altOn Monday, September 30, 2013 The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Inc. (HCEF) in partnership with Caritas Jerusalem organized a World Elderly Day Festival in Birzeit.

It cannot be overemphasized how essential the elderly are for the well-being and perseverance of any culture. The case is only heightened for Palestine due to the threats its heritage faces on a daily basis. The elderly harbor the heritage of Palestine in their minds. They have lived the past, and through them Palestinians can know their identity.

Today in Palestine elders represent 4.4% of the total population. As a minority group they are too often overlooked, yet fortunately there are people and organizations, such as HCEF and Caritas Jerusalem, who recognize the vital role elders play in preserving the heritage of Palestine and work hard to meet the needs of the elderly.

Almost half of all elderly women in Palestine are widows, and one in six homes are the sole responsibility of an elderly person in general. In addition to this, one third of all elders in Palestine consider their health status to be less than good, with 70.7% of elderly over the age of 60 infected with at least one chronic disease. HCEF and Caritas Jerusalem, along with their respective partners, work together to ease the struggles of these elderly, providing them fellowship against their loneliness and healthcare against their sickness. Monday’s World Elderly Day Festival in Birzeit was held to recognize this noble effort. But most of all the festival was held to honor the elderly of Palestine who have cared for the nation and have persevered through adversity to continue providing hope in times of despair.[1]

Over 100 elderly from the HCEF Birzeit Senior Citizen Center and the Baytona Elderly Center were in attendance, along with civic leaders, officials, heads and representatives of organizations, including, the Minister of Social Affairs, Dr. Kamal El-Sharafi The Governor of Ramallah and Al Bireh, Dr. Laila Ghannam, Eng. Anthony Habash, Regional Director of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Mr. Hasib Kaleh, Mayor of Birzeit, The Holy Father Dr. Luis Hazboun, priest of Birzeit parish and Father Raed Abu-Sahlie, Secretary General of Caritas Jerusalem, Ms. Runde Muslam, Director Latin School in Birzeit, and the renowned Father Manuel Musallam.

Dr. Kamal El-Sharafi
Minister of Social Affairs

Dr. Kamal El-Sharafi opened the festival proclaiming that the Ministry of Social Affairs is committed to providing protection and care for Palestinians in need, particularly the elderly (who, according to a recent report issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, represent 4.4% of the total Palestinian population). His Ministry is working on issuing laws that ensure the well being of the elders, recognizing the government’s duty toward this growing population. El-Sharafi ended by stressing the importance of raising the efficiency of institutions that care for the elderly and that HCEF and Caritas Jerusalem are role models in this effort.

Dr. Laila Ghannam
Governor of Ramallah and Al Bireh

Dr. Laila Ghannam expressed the great value of HCEF and Caritas Jerusalem in caring for the elderly as well providing them the respect and dignity they deserve as esteemed members of the community. Ghannam emphasized that the elderly are a source of hope and life in maintaining the heritage and identity of Palestine. 

Eng. Anthony Habash
Regional Director of HCEF

Eng. Anthony Habash spoke about the future vision of HCEF to further invest in the development of Palestine’s elders. Habash conveyed the importance of working collectively and effectively to support the elderly and integrating them into their communities so that they may have a more active role in restoring dignity and peace to Palestine as a whole. He gave special thanks to many of the elders present at the celebration who he considered to be the backbone the Birzeit Senior Citizens Center. Habash also expressed his deep gratitude toward the Ministry of Social Affairs, the municipality of Birzeit, and Caritas Jerusalem for their partnership in making a sustained effort to care for the elderly possible.

Mr. Hasib Kaleh
Mayor of Birzeit

Mr. Hasib Kaleh indicated the necessity of establishing laws that guarantee elders’ rights. He proclaimed the national duty of all Palestinians to do what they can to ensure that the elderly are respected and welcomed with open arms into their communities, never to be abandoned or isolated.

Father Raed Abu Sahlie
Secretary General of Caritas Jerusalem

In his speech, Father Raed Abu Sahlie acknowledged the economic, social and psychological obstacles that the elderly constantly face, and that efforts must continue to help them overcome these challenges. He called on the Palestinian Authority – the Ministry of Social Affairs in particular – to enact laws that guarantee the rights of all women and elderly in the context of working toward the social and political rights of Palestinians in general. Father Abu Sahlie said that the elders, in essence, are a blessing of the land and that it is everyone’s duty to nurture their development in any way possible.

The Holy Father Dr. Luis Hazboun expressed that there is wisdom to be gained from communicating with the elderly, and that they should always be treated with love and tenderness. He continued by stating that the elderly are an important part of our daily lives and so we must support them, standing together in solidarity.

Before the end of the celebration, Eng. Anthony Habash took a moment to honor Dr. Kamal El-Sharafi, Mr. Hasib Kaleh, Father Manuel Musallam, and Father Raed Abu Sahlie, by presenting each of them with embroideries created by the hands of the elders. Afterwards everyone gathered outside for lunch, during which there was singing, dancing and a distribution of gifts to the elders and participants.

Other organizations and companies who helped to make this event a success include the Coca Cola Company, Nestle and Al-Jebrini Company.

Visit us online at www.hcef.org to learn more about the Birzeit Senior Citizen Center or HCEF and its many other programs!


[1] All statistics referred to have been provided by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS): http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/site/512/default.aspx?tabID=512&lang=en&ItemID=919&mid=3171&wversion=Staging