Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why I Support Playgrounds for Palestine

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a six-year old child who lives in a part of the world known as the Gaza Strip.  Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and occupied by the government of Israel.

Imagine that you have already experienced three wars in your lifetime.  Imagine that during these wars your parents, who loved you, had been murdered.  Imagine that some of your friends, whom you liked to play with, were also murdered.  Imagine being a six-year old child living on one dollar per day.  Imagine that all the homes in your neighborhood had been destroyed as a result of these wars.  Imagine experiencing all of this, and now you are homeless.

This is not a story of fiction.  This is the story of thousands of children who live in a place called the Gaza Strip. 

I learned of this story from Jess Ghannam, who is a clinical professor of psychology, and has been working with Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip for over twenty years.  Ghannam presented this information at a recent fundraising dinner for an organization called Playgrounds for Palestine.

Playgrounds for Palestine has been raising funds to build playgrounds in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for about fifteen years.  The idea for this organization came from Susan Abulhawa who continues to be one of the organizers.  Abulhawa wrote a wonderful book titled Mornings in Jenin that traces the history of a Palestinian family.  You can see my review of this book at the highlighted link.  This summer, Abulhawa’s new book is scheduled to be released.

Now, we might ask an interesting question.  With all the horrors the Palestinian people experience, why is there an organization dedicated to building playgrounds for Palestinian children? 

In order to answer this question, I believe we need to remember the time when we were children.  Perhaps our parents told us we needed to come in the house to eat dinner or to do our homework.  We didn’t want to come in the house because we wanted to stay outside and play.

Remembering the times we enjoyed as children allows us to begin to appreciate what the Palestinian children of the Gaza Strip want.  The playgrounds that now exist in the occupied territories allow children to play and begin to mentally escape the horrors they have faced.  Jess Ghannam has seen how children who have experienced these unspeakable horrors have an amazing amount of resiliency to begin their path of recovery.

Why do I contribute to Playgrounds for Palestine?

At this point, I should say that I don’t generally contribute to organizations like the Playgrounds for Palestine.  I am what some people consider an unspeakable word in this country.  I am a communist.

There are organizations dedicated to teaching people how to read.  Clearly, teaching someone to read can transform a person’s life.  The problem is that while one person is learning to read, the school budget of Philadelphia is being cut to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

There are organizations dedicated to feeding hungry people.  Yes, giving food to someone who is hungry is a wonderful thing to do.  The problem is that one out of every six people in this country doesn’t have enough food to eat.  In the world, about 40% of the population on this planet lives on about two dollars per day or less.

Understanding this reality, my focus has been to support movements that strengthen workers and farmers rights all over the world.  In the words of Malcolm X, “Either we will all be free, or no one will be free.”

Clearly, the Playgrounds for Palestine has not changed the overall political reality in the occupied territories.  This past summer the Israeli government ordered a bombing raid that destroyed much of the Gaza Strip, and murdered over 2,000 people, including 500 children.  So, why contribute to Playgrounds for Palestine?

Amer Zahr was the Master of Ceremonies at the PFP dinner I attended.  He is also a Palestinian comedian who is the author of a book titled: being Palestinian makes me Smile. 

In a chapter of his book, Zahr compares the struggle of the Palestinians to the movement protesting the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  Zahr argues that Palestinians are writing to the protesters of this movement and giving them advice on how to deal with being tear-gassed.

Zahr also quoted a Ferguson police officer who argued that Black people are “animals.”  He compared this attitude to Israeli soldiers who use Palestinian children as target practice using live ammunition.  In both cases, individuals who have power view human beings as less than human.

For this reason, Zahr argues that the primary Palestinian goal is survival.  In this battle, the Palestinians, despite all the obstacles they face, are winning.  This is why I have supported the Playgrounds for Palestine.  Palestinian people are a part of the human race and deserve to be treated with the same human dignity we would all like to have.

The Cuban reality

This past February Judi and I spent seven days in Cuba.  This was enough time to see how the Cuban reality is unique in the world today.  While the Cuban people face numerous challenges, their example gives us hope for the future.  Here are three examples.

1) One morning I went for a walk on one of the main avenues in Havana.  I noticed that there were children of various ages doing their morning calisthenics.  These children had their own student leaders.  They were disciplined, but also relaxed.  There wasn’t the kind of regimentation I experienced in this country when I was their age. 

Watching these children do their exercises, I began to see how the Cuban government views education as a central priority.  The Cuban constitution guarantees children the right to nutrition.  Cubans also have a lifetime right to education and health care.

2) Then, we visited a school for children with Down Syndrome.  The building this school is housed in didn’t appear to be special.  However, what was going on inside the school was truly inspiring. 

The walls of the inside of the building were covered with artwork.  Many of the paintings were of children with Down Syndrome and the children created many of these works of art. 

I spoke to a parent of one of the students who volunteers his time to teach the children art.  I asked him if he was proud of his daughter.  He answered that he wasn’t just proud of his daughter, but proud of all of the students at this school.

3) Our tour guide told us a story of a child who lived in his neighborhood who had a problem with her kidney.  The doctors who treated this child recommended that the home she lived in be upgraded. 

The government responded to this diagnosis by organizing a team of workers to modernize the home this child lived in with her parents.  These workers installed air-conditioning so the child might have a better and longer life.  I mention these three Cuban examples to show how a better world is possible. 

Every year the United States government has been giving the state of Israel five billion dollars in so-called aid.  This column has shown some of the results of that aid.

Today, while the U.S. government is giving Israel all this money, many Israeli children live in poverty.  We might think about a seemingly impossible dream.  This is the idea of a future world where Israeli and Palestinian children might play together in peace.  My opinion is that the organization Playgrounds for Palestine is working to make this dream a reality.               


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