Four eyewitnesses who helped deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip spoke about their experiences Monday night in Mumford Hall at an event sponsored by the Muslim Student Organization.
The speakers were affiliated with Viva Palestina, a humanitarian group founded by British Parliament member George Galloway in order to help the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. Viva Palestina has sent two humanitarian aid convoys with medical supplies and vehicles into the Gaza Strip. A third convoy will leave in December.
Viva Palestina volunteer event coordinator Mohamed El-Housiny returned to Gaza for the first time in approximately 20 years on the Viva Palestina convoy in July 2009. He said he stood on top of the rubble of a building destroyed in the Gaza War and gazed at the rubble-littered ground against the moonlit Mediterranean backdrop.
"You're just blown away," El-Housiny said. "You feel like all your senses are heightened. You get this adrenaline rush. You see how fragile life is. They wake up every day, and they don't know if they're going to live."
El-Housiny's guide brought the Viva Palestina volunteers to see the building he had been trapped under at one point in the Gaza War, which occurred during December 2008 and January 2009. He showed a picture of himself bloodied and buried under the rubble.
El-Housiny's co-volunteer Thaer Ahmad said their guide told them it was impossible to remove all the bodies from underneath the building he had been trapped underneath.
"I didn't know what to do," Ahmad said. "I just wanted to get on the floor and pull somebody out, to bring peace to a family."
El-Housiny encountered many scenes of devastation including schools dented by bullet holes, kids running barefoot and a woman cradling her baby in the balcony of a half-ruined building. He said these scenes shocked and moved him.
"You can never really love something, stand up for something, feel the pain that they're feeling to the full extent, unless you've been there," El-Housiny said.
MSO Vice President Belal Al-Rawi said he hoped people who attended the event would become aware of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. MSO members e-mailed professors and put up fliers in order to raise awareness about the event.
"There are a lot of people there who have nothing to do with the politics, and they're suffering," Al-Rawi said. "They don't have electricity, water or food. They don't have access to basic necessities. I wanted to share their experiences with students so they can broaden their perspectives."
Some groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, have suggested donations to Viva Palestina could possibly be funding Hamas, labeled by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. To address concerns, Viva Palestina wrote a response on its Web site to emphasize all donations fund humanitarian aid. Viva Palestina National Organizer Fatima Mohammadi said the organization's nonprofit fiscal partner, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, receives and documents all funds.
Mohammadi said Viva Palestina is not affiliated with any political or religious organization. She also said many Jews, including a group of four Rabbis who wore shirts that read "Jews Not Zionists," went on the Viva Palestina convoy.
"If people can see how devastating the siege is, the participation of other people will lead to change," Mohammadi said. "People will start to participate and call for the siege to end. Slowly we can start rebuilding Gaza, and then we can start talking about actually getting to a place of self-determination."