9 May 2011
Stuart Littlewood describes how Palestinian rights activist Ken O’Keefe and survivors of Gaza’s Samouni family, may of whom were murdered by Israeli troops in 2008-09, have pooled their efforts to launch a project designed to promote self-reliance among Gazans through trade.
”Social enterprise” is one way to goO’Keefe served as a US marine. Now a peace activist, he is remembered especially for his part in resisting the Israelis' murderous assault in international waters on the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel in the Free Gaza flotilla last year.
The economic strangulation of the tiny coastal enclave by Israel's five-year blockade and the devastation to homes, factories, infrastructure and livelihoods caused by the blitzkrieg of 2008-09 (Operation Cast Lead) and the daily air-strikes ever since, not to mention US and EU sanctions, have caused chronic suffering and despair.
As O'Keefe puts it:
Parents are not only unable to protect their children from Israeli aggression but also incapable of providing even the bare essentials without the aid. Children become both witness and victim of this reality. Many begin to lose respect for their parents, and that in turn causes parents to suffer from diminishing self-respect and depression.Aid has become institutionalized, he says, and people in Gaza see it as their only means to live. Their dignity has been stolen. Long-term aid is an insidiously destructive weapon, destroying society from within.
At the root of all this is the blockade and the inability to conduct trade.
In an effort to make a worthwhile contribution, O'Keefe and the family have launched a joint “social enterprise” initiative comprising Aloha Palestine CIC (Community Interest Company) and the Samouni Project. Both are EU-registered non-profit companies.
Aloha Palestine is a community interest trading company, while the Samouni Project Mission plans to provide long-term quality education along with community services to over 200 members of the Samouni family as well as residents of surrounding Zeitoun in Gaza. To date the Samouni Project has planted an olive tree orchard, built a playground, procured a classroom/community centre and recruited teaching staff who are now developing the curriculum. Textbooks, computers, art and craft materials, school supplies, science equipment, teaching aids and musical instruments have been collected and are waiting in London. The next task is to deliver all this to Gaza then provide for the running costs of teaching staff and administration amounting to around GBP 2,400 a month.
Aloha Palestine's function is to transport and deliver these items so that the classroom can be completed and classes begin.
“Doctors and engineers are picking up trash in Gaza today because it is the only job they can find”Aloha Palestine is assembling an international trade convoy which plans to leave London early in July arriving Gaza three weeks later. Among the drivers are members of the Samouni family. Any attempt to block it, says O'Keefe, will be seen as denying the Samouni community and its children the education they are entitled to.
Besides school equipment, I’m told the cargo will include textiles and building materials, industrial machinery and equipment geared towards economic development and the rebuilding of Gaza. After offloading in Gaza the vehicles will be reloaded with made-in-Palestine products for export.
"Palestinians are more than capable of standing on their own two feet," says O'Keefe, "but our collective failure to direct our energy at the root of the problem has relegated them to the status of beggars. Doctors and engineers are picking up trash in Gaza today because it is the only job they can find. And they are the lucky ones who at least have a job.
Samouni InterTrade Palestine (SIP) intends to confront the problem head-on and eliminate this injustice by proactive, as opposed to reactive, means. It is a social enterprise collaboration. The nature of a social enterprise is to tackle social problems within business models. Between us we have the wisdom of Palestinian culture, the understanding of the Western market and mindset, we are young and old, we are internet and social media savvy, and we have significant backing from around the globe. Success will create jobs in Egypt, Europe and Palestine.
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