Wow, so much has happened in one short month.
On July 22, we received formal pre-clearance approval from Israeli Customs, meaning our shipment of Backpack Kits and children's books has security clearance for entry into Israel and into Gaza. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s office and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s offices both made inquiries to the Israeli Consulate and the Israeli Consul General weighed-in on our behalf. It is good to have such broad support for this important project!
This was the good news we had been waiting for all summer, and it kicked us into action. The 3,888 backpack kits were shipped from BluSource in Oklahoma to Mohegan Lake, New York just two weeks ago, and on Sunday, August 9, over one hundred volunteers gathered at the Hudson Valley Islamic Center in the town of Mohegan Lake to load our first shipping container and send it on its way!
The volunteers all put in one kit of school supplies, one book, and one letter of encouragement. The books, which came from from author Leila al-Haddad’s Baltimore, Maryland book drive, remind all of us of the joy of reading and its important role in inspiring the imagination - what a blessing to have the chance to send such a simple and meaningful gift to children cut off from the outside world.
On Sunday morning, the busses started arriving - one from Patterson, New Jersey, one from the Bronx, and a multitude of private cars from the surrounding area - and dozens of volunteers spilled out into the large gym where the backpacks were displayed in all different colors.
What an amazing job everyone did - putting in the school supplies, then the books, then letters of encouragement, repacking the boxes and then loading them into the 20 ft. shipping container… it was truly a sight to behold!
The day ended with a campfire, s’mores, live music, and a moving speech by the New York chapter president of the Council on American Islamic Relations, Ms. Afaf Nasher, highlighting the importance of education in our work and in providing a future for Gaza’s children and their families. She also mentioned compassion and spoke about Rachel Corrie. The chair of the Hudson Valley Islamic Center, Zead Ramadan, thanked everyone for joining us. Rebuilding Alliance's Executive Director, Donna Baransk-Walker, spoke too, describing how Khaled Nasrallah, part of the family whom Rachel Corrie stood to protect, had suggested this project as a public and positive way for Americans to help the children who are most in need in Gaza.
From Adam Ramadan, our New Jersey Coordinator:
"The Backpacks for Gaza Container Kickoff event was one of the most memorable events ever! I can just remember looking at the backpack-o-meter in the early stages of the project and thinking to myself, how am I going to reach our goal? From that moment on, I made sure to give in my all for this project. Fast forward a few months, the generosity of family, friends, and community members made this project a great success. Seeing over one hundred people come together to pack backpacks for the neediest children of Gaza was such a remarkable scene. A true image of unity and selflessness. It wasn’t only about the backpacks, even though supporting the education of children in Palestine is critical, but this project gave an opportunity to show the world that unity can uplift the siege on Gaza. We are one step closer to ending the siege on Gaza." - Adam Ramadan
Rebuilding Alliance and its partners want to thank you wholeheartedly for your support throughout this process - whether it be with your donations or with your good thoughts, and for your patience as we navigate the complexities of security clearance and customs requirements. We'll keep you posted as we work through the details of distribution.
As the container now makes its way across the Atlantic to the Port of Ashdod, we are excited to continue this project and prepare for the next shipment.
Would you like to host the next container in your community? Send us an email and let us know. Still want to give? A donation now will help us pay for Patriot Act compliance as well as for transportation costs on this final leg of this journey to ensure this shipment reaches the children who need it most.
With great thanks,
Kelly Leilani Main
Gaza Project Coordinator
Dear Friend,Your calls to the House and Senate are working! On July 17th, Congresswoman Eshoo plus 10 others sent a public letter to Secr. of State Kerry. Repr. Loretta Sanchez sent her public letter soon after. On July 28th, Senator Diane Feinstein sent a public letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, writing, "Instead of taking action to demolish the village, the ICA [Israeli Civil Administration] should reexamine its decision to deny Susiya's petition for a master plan, so that the area's Palestinian villagers can live in peace and with legal certainty." It is being reported in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. I am writing now to invite you to join a 30 minute briefing with your Senators' staff. You can dial in from home or work, on a phone or a computer. Rebuilding Alliance is setting up these up with all 99 other senators' senior staff for foreign policy and we can host up to 100 constituents on each call. Please check the schedule here, http://www.rebuildingalliance.org/join-a-call-with-your-senator/ , then click Register Now.
Today, we have calls with Senate staff as follows:
Here's Thursday's schedule,
Thank you again for making this work possible. Phone calls from Constituents are filling a void, prompting the U.S. enagement needed to give Palestinian villagers a tangible way to hold on to their homes and land. Please keep calling so that your Senator will join Senator Feinstein to assure, "the area's Palestinian villagers can live in peace and with legal certainty."
On May 18, 2015, you helped us reach our goal - 3,888 backpack kits with school supplies for Gaza’s neediest children, and donations are still coming in! Thank you for your support!
It has been over a year since since the shelling of Gaza began last summer. At the current rate, reconstruction will take more than seventy years to complete. Not a single home has been rebuilt. The blockade continues.
We must not lose hope that a brighter future is possible. In addition to backpacks, we are now sending thousands of children’s books, one of the most sought after non-essential items requests from families in Gaza.
Our book drive coordinator, Laila el-Haddad (shown above), author of Gaza Mom and Gaza Kitchen: wrote:
" My community here in Baltimore is collecting new books to put into each backpack because this is a way to nourish young minds, and nourish the goodness in us all. There is a tendency to view those in Gaza as victims requiring nothing more than sympathy and monetary donations, and the blockade as solely a blockade on the entry of food, rather than a blockade on freedoms and rights, such as the right to learn. But people everywhere long to give something tangible and useful, Sadaqah Jarayah, translated as Continous Charity — gifts if you will, that keep on giving. It is so difficult to have the opportunity to do that for Gaza. With this siege and destruction how do we give to help them build their future?”
In this spirit, hundreds of people from all different backgrounds donated to the bookdrive. From Adam, our lead volunteer coordinator who brought the project to mutliple Muslim Elementary and High Schools in New Jersey:
“The situation in Gaza is very critical. As we take life for granted, children in Gaza are not given the opportunity to grow and succeed in school because of the occupation. Being able to contribute to the book drive is really giving the gift of reading! Education is essential to the growth and success of Gaza. Working with my community and with Laila El-Haddad and her community to come together to collect books for the children of Gaza was a beautiful and selfless experience. The fact that people of all races and religions came together to contribute to the book drive showed the support and love we have for Gaza. I hope that when these books are delivered the people of Gaza will feel the support and love we are sending their way. The thought may seem simple to many, but supporting the development of these children is really setting the foundation for them to become successful doctors, engineers, and lawyers. We aren’t just sending books, we are building a brighter tomorrow.”
Now that we successfully reached our fundraising goal for the backpacks, the hard work of customs approval begins. Production of the backpack kits finished in June (photos shown) - all 3,888 kits now are awaiting clearance to be shipped from the supplier in Oklahoma to the East Coast community center that will send them across the sea.
We knew that getting approval from the Israeli Authorities wouldn't be easy. On June 2nd, we received formal approval from the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Finance authorizing our donation. The donation was then sent to COGAT (Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) for security approval before being cleared by Israeli customs. After over a month of delays, we have engaged our diplomatic networks. We have been calling COGAT’s offices, checking in regularly to remind them the importance of this shipment. Our elected representatives are calling the Israeli consul general in San Francisco to inquire on our behalf, and we are working diligently with the UNOPS team to ensure any questions are answered in due time. You can call your representative - tell them you donated to our project and ask them to inquire to the Israeli Consulate as to why approval is taking so long. Your calls make a difference. We remain committed and engaged, especially when proceedings are frustrating and difficult - a spirit of perseverance that the families in Gaza model every day.
Meanwhile, the blockade continues, against the advise of Israeli military officials who say that economic opportunity in Gaza is necessary to prevent another escalation of violence. School, now more than ever, proves itself to be an invaluable asset for children recovering from trauma - it provides them stability, a support network, and promotes dreams of the future. We will continue to nourish these dreams as we expand our network. As the BDS movement picks up steam across the country, we hope to build a movement to invest in education for Gaza's children, in the spirit of peace and prosperity for all.
Because we believe we will succeed, we are continuing our outreach. Last week, Donna and Kelly met with the United Church of Christ in Redwood City to discuss ways to partner on the next backpack container. Despite the challenges this project faces, we remain committed to reaching Gaza’s children and their families. Plans for the next container are already under way.
“It is a privilege and a blessing to be able to support the good efforts and accomplishments of Rebuilding Alliance. I especially appreciate the opportunity to help Gaza's children rebuild their lives and hope for learning in the form of a back-pack for school. I hope that people of faith will act out their faith by giving generously…."Walk their talk." - Rev. Dona Smith-Powers
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like assistance in contacting your representative by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, tomorrow is a Global Giving Bonus Day - all donations will be matched 40%! If you or someone you know would like to give, consider purchasing a backpack for the next container, or support Rebuilding Alliance's other projects.