Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have raised $10 million in aid in less than a month to build homes for Syrian refugees, according to activists behind the campaign.
“The idea was to collect 100 heaters for 100 houses. Then we found out that people are helping and we have lots of stuff,” said Ibrahim Khalil, 33, a social activist from the city of Nazareth in northern Israel.
The images of displaced families resonated with Palestinians because they had suffered as refugees living in tents for years, said Khalil after they were forced from their homes or fled in the war that surrounded Israel’s creation in 1948.
For the past six years, Palestinians have been donating food and other essentials to Syrian refugees in the Idlib region bordering Turkey through a non-profit aid group called Merciful Souls.
But the volume of donations this winter season was unprecedented, said Raed Badr, the head of the organization. He believes videos that circulated on social media of children suffering from cold in the snow motivated people to open their pockets.
The plan is to build around 3,000 housing units, Badr added. Construction will also include clinics and schools, based on a model published on the organization’s website.
A call for contributions went viral on social media with the Arabic hashtag “houses instead of tents”.
Since 2011, the war in Syria caused the world’s biggest refugee crisis. The war has killed an estimated half a million people and displaced several million more.