Today marks the second day of the 72-hour ceasefire agreement which concluded nearly a month of vicious hostilities. Just 5 minutes before the ceasefire went into effect; I heard a large explosion from my home in the Old City of Jerusalem, only to find out later that it was a rocket that was fired from Gaza and mistakenly landed on a home in Beit Sahour causing moderate damages. We continue to pray that this ceasefire will lead to something more permanent and hopefully in a very short period of time, a sincere resumption of peace negotiations that will address all of the root causes of this conflict and the never ending cycles of violence where civilians end-up paying the heaviest price.
At the beginning of the ceasefire, Israel pulled back all of its troops to the Israeli side of the border yet has continued to enforce a 500 meter, ‘no-go zone’ inside Gaza’s border. Fishermen were allowed back to sea (a maximum of 3 nautical miles) however most fishing boats were destroyed! People are finding out the extent of the damages as their homes, workplaces, mosques, government offices, and in some instances, neighborhoods were completely obliterated. Thousands of displaced people who are looking to return to their homes find that they have no place to go; the immense destruction throughout the Gaza Strip raises the question of whether many of the schools that are currently providing shelter for the displaced will in fact, become schools again since the upcoming school year is rapidly approaching.
An UN-OCHA report published yesterday gives the idea of how desperate Gaza has become: there were 1,814 Palestinians killed, 85% of whom were civilians including 408 children and 214 women; 67 Israelis were killed including 64 soldiers; 9,536 Palestinians injured including 2,877 children; 520,000 displaced or nearly 30% of the population of Gaza; 65,000 people cannot return to their homes as they were completely destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Power cuts are in effect for 20-22 hours per day. At least 122 families lost 3 or more family members in the same incident for a total of 652 fatalities (indicating that civilians were targeted). There are more ugly statistics, but I believe the picture is very clear.
A few days ago, a group of representatives from several Christian organizations and I had the chance to visit St. Joseph and Augusta Victoria Hospitals in Jerusalem to have a better understanding of the conditions and needs of Gaza’s seriously injured. These cases were transferred from the Gaza Strip due to the lack of proper facilities and medicine to treat their injuries. One of the cases was Jeries Ayyad whose mother was the first Christian victim in Gaza; others cases that were being treated had amputated arms and legs or those that suffered from brain damage from shrapnel. What I witnessed in the two hospitals is beyond imagination, and one only wonders what difficulties these people will face for the rest of their lives. Please keep the injured in your prayers.
On a more positive note and as an update on our appeal launched last week, I am pleased to announce that we had such a generous response from our donors; funds from our immediate emergency intervention have enabled the delivery of $70,000 worth of emergency medicines and medical supplies for Al-Ahli Arab Hospital as well as 5,000 liters of fuel to ensure uninterrupted power supply from the hospital generator. Arrangements are ongoing to cover the costs of some 160 or so cases treated daily at the hospital. As soon as the Near East Council of Churches’ three mother and child clinics are back in operation, we will immediately provide them with the necessary medicines and medical supplies as well as fuel to ensure full operation at their clinics in Shaja’ia, Darraj and Rafah. We know they will be inundated with mothers and children who desperately need their healthcare services. We are grateful for the commitments received from our various donors and I want to assure you that your contributions will go a long way in relieving the suffering of our people in Gaza. We have received limited response for the short term intervention to support the renovation of damaged institutions and homes as well as
psychosocial support for traumatized children as most of our donors have committed funds to the immediate emergency intervention. The UN-OCHA reported that some 373,000 children are in need of psychosocial support.
Additionally, I think it is important to point out that we are continuously coordinating with the various Catholic and non-Catholic organizations involved in Gaza. We had a number of coordination meetings within the Catholic Coordination Committee (CCAO) as well as joint coordination meetings with the Action by Churches Together (ACT Alliance). All meetings were successful as information was shared and the coordination of relief efforts to ensure transparency, avoid duplication, and compliment each other’s work. Participants at these various meetings included Caritas Jerusalem, Catholic Relief Services, German Association in the Holy Land (DVHL), Latin Patriarchate, Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries, Middle East Council of
Churches – Department of Services for Palestinian Refugees, and the YMCA.
By: Sami El-Yousef