Dec 29, 2020

Update on our effort to safeguard Palestine

RA's Advocacy Team
RA's Advocacy Team

As 2020 comes to a close, I'd like to start off by thanking you for standing with us during such a difficult year. No matter what the next year throws our way, we know we will succeed with you by our side.

I joined the team first as a volunteer in June and I am now delighted to be coordinating the advocacy efforts as a member of Rebuilding Alliance’s staff. I wanted to update you now on our progress within our Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities. 

Please note, Rebuilding Alliance pioneered this work in 2008 when, in desperation, we asked constituents to call Congress to ask them to personally intervene to keep the kindergarten standing in Al Aqaba Village. We had helped build it -- and those calls keep it standing.  This is not lobbying because legislation is not part of the request. Personal intervention by Congressional offices at the request of their constituents is the heart of this ask.

Advocating for the Sumarin Family

Back in June, Rabbi Arik Ascherman of the Israeli human rights group Torat Tzedek alerted RA about an impending court decision in the 30 year effort by the Jewish National Fund to evict a Palestinian family from their East Jerusalem home. The Sumarin family built their home in 1950, and since then, three generations have resided there. However, in 1989, the Israeli government began eviction proceedings using the controversial Absentee Property Law, even though the family was never absent! After years of lower court cases and appeals, the Sumarin family eviction case reached the Israeli Supreme court in August of 2020, and is now slated to be decided in April of 2021. 

RA joined the Sumarin coalition to lead the effort to contact Congress on behalf of the Sumarins. We started by asking constituents to contact their members of Congress and invited them to a briefing with a team of 8 expert speakers from Jerusalem. Thanks to over 1600 constituent letters, we briefed 36 House and Senate offices on both sides of the aisle. Our request to Congress was for them to call the Israeli Embassy and State Department to stop the eviction. We also organized a virtual Leadership Learning trip to Silwan, which took constituents and Congressional staff on a walk from the Western Wall to the Sumarin family home.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier led a Dear Colleague letter to the Israeli Prime Minister urging him to stop the eviction. In total, she and 25 other Members of Congress signed the letter. During the up-coming months, RA will be preparing for the April court hearing.

Saving the Olive Harvest

This fall, our “Save the Olive Harvest” campaign started with a small British human rights group called the Friends of Madama and Burin who circulated a petition to the Israeli general in command of the West Bank urging him to protect the Palestinian olive harvest and olive farmers from aggressive Israeli settlers. With COVID-19, internationals couldn’t attend the harvest as monitors, and fearing what was to come, they asked the world to act from afar.

Rebuilding Alliance joined them, together with Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups, to bring our “Save the Olive Harvest” campaign to Congress. In response, constituents sent 1500 letters to their Senators and Reps, requesting intervention on their behalf. We held 45 briefing calls and two private virtual olive harvest tours with House and Senate Foreign Policy staff and constituents on the line. We asked them to call the Israeli Embassy and the U.S. State Department to investigate and prevent further violence. Many did — and the U.S. Embassy in Israel assigned staff to file a report. In the process, we also helped the Friends of Madama and Burin extend their reach by expanding our advocacy campaign toolset to include the British Parliament. This is just the beginning; the next step is to assure Palestinian farmers safe, year round access to their land.

The challenges facing Palestinians continue into 2021. Evictions, home demolitions, and vandalism to olive trees are higher than ever. Rebuilding Alliance will be drawing upon everything we learned in our advocacy for the Sumarin Family and the Palestinian olive harvest to launch our next Contact Congress campaign in January and mobilize American constituents to prevent further abuse and injustice. We're working through all the details to lauch a quick response constituent team, here and overseas, to ask Congressional offices to register concern the moment a 96 hour demolition order is posted. With a new administration and 60 new members of Congress, there’s hope for progress and all the more reason to press forward quickly in the year ahead. With your help, we will make a difference.  

Thanks again for your trust in us. Stay safe.

A father and son picking olives in the West Bank
A father and son picking olives in the West Bank
Amal Sumarin with her family
Amal Sumarin with her family

Links:

Dec 14, 2020

Sumarin Family Holds Onto Their Home for Now

Amal Sumarin projected onto the JNF building
Amal Sumarin projected onto the JNF building

Greetings Everyone,

When we last updated you in August on the Sumarin family, we brough forth exciting news: the Supreme Court of Israel agreed to hear the Sumarin case come April 2021, rather than evicting them from their home on the 16th of August. Because this case has been going on for 30 years, the Supreme Court hearing is significant.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, this fund made it possible for the family to petition the Supreme Court. We were able to reach our $40,000 goal to help the Sumarins pay for lawyer fees and possible fines. If Israel's Supreme Court rules against them, the family must pay $23,000 in fines per the lower court that ruled on technicalities in favor of the Jewish National Fund and $40,000 in eviction fees for forcible removal from their home. Should they win, this project will seed a legal aid fund for other cases, managed by Torat Tzedek, the Israeli human rights NGO run by Rabbi Arik Ascherman. 

On a positive note, in response to the briefing teleconferences we held with 36 Congressional offices, Congresswoman Speier successfully lead 25 other Members of Congress in a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister. Thanks to those of you who sent letters to your Senators and Representatives about taking action on behalf of the Sumarin family.

Just as the Congresswoman was closing her letter, a BBC expose released news about a Russian oligarch's involvement with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the Sumarin eviction. A secret agreement between the Elad and the JNF was later revealed because of this expose- see the links below to learn more. When Secretary of State Pampeo last visited Israel, he visited a West Bank settlement. That morning, the Secretary ignored the allegations and visited the 'City of David', a tourist site constructed by Elad on the Sumarin family's land, immediately adjacent to the home we are all working to save. 

We are drawing upon everything we learned in our advocacy for the Sumarin Family to begin to mobilize American constituents to prevent other evictions in Jerusalem by engaging their members of Congress. We hope to extend this fund in the future to help other Jerusalem families hold on to their homes. 

Happy holidays, and stay safe!

Amal Sumarin with her lawyer
Amal Sumarin with her lawyer
Strategy meeting at the Sumarin residence
Strategy meeting at the Sumarin residence
Sumarin house with al-Aqsa in the background
Sumarin house with al-Aqsa in the background
Sumarin family at their residence in Jerusalem
Sumarin family at their residence in Jerusalem

Links:

Dec 11, 2020

2 Week Supply of PKU Medical Food Arrived in Gaza!

On November 22nd, Rebuilding Alliance's partners distributed a 2 week supply of medical food to families of PKU children (3 years old and up) in Gaza and babies (newborn to 3 years old) in the West Bank. Regarding the Gaza shipment, it only took a week and a half from the time we placed the order to arrival on the other side of the blockadea record for Rebuilding Alliance! Our NGO partners invited families to pick up at locations nearest to them. Some asked for home deliveries.

Our involvement with PKU children began when an aunt of 2 PKU children in Gaza asked for our help to provide them medical food. Then, a doctor in San Francisco got in touch. Dr. Kimberly has 2 relatives with PKU, and she knew there must be more PKU children in Palestine. She wondered, "Who is going to speak up for these kids?" We learned there are 574 children, and Rebuilding Alliance is reaching out to all of them.

A volunteer team of about 8 or so quickly took shape across 4 continents. One of the members of our group is a PKU adult and PhD student who galvanized worldwide support for PKU children in Poland during their time of crisis 30 years ago. Another volunteer is Dr. Raed, founder of the PKU Charitable Association in the West Bank and a PKU parent. Other key members are Dr. Kimberly, Dr. Justin (Dr. Kimberly's brother and also a PKU adult), Sarah (a PKU adult), Paula (a retired occupational therapist who specialized in childhood eating disorders), Dr. Raza (a biotech researcher), and Erin (Rebuilding Alliance's new board member with experience in the biotech industry).

We began to feel optimistic in addressing this problem, but then we learned the scope was much worse than we thought. When we called the families in Gaza to ask them to pick up their supply, we learned that the Ministries of Health stopped providing vital medical food to these children 2 years ago. Some children died. Some families also didn't want to pick up at all because they were cynical about whether the supply will be available in the long-term. 

We also learned that the Gaza government stopped testing newborns for metabolic diseases in July 2020. Because we couldn't talk directly to the Gaza government, it was extremely difficult to find out what is needed to resume newborn testing. We learned there are 6,000 births per month in Gaza. Of those 6,000, 2 or 3 will have PKU, and eating regular food (including mother's milk) will cause permanent brain damage. 

Suddenly, Dr. Nadirah from Al Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem found us. Dr. Nadirah is the Consultant Clinical Geneticist and Consultant Clinical Biochemical Geneticist at Al-Makassed Hospital- Jerusalem, Caritas Baby Hospital- Bethlehem and the Specialized Pediatric Medical Center Ramallah.  The doctor recently returned from two fellowships in Toronto, Canada. She knows exactly what test kits are needed and which companies manufacture them.

The costs are hugeclose to $200,000 a year for newborn testing in Gaza and about $143,000 a month for specialized medical food for all 574 PKU children in Palestine. Together, we must find sustainable ways to resolve both emergencies and make this a test case to restore U.S. medical aid to Palestine.

Jehad, featured on the project photo, and his dad
Jehad, featured on the project photo, and his dad
Coming soon: our Together We Can website for this!
Coming soon: our Together We Can website for this!
Our NGO partners organizing distribution
Our NGO partners organizing distribution
 
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