I first traveled to Gaza in 2004, and met an old Palestinian man in Rafah who changed the direction of my life. I recalled that visit on this blog post.
My next trip to Gaza was in August 2011 when I had an invitation from officials in Gaza to visit. Despite the official-looking invitation from the Islamic University of Gaza, the Egyptian border guards would not permit me to cross the Rafah border to Gaza. I wrote about it here.
A freelance journalist sitting in the front seat of the taxi from Al-Arish to Rafah snorted when he heard that I didn’t have any security clearance from Egypt for entering Gaza. I watched him sail right through the checkpoint, while I stood dumb-founded in front of the gate. I HAD NEVER BEEN DENIED ACCESS ANYWHERE! HOW DARE THEY STOP ME! On a personal level, that was my first serious lesson about the Israeli occupation and siege of Gaza. My naivety and my glorified sense of personal privilege were profoundly embarrassing.
I didn’t give up.
I returned to Egypt in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018 and today. I learned the ropes and managed to navigate through the bureaucratic maze in Cairo to enter Gaza in 2012 and 2013, but I was prevented from traveling to Gaza the following years.
I could write a book about this saga but the bottom line is that the noose strangling the Gaza Strip has tightened considerably in recent years, both for visitors trying to enter Gaza and for Palestinians trying to leave.
When I learned about this opportunity to join a medical convoy to Gaza, I jumped at it. The Miles of Smiles convoy has successfully delivered medical supplies to Gaza for many years. At the invitation of Viva Palestina Malaysia, an NGO in Kuala Lumpur that helps Palestinians in Gaza and around the world, my name was added to the list of travelers. We’ll be traveling to Gaza in the next few weeks. InshaAllah.
My GoFundMe fundraising campaign is being supported by many people, some of whom have contributed to Gaza in the past, and others who are supporting this effort for the very first time. Each contribution, large and small, gives me a tremendous sense of love and responsibility.
Love because I can feel the connection and solidarity between each donor and the unknown recipient of that donor’s compassion. Whether it’s a kidney dialysis patient in Gaza who otherwise wouldn’t have the necessary filters for the dialysis machine, or a recent amputee who needs a new limb or wheelchair, or any number of other Palestinians who will benefit directly from this medical convoy, I’m confident that this direct aid will touch many lives and bring them hope.
Responsibility because I know that the donors have dug deep into their pockets to make each contribution. One young man contributed $5 which means as much to me as the largest donations because I know how much he wants to bring aid and comfort to Palestinians in Gaza. I feel a great sense of responsibility for ensuring that these donations are used wisely and for the most good for the most number of Palestinians in need. The donors have placed their trust in me.
This medical convoy is also an opportunity to share with Americans about what is happening on the ground in Gaza. In the summer of 2012, the United Nations predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. Experts say that 97% of the water is unfit for human consumption. Unemployment in Gaza hit an all-time high of 52% in 2018. Suicides in Gaza, especially among the young, are increasing. Trump’s decision to cut all U.S. aid to UNRWA and US-AID, the agencies that provide a lifeline to many Palestinians living under Israel’s suffocating occupation, has only exacerbated the wretched living conditions.
The situation is dire, and the prediction made in 2012 will come to pass if Israel doesn’t lift the economic, cultural and political siege of Gaza.
Hopefully, I will see and hear what the reality is in Gaza, and as the only American on this medical convoy, maybe I can get the attention of some western media which hasn’t covered previous convoys to Gaza.
Donations to the medical convoy are still timely and gratefully accepted. Please check out my GoFundMe campaign. Thank you!