The Middle East Children’s Alliance: 1988-2010
The Middle East Children's Alliance was founded by Barbara Lubin and Howard Levine in 1988 after Barbara returned from her first trip to Palestine and Israel at the beginning of the first Intifada. She had witnessed the grave injustice, poverty and violence of the Israeli occupation paid for with US tax dollars. Both she and Howard decided to speak out about what was happening to Palestinian children and also to raise money for projects in the West Bank and Gaza that would help make life a little bit better for the children.
For the first two years MECA led delegations of groups to Palestine, supported community food cooperatives run by women in the West Bank and Gaza, held educational events about Palestine, and organized demonstrations to end US support for Israel. We sent our first shipment, which included warm winter clothes and baby formula, to Palestine.
MECA's work expands to Iraq
In 1990, during the build up to the Gulf War, MECA Director Barbara Lubin organized a small delegation to go to Iraq and meet with officials and ordinary people on the streets, at the universities, and in the hospitals. Barbara returned to Iraq with photojournalist George Azar six weeks after the massive bombing campaign by the "Coalition of the Willing" led by the United States.
"What we found was shocking. All the bridges were bombed, entire neighborhoods were gone. We had to help people dig through the rubble looking for loved ones or a toy, something to remind them of their lives before the war. Every home we went into had lost at least one child and I watched mothers mix infant formula with putrid water to feed their babies."
After the war, there was a brutal war of sanctions that lasted for 13 years and killed 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5. MECA worked with Voices in the Wilderness, churches, and other international organizations to bring millions of dollars of food and medical aid to the starving, sick and injured children in Iraq.
In 2001, MECA and Voices in the Wilderness bought a school bus, took out the seats, built beds and desks for computers, and named the bus in memory of an Iraqi child who was killed by sanctions. The "Remembering Omran" bus traveled across the US stopping at high schools, universities and churches. Activists got off the bus to show videos about the war and the sanctions, to speak about their first-hand experiences in Iraq and to dispell the lies our government was telling about weapons of mass destruction. The bus travelled at least 5000 miles collecting school supplies at each stop to be sent to children in Iraq. Though MECA is no longer an organizer, the bus still travels across the US educating people about the situation in Iraq and Palestine under the name "Wheels of Justice."
Since the US invasion in 2003, it has been extremely difficult to deliver aid. But MECA has managed to send $350,000 of medicine in 2005 and $758,000 in medicine and medical supplies to a pediatric hospital in Baghdad in 2007.
Throughout the years of war and sanctions in Iraq, MECA continued to support programs for children in Palestine. MECA has had a special relationship with the youth in Dheisheh Refugee Camp. We have supported a women's embroidery collective, computer center and many educational workshops on health and nutrition in the camp. In 1999 MECA brought a dance troupe of 20 children and their leaders to the United States. The children performed traditional Palestinian debkah and theatrical choreography that tell the stories of Palestinian refugees in theaters, schools and churches across the country. MECA raised close to $200,000 on this trip and the same amount in 2003 and 2005 when the children came back to perform. The funds from the three tours enabled the community build a four-story guest house with a restaurant, computer center, and mutiprupose hall and a five-story women's building which houses a kindergarten, children's library, mental health clinic and other projects for women. The tours were also an opportunity for children from Palestine and children in the US to get to know each other.
In 2002, Israeli tanks and helicopters invaded Dheisheh Camp and soldiers took over one of the buildings. They used the roof as a sniper’s nest and critically wounded four small children. Then they destroyed most of what was inside the center. MECA, along with other partners, rebuilt the center.
MECA’s work in Palestine keeps growing in new directions. MECA's scholarship program in the West Bank and Gaza has helped many talented young people get the education that they deserve. Last year, 100 students were able to attend universities in Palestine thanks to scholarships from MECA. Four young boys and one girl had the opportunity to graduate from colleges here in the US.
MECA Director of Gaza projects, Dr. Mona El-Farra has facilitated emergency aid distribution for MECA and support for remarkable projects in refugee camps like a soccer team, libraries and play rooms, summer camps, health education and most recently, the Maia Project.
In September 2009, MECA launched the Maia Project, a long-term initiative to address one of the most harmful features of the Israeli Occupation and the blockade of Gaza: Water. Our partner, Afaq Jadeeda Association, coordinates the Maia Project installations in Gaza. By the end of 2009, MECA provided funds for clean drinking water systems in two kindergartens and five large elementary and middle schools in Gaza.
But our aid work in Palestine also continues. In January 2009 Director Barbara Lubin and Gaza Projects Director Dr. Mona El-Farra flew to Cairo during the brutal Israeli attacks to meet a four-ton shipment of medicine and medical supplies coming from Europe that MECA had arranged months before. This in-kind shipment, valued at $1.6 million, was delivered to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip who then distributed it to local hospitals and clinics. While in Cairo, Barbara and Mona purchased and delivered more than seven tons of powdered milk, fortified children’s cereal, an ambulance, wheelchairs, and surgical instrument—as well as a full truckload of art and school supplies. During the bombardment and invasion, MECA sent funds to our partner organization, Afaq Jadeeda Association to buy and distribute food, blankets, and plastic sheets to cover broken windows.
MECA's Work at Home
While MECA works to address the terrible harm done to children in the Middle East, we know that only a just and lasting political solution will protect their lives and their rights. As a US organization we work to educate people here and do everything we can to change public opinion and stop our financial support for the state of Israel. Since 1988 MECA has brought the reality of children’s lives to tens of thousands of people through public events and the media. We have organized dozens of demonstrations and actions to protest war, occupation and sanctions against the children.
Reflecting on twenty-two years of work, MECA Director Barbara Lubin says: “It’s hard not to get discouraged when day after day children are killed and maimed, land is stolen, homes are destroyed. A fourth generation is growing up in refugee camps. Palestine and the Palestinians are in real danger of extermination. But somehow my perspective becomes more optimistic when I’m there and I see first-hand the strength and vitality of so many people. And I see more and more people here willing to speak out, standing up to the smear tactics of the pro-Israel side, contributing their time and money. I am extremely grateful to our partners in Palestine for carrying out such important work, and for all the people who, through MECA, are giving children the chance to live, to just be children, and to envision a better future for themselves, their families and their country."