BROOKLYN – Even though Palestine is 5,694 miles away, people have taken to the streets in Brooklyn to amplify the voices of its people. Palestinians have fought for as long as they could remember. They have fought to stay in their homes, they have fought to get back into their homes, and more recently, they have been fighting against COVID-19. A group of young people in Brooklyn have come together to help and are raising $100,000 for COVID-19 relief for Palestinian refugees through Raise4Refugees.
Yousef Mahmoud Abou Areda is a 19-year-old Muslim man who lives in Park Slope. He is the youngest of four and is currently a pre-med student at Columbia University. During Ramadan in April, he saw countless instances of local Muslims engaging in humanitarian work for COVID-19 relief – Muslims Giving Back was feeding the homeless every night, several local organizations had gotten together to launch four food carts that gave out free halal iftar meals to everyone for a month. It all inspired him to take action.
“As Muslims, it is our duty to help those in need and minimize suffering in the world. The people of Palestine are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and in particular, refugee camps,” he said. “Many of these communities lack access to nearby hospitals, and traveling between the Palestinian territories, even for medical aid, is heavily restricted by Israeli authorities. As an aspiring physician, I find it necessary to utilize my resources and knowledge to heal others.”
Packed with refugees, Palestinian camps face grave threat if the coronavirus spreads, Reuters reported. How many refugees are in camps? Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East reported.
According to the Middle East Eye (MEE), the West Bank is struggling to contain the second wave of coronavirus infections, “after appearing to successfully ward off the pandemic with a strict weeks-long lockdown implemented in March.” Just yesterday, the Palestinian Authority recorded 65 coronavirus-related deaths in the Palestinian territories. And while this is happening, Israeli authorities demolished a Palestinian drive-through coronavirus testing center in the city of Hebron, south of the occupied West Bank, MEE reported.
This is all why raising money to help the Palestinians is so important for Areda and his group of friends that include Phoebe Donavan, Wisaam Salem, Salha Amin, Shela Akhter, Evan Bruner, Fatima Mazumder, and Mennah Soliman.
“Having grown up in an Egyptian household, Palestine was always a topic that I discussed with my parents,” Areda said. “Palestine is a symbol of bravery and strength in the face of an occupation that has oppressed them for decades. As an Arab Muslim, Palestine is dear to my heart and their liberation will always be a cause I advocate for. Raising money for a population that has been denied freedom for so many years is a true honor.”
His friends feel the exact same way. Most of the young people in Raise4Refugees attended Beacon High School on West 44th Street, which is how they know one another. Some are people Areda met from college, and some of them haven’t even met in person yet, but together, they are (virtually) fighting for a cause they believe in so dearly. For Areda, it was important to include Jewish, Muslim, and Palestinian voices in the group.
“There cannot be peace until we come to a consensus together and strive for peace. Unfortunately, Palestinians have been shunned from this conversation living in apartheid,” he explained. “While this new generation cannot erase the pain of the past generations, the diversity of this group shows that regardless of our background, we can work together for a brighter future. By working together, we can be a part of the generation that liberates Palestinians and solves a conflict that has raged for decades. We believe that if we educate each other and our peers, we can accept one another and unite for this cause.”
Phoebe Donovan is a 19-year-old Jewish woman attending Clarke University, currently studying Political Ecology and Education. She believes that those who are privileged enough to fight and work for causes like providing people with relief, most definitely should.
“The Israeli people are not at fault nor responsible for the inadequacy and actively harmful actions of the Israeli government. Israelis, and Palestinians alike, are all human beings seeking justice and home,” she said. “It’s important that there is heart and empathy at play on both ends. It is a human rights effort to protect the lives of Palestinian people and must be addressed with the importance of human life and anti-violence over political agenda.”
Evan Bruner is an 18-year-old Jewish man attending Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Currently, he’s living in Brooklyn teaching coding and video production to kids at a summer camp. He explained that refugees have always been close to his heart.
“My cousin Noor is a refugee whose family fled Iraq after her grandmother was killed. Even from knowing her, I can never truly imagine what it’s like being forced from your own home,” he said. “Right now, Palestinian refugees are met with horrible conditions. When these conditions are topped off with the coronavirus, it can make for a disaster. Together, we can provide COVID-19 relief for families and individuals already dealing with enough.”
Shela Akhter is a 19-year-old Muslim woman attending Hunter College. Her family is from Bangladesh and she explained that she was always aware of the refugee crisis– it was time she did something to help.
“Palestine is being neglected. As someone who wants to pursue a medical career, I believe that no matter the issues that arise between Palestinians and Israelis, they should work together to prevent COVID-19 from eradicating their people,” she said. “However, the negligence from the Israeli government is costing the lives of the Palestinians. This issue is not being covered by the media nor is it being addressed by the United States so I wanted to try and assist in any way possible.”
“Both Israelis and Palestinians are being affected by the pandemic and we need to work together to make sure both sides are safe. In addition, by aiding the Palestinians, our Jewish brothers and sisters can convince their community to realize the importance of this larger issue,” she continued. “Through this, we can pressure the Israeli government to properly provide the resources that the Palestinians need. The message I want to send is no matter the religion we choose to follow, we need to help the Palestinians because they are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and negligence from the Israeli government.”
The group is hoping to raise at least $100,000. Currently, they have raised $2,000. The money will go toward proving food packages, building water/sanitation facilities, distribution hygiene kits, and providing medical aid to those fighting the coronavirus. The money will be going directly to Islamic Relief USA, which will then bring aid to Gaza, the West Bank, and other areas in Palestine.
“The crises of violence and displacement toward Palestine hold a great significance at any moment, but particularly during a time of amplified resource insecurity. The way in which so many of us are able to idly sit through the valuing of certain lives over others is deeply haunting,” Donovan said. “It is so important for those of us who have the privilege to fight for these causes because we aren’t consumed by their dangers on a daily basis as Palestinians are, to fight. No community should have to fight to prove their own value as human beings, or their right to secure spaces and resources.”
For more information or to donate, check out their page here. You can also Venmo them at Raise4refugees.