By Susan Schwartz, TMO
The Palestine Childrenâ€™s Relief Fund (PCRF) is familiar to readers of The Muslim Observer for its charitable work with children of the Middle East. Needy children are treated either in their native land or brought to Dubai or the United States and, after treatment, are able to enjoy an enhanced life.
The CEO of this childrenâ€™s charity, the largest in the world, Steve Sosebee, is, by his own choice, less well known. Steve eschews publicity for himself; his only focus is on the children who need him.
Recently four children were brought to the United States from war torn Gaza for treatment. Two of them, 20 month old twin girls, are known to readers of The Muslim Observer. Lamis and Reemas are being treated in Los Angeles and recently completed surgery at Shrinersâ€™ Hospital for severe bone deformity in their legs. The road to recovery will be long, but they now have a chance to lead a normal life.
Eight year old Merhan is being treated at Chicagoâ€™s Shriners Hospital for a congenital deformity. One of her legs is longer than the other, and that makes it virtually impossible for her to walk any distance without pain. Surgery will fix this, and she can look forward to normal activities.
Eleven year old Muath lost a leg to cancer at age 6. He is living with a host family in Dearborn and will be fitted with a prosthetic leg, allowing him to do exactly what other children do.
All four children are being treated free of charge thanks to the work of PCRF.
The PCRF originated with children in the West Bank of Palestine and then expanded to include Gaza. Steve was in Gaza when Israel initiated the recent hostilities. He has, of course, been busier than ever. However Steve has consented to an interview with The Muslim Observer.
Herewith his story.
THE MUSLIM OBSERVER: Steve, thank you for your time. I imagine your hectic life has become even more so since the initiation by Israel of hostilities. Can you tell us where you were at the outbreak of this last attack by Israel?
STEVE SOSEBEE: I was in Ramallah and entered Gaza by the third day and stayed there a few hours before the cease-fire.
TMO: How long has the PCRF been in Gaza?
STEVE SOSEBEE: We started helping kids in Gaza in 1991, when the PCRF was founded. One of the first cases we brought from Gaza was a triple amputee from Khan Younis, who went to the Shriners Hospital in LA for prosthetics.
TMO: When you established a PCRF presence in Gaza, did you have to endure much red tape vis a vis government officials before you could operate there?
STEVE SOSEBEE: No, it was under military occupation and it was easier to work then, back in 1991.
TMO: Can you describe your relationship with Gaza NGOs.
STEVE SOSEBEE: We have our own staff and implement our own projects on the ground in Gaza.
TMO: Can you describe the behavior of the population when the attack came?
STEVE SOSEBEE: : People were afraid for their children because many places in the middle of the city were being bombed and everyone was aware of the high number of casualties, especially among children because there was a lot of media there and it was going out immediately on TV. On the other hand, people were very strong and determined. I saw great humanity and courage among everyday people there. Common acts of generosity, people helping people.
TMO: The people of Gaza know that civilians are not safe from Israel: what actions are taken to protect school children and hospital patients?
STEVE SOSEBEE: Schools were closed and families kept their children at home. Unfortunately, most of the injured and killed children were in their own homes that were hit by bombs.
TMO: Visitors to Gaza often speak of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) among children in Gaza as they live in a state of siege. Have you observed this yourself? If so, please describe it.
STEVE SOSEBEE: Yes, of course it is a serious problem is nearly all of the children in Gaza. Kids are more aggressive in their interactions with each other, they also regress back to bed wetting, have nightmares and are easily disturbed by loud noises. They also have trouble concentrating in school.
TMO: Did you personally witness the use by Israel of White Phosphorus?
STEVE SOSEBEE: While it was used in 2008-2009, there are no known acts of it being used in 2012 in Gaza. We heard rumors but never saw any proof.
TMO: Did you witness or hear from what you would consider reliable sources the use of depleted Uranium by Israel?
STEVE SOSEBEE: No, I have no information on that.
TMO: Did government leaders such as Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh move among the people as part of the response? Did he actively direct Gaza response including civil defense?
STEVE SOSEBEE: As I mentioned already, I have no information on the Hamas leaders in Gaza. We are working to provide humanitarian medical care for children. We are not involved with political issues or sources there. I did not see him.
TMO: There is a Christian population in Gaza, albeit a small one. Could you describe how Gazans who are Muslim and Gazans who are Christian work together? There are those in the West who portray them as antagonists. Your take on this, please.
STEVE SOSEBEE: While Hamas is a fundamentalist organization, for the most part the Christian population there live at peace with their neighbors and are protected by the regime. I donâ€™t think there is any real problems between the two communities in Gaza. They all suffer from occupation and the siege equally. It might be harder for Gaza Christian women to go uncovered, for example, but officially they are protected and respected.
TMO: In an op ed piece in The Cleveland Plain Dealer you mentioned attending a funeral for a two year old child killed by Israeli action. You further mentioned that as an American you stood out yet received no hostile looks nor were you on the receiving end of hostile actions. This quality of the Palestinian people – the rare ability to focus on those responsible for actions without a scatter gun approach is rare indeed. Could you comment further?
STEVE SOSEBEE: The Palestinians have been able to separate the actions of the US government from the American people, and for that they deserve to be acknowledged for their political maturity. People in Gaza want only the world to see their situation in this open-air prison, the refugee camps, the poverty, the children who are being killed and injured, to know the truth. They feel, rightly so, that once common Americans see the truth, they will understand better the root cause of this conflict.
TMO:Could you list medical supplies that are in short supply in Gaza now? Also, volunteers in Gaza have commented on the shortage of ambulances. Have you found this to be true?
STEVE SOSEBEE: No, there are plenty of ambulances. There was a shortage of much-needed anesthesia supplies and anti-biotics in the ICU when I visited, to treat children. Most all disposables are in short supply.
TMO: What is your opinion of the manner in which the western media has covered the hostilities? Please name names.
STEVE SOSEBEE: I have not really been paying attention to the Western Media. I have very limited time in my work and wasting it on biased reporting is not an efficient way to try to be positive here.
TMO: Now that some little time has passed since cessation of hostilities, could you describe the situation on the ground in Gaza at present?
STEVE SOSEBEE: There is the rebuilding phase now. People are trying to assess the damage to try to get back to work, educating their children and doing the best they can under very difficult political and economic conditions.
TMO: Do you have a message for our readers?
STEVE SOSEBEE: We have a duty and a responsibility to not wait for politicians on any side to help here. It is up to us to unify our efforts and work for peace, freedom and justice in Palestine through positive action, that heals rather than destroys and brings people together to show our solidarity with the people living under these extreme conditions.
The Muslim Observer wishes to thank Steve for his time. More information about this now vast organization is available at their web site: www.pcrf.net.