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The writer in Gaza 15 years ago. The robed Palestinian is the owner of the ruined building in the background.
The writer in Gaza 15 years ago. The robed Palestinian is the owner of the ruined building in the background.

Mike, Hadi, Anwar and Zahari were among Malaysian volunteers who braved the Israeli bombings in occupied Gaza some 15 years ago.

They made their way into the Gaza Strip bringing relief supplies and cash to the oppressed Palestinians.

There were others too. There were Dr Bahari, Agi and Mokhtar, who also made their way through the Rafah Gate to help the Palestinians. The Gaza Strip, and not the West Bank, was the focal point where relief and assistance were provided.

Countless individuals and Malaysian non-governmental organisations made their way into Gaza to extend help — cash and kind — because the Palestinians there suffered from the Israeli blockade and sanctions.

The Palestinians in the West Bank suffer, too, in a different way. Israel robs the West Bank Palestinians of their land and property and converts them into settlements for their people.

In truth, Palestinians — whether they are in Gaza or the West Bank — are deprived of their rights and are prisoners in their own country. The Gaza Strip, having been bombarded by the Israeli military with mounting casualties in the last two decades, was the main target of NGO assistance.

I entered Gaza twice, both times with great difficulty and risks. Most, if not all, NGOs enter Gaza through the Rafah Gate, which is controlled by Israeli and Egyptian immigration officers, supported by the military.

One goes to the Rafah Gate after a minimum six-hour road trip from Cairo. There were countless military checkpoints within Egypt before one reached Rafah. And even after reaching Rafah, there’s no guarantee that entry into Gaza is automatic.

Apart from the sanctions imposed by Israel, Gaza also has to endure land, sea and air blockades. No medicines, construction materials and foodstuff can enter Gaza. But underground tunnels enabled traders to bring in some of these supplies at great risk to their lives.

Most Malaysian NGOs felt insulted when the Palestinian ambassador to Malaysia, Walid Abu Ali, claimed that donations from Malaysians to the Al-Aqsa mosque did not reach one of the three sacred mosques for Muslims all over the world.

Thankfully, before the matter escalated to unmanageable levels, the Foreign Ministry met Walid on Thursday seeking clarification. This was two days after Walid told a press conference that donations for Al-Aqsa did not reach the mosque.

It was then revealed by Walid at that meeting that he had no real knowledge whether the donations collected by Malaysian NGOs were specifically channelled to the Al-Aqsa Wakaf Department. It must also be pointed out that the Jordanian government manages the Al-Aqsa Wakaf Department.

One must forgive Walid for making such claims. Every Palestinian in the West Bank is prepared to give his/her life to protect the mosque. Indeed, many had already done so. Perhaps, a more structured format needs to be devised for such donations to Al-Aqsa.

Donations to Gaza have been fairly organised where local NGOs work with their counterparts in Gaza, which helps ensure the donations meet the desired objectives.

Perhaps the Palestinian ambassador should meet local NGOs and enjoy a cup of tea and smoothen things out directly. Only good can come out of it. Would you like me to organise that, Ambassador Walid?

Making wild accusations would not be good, and would not stop Malaysian NGOs from continuing to help the Palestinians. But a relationship based on mutual trust and goodwill can go a long way in reducing the burdens faced by Palestinians.

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Twitter: @aatpahitmanis

The writer is a former NST group editor. His first column appeared on Aug 27, 1995, as ‘Kurang Manis’

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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