Tunisians give generously for Palestinians in Gaza

Tunisian Red Crescent tells The National of ‘unprecedented’ solidarity

Tunisian Red Crescent volunteers at their central headquarters collecting and organising donations made by Tunisians for people in Gaza. Ghaya Ben Mbarek / The National
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Despite their own sharply deteriorating living conditions, the people of Tunisia have given generously to a campaign calling for donations for Palestinians struggling amid the war in Gaza.

Thousands of volunteers have joined the ranks of the Tunisian Red Crescent since the humanitarian organisation appealed for funds for Gaza, where more than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed and one million displaced, with no end in sight to Israel's aerial bombardment.

About 2.3 million people live in the small coastal enclave, one of the world's most densely populated areas.

Tunisia's Ministry of Transport has also offered its services for the humanitarian operation.

Bouthayna Greguba, spokeswoman for the Tunisian Red Crescent, told The National the donation campaign's level of reach and solidarity is unmatched.

“We have been overwhelmed by the level of humanitarian solidarity, it is true that Tunisians have always been committed to lending a hand whenever needed but this level is unprecedented,” she said.

With more than 5,000 volunteers across the country, 264 local committees and 24 regional ones, the Tunisian Red Crescent has been working round the clock to keep the campaign going since its launch on October 9.

Many volunteers have even taken leave of absence from school or work, with some spending their nights at Red Crescent premises to maintain a steady workflow, Ms Greguba told The National at the charity’s headquarters in Megrine.

She said Tunisians from all backgrounds have reached out to them to offer help.

“An elderly man came by foot from Fouchana to Megrine [19km] to donate a sum of money that he has been saving up to go on Umrah. He came by foot because he did not want to deduct the taxi fare from those 2,000 dinars [$633] he had saved up but wanted to donate to Palestinians,” she told The National.

Ms Greguba said people unable to give money or donations had come to the headquarters to help organise donations into categories such as food and medicine.

She said she was touched by many stories from Tunisian donors but one in particular stood out.

A woman who collects plastic bottles for a living came to one of their tents in downtown Habib Bourguiba Avenue and donated her entire income for the day.

“What was even more heart-warming than her willingness to donate her day's income was that she did not want to write her name as a donor and gave that money anonymously,” Ms Greguba said.

From the elderly to children, Tunisia’s heart is with Gazans

For 74-year-old Mohamed Tahri Mkaddmi, neither his age nor the 33km between his house and the charity’s central donations depot stopped him from delivering a package of vital medicine to the cause.

His journey involved three different modes of transport.

“For us, the Palestinian cause is purely Tunisian, it is not just any cause," ,” Mr Mkaddmi told The National. "Since I was young I have been surrounded by family members who took part in Tunisia's liberation movement against the French and who then joined the Palestinian resistance in 1948.

“I am heart-broken that I cannot do anything, I feel that my hands are tied up while our brothers are getting brutally bombed every day,” he said, as he burst into tears.

“For me, Gaza has won. No matter how much the occupation does to them, they will never leave their land and we are here to fight for them, even as the world commits a collective crime by keeping silent."

The Palestinian cause lives with us and is something that we have been raised to support
Ali, Tunisian donor

Ali, 60, who spoke under a pseudonym as he wished to remain anonymous, spoke to The National on his second visit to the Red Crescent headquarters to make a donation.

“I told my children that I had made a donation yesterday, so they collected their and their friends’ pocket money and told me to give it on their behalf,” he said.

Like many Tunisians who were raised supporting Palestinians, witnessing the Gaza war and the plight of Palestinians has deep emotional resonance with Ali.

“The Palestinian cause lives with us and is something that we have been raised to support,” he said. "In such a situation, I can’t just keep my hands crossed, this [donating] is the least we could do.

“They [Palestinians] have given us many lessons, I cannot even describe the amount of heartache we feel for them, I am at a loss of words,” Ali told The National.

At the Red Crescent depot in Megrine, a group of 20 primary school pupils came in person with their teachers to donate money, food, blankets and other items they have been collecting for the past two weeks.

“We told our parents that we would give up midday snacks and give our daily pocket money to the Red Crescent instead,” 12-year-old Sami told The National as the schoolchildren met Tunisian Red Crescent’s volunteers.

Walid Ben Massoud, their teacher, said the idea came from the pupil themselves.

“We brought them here today to see how volunteering work," he said. "The donations campaign is still ongoing and both the Red Crescent and the [pupils’] parents are happy to help."

Tunisia has already sent one plane loaded with 12 tonnes of humanitarian aid, which reached Gaza following the opening of the Rafah border crossing last week.

On social media, a surge of campaigns has been launched by celebrities, influencers, labour unions, student groups, schools and even mobile service providers, all raising funds for the people of Gaza.

Updated: October 25, 2023, 1:27 PM