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Gaza Situation Update: Gaza Visit 7-9 December 2015

16 Dec 2015 – By Sami El-Yousef

This has been the first visit to Gaza since Israeli authorities placed a ban on East Jerusalem ID holders back in July 2015. Though the ban is still in effect, a limited number of permits were allowed, and I feel lucky to be one of the few approved.

Upon arrival in Gaza, there seemed to be a general feeling that life is gradually returning to “normal.” Traffic was busy and more people were on the streets; shops seemed sufficiently stocked with no lines at gas stations. There were also a limited number of construction projects and more workers doing odd jobs. People seemed more relaxed than in previous visits. The two main streets (Salah Eddin Street and Beach Street) crossing Gaza from the north to the south have been widened and paved with new street lamps and beautiful landscaping, and the promenade area has been totally refurbished.

However, when one digs deeper into the situation, it is clear that not much has really changed. Electricity is still on either 6 or 8 hour shifts; unemployment continues at an all-time high; the Rafah borders continue to be tightly closed, severely limiting travel; the fragile industrial base is still in ruins; prices of goods and services are through the roof; and most of the people who lost their homes during previous wars continue to face extreme temporary living conditions. The hoped for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas continues to be a dream. Thus, for all practical purposes, not much has changed, except that the people of Gaza have become resigned to their current state of affairs and accustomed to living on much less than their counterparts in the West Bank, and certainly with much lower standards than their neighbors in Israel. For now, they seem content with what is available to them. There is a strange sense that life must go on regardless of the harsh reality on the ground.

During our three day trip to Gaza, we were able to visit all of our partner institutions where projects are ongoing or just concluding. This included visits to the Ahli Arab Hospital, the Near East Council of Churches (NECC), the YMCA, the Holy Family School, the Latin Convent, the Rosary Sisters School, the Women’s Graduates Society as well as the Brotherhood Park at Shate’ Refugee Camp. We only received good news about the work of the institutions at large, and the implementation of the projects funded by CNEWA — Pontifical Mission with the generous support of many donors.

Below are some highlights:

Ahli Arab Hospital
The malnutrition program is currently supporting hundreds of children aged 3 months to 6 years.

Graduates of Scholarship Program: Dalia Tarazi (Acct.) and Ibrahim Tarazi (IT) employed at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital as part of the PMP Job Creation Program.

The psychosocial program just concluded, after supporting hundreds of mothers and children for a period of one year immediately after the war. It was uplifting to hear sometestimonies from some of the participants that came from the most devastated neighborhoods.

An unexpected surprise was to see two of the students who recently graduated from our scholarship program employed at Al-Ahli through the ‘training and job creation program’ alongside doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and other professionals. The experience gained will be invaluable in securing permanent employment in the future.

The diesel electric generator to replace the old, malfunctioning generator will be installed within the coming days to ensure uninterrupted power supply, saving lives.

The medical fund set up to relieve the suffering of sick and old patients has already covered the treatment and medical costs of over 215 people in Gaza.

Near East Council of Churches
As part of our monitoring, we visited the job creation project at NECC which included two field visits; we visited the Red Crescent Society and the Palestinian Union for the Disabled.

A meeting with the administration of the NECC was also uplifting. We were briefed on the other projects supported — including the psychosocial program at the three clinics and the procurement of electric generators, an ultrasound machine and other equipment for the clinics, as well as support for the antenatal program. where hundreds of children are served.

Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)
Along with some of the YMCA board members, we visited Al-Mashtal Sports Club, where a friendly soccer match was in progress between their team and that of the YMCA, which is sponsored through our three-year youth support program. It was exciting to see these young players in action and to see the results of their rigorous training. Over 110 kids (5 teams) are part of the program.

A field visit to the YMCA premises was conducted where the final stages of the renovation program funded by USAID through ANERA was in progress. Once finished, the YMCA will have a soccer field equipped with natural grass and bleachers, changing rooms and restrooms. Also the cafeteria and other facilities will be completely renovated. This is a major expansion and improvement of facilities that will undoubtedly expand their services.

A briefing was given by the Chair on projects funded by other donors, which means that the YMCA has really come a long way from its relatively “sleepy” status of just a few years ago. Their involvement with the community at large is a very positive development. YMCA Football Team is supported by a CNEWA-PMP 3-year youth project.

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