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OPT: Refugee stories - UNRWA's Area Staff Union raise $125,000 for Beit Hanoun

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Gaza, May 2007. In an extraordinary display of solidarity, UNRWA workers in Gaza have raised USD125 000 for families in the long suffering northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. UNRWA's Area Staff Union (ASU) hosted a ceremony on 4 May in Gaza to celebrate this incredible achievement and to announce the distribution of the funds to selected beneficiaries as of Saturday, 5 May.

At the event, UNRWA's Commissioner-General said that the case of Beit Hanoun was of the utmost importance to her, "I am sitting among you today and my heart goes out to those who suffered and are still suffering from the tragedy at Beit Hanoun". She confirmed that UNRWA would continue to support those dealing with the aftermath of the incursion.

The six-day siege of Beit Hanoun in early November 2006 saw 82 Palestinians killed and more than 26 injured, among them 18 children and 10 women. 19 members of the Al Athamna family were killed when their house was hit by tank shells on 9 November. UNRWA social workers and engineers determined that 80 houses were either totally or partially demolished and more than 1000 houses were damaged during the incursion by the Israeli military.

The people of Beit Hanoun will never forget what passed during the incursion and they will never cease to feel the pain of having lost their loved ones. Yet amidst this sorrow and suffering, a humbling display of the strength of the human spirit has emerged.

The ASU initiated an appeal in the days following the siege to raise money for those left to deal with the destruction. At a time when everyone is struggling to help their own extended families to cope with the current economic situation, over 5000 staff, or 55 percent of local staff working in Gaza, contributed to the ASU project. Over 40 Gaza staff donated more than four days' salary to the appeal.

Friday 4 May 2007 witnessed the celebration of the display of compassion and kinship between the members of the ASU and the people of Beit Hanoun. The festival commemorating their generosity was attended by UNRWA's Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, John Ging along with the President of the Municipality of Beit Hanoun and tens of UNRWA employees. The festival was also attended by a number of beneficiaries of the funds that were raised.

Mohammad Aklok the Head of the Area Staff Union in the Gaza field office said in a speech at the event, "UNRWA employees have proved today that they not only carry out their duties at work but that they also go beyond the call of duty, donating from their own salaries to the families of Beit Hanoun."

Adel Eid the President of the ASU said "this donation emphasises the fact that we care and support the people of Beit Hanoun as employees of UNRWA, but also as people; people who have a deep rooted sense of what it means to be a community".

Of the USD125 000, USD51 500 will be distributed to 134 beneficiaries: USD300 for 54 families, USD400 for 47 families and USD500 for 33 families, confirmed Amir al-Mishal the Head of Services. He also pointed out that USD73 500 will be used to rebuild the clinic and a community centre benefiting countless families in the town of Beit Hanoun, which, to mark the residents' thanks, will be named after UNRWA employees.