A Message from Gaza: Rebuilding Zaher's Home
In May 2021, repeated attacks by the Israeli military on Gaza destroyed the housing complex where Zaher Sbaih, a long-time Peace Boat partner, lives. Peace Boat has worked for many years together with Zaher, a Gaza resident and humanitarian aid worker, on educational support for children and providing medical supplies to hospitals in Gaza. Zaher has also been a guest educator onboard Peace Boat on many occasions, as well as coordinated Peace Boat study and exchange visits to Palestinian refugee camps.
For Peace Boat, the rebuilding of Zaher’s home is a concrete step towards peace for Palestine. With this in mind, we called widely for donations to support this campaign. As a result, many people shared their generous contributions and messages of support, and a total of JPY 2,592,844 was raised. These funds have been sent to Gaza, and Zaher is now working with his family to rebuild their home and lives.
Thank you to all who have supported this campaign. We are glad to share some words from Zaher.
Can you tell us about your connection with Peace Boat? Any memory or experience you would like to share?
My connection with Peace Boat started in the early 2000s, when I worked for the General Union of Palestinian Students, the partner organisation of Peace Boat in Palestine at that time. I was one of the organisers of the Peace Boat visit in Gaza, and I arranged the activities and programmes, especially offering an opportunity for Peace Boat participants of homestay with Palestinian families at Jaballiah Refugee Camp to interact culturally and examine the refugee life conditions. Over the years Peace Boat is supporting the Palestinian community in different ways: holding statements and appeals, calling for justice for Palestinians, and calling for upholding the UN resolutions regarding the Palestinian issue, or by supporting them with food kits for war affected people, and educational means like school bags, stationery and toys for school children in Gaza.
I was invited to participate as a guest speaker on board several times. I was able to participate in the 35th, 37th and 43rd voyages. During my participation, I lectured onboard a series of lectures about the Israeli violations of the peace process, the history of Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Intifada, and the recent situation in Palestine. I engaged in various activities onboard or in the ports of call, like the charity auction for Palestinian students. In my second participation, I attended the star festival, Tanabata, on July 7 onboard. This was a known story, in which the weaver princess and the cow herder prince go across the bridge on the milky way to meet once a year on July 7. It is strange, but this event enables me to discover a continuous relationship with PB, because PB is not only a learning cruise to promote peace, sustainable development and respect for the environment. I realised the idea beyond this vision, which is to build sustainable bridges between people around the world, and advocate the rights and justice issues.
What is the situation for you and your family now in Gaza? And for general population living there everyday?
The situation in Gaza. When anybody asks me about the situation in Gaza, I wish my answer would be that the situation is getting better. But unfortunately, the situation deteriorated dramatically day after day. The Gaza Strip where I live suffers from a miserable situation of overcrowding, bad environment and health conditions. High unemployment at 45%, and poverty at 53% rates. Due to the access restrictions and blockade, 85% of the population is dependent upon humanitarian aid to survive. In addition, in the past 15 years, the Gaza Strip has witnessed a succession of devastating wars, the last of which ended on 21 May 2021, leaving hundreds of deaths and wounded. In this war my family and I lost our home, and it changed our lives to a displaced family, living in a rental flat. I was born and grew up in the refugee camp. The experience of displacement is still one of my big concerns. My wife Nasrin and I worked hard all our lives to avoid our kids to live the same experience. But in spite of our will, history repeated itself. My kids lost a sense of safety and wellbeing, and they have not recovered yet.
How is the progress of rebuilding of your home now?
When I received the Peace Boat donation, my wife and I agreed not to build just a shelter, but we have to build a dream home, at least, not less than the previous one. We started the design process. All my family was involved, and the process is taking their suggestions into account, which covers the basic construction of our home, such as the living space, 3 bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. Then, the engineering stage and the roof, home design plans, and we got building permits, we contracted with a contractor, and he started with the land refilling, and laying the foundations of our home. We finished all the structural constructions, columns, beams, roofing and walling. Now we are in the fixing stage. We will start soon installing electrical and lighting, then plastering.
What is the meaning for you of receiving support or solidarity from Japan and other countries?
My background as a refugee, my entire life priorities and investment are building a home, and raising my children properly. So, losing the home causes pressure and stress on me, and adds new challenges to my life. But the picture is not entirely bleak. All through the suffering and darkness, my friends all over the world, especially Peace Boat staff and friends, reach out directly, calling and texting every day .By offering their assurance, care and support, their solidarity, all the crisis period affected me a lot. I am not alone. Once again, I remember the Peace Boat bridges that are connecting people across the world, overcoming nationalities, races and religions. Really, my family and I highly appreciated the Peace Boat support, and the generous donations that enable us to recover, restore our lives and hope, and rebuild our home again.
What is your hope for your children’s future?
The future of my children. This question brings up so much emotion surrounding what the future holds for my kids. Simply, I hope for them happiness and health, love and wellbeing. I hope that life is fair to them. They are surrounding them with people who see the world, friends that cherish them. So, overall my wishes and ambition for my four little people are, that they are happy, to live in peace, love and prosperity.