While U.S. mainstream media reports focus on Israel-Palestine primarily when violence breaks out, visiting the region offers a fuller picture. As FCNL advances policy proposals in the U.S. to mitigate and address the conflict, we want to listen to the people most affected so we can reflect that experience back to U.S. policymakers.
FCNL’s Kate Gould and then-Scoville Fellow Wardah Khalid visited Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in late 2015. Here are some of the meaningful moments of their experience.
Finding Clean Water Where They Can
Kate and Wardah heard many stories about the challenges in Gaza to meet basic needs. Schools such as this one, run by the U.N. Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), are for many Palestinian children the most reliable source of clean water.
Big Dreams under Occupation
Children in Gaza have big dreams. Kate and Wardah spoke to schoolgirls who want to become doctors, lawyers, and journalists. They are intensely curious about the outside world: several had read about Yosemite and wanted to know what it was like.
Yet their lives are constrained by an ever-present threat of conflict. Eight-year-olds in Gaza have already lived through three wars. The majority of children in Gaza suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
With mail delivery to Gaza nearly impossible, Kate and Wardah brought a suitcase of puppets donated by the U.S. group Puppets for Peace. Tucked inside each puppet was a note of encouragement from a participant in FCNL’s Annual Meeting. The Gaza Community Mental Health Program will use the puppets to help children heal from trauma. FCNL staff brought back stories to motivate U.S. lawmakers to help these children and end their isolation.
Rebuilding Gaza Under the Blockade
Kate and Wardah visited a Catholic Relief Services project building temporary shelters for families whose homes have been destroyed in Israeli attacks. Israeli restrictions on construction materials, such as cement and wood, pose extraordinary challenges for rebuilding. CRS and Islamic Relief have built nearly 400 wooden shelters, but recently tightened restrictions on wood allowed into Gaza could force these projects to shut down.
After returning from the Middle East, Kate and Wardah spoke to congressional staff at an FCNL-AFSC briefing. They also shared their experience in an Al Jazeera America op-ed urging the U.S. to encourage Israel to lift the Gaza blockade. Since the trip, Kate has worked with Young Fellow Kyle Cristofalo to build congressional support for ending Gaza’s water crisis.
Advocacy Keeps a Village Standing — for Now
In the Palestinian West Bank village of Susiya, Kate and Wardah saw the direct impact of FCNL’s lobbying with coalition partners. The village was slated for demolition to make way for expanding settlements, but Israel at least temporarily halted its plans following intense U.S. and international pressure and protests from Israeli peace activists. The story of Susiya demonstrates that, when there is a political will to oppose demolitions and settlements, whole villages can be saved from destruction.