Letter from Palestine #2

I am so pleased to share another letter from Nora Lester Murad. (If you want to read Nora’s letters from the beginning, please head here.)

Nora lives with her husband and three daughters in Israeli controlled East Jerusalem, in Palestine. In addition to her consulting work to NGOs, Nora has co-founded Dalia Association, a community foundation created and run by people who actually live in Palestine – a rarity in a land dominated by foreign aid (and therefore foreign priorities). Dalia Association’s purpose is to get beyond the politics and just take care of the people.

Nora has blessed us by agreeing to guest blog here, to share what it is like to try to run a Community Benefit Organization* amid the chaos and insanity that is day-to-day life in Palestine. You can find her first post here, and her bio is below her post.

I hope you will continue to welcome Nora and Dalia Association into your hearts.

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Dear Hildy,
Thanks for asking me again to share with your blog readers what’s going on here as we try to run the community foundation, Dalia Association, here in Palestine.

Of course, these days, Gaza is on everyone’s mind. Personally, I haven’t been there for 20 years, although it’s only 1 ½ hours away. I tried to get a permit as the consultant of a well-respected international NGO, but the Israeli military authorities didn’t respond to my request. They didn’t deny my permit; they just have not responded. It has been over a year.

My husband has very high clearance through the United Nations, and he goes to Gaza twice a week. He has to move in an armored convoy, and cannot move at all after dark. As a psychologist, he is well-aware of how the endless imprisonment and slow starvation is affecting the population there. Last night he came home with yet another story – a mother whose baby won’t stop crying. She has taken the baby to three doctors and has been told there is nothing physically wrong with him. But that neither solves the problem nor addresses the mother’s fear that something must be wrong.

As a mother of three myself, one of whom had colic, I was moved by the story. I got onto the web to see if there are any Palestinian La Leche League leaders. None. I called an Israeli leader to find out if they have any Arabic speakers among the 20 or so leaders listed on their web page. None. She did refer me to an English-speaking lactation consultant she felt would be sympathetic.

When I called, the woman was having dinner with another lactation consultant, so I got two opinions. They thought the baby was too old for colic; that most likely the baby was reacting to the formula he takes for one of his feedings.

And then these two obviously decent and caring Israeli women suggested that the woman bring her baby to a lactation consultant in Israel. I explained that no one can leave Gaza without a permit – that they won’t even give permits to people seeking life-saving medical treatment.

“Oh,” they said, as if they had heard that on the news but hadn’t fully believed it. “Then we’ll go there to see her!” they said, quite sincerely. “Are we allowed?” “No.” “Oh.”

It will be hard to find special formula made for children with sensitivities. In the last 11 days, only 32 supply trucks have been allowed to enter Gaza, compared to 250 per day prior to June, 2007. Recently the population spontaneously broke the wall that Israel erected to prevent Gazans from getting to Egypt, and for a few days, there was a massive buying spree. But individuals can’t buy spare parts for hospital equipment or fuel for generators or pesticides or construction supplies. The buying spree was a psychological relief, but it doesn’t really change the indescribably inhuman conditions in Gaza.

There is so much need, and as a new community foundation with so little money, it is not easy to figure out how to help. One board member suggested we buy food for the hungry. But approximately 80% of the 1.5 million Palestinians are already completely dependent on UN agencies for food, and they can’t even get enough food in to supply full rations. What could we do?

Another board member suggested we buy a generator for a school, to at least keep some kids warm. But even if we could get a generator in, we couldn’t get the fuel in. The generator might work for a couple of weeks, but then it would be set aside along with all the other millions of dollars of life-saving equipment that can’t run because there is no fuel or spare parts.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to find out what obstacles they face and put our effort into helping those efforts be more effective?

I called our board member in Gaza for help. He knows we don’t have a lot of resources, just a lot of caring people with good networks and good will. He said people need food. Yes, I told him. People need food, but we can’t solve that problem. Gaza’s problems are so big, we can’t solve any of them. Shouldn’t we be investing in solutions?

There was silence.

My colleague then said, “Nora, we don’t know how to think like that anymore. You’re talking about long-term solutions and we’re just trying to keep our children warm when the electricity goes out up to 8 hours a day.”

Ironically, it snowed in Jerusalem this week, and the city came to a standstill. There’s only about an inch on the ground, but snow is so rare, people just stay home. I guess we put a lot of pressure on the electrical grid, because this week our power has gone out anywhere from 3-10 times a day, sometimes for 10 minutes and sometimes for a couple of hours. My 11-year old was in the shower when the power went out and since the water is heated by electricity, she was immediately freezing. The next day I nearly missed a proposal deadline because the power kept going out when I went to send the email to the donor.

Bearing these inconveniences makes me feel even more in solidarity with the people of Gaza, who cannot rely on anything — not electricity, water, food, or even the ability to safely visit elderly relatives, help a sick child or get to their jobs. Our challenge, as Dalia Association, is to keep ourselves from being sucked in by the human desire to do something that makes US feel good, but that has almost no impact whatsoever. We need to look for real solutions, effective strategies, something that few others are doing but that we can do well with limited resources. Ideas from your readers are much appreciated.

Until next time,
Nora

(To read the next letter in this series, head here.)

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Until 2004, Nora Lester Murad combined a life of teaching at Bentley College in Massachusetts with a life of consulting to governments, foundations, corporations and community organizations on matters of racism and intercultural understanding.

In 2004, Nora and her husband moved their three daughters halfway around the world, to the Palestinian community of Beit Hanina, in Israeli controlled East Jerusalem. “My husband is Palestinian, and we wanted to be near his family. We wanted the girls to grow up with a deep sense of belonging to both Palestinian and American cultures, with full access to both sides of their heritage and languages.”

Nora is now the volunteer Executive Director of Dalia Association, a new community foundation that mobilizes resources for Palestinian-led social change and sustainable development in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and the Palestinian communities inside Israel.

Curious about our use of the term “Community Benefit Organization?”

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