During the course of last week, I spent three days in Gaza visiting our various partners implementing CNEWA’s Gaza Emergency Intervention, which provides immediate relief for both individuals and institutions suffering from damages sustained during the fighting in Gaza in November 2012. I must admit that the mood there is much better than during many previous trips. People are more relaxed as the ceasefire holds firm. It appears likely it will be maintained by both sides for many months to come.
Additionally, the blockade seems to have eased further after the war. Israel is permitting more supplies to enter, especially for construction projects undertaken by major international donors. Egypt is also permitting more building materials through its border for projects approved from the Arab world — especially the massive assistance from Qatar. This sudden increase in supplies will greatly benefit the construction industry, which is creating jobs for the unemployed. Even if these jobs are mostly at the minimum wage, and even though some of them are temporary, they still are very much appreciated.
In the face of the general positive atmosphere, Gaza’s troubles persist — under siege for the most part, struggling with widespread poverty and overcrowding, and fully under the control of Hamas. Despite many positive indicators that the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is moving forward, most people we meet remain very pessimistic that it will be completed anytime soon. While the Israeli election saw a shift toward centrism, many people believe that the Israeli elections are an internal Israeli matter, that the Palestinian issue was totally sidelined and that the status quo will continue with discussion moving away from the concept of resolution and toward that of management.
Despite these relatively mixed signals and the harsh reality on the ground, I was pleased to have had the opportunity to visit with all our partners there who are implementing the various components of our emergency intervention. Following is a brief summary of the activities planned by CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. These can be categorized under five major headings:
- Home renovations — With the assistance of the team of the Near East Council of Churches (NECC), especially the team of the vocational training center, CNEWA will be assisting 48 families who sustained damages to their homes during the war. The assistance is restricted to minor damages, including replacing broken windows and doors and minor cracks to make such homes livable again. The NECC teams surveyed such damage immediately after the war and the renovations for the most part have been completed. It is worthy to note that 40 of the homes belong to Christian families whose chances of getting their damaged homes fixed through the regular Hamas government channels would have been very limited. Further, it should be pointed out that many of the homes that sustained damages in the war of December 2008 have not received any support to date from the government sources, despite many promises!
- Institutional renovations — During our initial visit shortly after the fighting ended, we surveyed damages sustained by a number of Christian institutions in Gaza. In particular, with available funding, we will be able to fix damages at four organizations: the Rosary Sisters School, the Holy Family School, the Latin Patriarchate School and the Greek Orthodox Cultural Center. Damages included broken windows and doors, cracked walls, cracked ceilings and broken water tanks. We are performing these repairs in partnership with Catholic Relief Services, which is sharing the costs.
- Medicines and medical supplies — CNEWA helps the Al Ahli Arab Hospital and the three NECC mother-and-child clinics at Darraj, Rafah and Shajaia to purchase essential medicines and medical supplies. All of these medical facilities depleted their supplies during the war and have faced an urgent need for medical essentials.
- Medical Assistance to needy patients — Our financial support for the Al Ahli Arab Hospital will cover the costs of some 150 patients who require hospitalization and cannot afford payment. Social workers at the hospital determine the financial needs and priorities given to patients who were directly affected during the war.
- Psychosocial intervention — As articulated in a previous report, the mental health needs of those exposed to war are significant. Thus, we launched a multicomponent intervention program:
- The Community Training and Crisis Management Center, a professional counseling center with a rich track record of psychosocial interventions in Gaza, will provide a four-month program to the Rosary Sisters School, the Holy Family School and the Latin Patriarchate School. A total of 600 school children and their parents will benefit, and 150 school teachers and administrators will be trained to implement such programs in the future.
- Funding will be provided to the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) to implement a program for all members of the Y.M.C.A., with training provided to some of their support and administrative staff. No fewer than 400 young people will benefit from the intervention.
- Through its three clinics, the NECC will implement a counseling program for the affected children, women and vocational training center students, and will extend to neighboring kindergartens in the affected areas. This will benefit well over 1,000 people.
- We are in discussions with the Women Graduates Society to begin a similar program at six kindergartens located in the most severely affected areas. Said program will target 100 kindergarteners per institution, as well as their parents and school staff. There is another benefit to this program: About 30 unemployed women social workers, fully trained but currently out of work, will be employed for a period of approximately four months, providing much needed income.
In light of the projects being implemented, this trip was most gratifying. We are responding to the greatest needs as articulated by our partners during our visit to Gaza immediately after the war.
I must express my sincere appreciation to the following agencies that made CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s intervention in Gaza possible, including: the Archdiocese of Cologne, Germany; Anonymous, Holland; Manos Unidas, Spain; Kinderhilfe Bethlehem, Switzerland; Misereor, Germany; Kindermissionwerks, Germany; and many CNEWA benefactors in Canada and the United States. Our intervention would not have been possible without their support.