Gaza families and UN staff send message of light to Americans

Palestinians urge U.S. citizens to press Trump to release frozen U.S. aid and open blockade in Gaza

On Tuesday, August 14th at 9pm, UN staff and their families, including doctors, trauma counselors, social workers, bus drivers and engineers, gathered in the darkness of a punitive black-out to send a message of light to the American people. They shined cellphone flashlight messages urging U.S. citizens to press the Trump administration to release frozen U.S. aid and to open the blockade.

“I know Americans are good people because outside each UNRWA school is a sign saying, built by the people of the United States,” said Dr. Amal Batch, Deputy Head of UNRWA’s Local Staff Union. “We’re asking everyone in the U.S. to urge your President to release the allocated funds and avert starving our children. When you see our lights, please shine your light back and email your Congress and your President to put all children — even Gaza’s children — first.”

Since the blockade was imposed on Gaza in 2006, UNRWA has been a safety net keeping families and children alive by providing food, healthcare, education and housing. President Trump halted American aid to UNRWA and directed the State Department to withdraw all funds to U.S. agencies in Gaza that provide aid including Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, and Care, forcing 80% of people in Gaza to face cutbacks in food aid and other vital services. Currently, unemployment is close to 50%, an energy crisis provides only four hours of electricity a day, the water is undrinkable, and there’s no sewage treatment. 430 UNRWA trauma counselors lost their jobs, some 18,000 UN staff face imminent layoffs, and cash for work programs are being cancelled.

“When the American funding is cut off, there will be no education for more than 70% of the children in Gaza. When the food aid is cut off, there will be famine. As the medical system shuts down, there will be disease. That’s not what Americans want for anyone,” said Peter Klotz-Chamberlin, co-founder and Program Coordinator for the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, California.

When Jared Kushner convinced the White House to withhold $300 million in funding for UNRWA, he disabled one of the few parts of Gaza that works. Those funds spread out over 5 million Palestinian refugees, tallies just $60 per person per year.

“It’s time for light,” said Donna Baranski-Walker, Executive Director of Rebuilding Alliance, a U.S. nonprofit that works in Gaza. “Email Congress and urge them to call on the White House to restore aid to UNRWA and to the U.S. nonprofits who provide vital services to the families of Gaza. They’ll act on your behalf.”

Dr. Amal Batch is the Deputy Head of Local Staff Union-Gaza (LSU-Gaza). Dr. Batch also holds a master’s degree in Public Health. She has been part of the UNRWA service providers since 1988, thirty years.

Led by Chairperson Amir al Mishal, the Local Staff Union-Gaza is made up of 27 representatives who are elected by the 13,000 staff to UNRWA-Gaza.

Peter Klotz-Chamberlin is co-founder and Program Coordinator for the Resource Center for Nonviolence.

The Resource Center for Nonviolence, founded in 1976 in Santa Cruz, advocates nonviolence based on the fundamental unity of life, educates and trains people in nonviolent methods of achieving peace and justice for all, and cultivates relationships with nonviolent organizers around the world, including Palestine and Israel, Mexico, Nicaragua, Japan, and South Africa. Co-founder Scott Kennedy and the Resource Center for Nonviolence led 40 interfaith peace delegations of North Americans to Israel and Palestine between 1976 and 2011.

Donna Baranski-Walker is Executive Director of Rebuilding Alliance. She was awarded Special Congressional Recognition by Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Anna Eshoo, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez. In April 2016, Donna was awarded Rotary District 5150’s Service Award and the Rachel Corrie Conscience and Courage Award from the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Orange County.

Rebuilding Alliance, is an American non-profit organization dedicated to rebuilding war-torn communities and bringing the world together to make them safe. Rebuilding Alliance opened fifteen years ago with a life-affirming vision: a just and enduring peace in Palestine and Israel founded upon equal rights, equal security, and equal opportunity for all.

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