GAZA CITY—Last night, I dreamt of Haiti. Something about the scene felt eerily familiar. The visions of people trapped under folded sheets of concrete, children crying out to family members they would never see again, and incapacitated hospitals overflowing with the dead and injured were so vivid that even after I opened my eyes, I still thought I was there. And then the early Islamic call to prayer brought me back to where I was—I had made it into the Gaza Strip from Israel the day before.
Last year, I visited Grassroots International’s partners and projects in Haiti right after spending time in Gaza over the summer. The people of Haiti were horrified with what had happened here during the 2008-09 attacks. They asked question after question about how Palestinians were coping. I told them that many of our partners’ offices were destroyed, making it even more challenging to provide services to their people when it was more important than ever. I shared stories of heartbreaking loss of life, to which Haitians offered words of solidarity and understanding. “It’s like the four hurricanes that hit our island,” one friend said, “one minute it’s bad, but when hell breaks loose, you only wish that you could return to what you thought was unbearable.” Now Haiti’s nightmare since the earthquake has captured the world’s attention. Similar to Gaza, many of our partners and friends have lost family members, colleagues, homes, and workspaces. I have yet to hear from others and no way to connect with them. And here in Gaza, a people intimately familiar with the face of suffering rally in solidarity. On the road from the Erez border to Gaza City, my driver Said immediately brought up Haiti. “I can’t imagine how awful it is,” he asked while we passed the remnants of bombed buildings and agricultural lands that still bore the footprints of military tanks more than a year after the war. Friends here have repeatedly asked me if I have any new word from Haiti and if there is anything they can do to help. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are still homeless a year after the attack—yet local groups are collecting funds and material supplies to channel to Haitians via the Red Cross and have taken to the streets to show their support. I am humbled by what I am seeing here and feel privileged to be learning from such a steadfast people. Over the coming days, I will be visiting many of the grassroots projects that define locally led development in the wake of disaster—groups that Grassroots International has worked with through years of hardship. I still think about Haiti all the time, and I look forward to revisiting the work there and bringing to our Haitian partners words of hope from Palestinians who understand some of what they are going through. Somehow, being in Gaza brings me closer to Haiti than I ever thought I could be from thousands of miles away. Photo above: Buildings destroyed in Gaza more than a year ago look very much like those in Port-au-Prince today.