American Friends Service Committee workers in Gaza (Erin Polley is third from left, in sunglasses)

American Friends Service Committee workers in Gaza in 2015 (Erin Polley is third from left, in sunglasses)

For the past several weeks, Palestinians in Gaza have been holding demonstrations every Friday along the border with Israel as part of the Great Return March, a six-week program of nonviolent action demanding an end to the Israeli blockade and the right to return to their ancestral lands. So far, 33 Palestinians have been killed and thousands seriously injured by Israeli snipers. 

Gaza has been under a blockade imposed by Israel for over a decade now. Gazans contend with four to six hours of electricity a day, a lack of clean running water, a crumbling education system, and a healthcare system lacking basic medicines. These are all results of the blockade that severely limit travel and transport of goods in and out of Gaza. The two million Palestinians in Gaza have every right to peacefully protest and demand that the blockade that has caused this crisis end now. Despite Israeli’s heavy-handed response that killed 17 Palestinians and wounded nearly 800 on the first day of protests alone, they will continue.

When I first visited Gaza in 2015 and then again in 2017, I witnessed firsthand just how detrimental this blockade is. I saw homes obliterated by the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza in near rubble – but with families, even young children, still living in them. I saw manufacturing plants and small businesses destroyed and thought of the hundreds of people affected by the loss of those jobs. I smelled the raw sewage being dumped into the deep blue Mediterranean Sea as a result of the sewage plant being bombed by Israel. I learned from young fathers, college students and business owners just how detrimental the electricity crisis is for daily life while taking care of young children, studying for exams, and getting through all the hundreds of daily tasks that require electricity.

But I also witnessed the beautiful parts of life in this city by the sea. I witnessed the pride people take in their food, their music, their Palestinian culture. Families gather at the sea in the morning, with thermoses of strong coffee and bread to share. Big weddings fill the halls of the hotels in Gaza City’s main thoroughfare. Children go to school, play soccer on the beach. Palestinians in Gaza create art, write books, innovate new technologies, and strive to help the community around them.

For 70 years, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has been working in Gaza. We were first asked to provide relief services for 200,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza in 1948 as a result of the Nakba when Palestinians were displaced from their homes (also referred to as Israel’s Independence). AFSC now works with Palestinians in Gaza to end the blockade and supports young people to marshal local resources to directly meet pressing humanitarian, social and educational needs.

On April 21 in Indianapolis, we are hosting Gaza Unlocked: Hearing in the Heartland modeled after a congressional fact-finding hearing with expert witnesses who will share seldom-heard stories from Gaza about the impacts of the blockade. Through these testimonies, we hope to inspire advocates and elected officials to raise critical questions about U.S. policies in the region, so that Congress will apply pressure to Israel and end this disastrous humanitarian crisis.

We hope that people in Indianapolis will join us Saturday, April 21 at the Central Library (40 E. St. Clair St) from 1-5pm for Gaza Unlocked: Hearing in the Heartland. For more details, visit www.gazaunlocked.org/heartland.

Erin Polley is the Indiana Peace Building Coordinator under the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee.  

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