Since its inception in 2011, the Gaza 5K Walk/Run, hosted by UNRWA USA, has raised funds for UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Program (CMHP), which supports  children in Gaza coping with PTSD and other psychological traumas. UNRWA USA works via fundraising, advocacy and outreach to support UNRWA’s work throughout the Middle East, particularly in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and to educate the American public about the realities of Palestinian refugees.
After spending the summer of 2014 in Israel working with Ir-Amim,  an organization working to strengthen a viable and equitable Jerusalem, Leanne Gale returned to Washington, DC. “I was feeling helpless and desperate,” she said. “It was the summer of the incursion on Gaza, and I thought a lot about how to show up in solidarity with the Palestinians as a Jew. Economic redistribution as a tool for implementing change makes sense to me,” said Gale. “There is no organized support in the Jewish community for Palestinian children, but we can take funds that would be funneled towards supporting settlements and the Occupation and put them towards supporting Palestinians.”
With Liya Rechtman, an Israeli-American living in DC, who, like Gale, describes herself as a “very casual runner,” Gale put together the “Jews for Gaza” team  to run the Gaza 5k, which took place in Washington’s Rock Creek Park on May 21. The team, made up of folks from all over the Jewish world in DC, united by their mutual desire to show up in support for  Palestinians as Jews, raised over $3,700.
Rechtman faced push back when discussing the 5K with her family, particularly in regard to the work on UNRWA, which has been a source of controversy since its inception in 1949. Most recently, during the 2014 conflict between Gaza and Israel, accusations were leveled by Israel at UNRWA about Palestinians using UNRWA’s ambulances to enable militants to travel. A number of UNRWA facilities were also destroyed by Israel, who claimed that Palestinians were using them to store weapons.
“People urged me not to get “sucked into” Palestinian narratives, to stay in the Jewish camp,” Rechtman said. “We as Jews understand communal trauma, so there was never any question for me as to whether or not this run was a natural place of solidarity.”  For Gale, recruiting for the event proved encouraging. “My Yiddish speaking grandmother donated. For her,  it was an obvious cause – supporting mental health care for children. It’s a real testament to the power of relationships.”
The day of the 5K was rainy, but runners are a determined people. Said Rechtman, “We did what we set out to do — bring together a young, transforming Jewish community open to different conversations about Israel and Palestine.”