Tag: Israel

Gift of the Givers Gaza Head “Paid the Ultimate Sacrifice”

By Matthew Hirsch for GroundUp

A “gentle and loving” person who “paid the ultimate sacrifice” for making sure those who needed it received aid. This was how Ahmed Abbasi, who headed the Gift of the Givers office in Gaza, was remembered at an interfaith memorial service in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, on Sunday evening.

At least 400 people came to pay their respects. Several faith leaders were in attendance as well as government officials, including Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and former international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

Gift of the Givers’ Western Cape project coordinator Ali Sablay told GroundUp that Abbasi and his brother, Mustafa, were killed by a missile while returning from their morning prayer.

Abbasi leaves behind his wife and three children. They have been relocated to a place of safety.

Sablay said that Abbasi was responsible for setting up a women and children care centre, three desalination plants, supplying medicines to hospitals, and more.

“He was the head of this operation and in the last 40 days of this war, he’s been remarkable in the work he’s been doing in getting aid to those affected. He had the option to relocate but he said he could not leave the people behind. He stayed on with his family. Unfortunately, he paid the ultimate price.”

Sablay said the organisation backed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to refer members of the Israeli government to the International Criminal Court (ICC). “We support the political parties that are asking that the Israeli ambassador be expelled. This is not an act of war, this is an act of genocide,” he said.

Reverend Michael Weeder, dean of the cathedral, led the service. Reverend Allan Boesak gave the sermon.

Megan Choritz read out a letter of condolence on behalf of South African Jews for a Free Palestine. “There has never been a moment of crisis where Gift of the Givers has not stepped up and offered help, solace, dignity and hope to those affected. Please, in this dark moment for you and your organisation, accept our prayers, solidarity and support.”

“We will continue to speak up, continue to disavow any claims that this war is waged in our names, or in the name of Judaism,” she said.

The service was interspersed with hymns, songs and poetry readings. Several faith leaders addressed the congregation.

In a pre-recorded message, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, thanked Father Weeder for organising a memorial service for someone he had never met. “This is not a head of state, a minister, or a person of high rank. He’s just an ordinary Palestinian, but he works for Gift of the Givers and that makes him special, even if I say so myself.”

In an interview with GroundUp last month, Sooliman described Gaza as “the worst situation in the world because there is no exit route”.

“You can’t get out. The area is so small. It’s so easy to bomb it … Nobody can have a safety plan. Where are you going to hide? There’s no such thing as safety in Gaza,” he said.

The New York Times reported last week that over 100 aid workers in Gaza have been killed in the past five weeks.

Republished from GroundUp under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Source: GroundUp

Gift of the Givers is on the Ground in Gaza

Imtiaz Sooliman calls for negotiations and compromise. “The only way to solve the problem is to do what is just.”

Haitham Najjar (left) of The Gift of the Givers Foundation helping to distribute water in Gaza. Photo supplied

By Matthew Hirsch for GroundUp

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of The Gift of the Givers Foundation, has appealed for negotiations, compromise and peace in the Middle East. The respected South African aid organisation has had a presence in Gaza for nine years.

Gift of the Givers doesn’t have an office in Gaza. Instead, the team of three people moves around distributing medical supplies, food and water. They are also involved in a women and child care centre, a health facility, and schools.

Sooliman says the organisation wants to send more people. “We are preparing to send medical teams but only if it’s not any risk to them.” He says a ceasefire or safe corridor is needed before the teams can enter Gaza. The organisation has 40 medical personnel ready to go in, Sooliman told GroundUp.

On Sunday Gift of the Givers reported that the team has been under severe physical and mental stress.

In 2014 Israel attacked Gaza for seven weeks. Sooliman said his team is reporting that this time it’s completely different. “They said it’s so difficult to move around. There’s so much anxiety and so much fear. The amount of bombs being dropped has never happened before.”

On Tuesday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that 4200 people have been killed, and over one million people displaced, in just ten days, while large areas of the Gaza strip have been reduced to rubble.

The death toll includes a large number of women and children, as well as at least 11 Palestinian journalists, 28 medical staff and 14 UN workers. It also includes over 1300 Israelis, mostly civilians, killed by Hamas on 7 October.

Sooliman said that Gaza’s people face challenges with access to food and water. “Because there’s no electricity, the sewage plants don’t work. Because they can’t do burials, the decomposed bodies are going to cause infections. Because hospitals don’t have antibiotics, there’s a threat of infection there.

“They managed to do some mass funerals yesterday. As the bodies are coming in they are doing it straight away. There are thousands of bodies lying under the rubble that they can’t reach. They don’t have the equipment, they don’t have the personnel, but above all, it’s bloody dangerous to get there,” said Sooliman.

Sooliman said that he had a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador and South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Department on Monday in an attempt to get a humanitarian aid corridor open. “We are also looking at flying supplies on a cargo plane from South Africa and sending trucks to the border in Cairo.”

Asked how this situation compared to other humanitarian relief efforts the organisation had been involved in, Sooliman responded: “This is the worst situation in the world because there is no exit route. You can’t get out. The area is so small. It’s so easy to bomb it … Nobody can have a safety plan. Where are you going to hide? There’s no such thing as safety in Gaza.”

Gaza is only 350km2. It could fit into Cape Town nearly seven times, yet it has half Cape Town’s population.

Sooliman described Israel’s call to evacuate more than one million people from the north to the south of Gaza as “quite ludicrous”. “How can you move 1 million people in 24 hours when there’s no fuel and no cars? Where are you going to go to? Everything is bombed. How do you move an intensive care unit patient?”

He also called for restraint from both sides. “Civilians cannot be attacked in a war and that applies to both sides … At the end of the day, both sides must remember that there is no winner in war. Everybody loses out. The only way to solve this problem in the Middle East is to make peace, act rationally and make compromises.”

“This is not a thing about Jews against Muslims; it’s human against human. It’s not a religious thing, it’s a human thing … it’s about humanity. It’s in the interests of all parties to make compromises. The only way to solve the problem is to do what is just,” he stressed.

“When you act justly you will have peace, prosperity and peace in the entire region. Nobody loses out. Actually everybody gains more. They should go to the negotiating table, make compromises and give a just solution. If you do that then we never have to send any more supplies to the Middle East again,“ Sooliman added.

He said Gift of the Givers were accepting donations for their work in Gaza.

Republished from GroundUp under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Source: GroundUp

South African Variant Escapes Pfizer Vaccine More Easily

The South African variant escapes protection of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine better than other forms of the virus, Israeli experts said Sunday.

The study by Tel Aviv University and Clalit Health Services, Israel’s largest healthcare provider, compared patients with COVID, 400 unvaccinated patients to 400 partially or fully vaccinated ones.

Less than one percent of COVID cases in Israel were due to the South African variant. However, among the 150 people who were fully vaccinated yet had developed COVID, “the prevalence rate [of the B.1.351 variant] was eight times higher than the rate in the unvaccinated [individuals],” the authors wrote.

“This means that the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, though highly protective, probably does not provide the same level of protection against the South African (B.1.351) variant of the coronavirus,” the authors added.

“The South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection,” said professor Adi Stern of Tel Aviv University’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, one of the study’s authors.

Prof Stern said that the study did not assess whether the eight people infected with the South African developed severe COVID.
“Since we found a very small number of vaccinees infected with B.1.351, it is statistically meaningless to report disease outcomes,” he said.

The possibility of reduced protection was already hinted at in two studies conducted by principal vaccine manufacturers Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, showing that the presence of antibodies after vaccination was less pronounced in people exposed to the B.1.351 variant. This marked the first real-world assessment of B.1.351’s ability to bypass a vaccine.

Israel’s vaccination campaign has seen 5.3 million people receive a first dose, while 4.9 million, or 53 percent of the population, have had two shots. 

Clalit’s earlier study on 1.2 million Israelis found that the Pfizer/BioNTech jab gave 94 percent protection against COVID.

Israel has eased many of its restrictions since its vaccine rollout, but various measures remain in place including mask-wearing and a “green passport” system that allows vaccinated people access to certain locations. With cases down 97% since January, Israel may have achieved “herd immunity”, according to Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Ran Balicer of Clalit said inoculations, plus mask-wearing and other safety measures had likely helped contain the B.1.351 variant, despite its apparent ability to break through the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

A combination of all these factors “are most likely… preventing the virus strains, including the South African one, from spreading” significantly in Israel, he said.

“As we taper down the non-pharmaceutical interventions, we must do so gradually to ensure we do not cross a threshold that would enable these variants to spread.”

Source: Medical Xpress

Real-world Results for Pfizer Vaccine Match Trials

Encouraging results have been reported from Israel, where the real-world efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine closely matches that seen in clinical trials.

Israel has engaged in the world’s most aggressive COVID immunisation schedule, with some 30% of its population vaccinated by late January with at least one dose.

Israeli health fund Clalit matched 600 000 vaccinated individuals to an equal number of unvaccinated individuals. Those who were vaccinated experienced a similar rate of positive COVID tests as was observed in clinical trial data, equating to a 94% effectiveness. Crucially, almost no severe cases of COVID were observed in vaccinated individuals. This pattern was also seen in the over-70s age group, which is generally underrepresented in trials.

Public health doctor Prof Hagai Levine said that high vaccination coverage of the most susceptible groups was key. However, he said that he could not give an answer as to what number needed to be vaccinated before containment measures could be eased. 

“We still don’t know what the impact is on transmission,” he said. But he added that “the vaccine is useful for personal protection”.

The greatest drop in cases was seen in the over 60s age group, and in areas which had been vaccinated, indicating that this was not the result of lockdown. However, many people still remain unvaccinated, resulting in tens of thousands of cases. Prof Segal noted that the fall in cases was not as rapid as had been hoped, due to the B.1.1.7 or UK strain becoming dominant in Israel.

“We still have to exit our lockdown very cautiously,” he warned, or else hospitalisations would spike again.

The fact that the same rate was observed in clinical trials is important news for other countries, which are watching to see the effects of Israel’s vaccination programme.

Source: BBC News