I began my work in the Middle East in 1990 with a New York Times op-ed, “Small Lights in the Darkness.” This pressed for a peaceful resolution of the standoff between the U.S. and Iraq, as it threatened to flare into war. I then spent the next ten years developing a program called Project Dialogue, visiting schools and teachers in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and Jordan, seeking to foster cross-cultural understanding. In 2002, I launched Rebuilding Alliance, which we incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2003.
Rebuilding Alliance is dedicated to helping war-torn neighborhoods and villages rebuild homes that have been destroyed by war. We also promote citizen and diplomatic engagement worldwide, to help keep neighborhoods and villages safe. We work in partnership with Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs). We especially work to amplify the voices of Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers and their communities. We look forward to the day when every family has secured its right to a home, schooling, economic security, safety, and a promising future.
In 2014, Rebuilding Alliance learned how to provide aid to civilians in Gaza during 51 days of bombing by the Israeli Army (1,000 bombs per day). We used this knowledge again during the Israeli bombing campaigns of May 2021 and May 2023. And we are using it now.
I was greatly surprised in 2014 when one of our CBO partners first proposed a strategy that we now call the “agile emergency delivery approach.” How could we ship supplies into Gaza, when all its borders were closed and bombs were falling? Our partners explained that the local stores were full of goods – people just didn’t have any money to buy them. We needed to convince the stores that we would pay for emergency supplies and distribute them. And we did.
Through a complex, responsive process of promissory notes, international fund transfers, personal loans, vigorous fund-raising, and grant-making, we have succeeded in keeping thousands of people fed in Gaza during some of the worst days of their lives.
On October 7, 2023, I was in the air with a Congressional delegation, flying toward Gaza, intending to showcase some of our rebuilding projects there. Abruptly, our pilot announced that Israel had declared war, and our plane turned back toward the U.S. As soon as I got home, my team and I called our partner organizations on the ground in Gaza, just as the bombing started.
To all who have lost loved ones in this war, I send our deepest condolences.
Everything that we have ever experienced in our work and in our lives is needed now to keep families alive in Gaza.
We began October 9 by racing to distribute food and hygiene kits to families taking refuge with relatives — all in compliance with U.S. law. I took on personal debt to help get this started, knowing that our fund-raising would eventually meet our commitments. We started small, to give our CBO partners on the ground time to approve vendors and work out the details of purchasing despite the blockade. Thankfully, in the following weeks, many people have donated, and we have been able to expand our services. We are now delivering aid to Rafah, Khan Younis, Deir Al Balah, Beit Hanoun, and Gaza City – including food, water, hygiene kits, clothing (especially warm coats & underwear), blankets, mattresses, solar lights, formula, diapers, feminine hygiene supplies, and hospital gowns.
Displaced families have no way to cook. So our CBO partners have also organized ways to serve hot meals in the community. Right now, they are serving 10,000 hot meals per day.
It was a great relief when the World Food Program (WFP) approached Rebuilding Alliance with a proposal that we should be their first hot-meals partner in Gaza. With the WFP beginning to deliver foodstuffs – including wheat flour, bread, chickpeas, and beans – our CBO partners are ramping up to feed hot meals to 30,000 people per day.
Our partnership is called “By the Hands of Your People.” Following the example of our outstanding partner Mrs. Najah’s Kitchen, each of our five CBO partners in Gaza is now serving 2,000-3,000 hot meals per day from their own field kitchens.
Additionally, each CBO partner soon will be providing food supplies and wood to eight Neighborhood Kitchen Teams, each staffed by five home-based chefs — that’s 40 home-based kitchens serving meals in the community – and we will pay a stipend to each chef!
Of course, Gaza’s most urgent need is for a ceasefire. Rebuilding Alliance has been active in coalition efforts to press the U.S. Congress to press Israel to stop its indiscriminate attacks on the people of Gaza.
We are especially disturbed by Israeli violence against Christian churches in Gaza. Dating back to the 1st Century, the Holy Family Church in Gaza City ministers to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The nearby Church of Saint Porphyrius (now in ruins) is the third oldest Christian church in the world. Right now, 550 noncombatant Christians – including children, elderly, and disabled – are living as refugees in the Holy Family Church. Others are living in the remnants of Saint Porphyrius. On October 20, Israeli airstrikes hit Saint Porphyrius and killed 22 people. On December 16, two women inside Holy Family Church were targeted by Israeli snipers and shot dead.
As George Anton, a Holy Family parishioner, exclaimed to journalists, “We are innocent people. We have no involvement in politics or military activity whatsoever. We are civilians. Why should we be a target? For what?” Pope Francis rightly decried these sniper killings as acts of “terrorism.”
The King of Jordan, in response to international entreaties, directed an airdrop of food and medical supplies into Holy Family Church on December 24. We are grateful to all our partners who helped make this happen.
We are witnessing unfathomable death and destruction in the Gaza Strip, following huge loss of life in Israel. Until there’s a ceasefire and even after, Congress must do all it can to make Gaza families safe.
Thank you for all you are doing to help end this nightmare. ~~~
Donna Baranski-Walker is the Founder and Executive Director of Rebuilding Alliance. She lives in California, with her husband, Martin Fong, and is a member of Palo Alto Friends Meeting (PacYM).
All photos with this article are from Rebuilding Alliance.