Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC)
June 2nd, 2005
PARC is one of the largest NGOs in Palestine concerned with sustainable rural development and social change.
By Jennifer Lemire
April 6th, 2005
The Gaza Strip is a difficult place to begin a trip. In Gaza, the full impact of the occupation hits you smack in the face the very second you reach Erez. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world...if not the most. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), one of GRI's partners, approximately 1.3 million people are living on 365 square kilometers of land. Nearly 900,000 residents are considered refugees, about half of whom are living in the 8 camps in Gaza. 61% of the population is under 19 years old and the average family size of 6.9. In a recent publication, B'tselem, an Israeli human rights group, reports that more than 77% of Gazans now live below the poverty line - almost double the number before the intifada -and that some 23 percent of Gazans are in "deep poverty," meaning that they do not reach the subsistence poverty line even after receiving aid from international agencies.
On the 24th of February I traveled to Gaza to meet with Grassroots International’s partners, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC). The entrance into Gaza was not easy.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak at a progressive Jewish congregation, Kahil B'raira-- Community of Choice -- Congregation for Humanistic Judaism (KB).
Some time ago, KB contacted Jennifer Lemire and I about possibly adopting a Grassroots International Palestine partner as a project of the congregation. After a painstaking two year assessment and dialogue, the congregation's Middle East Working Group decided to sponsor two projects - one in Israel and one in Palestine.
One project is Open House in Ramle, Israel, which supports the building of relationships and reconciliation between Israeli Jews and Arabs. The other is support for the Anin Kindergarten through Grassroots International, a project of the Anin Women's Club, located in the northern West Bank (The Anin Women's Club is a project of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees.)
Last Tuesday, following a three-week withdrawal from Gaza, Israeli forces invaded the northern section of the Gaza Strip. The ensuing week has been one of the deadliest periods in Gaza in years. (For an overview of the last four years of intifada--1,008 Israelis and 3,334 Palestinians dead-- read Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi's analysis on Electronic Intifada.)
Our partners in Gaza are doing their best to do their work and live their lives, but they are struggling. In addition to the 66 Palestinian deaths (including 19 children), there has been extensive damage to infrastructure, including the total destruction of water, power and sewage systems for more than 100,000 refugees.
The following is a note from Ahmed Sourani, director of External Relations for the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC). PARC is one of the most important players in the Palestinian agricultural sector focusing on rural development, environmental protection, and strengthening women's position in society in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the aftermath of the Likud Party's rejection of Ariel Sharon's plan for Israel to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza, the IDF has stepped up its military actions in Gaza.
Jen and I have returned safely to the US. We apologize for the gap in keeping you posted on our travels. Experiences were simply too complex to quickly digest and days too exhausting to blog in the early hours of the morning. Thank you for all your comments and for accompanying us on our journey. We will continue with a few more entries this week, sent from the relatively calmer offices of Grassroots International.
The following are some notes and stories from some of the places we saw and the people we met. These are just a few of the many scenes I go back to over and over again when I reflect on this trip.
We were walking through the narrow streets of old city in Bethlehem with Fatima. She wanted to show us the cultural center that her uncle had opened just outside of Manger Square so we ducked into the building. Our friend pointed out the gardens, the galleries, the classrooms and finally the theater. The theater was offering nightly showings of The Passion of the Christ, the new, controversial film by Mel Gibson that details Jesus' final days. Although I have yet to see this film, I've heard from those that have seen it that it is incredibly bloody and gruesome, certainly not for the squeamish. Fatima, who had seen the film twice, confirmed this.
Jerusalem and the surrounding towns were again quiet today. Outside of Gaza, there has been relatively little reaction to Yassin's assassination. Certainly not the firestorm that some were expecting. The general atmosphere is still very tense and one can see evidence of flare-ups. As we crossed the El Ram checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem we saw the still smoldering remnants of fiery demonstrations. The smell of burning tires still lingered in the air. Later in the afternoon, we watched as about 20 youth threw stones and exchanged insults with 2 Israeli soldiers. The youth stood at a safe distance atop an embankment behind a barbed wire fence and the soldiers were standing below. Eventually the soldiers grew weary and fired their weapons into the air, letting the youth know that the game was over.