CNEWA Canada

Gaza Situation Update
Visit 10-12 February 2015

By Sami El-Yousef

During this visit, we were accompanied by a senior level group from
Misereor, the aid agency of the Catholic Church in Germany, which has partnered with us and our colleague, Mr. Joseph Hazboun. This was his first time to the Gaza
Strip. We wanted to introduce our friends at Misereor to the institutions and people they have
supported for many years so that they have an honest hands-on account of the real Gaza and its
desperate situation. We also wanted to monitor and evaluate CNEWA/Pontifical Mission of Palestine’s ongoing projects, many
of which are related to the emergency intervention as well as discuss with our various partners
current and future needs. Finally, we hoped our presence in Gaza demonstrates our commitment to
helping the people of Gaza where many continue to feel abandoned and are losing hope. I am very
happy to report that the visit was a great success in meeting all its goals.

Visit with Misereor to NECC, Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, Rosary Sisters School and Shija’ia neighborhood:
After the Erez clearance, we made quick visit to the Near
East Council of Churches (NECC) Clinic in Shija’ia to observe a psychosocial session in progress. We were told that some of the women — whom lived in the destroyed neighborhood, had lost their loved ones or lost their homes and are now homeless, live with either family members or in makeshift ‘school shelters’ which are still open. It was amazing to see how these mothers are so resilient despite their enormous loss and have the courage to speak with our guests. A common message that was said: “Despite what you hear about us, we love life — we want to live in peace —
enough is enough — help stop the wars — tell our story to the world — and thank you for being with us”. Powerful messages
that truly touched our hearts!

We also headed to the NECC’s Vocational Training Center
where a carpentry, blacksmithing and aluminum training
workshops were already in session; over 100 young students
were in class learning about the trade. If a serious
reconstruction effort was launched to rebuild the roughly
100,000 structures destroyed by three wars in the past five
years, these students will be immediately employed.
However, the unfortunate continuation of the ‘status quo’ for
Gaza, meaning that its economy will continue to be
underdeveloped and youth will join the thousands upon
thousands of unemployed people in the Gaza Strip who
cannot find work. It must be very difficult for them not
knowing what the future holds yet their spirits were high and could still joke and laugh.

Thereafter, we met with Ms. Suhaila Tarazi, director of
the Al- Ahli Arab Hospital to inform us on the
Misereor-funded psychosocial program. We met with
some of the participants — mainly women who come
from various locations throughout the Gaza Strip. Their
message was very similar to that of the women at the
NECC clinic. Interestingly, there was a small exhibit of
the drawings made by the women’s children who also
attended the children’s psychosocial sessions. Most of
the drawings were particularly depressing with
depictions of destruction, missiles and military planes,
people weeping, the use of dark colors and other
negative images of war. Certainly the ugliness of war in
a child’s eyes was reflected through those drawings.
Yet, it was uplifting throughout our visit at the hospital
to hear the message of appreciation and financial
support for the patients of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital. Ms.
Tarazi went to great lengths to thank Misereor and all of
CNEWA/PMP’s partner donors for their outstanding
generosity to procure much needed medicines, medical
supplies, fuel and medical coverage for the needy.
Without the funds, the hospital would have simply shutdown
and surely patients would have lost their lives.
Ms. Tarazi stressed that these contributions made a
substantial difference especially during an active war.

Next on our itinerary was the Rosary Sisters School to
inspect the rehabilitation work to the school grounds
completed after the war and enabled the school to open
in time for the 2014-2015 academic school year but also
visit the 9th and 10th grade classes whom we visited
previously. For those of you who have not seen this 7
minute encounter of the 9th grade students, please take
time to watch it through the following link: It was
touching to meet the students again and listen to their
stories. Most touching was their appreciation for our
support and solidarity which was very much

The last place we visited for the day was the Shija’ia
neighborhood which sustained large scale destruction,
especially the two completely destroyed buildings of
the Wafa Hospital. The scenes were beyond
imagination! Not only was the hospital completely
destroyed, but also the entire neighborhood surrounding
it. We met some of the neighborhood residents who are
still living in the remnants of their destroyed homes
even in the middle of winter. In fact, we were in the
midst of a sand storm which had some of the worst
pollution levels in five years. The residents who we
spoke with were very angry with many issues: the two
political factions, Fatah and Hamas, for doing nothing
to ease their suffering and for the lack of progress to
reconcile; at UNRWA for not doing enough to help
reconstruct; and at the international community for not
denouncing war for the people of Gaza; and at Israel for
destroying life in Gaza. Yet despite all the suffering and anger, there was a clear message of
resilience and faith. They always concluded with a simple phrase “this is our destiny and we have to
thank God for everything!!!”

As we concluded our visits with Misereor for the day, I felt very blessed to have had the chance to
accompany the Misereor delegation and listen to the spiritual message of Misereor’s President Msgr.
Pirmin Spiegel. Words cannot express our deepest appreciation from this humble priest who truly
inspired those we met to keep their faith and hope alive!

Progress of the Emergency’s Psychosocial Intervention:
After bidding farewell to our partners from Misereor, we started
the second day with visits to other psychosocial
programs. Throughout our visits to the psychosocial
sessions, the sight of children enjoying the activities
and having fun was most refreshing to see.

  • The Ashtar Theater Group program has been
    launched at five public schools serving around
    1,500 5th and 6th graders. According to Ashtar,
    this program was the first time Hamas’s
    Ministry of Education in Gaza approved a
    ‘drama and theatrical arts’ program in public
    schools. Ashtar Theater Group is hopeful that
    this breakthrough is only the beginning of the
    process to change the ‘traditional culture’ of
    education in Gaza. The beauty of the program is
    that it provides jobs for 33 young drama
  • The Women’s Graduate Society program is
    also ground breaking as psychosocial workshops
    are currently underway for public schools and
    kindergartens that are deemed by the Ministry of
    Education as the neediest. These programs also
    provide employment opportunities to about 30
    unemployed women who were trained in
    psychosocial counseling through our 2012
    emergency program. We visited Shuhada Al-
    Mintar School where around 300 girls were
    participating in an ‘open day’ — a term for
    outdoor competitive sports activities, games and
    activities. The smiles of these young girls are
    worth a million words, and make our
    intervention truly meaningful.
  • YMCA — Gaza was visited when it was already
    after dark and all psychosocial activities for the
    day ended, but we had a chance to speak with
    YMCA members as well as staff of the kindergarten. In addition to the in-house activities, a
    number of ‘open days’ were arranged for families living in the destroyed neighborhoods. The
    members mentioned a particular ‘open day’ that was held at Zanna — a neighborhood in the
    southern part of the Gaza Strip near Khan Younis. The organizers expected about 150
    children to attend but instead were met with over 600 children who heard about the event in
    addition to local authorities who wanted to thank the YMCA team for selecting their
    neighborhood for the event.

Update on Christian Students Scholarship Program:
Besides CNEWA/PMP’s emergency intervention, we also
visited other projects currently underway. One such program is
the Christian Student’s Scholarship Program which has
provided financial aid for needy Christian students studying at
Gaza universities since 2010 and has in fact graduated seven
students. During this visit, we launched the second phase with
11 needy students who are in need of financial aid. Meeting
the students was again one of the highlights of the visit; to hear
their stories, frustrations and aspirations especially for the
eight women students who are Christian, studying in very
Islamic surroundings and dealing with the effects of the Gaza
blockade. These young students are also part of an age group
(16-35 year olds) who are considered by Israel as a security
threat and are barred from entering Israel or the West Bank.

General Observations:
It is never easy visiting Gaza in normal circumstances let alone after a brutal war. To hear people say
that “Gaza’s situation as it stands today is worse than it was during the 51-day war in the summer” is
quite a depressing statement. However, this was to be expected considering the current state of

  • Gaza continues to live under a severe blockade which
    has not improved since the end of the war in August
  • The Rafah crossing with Egypt is nearly shut-down
    and only allowed to open for 2-3 days every two
    months in order to allow the transfer of severe medical
  • Most, if not all tunnels with Egypt have been
    destroyed meaning that the only supplies going into
    Gaza are those supplied from Israel at Israeli prices
    (Egyptian fuel used to sell for about NIS 2.5 per liter
    while now Israeli prices prevail at about NIS 7 per
  • The cost of all food items and basic commodities are
    3-4 times more expensive;
  • No meaningful reconstruction efforts have begun and thus the economy is at near standstill with unemployment reaching 70 percent especially the younger age bracket;
  • Government employee salaries of either Fatah or Hamas continue to be unpaid;
  • Personal debt is at a record high causing serious social and economic problems;
  • Electricity is supplied between 6-8 hours per day;
  • Basic water and sewage infrastructure are still not back to pre-war levels (which was a disaster in the making before the war);
  • There is a lack of basic law and order as poverty gets more rooted and petty theft and crime is on the rise;
  • Islamic fanaticism and the influence from the Islamic State are of great concern to Gazans, especially for the Christian community.

I must admit that the despair and frustration level seems to be very high and is cross-cutting within all
areas of society. Six months after the war, hope seems to be lost as people feel completely trapped
and see ‘no light at the end of the tunnel’. Most people feel that short of a miracle, the next war is just
around the corner!

The Desperate Plea — Moving Forward:
During our visits in the past few months, there were three
main needs repeatedly mentioned to us. The first desperate
plea was an expansion and/or extension of the psychosocial
intervention for children and adults. Most people we spoke
with believe that the level of trauma continues to be
dangerously high and there is great value in psychosocial
counseling which are regarded by Gazans as extremely
helpful to deal with the unrelenting, seemingly impossible
situation. One official specifically told me, “If you cannot
fix the physical damages, at least help our people fix the
psychological damages
”. Over the next few weeks, we will
continue to host discussions with our various partners in
Gaza to see how best to meet this particular need.

Another need which was unanimously mentioned by locals
was the need for work; to develop a job creation program
that generates employment opportunities and allows people
to make a dignified living. Over the next few weeks, we
will continue to discuss with our local partners in Gaza on
how best to move forward.

As for the third need, it falls within our strategic intervention in Gaza; to help strengthen institutions
of the Churches. In fact, there is a new level of community respect and appreciation for Christian
institutions for their generous aid and support for the destitute during the war. Additionally, given the
problems faced by Middle East Christians in general, it is also important to support the Christian
institutions’ programs which indirectly encourage interfaith dialogue. In all of these critical needs
stated above, we look to our generous donors who supported the emergency intervention, to help ease
the suffering of the people of Gaza.

We have a grave humanitarian situation in Gaza. People are desperate to get their voices heard,
calling for reconciliation, peace and justice. A declaration that there is true injustice imposed on
Gaza’s population of 1.8 million people and that they deservingly need a better life.

We want our donors to know that their financial and moral support is very much appreciated by the
people of Gaza. Your solidarity has helped them move forward, have faith and hope despite the
misery surrounding them. Many people who spoke with me have said that they continuously pray for
us and for the donors who helped them in their time of need. Likewise, let us all reciprocate and keep
praying for Gaza and its people. They deserve a better life!

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