By Julie Webb-Pullman
With the help of New Zealanders the Palestinian Family Charitable Association in Beit Hanoun has done it again – provided warm winter clothes and blankets for some of the neediest children in Gaza as the wintry weather begins to bite.
Not that there are very many children in Beit Hanoun who are not needy – 1,500 apartment blocks were destroyed in this town during the 51 day Israeli offensive in July-August, leaving many thousands homeless and their schools full of displaced families.
Many of the children at the Palestinian Family Charitable Association today are actually living in these schools – or in the rubble of their demolished homes. Only a few families are lucky enough to have found rental accommodation – and this luck is limited – it means four walls and a roof, but nothing else. No furniture, no kitchen utensils, not even a stove.
“We have to start again, everything was destroyed,” Hayat told me. “Life is very difficult, everyone lost so much but even so people have managed to donate us some saucepans.”
Salwa Abu Nijila runs the Palestinian Family Charitable Association with the help of volunteers, and money donated by New Zealanders, her four daughters and herself. She has managed to give many of these families a gas burner to cook on.
Can’t they get help from UNRWA? I ask.
“UNRWA does not give sufficient to meet peoples’ needs,” she said. “There is a family here who was sleeping on the stairs of an UNRWA school because there wasn’t enough room for them. The clothes and blankets they give are too light. And no-one whose house was destroyed has received any money. They are registered – but they are still waiting. People with damage less than $2000 have received money, but no-one else.”
Her words echo those we heard so often 10 days ago, when being shown around the worst-hit areas of Beit Hanoun by officials from the Municipality. Family after family was living in the rubble of their homes, the schools were full to overflowing with displaced people and they did not have the money to pay rent elsewhere because UNRWA had not yet given them a cent. One family had managed to rent an apartment on the promise of UNRWA money – which never materialised. They were about to be evicted back into the rubble.
A day earlier, UNRWA head Pierre Krähenbühl had said in Jordan that “despite initial results, the process for reconstruction is proving far too slow and is largely ineffective,” and called for accountability.
Ten days later, nothing has changed. Although 28 trucks of cement have entered Gaza since then, none of it has found its way to Beit Hanoun. Without materials, there can be no reconstruction. Without reconstruction, there can be no jobs AND no houses. Without jobs, there can be no income – and still no houses.
Many have sick or injured family-members. Hayat’s father-in-law has cancer and they can’t afford the treatment – when it is available. Naela’s son was injured in the Israeli offensive and requires ongoing medical treatment and medicines – sometimes the hospital gives them to her free, but if they don’t have any she cannot buy them, so her son must go without.
Sadder still was to meet a young man today whose house we also saw ten days ago – or what remained of it. Four stories reduced to a pile of rubble under which 13 members of his family were killed. They used to have a honey business – but that too is destroyed, along with eight tons of honey and most of his hope for the future.
As the children excitedly choose an outfit and hold it up against themselves for size, or proudly put their new schoolbag on, it is almost possible to forget what brought them here – a brutal Israeli aggression that has left them mother or fatherless, brother or sister-less, homeless, penniless – but as long as the Palestinian Family Charitable Association exists and New Zealanders’ generosity continues, never completely hopeless.
“We give help to anyone who comes to us, who is poor,” Salwa said. “They are not all from Beit Hanoun – word has got around that we help people. That New Zealanders help people.”
Thank you, New Zealanders.
Palestinians say thank you to New Zealand
You are doing a better job than UNRWA right now – at least YOUR help is getting to the people who need it most.