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Palestinian Americans fundraise for Gaza, as aid groups receive record donations

October 31, 2023 at 2:45 pm

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators march with banners from Wall Street to Washington Square Park in New York, United States on October 26, 2023 [Selcuk Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images]

Palestinian Americans and aid groups in the United States are raising funds for Gaza, which faces a deepening humanitarian crisis as the Israeli war against the enclave enters its fourth week, Reuters has reported. They have, however, limited ability to get supplies into the besieged coastal territory.

Aid organisations that serve Palestinian civilians in Gaza say that they are receiving record amounts of donations in a sign of public support for relief efforts even as a growing stock of supplies remain stalled at Egypt’s Rafah border crossing. In the Gaza Strip, where 2.3 million people eke out a precarious living at the best of times, civilians are in dire need of clean water, food and medicine, emergency medics say. Half of Gaza’s population was already living in poverty before the latest crisis.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in donations, unlike we’ve ever seen before,” said Steve Sosebee, president of the US-based Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which has a staff of 40 in Gaza that provide medical support. He said the fund, which usually has an annual budget of around $12 million, had raised $15 million in just 10 days.

However, with a web of political and logistical obstacles to getting aid to those in desperate need, much of the donations and supplies intended for Gaza are in limbo, forcing aid groups to wait as they amass truckloads of goods.

Following the attack by Hamas on 7 October, when they broke out of Gaza and killed a reported 1,400 people, including members of the Israeli military, and took 229 prisoners of war and hostages, Israel launched a massive bombardment on the occupied territory. The occupation state also tightened its 16-year siege, banning the import of food, water, fuel and medical supplies.

READ: WHO warns of ‘imminent public health catastrophe’ in Gaza

Aid groups say they are building up supplies in hopes of eventually getting them through to civilians in Gaza, nearly half of whom are children.

There has been “a five-fold increase in the total number of donors compared with typical past emergencies,” said Derek Madsen, chief development officer of Anera, a non-partisan emergency relief group for refugees throughout the Middle East. The organisation, which maintains the privacy of individual donors, said that it had recently received the largest single donation from an individual in its 55-year-old history.

Most of its support comes from donors based in the United States, he added, with individual donations averaging around $138. The efforts mirror those of Jewish groups in the US and Canada which have raised millions of dollars for Israel.

Anera was using the last of its stocks this week to distribute meals and vegetable food parcels in Gaza. Its staff of 12, like everyone in Gaza, is facing “unbelievable, unimaginable trauma,” said Madsen. He called for a ceasefire and establishment of a humanitarian corridor “so that people literally do not starve to death, literally do not die of dehydration.”

READ: Gaza residents forced to use seawater for bathing and washing clothes

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the national director of the Palestine Aid Society, Rabia Shafie, said that her group was speaking to student and Muslim groups on local university campuses and community centres to spread awareness and raise donations for the Palestine Red Crescent and UNRWA, the UN aid agency that serves Palestinian refugees.

“The money is needed to help people survive at this point of time. Medical support is so essential,” she said. “People are glued to the television… watching the news moment to moment and very stressed out over the situation.” She that it was difficult as a Palestinian American to watch “the massacre and injustice done to our people back home.”

Hamas-governed Gaza is one of the most densely packed places on earth and its medical authorities say that more than 8,400 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli air strikes began, including 3,500 children.

READ: Gaza turning into ‘graveyard of children,’ says UNICEF

Last week, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, home to one of New York’s largest Muslim and Arab communities, hundreds of protesters called for a ceasefire with signs written in Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew and Korean. In Clifton, New Jersey, the Palestinian American Community Centre’s priority is advocating for US officials to support a ceasefire and for the hundreds of Americans trapped in Gaza, said Basma Bsharat, the centre’s education director.

The centre has also been collecting cash donations to send on to UNRWA. It has asked people not to donate supplies, which it has no easy way of sending to those in need in Gaza.

Last week, a woman came to the centre anyway, hauling bags filled with goods. “We didn’t know how to say no,” explained Bsharat. “She was like, I just want to do something. I just want to help somehow. It’s a very difficult time, and the fact that we do see the support coming in it, it gives some relief. It gives some kind of solace.”