Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 2008, page 65

Waging Peace

Gazan Students in Ohio Describe Life Back Home

As part of a series of events hosted this year by the Interfaith Council of Cleveland for Peace in the Middle East (IFC), Akram Ijla, assistant deputy minister of tourism and antiquities of the Palestine Territories, and Wasim Al Habil, former UNRWA assistant chief of the field education program in Gaza, spoke to a Cleveland group Feb. 16 about life in Gaza. The two Ph.D. students at Cleveland State University came to Ohio from Gaza almost two years ago to pursue their doctoral degrees as part of a scholarship program known as the Palestinian Faculty Development Program (PFDP), funded in part by USAID.

Since their arrival in Ohio, Ijla and Habil, who are pursing doctorates in economic development and public administration respectively, have discussed the realities of life in Gaza with members of the surrounding northeast Ohio community, working with groups such as the IFC and the Middle East Peace Forum, among others.

Their personal mission, as Ijla describes it, is to begin a personal interface engagement between Americans and Gazans. As part of this effort, the two spoke to a group of peace activists in Cleveland and described the plight of non-ID-carrying Palestinians in the occupied territories, the electoral and economic consequences of living without identification, roadblocks to movement in the territories, the presence of illegal settlements in the West Bank and, most of all, the day-to-day realities for those living in Gaza under the current Israeli siege.

In furtherance of their mission to foster direct dialogue between Americans and Gazans, Ijla has launched a drive to gather personal letters as well as clothing and goods from Americans for families in Gaza that he will take with him on his return home in March. For more information on how to contribute, or to find out about upcoming IFC events in the Northeast Ohio area, please contact IFC member Jeff Abood at <[email protected]>.

—Jehan Mullin