Today is the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, a month of intense prayer when Muslims around the world fast and refrain from the many of the joys of life that would otherwise see us through the day. It’s an opportunity to reflect on things that many of us take for granted – family, health, love, having access to food, water, a safe place to call home, freedom to live not under siege.
In Palestine, we have entered Ramadan carrying an almost unbearable burden of pain and grief, because in the days preceding it, we experienced two huge blows to our already-embattled life under occupation.
On Tuesday, Israel’s US Embassy opened in Jerusalem on the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Israeli state, inaugurated with broad smiles by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who in so doing, formally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This in blatant disregard of all human rights and international law and treaties, overturning 70 years of international consensus. They knew, of course, that same day was also the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, when Palestinians encounter the collective memory of being expelled from our land for the establishment of the Israeli state. Many Palestinian civilians peacefully demonstrated on Nakba Day in what we called The Great March of Return, in Gaza Strip, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Al-Bireh, Hebron and other West Bank cities. The Israeli Army responded with a show of outrageous, disproportionate force, killing 60 protesters and thousands of injuries, including many children.
Our team assessed the needs of communities affected by the violence on Tuesday. We found chronic shortages in medical supplies including beds and medications, staff, and fuel to operate electricity generators in hospitals; some municipalities don’t have enough fuel to operate sewage and water pumps, leaving them open to disease. Some families in Gaza Strip don’t know where the food to break their fast will come from. Many children have experienced fresh trauma from the violence, bereavement and injury. The death of every child because of unlawful and disproportionate use of force by Israel is an outrage to all our souls. It pains me to say that 47 of the children supported by our sponsors were exposed to tear gas used indiscriminately by the Israeli forces - as were their families - while relatives of some of those children were hit by live ammunition. My colleagues in Palestine are with them and supporting them through the horror.
On Wednesday, families buried loved ones, and our hospitals were at breaking point with so many casualties but scant resources. That same day, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on the situation where the United States blocked the adoption of a Presidential Statement tabled to condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians, calling for an independent investigation into the deaths. The United States' Permanent Representative, Nikki Haley, walked out of the Council chamber while our country’s representative began speaking.
At daybreak this morning, after having to defend ourselves on Nakba Day from Israeli aggression, we rose, defiant, to meet Ramadan. Our hearts are broken, but still open. Palestinians are now in a period of reinforcing our resolve to keep fighting for our rights as humans, for the same joys I mentioned earlier - family, health, love, access to food, water, a safe place to call home, and freedom from occupation.
As country director for ActionAid in Palestine, and a Palestinian myself, I cherish the ongoing solidarity we receive from all over the world. Through this, we help children and communities to thrive; we train Palestinian women to deliver psycho-social support to the traumatised, ensure children receive an education, enable communities to obtain resources such as street lighting and generators, assist women to create sustainable livelihoods, and amplify Palestinian voices on the global stage by advocating for their rights to be respected.
Our locally-trained counsellors are working closely with families all the time to support them through the war and occupation. Fedah, 32, mother to seven children and a PhD student, is one of our partner programme officers in Gaza. She works in our family centre, supporting families affected by conflict, as well as helping them to build new skills and access vital resources. “I like to contribute to solving problems in the communities I work in. I know that these are vulnerable people who really need help,” says Fedah. “I train them to be more active in their communities and take a lead in solving their problems.” Fedah is one of many Palestinian woman who are vital partners in our work.
The occupying forces in Palestine have a responsibility under international law to protect, respect and fulfil human rights and deliver services. But they are not doing this. We Palestinians should be able to determine our present and our future free from violent and unlawful occupation, to feel safe and help others feel safe, to seek education, to protest injustice, to enjoy seeing our children grow up, to have bread to break our fast with and potable water to drink with it. Thank you to everyone who shows us solidarity from wherever they are in the world. Our struggle for freedom continues.