Danny Muller, Portland resident and former executive director of Peace Action Maine, first traveled to Palestine in 2003 with Barbara Lubin, founder of the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA), a California-based non-profit humanitarian aid organization. "The humiliation and the indecency of how Palestinians were treated shocked me," he recalls. Since then, Muller has been back twice, working for MECA in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where close to 700,000 refugees live in 27 refugee camps. He's there right now, and the Phoenix caught up with him via email to talk about conditions in the camps, the implications of United States foreign policy, and why we should pay attention.
CAN YOU GIVE US BRIEF SYNOPSES OF THE TWO PROJECTS YOU'RE WORKING ON IN GAZA AND THE WEST BANK? While in Gaza, I've been volunteering at a local community organization that basically has a summer camp for children who live in refugee camps. I came to Gaza with 30 Flip cameras and am working with these wonderful kids to give them the tools to tell their own stories. Living in a refugee camp is so disheartening and difficult, and it is important to provide space for children to see themselves as something beyond victims.
The main work I am conducting is assessing, documenting, and implementing water desalination units at United Nations schools in Gaza. The organization I work with has built 38 so far, and we have plans for many more. There is a global water crisis, created and exacerbated by poverty, population growth, climate change, unsustainable agricultural practices, industrial pollution, regional conflicts, and now the privatization of water itself. But the water crisis in Gaza is one of the most extreme anywhere on the planet: 40 percent of Gaza's wells were destroyed by Israel three years ago during Operation Cast Lead, the underground aquifer is heavily depleted and filled with toxins such as pesticides, the Israeli government prevents access to water as a tool of collective punishment, and more than 90 percent of all the water consumed does not meet World Health Organization standards.
WHAT IS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION AMERICANS (OR MAYBE EVEN MORE SPECIFICALLY, MAINERS) HAVE ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST? I think for good reason we just don't think about Gaza. I mean, I can barely pay my rent most of the time. Living in Maine is great in so many ways but everyone I know is busting their ass so hard just to get by and try and pay their bills. I mean where the hell can you find work and get a living wage? So we are busy, or attached to screens and TVs, or just not exposed to Gaza and other places in the world, so we have one-dimensional views of other countries if we have any view at all: "Haitians are poor, Arabs are terrorists, Chinese make iPhones, etc." So generally there is no incentive or reason to know about Palestine, and there is so much misinformation that it takes a lot of work to wade through all of the shit to find out what the realities are . . . People here are suffering under the Israeli blockade, the Hamas government, and a US policy that gives our tax dollars to dictators throughout the region.