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Why Americans from coast to coast are gathering for Gaza

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Why Americans from coast to coast are gathering for Gaza

More than one million refugees, half the population of the Gaza Strip, rely on UNRWA - the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - to put food on the table for their families. In the year 2000, the number of people in need was just 80,000.

So why are people in Gaza becoming increasingly food insecure? Due to the de-development of Gaza caused by the Israeli and Egyptian imposed air, land, and sea blockade, people in Gaza are facing extreme poverty and high levels of unemployment.

Americans from coast to coast are getting creative with their solidarity and hosting Gather for Gaza events as fundraisers to provide food for refugees.

Gather for Gaza is a marvelous way to share the Palestinian struggle with friends and family in a convivial, non-threatening setting. As we gathered for delicious Palestinian food, our conversation ranged across our varied experiences with Palestine. The discussion and information cards provided [by UNRWA USA] were great conversation starters and kept the ideas flowing. [I] can’t wait to do it again!
— Lesley, Evanstan, IL, Gather for Gather participant

What is Gather for Gaza?

Gather for Gaza is a fun way for individuals to host their own event that raises money to provide food for refugees in Gaza. When you sign up, you have the option to donate to receive a Gather for Gaza hosting kit by mail to add an informative flair to your event! These events vary from potlucks to restaurant catered dinners to after-school functions.

This opportunity, formerly known as Iftar for Gaza, is an important way to bring the conversation around Palestine refugees, food insecurity, and the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip into peoples’ homes and American communities and to take action to support refugees by generating funds for UNRWA’s at-risk food assistance program.


This Ramadan, Americans from New York to California hosted 27 Gather for Gaza events raising critical funds for UNRWA food assistance while also educating their communities on the great ongoing needs in Gaza, worsened by years of blockade, poverty, and the UNRWA funding crisis. Here are some highlights from the events that collectively raised enough to provide food for 541 Palestine refugee families this summer:

Bergen, New Jersey

For the third year in a row, Sara Abdelhadi from Bergen, NJ, has been hosting charitable iftars for UNRWA USA. The first year, she brought 20 close family friends together and raised enough to provide food for 10 families in Gaza. The following year, her event grew 5 times the size, with so many guests they ran out of food! They ultimately raised enough to support 51 refugee families. This year was the biggest yet. Sara’s Gather for Gaza event was an extension of an existing fundraiser she set up with her ‘Sisters for Palestine.’ These ‘sisters’ met up in Palestine for a summer and after seeing the work UNRWA does for refugees, they were determined to host recurring bi-monthly fundraising events to make a difference. Their most recent event raised over $2,100 for refugees in Gaza and more than $8,000 since the start of their campaign!

Reflecting on the iftar and other events, she says, “we've not only been able to collect some money to help Palestine refugees but also, we've spread the word about the humanitarian crisis taking place in the Middle East! It's been an honor working with UNRWA USA at their annual Gather for Gaza, Gaza 5K, as well as many other initiatives. I look forward to joining in on upcoming causes!” 

Washington, DC

Over 50 friends and family members came to Marya and Andrew’s iftar benefiting Palestine refugees. In the true spirit of community, Marya said everyone chipped in -- with her sister buying “way too many dinner ingredients” at Costco to prepare a delicious dinner, friends arriving early to prepare the food and set up, and local Mediterranean Bakery and Cafe donating 90 pieces of baklava for dessert. During dinner, friends performed their own poetry, discussed current events and politics (only fitting for our nation’s capital!), and the situation facing Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip. Keeping with the theme of charity and access to food, Marya and Andrew donated all the leftovers to the Volunteers of America Chesapeake, feeding more than just those around their table that evening -- locally and internationally.

Davis, California

UC Davis undergraduates Khadeja and Sara teamed up to host a dinner with their fellow students on campus. Being away from home, they said this event was not just a way to apply their studies as global citizens but also created a sense of community and charity while they were miles away from their families. After dinner, as a creative way to raise more money, they raffled off paintings and photos! 

Clarksville, Maryland

Laila El-Haddad (award-winning Palestinian author and chef from Gaza) and her husband, Dr. Yassine Daoud (a Palestine refugee who grew up in Lebanon), are longstanding supporters of UNRWA USA, involved in everything from Gaza 5Ks to educational events. Given their family’s close connection to Gaza, UNRWA, and love for creating connections through food, hosting a Gather for Gaza event was an easy decision. Dr. Daoud shares that as a Palestine refugee that is now very successful doctor, he feels hosting charitable events, such as their Gather for Gaza iftar, are ways to get together with friends, share their family connection to the cause, and provide for the less fortunate. He says that one of the highlights of the iftar, held at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia, MD, was to see people from various religious and socio-economic backgrounds share in a meal together and come together around a meaningful, unifying cause.

Coney Island, New York

Hosting charitable iftars to support Palestine refugees in Gaza has become a tradition at Coney Island Prep, and this year was no different! In the third year hosting the event, 60 students, family members, and teachers came together to bring awareness around food insecurity in Gaza. Christy Boise, school principal and event organizer was impressed and proud of the agency the students took in educating themselves and others, stating that one of her students donated $150 after going home and speaking to her parents about the struggles and challenges Palestine refugees in Gaza are faced with. When Christy describes why her school finds this a meaningful event year after year, she says that “[it] brings our community together for such a worthwhile cause. I really enjoy seeing how hard the students work to prepare for this event and how excited they are to share it with their teachers and families.”

San Francisco, California

Kimberly held an immersive and educational potluck dinner, which included a display featuring the food items given to families during UNRWA food distributions in Gaza, a silent auction featuring donated and handmade items from guests, and presentations given by Matthias Schmale, UNRWA Director of Operations in Gaza, and Lama Abed, a 15 year old UNRWA student, streamed from the Gaza Strip. 

Matthias spoke about the manmade humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the importance of ending the blockade, and UNRWA’s work to support over a million refugees in Gaza. Lama offered the perspective of a child whose life has been framed and shaped by these factors, and yet still holds on to the hope to study internationally, travel, and become a cowgirl when she grows up. Kimberly shared that the event was meaningful and moving and a way to get new and old friends together around an important cause.

Evanston, Illinois

Longtime UNRWA USA supporter Carol Muskin hosted a dinner featuring traditional Palestinian food with family and friends. Currently hosting two high school exchange students, including a young woman from Nablus, Carol found Gather for Gaza a creative way to create connection between Palestine and the US over a shared meal. Drawing inspiration from Joudie Kalla’s Baladi cookbook and her own family’s cooking in Palestine, exchange student Layana helped plan the menu for the evening. They were joined by friends who were very well versed in issues relating to Palesitne refugees and those who knew comparatively little. Carol says it was a great way to start that conversation for some and educate fellow members of her Illinoian community on issues that she cares deeply about.

One guest, Lesley, described the event saying: “Gather for Gaza is a marvelous way to share the Palestinian struggle with friends and family in a convivial, non-threatening setting. As we gathered for delicious Palestinian food, our conversation ranged across our varied experiences with Palestine. The discussion and information cards  provided [by UNRWA USA] were great conversation starters and kept the ideas flowing. [I] can’t wait to do it again!”

Takoma Park, Maryland

Gabi and her mother hosted a memorable dinner in their beautiful backyard in Takoma Park, Maryland. Joined by 30 close friends, they enjoyed a homemade meal, which was capped off with an impressive made-from-scratch gluten-free knafe, enjoyed by those with and without allergies alike!

Irvine, California

Students and staff at the UC Irvine Anthropology department took time away from their studies and research to host a potluck iftar on campus in support of Palestine refugees. They were joined remotely by Syrian-Canadian journalist and researcher Yazan al-Saadi, who led a discussion about the ongoing crisis through his journalistic lens and the significance of UNRWA based on his experiences. Together around a lovely meal, this socially aware and active group raised enough to support three Palestine refugee families with UNRWA food assistance. After hosting this event, they said they are keen to come together and host more events in support of Palestine refugees and UNRWA’s work for them! 


Did you host a #gatherforgaza event? 

Share your photos and videos with us via email or using hashtag #GatherforGaza so we can feature what you and your community achieved together! Thank you for keeping Gaza in your hearts and minds and for continuing to show Palestine refugees that Americans care. 

Feeling inspired to host?

Ramadan may be over, but you can host Gather for Gaza events all year long to benefit UNRWA food assistance for Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip. Learn more about this opportunity and sign up to host today!

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Truman Scholar Nooran Alhamdan shares her family's UNRWA story: a story of displacement, struggle, and hope

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Truman Scholar Nooran Alhamdan shares her family's UNRWA story: a story of displacement, struggle, and hope

Nooran Alhamdan, college student at the University of New Hampshire, was recently selected to be a 2019 Truman Scholar, a highly competitive and prestigious scholarship for college juniors who have outstanding leadership potential, plan to pursue careers in public service, and wish to attend graduate school. Much of her application and desire to be an agent of change drew upon her personal connection with Palestine and UNRWA — her background as the daughter and granddaughter of Palestine refugees, her visits to refugee camps in Jordan, and her fundraising for emergency humanitarian assistance for Palestine refugees through UNRWA USA, including her most recent Ramadan fundraiser. She is a contributing guest writer to the Voices of UNRWA blog, where she shares the role UNRWA played in both her family’s life and her own.


“UNRWA has been a part of my family’s story and the story of millions of other Palestine refugees across the Middle East.” - nooran alhamdan


It was the summer before high school that my father took me to Baqa’a refugee camp in Jordan for the first time. I was in awe at the massiveness of the camp, its maze-like appearance, and its narrow streets. I remember my father pointing out to me the school he attended as a child in the camp for twelve years, its blue and white logo faded but bright in the midst of the lean grey buildings. United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, was written on the sign.

The school my father attended was an UNRWA school. The food he and his family relied on was UNRWA food assistance. The clinics he went to for basic healthcare were run by UNRWA.

My first introduction to UNRWA was made years before I was even born. UNRWA has been a part of my family’s story and the story of millions of other Palestine refugees across the Middle East.

Since that first visit to Baqa’a refugee camp, I have become deeply passionate about rights and justice for Palestine refugees. It has defined my personal studies and organizing. This past year, I realized that I can contribute directly to uplifting Palestine refugee communities by hosting fundraisers for UNRWA USA, the American nonprofit whose mission is to support the critical work of UNRWA.

photos taken during Nooran’s visit to Jerash refugee camp in Jordan in 2017 

Following the recent and major American funding cuts to UNRWA, I felt compelled to act. I knew the impact that UNRWA has on refugee communities and was devastated at the idea of refugees losing this lifeline. Given some of my other experiences in Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, I knew that, if anything, UNRWA has needed more funding, not less. I knew I had to act.

I want to tell the story of my family and all Palestine refugees to the American public. I want my fellow Americans to understand that ideals we claim to care about so deeply in this country; justice, equality, peace, and liberty are being withheld from the Palestinian people. I want my fellow Americans to understand that Palestine refugees are just as worthy of our compassion and empathy as other populations who have been forced to flee their homes and create new lives in tent cities. I want my fellow Americans to know that dignity and human rights are inseparable and it is our duty to uphold and defend the dignity of all of our global brothers and sisters in humanity, including the Palestinian people.
— Nooran Alhamdan

Our first campaign was the Ten for Ten challenge, which challenged supporters of UNRWA to donate at least $10 and invite 10 of their friends to donate as well. This campaign came directly in the wake of the cuts. In almost three weeks, this campaign raised over $10,000. I was astonished and touched to see that the global community had responded so enthusiastically to the campaign which was run purely over social media. I had simply made a video naming some of the Palestine refugee camps that UNRWA operates in and explaining the risk to students, people with health needs, and people who are food insecure.

In December of 2018 I decided to run a second campaign for Christmas. I set the goal to a lofty $25,000 and although we didn’t meet that goal, we still managed raise thousands again. I was yet again touched by the response of hundreds who responded to the call on social media.

I say ‘our’ in regards to these campaigns specifically because I truly believe that they are the result of our collective teamwork, our collective compassion, and our collective humanity. As the granddaughter and daughter of Palestine refugees, I was honored to jumpstart these campaigns, but I can never claim their outcomes as my own; it is all of our efforts and our love for Palestine refugees that made such an impact.

As part of Nooran’s holiday campaign, she created a video sharing why supporting UNRWA’s work for Palestine refugees was and remains critical.

I was recently honored to be named a Truman scholar for my commitment to public service. Something I have realized over the years is that my commitment to Palestine refugees has come to define my academics, my organizing, and my future career goals. I am extremely interested in taking back the microphone so-to-speak from a discourse that continually dehumanizes and devalues Palestinians.

I want to tell the story of my family and all Palestine refugees to the American public. I want my fellow Americans to understand that ideals we claim to care about so deeply in this country; justice, equality, peace, and liberty are being withheld from the Palestinian people. I want my fellow Americans to understand that Palestine refugees are just as worthy of our compassion and empathy as other populations who have been forced to flee their homes and create new lives in tent cities. I want my fellow Americans to know that dignity and human rights are inseparable and it is our duty to uphold and defend the dignity of all of our global brothers and sisters in humanity, including the Palestinian people.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me yet. I do know that the story of my family and the patience, perseverance, and dignity of Palestine refugees will continue to guide me in the fight for a more just world.


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A meaningful New Year's resolution you can commit to

A meaningful New Year's resolution you can commit to

It’s hard to believe January is coming to an end and with it, our deadline to set some 2019 resolutions. Justin Connor, a long time UNRWA USA supporter, is a few steps ahead when it comes to identifying what ‘sparks joy’ for him. Last year, Justin incorporated participating in the DC Gaza 5K as part of his resolution to be more active and healthier in 2018, and is committed to doing it again in 2019.

Since its inception in 2012, the DC Gaza 5K has been a part of Justin’s annual routine and goal setting. Before returning Stateside, he was in Dubai, where he said that he had been doing fewer outdoors activities as he would have liked because of the weather. Somehow, convinced that the humid DC summers were an upgrade from the arid desert heat, he picked up running and used the Gaza 5K as a platform to inspire his health goals. He reflects, “it was a great opportunity to raise money for a cause I believed in and get in shape.”

The sense of family and community reflected in the runners is what really brings it home. I’ve done many races, and they are nothing like this one [Gaza 5K].
Justin (left) alongside fellow long time UNRWA USA supporter Kate Gould (right) at the 2016 DC Gaza 5K

Justin (left) alongside fellow long time UNRWA USA supporter Kate Gould (right) at the 2016 DC Gaza 5K

Justin has cared about issues facing Palestine refugees since he was a teenager. At 19, while he was a sophomore at Earlham College, he participated in a foreign study program in Jerusalem, spending some time in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. He says that it was at this point, in the summer of 1991, his long standing concerns surrounding peace and social justice for Palestinians came to life. During his study abroad, he had a ten day break where he was free to do whatever he wished. He and a friend reached out to Save the Children in Gaza and did a ten day internship. In traveling through the Gaza Strip, he got a sense of the people and challenges there. “I got a sense of the culture -- the joy, maqluba, coffee, and weddings,” Justin says enthusiastically.  

Beyond a sense of physical achievement, Justin says “the Gaza 5K brings back a little bit of that summer and reminds me of the sense of community and family that I experienced in Gaza.” He notes that he has a red keffiyeh from his time in Gaza which he has taken with him every place he has lived. The keffiyeh. The Gaza 5K. They are all reminders to Justin of his global citizenship and the connections that unite all people.

He comments on the experience of the Gaza 5K and says, “something that is always moving to me each year is to see families running together. Parents with their kids and sometimes grandparents all come together around the cause. I love the sense of family and community that is evoked in the Gaza 5K. There are people with flags, zaatar, food, and culture that remind you of the cause, why we are doing this, and who it is for. The sense of family and community reflected in the runners is what really brings it home. I’ve done many races, and they are nothing like this one.”

For others looking to do good and feel good in 2019 by signing up for this charitable race, Justin offers his personal advice:

I encourage anyone who is on the fence to register so that they are motivated to make their goals a reality, too. When you register and commit to your decision, it really helps solidify and advance your goals. Every year, whenever I hear about the race, I register immediately, start fundraising, and put together a team. It helps me get going on my goals!
Justin (right) at the 2015 DC Gaza 5K

Justin (right) at the 2015 DC Gaza 5K

If you’re feeling inspired by Justin’s commitment to Palestine refugees, their mental health, and his physical fitness goals, you can follow his lead by registering for the NYC Gaza 5K on March 30. Look out for tickets for the DC Gaza 5K available later in the year. Whether you choose to focus on a fundraising goal or a fitness goal (or both!), we look forward to seeing you move for mental health with us at a Gaza 5K this year!

Three women. Two UNRWA USA events. One unexpected friendship.

Three women. Two UNRWA USA events. One unexpected friendship.

Three women sat around a table in the Josephine Butler Parks Center in Washington, DC for UNRWA USA’s experiential and interactive charitable iftar for Gaza featuring authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. Their names were Lisa, Dominique, and Nahed.

Each woman was drawn to the charitable dinner for a different reason.

Lisa saw it advertised online when she first came back from the West Bank, where she was running a USAID healthcare improvement project, supporting a network of hospitals, including an UNRWA health center in Qalqilya. Palestine was on her mind and on her newsfeed, so she sprang at the opportunity to attend the event supporting Palestine refugees.

Dominique had heard of the event through her former colleague who now works for UNRWA USA. She was already familiar with UNRWA USA and UNRWA’s work on the ground in the Middle East, so she signed up on the spot.

Nahed is Lebanese, and having been born in Lebanon, she was well aware of the struggles faced by Palestine refugees.

It [dinner] became an intimate experience. The only way we could have a good deep conversation — which we got into quickly — was by leaning into each other. It’s what started our friendship!
— Dominique, describing meeting Lisa and Nahed for the first time at the UNRWA USA charitable iftar, where the bustling noise in the room required them to come closer -- physically and emotionally.

However, when these women gathered around the table, the various paths that brought them there quickly became irrelevant.

The iftar program evoked a day in the life of a Palestine refugee in Gaza, and proceeds from the event in Washington, DC put food on the table for 169 Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip for the entire summer.

The room where the dinner was held was busy, full of excitement and chatter, and the acoustics of the room only amplified this buzz. “As a result,” Lisa said, “the only way we could speak to each other was by whispering into each other's ears.”

Highlights from the DC charitable iftar for Gaza

“It became an intimate experience,” Dominique chimed in. “The only way we could have a good deep conversation -- which we got into quickly -- was by leaning into each other. It’s what started our friendship!”  

When speaking to these three, it was easy to see how they immediately clicked. The chemistry among them is palatable. Their banter flows quickly and easily, like old friends who have known each other for years.

Inspired after the charitable iftar, Nahed created a painting highlighting symbols of the Palestinian diaspora and refugee experience, including a Palestinian flag, a vase with a Lebanese cedar, and a mother of pearl mosaic as a symbol of Syria.

Inspired after the charitable iftar, Nahed created a painting highlighting symbols of the Palestinian diaspora and refugee experience, including a Palestinian flag, a vase with a Lebanese cedar, and a mother of pearl mosaic as a symbol of Syria.

Despite being from different parts of the world and carrying with them different experiences, they overlapped and found common ground over language, interests, and values. In a fashion that epitomizes DC cosmopolitan culture, their conversation wove in and out of English, French, and Arabic. Lisa cheerfully shared, “it was a funny mix of language that brought us together; we all spoke just little bits of each.”

Over the course of the dinner, Lisa commented that “not only did we connect on values, but we over created actual connections -- the type that make you want to get together again -- which is what we did!”

A few months later, UNRWA USA announced that it was having its seventh annual DC Gaza 5K + Dabke Party, benefiting UNRWA’s mental health services for Palestine refugee kids in the Gaza Strip. Lisa saw the event advertised online and invited the other two to join her 5K team — Sisters together for Gaza. Appropriately named to reflect their friendship, they went above and beyond and invited a few other friends beyond the original three. Together, the team raised an impressive $1,487 to support access to UNRWA mental health care services.

It was all three women’s first times participating in the event, held on September 22, 2018, but they all claimed it would not be their last. For Dominique, the dabke dancing was the highlight, though she jokingly said it was not easy on her knees after running a 5K! She said she loved how it brought everyone together, creating a literal circle of friends.

Wahad w Nos (واحد ونص): dabke afterparty at the DC Gaza 5K

It was all kids of magical having all the little, additional pieces of the event — even beyond the 5K. It’s hard to bring hope in such circumstances, but the energy of the UNRWA USA team and the community brings us all to such a positive place.
— Lisa, speaking about her 2018 DC Gaza 5K experience

team sisters together for Gaza

video from the dc gaza 5k captured by team member ricardo

For Lisa, the highlight was hearing Alaa Hammouda, the Advocacy Media Officer at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, speak. Alaa is visiting the US with her two daughters from the Gaza Strip and spoke to the participants about her firsthand experience living in Gaza and dealing with trauma both from a personal and professional standpoint. Lisa said getting to speak to her and seeing her beautiful traditional Palestinian thobe (dress) brought her back to her time in Palestine.

“It was all kinds of magical having all the little, additional pieces of the event -- even beyond the 5K,” said Lisa. “It’s hard to bring hope in such circumstances, but the energy of the UNRWA USA team and the community brings us all to such a positive place.”

We asked what happened in between the two events, whether they kept in touch between the iftar dinner and the Gaza 5K. Dominique immediately let out a cheerful laugh and responded, “Have we kept in touch? We have fifty pages of text messages!”

And without missing a beat, the trio immediately launched into planning their next meet up, comparing schedules, and coordinating their next gathering…


Dominique, Nahed, and Lisa have dinner together at Nahed’s home

Dominique, Nahed, and Lisa have dinner together at Nahed’s home

Ultimately, beyond supporting Palestine refugees through UNRWA’s services, UNRWA USA aims to create an American community invested in the lives and livelihoods of refugees. We are fortunate to have witnessed a little bit of that community magic take form among Lisa, Dominique, Nahed, and the rest of the “Sisters together for Gaza.” Thank you for coming together to show Palestine refugees Americans care!

Follow these ladies’ lead and keep up to date on all UNRWA USA events, including Gaza 5Ks here.

Who knows what kinds of friendship it could lead to!

Hakma Atallah, a 105-year old Nakba survivor, shares her story of loss and hope

Hakma Atallah, a 105-year old Nakba survivor, shares her story of loss and hope

Sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember my last night in Al-Swafeer. I imagine myself with my husband and children sitting in the front of our home drinking tea and chit-chatting. I wish I could go back to that day.
— Hakma Atallah, 105 years old

In Beach Camp, west of Gaza City, lives 105-year-old Hakma Atallah in her two-room house with her 65 year old daughter Zainab. Hakma fled from her original village, Al-Swafeer, in 1948 when over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced during what is commonly referred to as al-Nakba (the Catastrophe).

“When I fled from Al-Swafeer, I was 35 years old, married and had five children. I remember my house very well, and I will never forget it. It was a big home with four rooms and we had a nice garden,” Hakma said. With a gentle, melancholic tone, she recalls: “What I remember the most about these old days is how women used to gather around the fire, baking bread and then eating it with cheese,” and she adds that “sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember my last night in Al-Swafeer. I imagine myself with my husband and children sitting in the front of our home drinking tea and chit-chatting. I wish I could go back to that day.”

“Gaza, and particularly the Beach Camp, is where my family and I have been living for five generations. It is where all my grandchildren were born, got their degrees, married and had children. But it’s not like my original village, where I was born, spent my childhood and then got married. There, I had my own land where I used to plant grapes and raise cows and goats,” Hakma explains.

Haneen (19 years old) listens to her grandmother Hakma tell stories of life in Al-Swafeer. Hakma fled from her original village Al-Swafeer in 1948 when she was 35 years old. Nakba survivor and Palestine refugee living in Beach Camp, west of Gaza City. 

Haneen (19 years old) listens to her grandmother Hakma tell stories of life in Al-Swafeer. Hakma fled from her original village Al-Swafeer in 1948 when she was 35 years old. Nakba survivor and Palestine refugee living in Beach Camp, west of Gaza City. 

19 year old, Haneen Atallah, Hakma’s grandchild said: “Every day the family gathers around my grandmother and asks her to talk with us about Al-Swafeer. She used to tell us about the calm nights and nice weather there. She talks with us about the Nakba day and how the family fled from one village to another until they finally reached Gaza where they stayed in tents. I really can’t imagine how difficult these days must have been."

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Superheroes for Gaza

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Superheroes for Gaza

Not all heroes wear capes, but these ones certainly did! This is the second year in a row that Team Superheroes for Gaza threw up a bat signal and got their NYC community to join for a Gaza 5K supporting mental health for children in the Gaza Strip. [Note: costumes not optional]

Team Superheroes for Gaza at the 2017 NYC Gaza 5K assembled in hero formation!

Team Superheroes for Gaza at the 2017 NYC Gaza 5K assembled in hero formation!

In reflecting on this year's 2018 Gaza 5K race, Erin Ednie shared some thoughts on behalf of her super team:

What a gift it is to take part in the Gaza 5K! The energy and emotions we felt coming together in solidarity with so many caring and wonderful people supporting the refugee children brought so much hope and inspiration for us to continue our purpose beyond the pavement. God willing, we can grow our team to spread awareness and work to see peace of mind and heart brought to the beautiful children of Palestine.
— Erin Ednie

Thank you to these superheroes for showing Palestine refugees that Americans care. Your commitment year after year to this cause is inspiring and we can't wait to see how you all dress, run, and save the day at next year's race. 

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Warek Dawali

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Warek Dawali

This year's NYC Gaza 5K was described by participants as 'the most lit 5K' they have ever run. In addition to this absolutely flattering -- in a truly millennial sense -- comment, the UNRWA USA team has received such wonderful feedback from the event and we are so grateful.

But ultimately, beyond the run, dabke, and logistics on our end, the success of the event was a reflection of the amazing New York community that came together to support the children of Gaza, raising more than $355,000 for mental health services and UNRWA programming.

One such group of participants was the members of Team Warek Dawali. They not only made this event an important enriching, communal experience but also had four team members to medal in the race! Their team was passionate and energetic, collectively raising $6,447.13 -- surpassing their fundraising goal by nearly $500. 

Here are some words, shared by Hanan Farraj, a member of Team Warek Dawali, while reflecting on the race: 

I just want to thank your organization for putting it together for such an amazing cause. Yesterday was my first ever 5K! It was such a fun experience and wonderful that I could share it with my sons! Our team, Warek Dawali, was made up of family and friends. It was a great bonding experience! We really had a great time! We had four of our team members who placed in top times! My son, Izzeldeen Farraj, came in third overall! He’s going to college this fall and was excited to do one of his last races before going away with his family. Again, thank you so much for all you do for the Palestinian people! See you next year InshAllah!
— Hanan Farraj
Four members of team Warek Dawali placed either overall or within their age divisions; team captain Izzeldeen Farraj came in third place overall!

Four members of team Warek Dawali placed either overall or within their age divisions; team captain Izzeldeen Farraj came in third place overall!

We are honored and humbled by these words of kindness and the generosity of the New York community. A huge thank you to the Farraj family, team Warek Dawali, and all the other incredible teams that moved for mental health with us in Prospect Park, Brooklyn on Saturday March 24. Stay tuned for future race dates and other UNRWA USA activities in your community!

  Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: team hi guys

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: team hi guys

[UNRWA USA]: Why is your team fundraising for the kids in Gaza?

[Team Hi Guys]: To share why we are fundraising, we need to go back to the story of our family, our connection to UNRWA, and how this race -- even up to the name of our team -- is a testament to my father, Ziad. This is our story. 

Have you ever imagined Super Mario without his mustache, hopping off the stacks of cinder-blocks arranged into buildings, banging on corrugated tin roofs with a tightly wrapped sandwich in his left fist and a stick in his right? That's Ziad at 7 years old. Except maybe he had a mustache then, too.

Ziad is our dad -- or Ammo Ziad (Uncle Ziad) to you! 

His family was exiled from Palestine, and so our dad was born in Lebanon. But try as you might, you'd never find a paper from Lebanese authorities claiming that little baby with milk in his mustache as their own. In exile, in his camp of birth, you know who claimed him? UNRWA. 

UNRWA is a vital lifeline for over 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Refugees unto their fourth or fifth generation depend on UNRWA for their life and livelihood. Many are stateless and depend on UNRWA for the services a state would provide: school, health, job support, vocational training, and public services.

More than 70% of Gaza's residents -- 1.4 million people -- are Palestine refugees. UNRWA serves all of these people, more than half of them kids, little Ziads. 261 schools, 271,900 students, and hundreds of health clinics, providing vital life- and mind-saving services in the face of aggression, oppression, and brutal occupation.

So when President Trump withheld $300 million from UNRWA's operating budget, it directly affected this generation of Ziads. 

In true Ammo Ziad fashion, he responded to this decision with cheek and self-assurance, and said exactly what we'd expect: Hi, guys.

[UNRWA USA]: Why is mental health an important issue to your team?

[Team Hi Guys]: Camps like Ziad's haven't disappeared. They've only grown. They're still in Lebanon, in Syria, in Jordan, the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip too. And while Ziad may have gotten out of the camps where he grew up, there are so many little Ziads running around the camps, catching pigeons and torturing their teachers.

And in Gaza, those kids are also dealing with the aftermath of regular Israeli military assaults -- not just because almost 70% of Gaza's population are refugees, but because Israel's frequent assaults on Gaza have imposed a serious impact on kids who wet their beds in fear, kids whose classmates have disappeared, kids who live with ongoing PTSD, which makes getting by day to day a reality that you and I probably can't comprehend. 

[UNRWA USA]: Do you have a message you'd like to share with your fundraising competitors?

[Team Hi Guys]: Eat our dust, guys.

On my sixth visit, I’ve never seen Gaza so devastated

On my sixth visit, I’ve never seen Gaza so devastated

I’ve visited the Gaza Strip for each of the past six years, including in 2014 a few months after Israel’s devastating military assault. And yet, I’ve never seen Gaza like I did when I had the privilege of visiting this summer.

I call it a privilege because, due to the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel (with the support of Egypt), which is part of Israel’s now 50-year-old military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories, internationals allowed in and out of Gaza are few, and Palestinians even fewer. This illegal land, air, and sea blockade, which has just entered its tenth year and amounts to collective punishment, as has been noted by the UN and human rights groups, has decimated the economy of Gaza and allowed for the near complete destruction of critical infrastructure. Experts use the term “de-development” to describe this once-bustling Mediterranean coastal enclave of two million Palestinians.

Nearly half the population are now unemployed and 80% rely on humanitarian assistance from organizations like UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Nearly one million refugees require UNRWA food assistance now, up from 80,000 people in 2000, before the blockade was in place. At its heart, UNRWA is a human development agency, running the largest and one of the best performing public school system in the entire Middle East, 10 times the size of DC Public Schools. But due to decades of Israel’s dispossession, occupation, and systematic oppression of Palestinians, UNRWA is forced to prioritize emergency interventions like food assistance and emergency protection. It’s an affront to humanity.

Upon arriving in Gaza, which requires a permit from Israel and extensive humanitarian coordination, I immediately saw the crippling effects of the ongoing electricity crisis which has been wreaking havoc since March. Electricity is now only available for 2-4 hours a day, a situation that has been exacerbated by internal Palestinian political divides. This has brought life to a near complete stop for many in Gaza, and has enormous public health and environmental implications. In 2012, the UN determined that if trends continued, Gaza wouldn’t be liveable in 2020. Today, the effects of the blockade, recurring violence, and now the electricity crisis have led the UN to conclude that Gaza is basically already unlivable.

The first day of my visit, I visited a water pumping station at Al-Shati refugee camp by the coast. There, I witnessed raw sewage pumping directly into the water. The sewage would normally flow to a treatment plant, but without electricity, that’s not an option. Instead, it pumps directly into the sea, not far from where people swim and fish. Their fish will be contaminated, just like their water. The sea, which is at the heart of Gazan culture, now poisons them. Despite more than 65% of the shoreline being unsafe for humans, people continue to go to the beach because it’s the only source of relief left during the sweltering summer.

At an UNRWA health clinic, I met with doctors and nurses who are facing the challenges of the electricity crisis both at work and home. A nurse shared with me that she wakes up at 2 am to do her family’s laundry because that’s usually when she has electricity. A doctor told me that he only gets 3-4 hours of rest each night because the heat keeps him awake. Regardless of their personal struggles, they both come to the clinic every day committed to providing quality healthcare for their fellow Palestine refugees.

Because the medical equipment runs on a different current than the clinic’s back-up generator, x-ray, ultrasound, lab testing machines and others aren’t able to run at full capacity, and the machines will break down much sooner than they should. The World Health Organization warns that at least 30 hospitals, 70 primary health care centers, and a blood blank in Gaza are at severe risk of full or partial closure due to continued power outages and not enough fuel or spare parts for back-up generators. It’s a health catastrophe in the making.

Skin rashes from heat and bacterial infections, potentially from direct exposure to sewage, are on the rise. In August, it was reported that a five-year-old boy in Gaza died from a brain disease caused by bacteria in the contaminated sea. Cases of psychosomatic illnesses and psychological stress continue to increase too, particularly among children.

An UNRWA counselor I met shared the story of an 11-year-old girl who had recently attempted suicide. One man told me they continue to swim and fish despite the dangers because death would be a relief at this point.

With the stress of simply surviving as great as it is, it’s not surprising that many have little energy left to have hope for the future. The two million people in Gaza are the victims of cruel politics — collateral damage in a cynical political game.

Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip deserve humanitarian support, but no amount of assistance will ever substitute for the necessary political action, including that of the US, to stop the violation of human rights that Palestinians face on a daily basis. Lifting the blockade on Gaza would be a start.

About Abby Smardon

Abby Smardon is Executive Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) USA National Committee