Promote and aid charities providing clean water to Gaza cities

This summer, Israel and Gaza experienced another tragic war. Once again, residents of the region lived in constant fear of rocket fire or air strikes. Many fled their homes, some found refuge in bomb shelters, and the lives of all were changed. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 69 Israelis and over 2,100 Gazans, mostly civilians, were killed.

But the cessation of rockets and airstrikes has not undone the consequences of war. Within Gaza, in addition to an overwhelming death toll, Israeli air strikes effectively destroyed the area’s entire agricultural infrastructure and any possibility of immediate economic growth. For Gazans, though the airstrikes and rockets have stopped, many of the long term effects of the war are only now being felt. One of the most alarming consequences has been the destruction of the Gazan water system, rendering hundreds of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians virtually incapable of accessing safe, clean water.

At the onset of the fighting, Gaza’s water infrastructure was already critically overextended. According to Haaretz, even in quiet times, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s water is unfit for drinking, and over-pumping has resulted in seawater and sewage contamination of the groundwater.  During the most recent escalation, 11 wells and two purification plants in Gaza were completely destroyed, and an additional 15 wells and four purification plants were partially destroyed. Eighteen miles of pipeline were also impaired, and close to eleven miles more were damaged, according to the Palestinian Water Authority.  The Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene Group reports only half of the Gaza water system is currently functional, and the functional parts only get water once every five days.  The destruction of the purification plants and pipelines has made it increasingly difficult for Gazans to access clean, potable water.

Additionally, Gaza’s only power plant was destroyed in the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. This has worsened the already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplied to medical facilities. Since the fighting this summer, Gazans have had barely enough electricity to power their homes for a few hours a day, making it virtually impossible to power intensive sewage treatment and pumping facilities as well. Following the destruction of the Strip’s power plant, Gaza residents were immediately urged to begin rationing their water.

The water crisis in Gaza is untenable and requires immediate, meaningful action. Human rights are in everybody’s best interest: A commitment to peace must include a commitment to those with whom we share the land. Say what you will about who started this war or who is to be blamed for how it was pursued, we all bear responsibility for cleaning up the devastation brought on by months of violence. This summer, Israel fought a war against Hamas, yet thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians were devastatingly affected. Our ability to differentiate between the two, as well as our effort to help rebuild the Gazan infrastructure, will provide Gazans with hope for their future and also reaffirm our own commitment to peace. As the American Jewish community continues to assert its commitment to peace in the region, we must ensure that basic rights are not overlooked in the process.

To move forward on this issue, we must begin at the ground level. Abasan Al-Kabireh, a Fatah-run city in Gaza, located to the east of Khan Younis—a densely populated Gaza city that was nearly destroyed in the war—has sustained some of the worst damage in the Strip. The damage has left the 21,000 residents of the city without access to clean drinking water. The mayor of Abasan Al-Kabireh has called upon the international community to help provide the residents of his city with clean drinking water.

This call has not gone unheard. Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is an environmental advocacy organization, that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists to work towards advancing the sustainable ecological development of the region. FoEME has identified the Gaza water shortage as a key environmental challenge that stifles the development of strong, sustainable communities and ultimately peace in the region.

Meanwhile, Other Voice is a grassroots initiative that empowers volunteers from cities along the Gaza border to shed light on the physical and psychological tolls that ongoing violence and conflict have on Israelis and Palestinians. Other Voice also advocates for a non-violent political solution to the Conflict, endorses coexistence, works to strengthen support for peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and organizes donation campaigns for Gazans in need of humanitarian assistance. Both charities are working toward the common goal of providing water for the residents of Abasan Al-Kabireh and deserve our support.

J Street U Brandeis is answering the call by organizing a campus-wide fundraiser for the residents of Abasan Al-Kabireh with FoEME and Other Voice. As American Jews, and as individuals who care deeply about the future of Israel, it is crucial that we remember our responsibility to act. If we are serious about affirming our commitment to peace—as students, Americans, Jews and individuals who maintain a genuine interest in human rights and social justice—we must take steps to empower individuals and projects on the ground, as each hold the power to shift the complicated reality away from human rights injustice and toward a viable peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.

We must remain committed to the advancement of human rights wherever there is a need. Our commitment to peace in the Middle East should be mirrored by nothing less than an equal commitment to the human rights of the citizens of Israel and Palestine.

—Shani Abramowitz ’14 is the media coordinator for J Street U Brandeis

Originally published in the Justice, the independent, student newspaper of Brandeis University

Follow Shani on Twitter @grownup_blogger


Evaluate differing narratives on Israeli-Palestinian discourse

Last week, on Wednesday, Oct. 1, J Street U Brandeis hosted its third event of the semester, “Non-Violence Amid Violent Conflict: A Conversation with Ali Abu Awwad.” Awwad is a leading nonviolent Palestinian activist and member of the Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization that brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members to the violence of the conflict. While spending time in prison during the First Intifada, Awwad participated in a 17-day-long hunger strike that helped him recognize and understand the power of nonviolent resistance.

Awwad’s talk is but one example of the many conversations being held on campus that encourage students to engage in thinking critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his talk, Awwad carefully articulated the inherent difficulties in encountering another truth and explained that opposing truths are both authentic. Awwad also emphasized that a lasting solution to the conflict will include the truths of both Israelis and Palestinians.

It took me a long time to believe that diverse and pluralistic conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like this one even existed. It took me longer to believe that those conversations were happening in spaces that I already inhabited. And it took me an even longer time to participate. I was afraid of these conversations simply because I did not know what the other truth looked like, and I was doubtful that I could allow that other truth into my own narrative.

Growing up in a modern Orthodox community that is perhaps more right of center than most, it was almost impossible for me to participate in an Israel conversation that included a diversity of truths. My Jewish identity and my pro-Israel identity were virtually one and the same. I learned early on that being a member of my community, and especially an active and vocal member, meant subscribing to an overarching and general form of pro-Israel advocacy that promoted “pro-Israel marketing” above all else.

In high school, my classmates and I were carefully taught how to combat the term “occupation,” told that a nation cannot possibly be an occupier in its own land and that the security fence was crucial for ensuring the safety of Israeli citizens and had been successful in thwarting several potential terror attacks since its construction.

However, unless we chose to take an elective Israeli history course, my classmates and I were not provided with the historical context that would have given us a deeper understanding of the term “occupation.” In fact, most of us did not understand why the word was used at all. “Occupation” became a malicious word, used only by the radical left. It was a word that we were, for all intents and purposes, banned from invoking or even asking about.

When I came to Brandeis as a midyear, I was immediately drawn into the pro-Israel community and was hoping to find a conversation that would both make me comfortable and strengthen my love for the Jewish state. But as the years went on and my involvement with particular groups grew stronger, I began to feel that the campus conversation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was wrapped up in partisan politics, was uncomfortable and was deeply entrenched in agenda pushing that ultimately alienated more people than it included.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to spend time at Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva on the Upper West Side of New York. I regularly had conversations with students that challenged the status quo I was taught to support on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I learned about our Palestinian neighbor and was encouraged to ask tough questions about the conflict and the region. The bubble that I grew up in and was taught to think within had been opened.

I came back to Brandeis that fall with questions that I hadn’t thought I would ever have about the conflict and found a campus largely apathetic to the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. The conversation that I had known, facts that I had once believed in and status quo that I was convinced was tenable for both peoples suddenly seemed flawed, dangerous and unsustainable.

Taking a stand that formally acknowledges Palestinian human rights or the people’s right to self-determination is immediately perceived as anti-Israel and perhaps anti-Semitic. These extreme binary representations of the conflict are not accurate depictions of the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict nor do they typify the conversations taking place on the Brandeis campus.

For my first three years of college, I was not being honest about the conversation I wanted to have on Israel and Palestine. I was actively criticizing the nature of the conversation yet intentionally avoiding discourse that would have encouraged me to think critically or beyond my comfort zone. I was under the false impression that our campus conversation was dead, simply because I rejected the notion of engaging with students with whom I may have disagreed.

We all find comfort in our own echo chambers. Encountering and engaging new, challenging narratives is a difficult process that requires patience and an open mind. Hearing somebody else’s story and exposing oneself to his or her truth can be disorienting and quite painful.

But it is an ultimately necessary process to challenge oneself and best understand any issue, especially one as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Awwad put it last week, “Conflict resolution is a place where both truths come together…not to love each other but to understand each other.”

J Street U Brandeis is the largest pro-Israel group on campus to date. Since its inception, J Street U has been actively promoting and creating spaces for critical engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Although we stand for a two-state solution and develop programming around that goal, we encourage and welcome debates that will challenge us, make us ask tough questions and ultimately strengthen our commitment to self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

—Shani Abramowitz ’15 is the media coordinator for Brandeis J Street U.

Originally published in the Justice, the independent student newspaper of Brandeis University

Follow Shani on Twitter @shani_abramow

We Don’t Want You Here.

An important video reminding us that this is not a conflict to be confused with statistics, strategic directives, or political endgames. It simply is, and always will be, a conflict of people, families, and lost innocent lives.