The war on Gaza is already 45 days old and the destruction and human loss is simply unimaginable leaving many around the world speechless at the sight of incredible suffering played right in front of our eyes 24/7. The statistics according to the United Nations are horrifying: over 11,000 fatalities and 27,500 injuries have been reported with 70% being children and women; 1.6 million people (out of 2.3 million representing
70% of the population) who are internally displaced without a proper mechanism to care for their basic needs; most hospitals are out of service given the lack of electricity, fuel, and medicines; 55 ambulances have been damaged; fatalities include 102 UN relief workers, 200 health workers, and 51 journalists; 11 bakeries have been destroyed leaving people to wait between 4-6 hours to get some bread at the few operating bakeries; 45% of all housing units either completely or severely destroyed raising serious questions regarding the day after. People were ordered to go from north to south without providing any mechanism of support and are simply left
on the streets. The Israeli minister of defense announced from the first day that Gaza will be cut off from electricity, fuel, water, food, and medicine. To date that still applies with the exception that some aid trucks are allowed in from Egypt, but what trickles through is no more than 20% of what Gaza used to get before the war. Gazans are on the brink of starvation, dehydration and disease outbreaks given the thousands of bodies rotting under the rubble; the start of the winter season; and lack of any hygiene with 700 people sharing a shower and 500 people sharing a toilet! The horror personal stories are many and question the humanitarian responsibility of all around the world, especially during times of war.
As far as our parish is concerned, there are roughly 600 people who have taken refuge at the Church complex and that is a huge responsibility to provide for their daily needs at a time of war and at a time when no new supplies are coming to the north. The Israeli army has been demanding they evacuate to the south, but the faithful decided to stay in the Church complex given the horror stories they hear of people who left before them. One sad development for our Christian community has been the destruction of one building in the complex of the nearby Greek Orthodox Church where 17 people were killed. Additional four Christians died due to the lack of proper medical services. In total we lost 21 people so far, and this is over 2% of the Christian population. Very devastating to all of us given that we have personally known most of those killed from previous visits and many were recipients of some of the aid programs and various activities. All Christian families have been affected one way or another given the small size of the community. It was reported also that over 50 families had their homes completely destroyed, let alone to damages to various Christian institutions including the Rosary Sisters school, the Ahli Anglican hospital, and the Orthodox Cultural Center. Incredible suffering of our small community, and we have not seen the worst of this ugly war yet.
One of the saddest stories is that of the 80-year-old former church organist and retired music teacher who was taking refuge at the Church and who decided to go check on her home and bring some clothes. She was shot in the leg just outside her home. Given the security situation, no one could reach her to take her to a hospital and she bled to death. She was on the street for three days until her body was collected and buried in a mass grave with the final rights performed as a Moslem! May they all rest in eternal peace!
As far as the West Bank is concerned, it has been fragmented from day one of the war. People are confined to their immediate area of residence with military checkpoints, dirt and cement barriers cutting off roads, let alone intensified settler violence deeming any travel extremely dangerous. All jobs in Israel were completely lost as well as massive loss of jobs due to the crash of the tourism sector. Unemployment will be at an all-time high. People already started approaching us for humanitarian support so soon after the war started. Also, the daily raids of the Israeli army have resulted in over 200 deaths on the West Bank. Another catastrophe in the making which only promises to get worse as this war continues given the threats made by some of the extremist right wing politicians.
As with previous emergencies, we launched an appeal to be able to support our people. In Gaza, initially all funds go to support the people in the two churches plus our neighbors to help meet their daily needs. The rest of our intervention will be designed to meet the needs once the war stops as it is unclear what Gaza, or our Christian community will look like the day after. This will certainly include helping our people get back on their own two feet including support to fix home damages, cash, food, and medicine assistance, restoring our institutions to their original status, and certainly psychosocial and pastoral activities. On the West Bank, we must respond to the huge unemployment, initially with humanitarian support and this has already started through the distribution of food coupons to families most affected. Longer-term solutions are also being designed including capacity building and empowerment programs leading to generating jobs and income generating possibilities. Solutions will assume a continuation of travel restrictions and must be local in nature through our parishes. Also, all our projects on the West Bank have been turned into job creation possibilities to fill some of the needs.
Despite a rather desperate and very negative situation characterized by massive destruction and loss of innocent life, the Church continues to shine through being on the forefront of providing not only shelter and material support, but more importantly daily masses and various pastoral activities under shelling and severe conditions of war. Additionally at a time of severe polarization between people with calls of killing, revenge, and hatred filling the streets, the Christian message of forgiveness, coexistence, tolerance, love, and peace does not change during times of war. It is critical that this message continues to guide our society so that some track can be found to move forward to reach justice and peace to all who call the Holy Land home. Humanity must return and all children of God regardless of their religion or nationality should be treated equally with dignity. Please keep praying that this war comes to an immediate end now.
Chief Executive Officer
20 November 2023