Political rally by day, football by night

By the time we arrived in Gaza, the situation on the street was relatively quiet given the recent wave of violence and counter-violence that took place between Israel and the Islamic Jihad just a week prior. For a while, it looked like there would be a serious escalation on the political front as several Jihad members were assassinated by Israel followed by fresh rounds of rockets being fired into southern Israel and further retaliatory airstrikes. When we arrived in the early afternoon in Gaza city, Hamas was finishing a rally to commemorate 10 years since the assassination of its spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. The streets were flooded with tens of thousands of loyal Hamas members from all over the Gaza Strip, carrying Hamas’s infamous green flag; noticeably absent was any sight of the Palestinian flag! Later that evening, we were invited to dinner at a local restaurant. 

Not being a sports fan myself, I was not aware that the Spanish Classico game between Barcelona and Real Madrid was on that evening, and Gazans traditionally gather at local restaurants and coffee shops to intensively watch these games. At half time, as we went back to our hotel I was shocked at how deserted the streets were, it was like a complete curfew had been imposed on Gaza! What an amazing contrast, the same people who had flooded the streets earlier in the day for a political rally shifted mode to sports and completely forgot about the daily challenges and miseries of Gaza. I suppose this is the only way people keep their sanity given the grave humanitarian situation of Gaza.
Gaza’s situation remains the same; the borders with Egypt are completely shut down and the smuggling tunnels are out of business. Electricity supply through the generous Qatari grant has resulted in 8 hour shifts; fuel is only coming from Israel with prices almost triple that of the Egyptian supplied fuel; Hamas is in deep financial distress to the point that after the non-payment of salaries to public servants for some 4 months, are now paying advances of no more than NIS 1,000 ($285) per month; and finally, building supplies are in very short supply meaning that most construction projects are at a standstill which is also raising the unemployment rate. A desperate situation continues which is exasperated by the continuous turmoil in neighboring countries, especially Syria which is attracting, rightfully, the interest of the international donor community. Nonetheless, Gaza keeps moving, and there are always bright spots that are worthy of support.
Progress with current projects and other opportunities
During the visit, we had a chance to celebrate with the Sisters of the Incarnate Word for the complete rehabilitation of their residence -located on the premise of the Holy Family School and Church in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza city. This was possible through the generous contributions from the Archdiocese of Cologne, Missio, and Church in Need. Also, we had a chance to visit the Rosary Sisters School in Tal El Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City where new cabinets were installed in the 12 classrooms of the annex building in addition to a new sound system and drinking fountains which was made possible through a generous contribution from Kindermissionwerks. Other visits included the Myrrh Bearers Society, Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, the Near East Council of Churches, the Women’s Graduates Society, the Greek Orthodox Cultural Center, Brotherhood Park and Caritas Medical Clinic. Excellent discussions took place at all of these institutions, mostly to make way for new projects, especially taking into consideration of the socio-economic survey intended to provide an accurate assessment of Gaza’s Christian community and its needs.
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Rehabilitation project is now completed at the residence of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word

New cabinetry at the Rosary Sisters School Annex building

Socio-economic survey of the Christian community
The highlight of our visit and certainly its main intended purpose was to advance the socio-economic survey in partnership with the YMCA-Gaza and co-funded by the PMP and Embrace the Middle East in the UK. The survey has been fully underway in the past several months where a cadre of some 20 trained youth has collected hundreds of personal data from nearly all of the Christian families with the exception of some 5-6 families. In addition to demographics, the survey also measures the status of health, employment, education and the possibility of emigration. Once the survey results are ready, two public announcements will be made; May 28th will feature a presentation about the survey highlighting key findings while May 29th will be a “study day” that will feature an in-depth discussion on the findings of the study with representatives from all the Christian institutions in Gaza and work to create an action plan to meet these various needs. Additionally, any presence of donor representatives will be a great show of solidarity to the people of Gaza and provide a firsthand assessment of what the needs are, who the key players are and what they can do to support the community.
I am very optimistic that this collaborative effort will go a long way to connect the Christian community to the various institutions operating there, and will also streamline the financial assistance to ensure proper coordination, efficiency and a targeted response. This could be a model to follow for other parts of our beloved Holy Land.
Many thanks for your continued interest and support to Gaza. I know through my interactions with this small but very brave community that such support is greatly appreciated.
By: Sami El-Yousef, Regional Director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine
March 2014