We hope you will check out the sites listed below.

MECA www.mecaforpeace.org

UNRWA www.unrwa.org

We Are Not Numbers www.wearenotnumbers.org