For three Fort Wayne young women, the situation in the West Bank area of the Middle East comes down to one issue — Palestinians' human rights.
Hoping to help educate people on the situation, Haneen Anabtawi, 17, founded a local chapter of the national organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
“We want to let people know human rights violations are going on,” said Anabtawi, who will be a senior this fall at Canterbury High School.
The Fort Wayne SJP chapter also includes Anabtawi's friends Sukaynah Abu-Mulaweh, 19, and her sister, Nusaybah Abu-Mulaweh, 22.
The nonprofit group organized its first major event June 20, a fundraising dinner in the ballroom at Walb Student Union at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
They donated half of the proceeds from ticket sales to the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund (PCRF), Anabtawi said. The PCRF works with doctor volunteers from the United States to provide medical care in America and in Palestine to Palestinian children who were born with a serious illness or who were injured by warfare.
Anabtawi and the Abu-Mulawehs all are first-generation Americans. Their parents emigrated from the Palestinian area of the Middle East, mainly so their children could grow up in a safe place, the young women said.
They know of four or five Palestinian families living in Fort Wayne, which include a combined total of about 30 to 40 people.
However, many members of the young women's families remain in Nablus, a city in the central portion of the West Bank area of the Middle East, north of Jerusalem. About 2.7 million people live in the West Bank, an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Delaware, the CIA's “The World Factbook” reports.
The young women's visits to Nablus — Anabtawi for three months last year and the Abu-Mulawehs three years ago — gave them a first-hand look at the struggles of daily life there.
“It makes us appreciate what we have (here),” said Nusaybah, who is pursuing a graduate degree in computer engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette.
In the West Bank, “it's all destruction,” she said.
Homes are old and pocked with bullet holes, she said. Others haven't been repaired from damage sustained during fighting between Palestinians and the Israeli military.
People frequently must pass through Israeli military checkpoints while going about their daily business, adding time and hassle to simple tasks.
The Israeli government also controls the supplies of electricity and water, and there are frequent interruptions in service, the young women said.
“There, it's, 'Do we have enough water to take a shower, for cooking?'” Nusaybah said.
There is no freedom of speech, said Sukaynah, a computer engineering major at IPFW. And some of their family members are not allowed to leave their city, Anabtawi said.
In addition, there is always the threat of getting caught in a gun battle.
“We never have to worry (here) about if I'm going to die on the way to school today,” Nusaybah said.
They haven't lost any immediate family members yet, they said. “If you are there, each of them knows somebody — they either are detained or have passed away,” Nusaybah said.
Anabtawi, who eventually wants to go to law school, hopes their SJP chapter can make people more aware of the daily struggles facing Palestinian people and encourage people here to research the situation and form their own opinions.
She doesn't know how many people have joined the local chapter, she said. They will begin holding regular chapter meetings once school begins this fall.
She stays in contact with SJP chapters in bigger cities, such as Chicago, and the local group may work with them on larger joint events. SJP chapters also want to focus attention on other locations where members believe human rights are under threat, such as in Syria and Egypt, she said.
“It's a human cause,” Nusaybah said. “It's like Martin Luther King said: 'Injustice
anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"