From the West Bank to Gaza: The Situation in Palestine

Last week, I stayed overnight in Bethlehem, and by early morning, I set out to return to our office in Jerusalem.

I knew from various social media groups that all the inner roads leading from Beit Sahour to the Mazmouriyah checkpoint, as well those leading to the tunnel checkpoint, were blocked, as the Israeli military had tightened movement in this area without prior notice.

The sporadic closure of West Bank checkpoints and roads, in addition to the closure of iron gates or the placement of dirt mounds on roads, has restricted movement for thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank since the Israel-Hamas war began. Military gates close roads each night from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning, at which time hundreds of cars, trucks and motorcycles converge from three or four car lanes into one. I felt like we were sheep, let out from our pen into the pasture.

This is a glimpse of what West Bank Palestinians must go through on a daily basis since 7 October.

In Gaza, same sheep, different barn. The sheep are not allowed to go anywhere; there is no time to graze or enjoy a bit of freedom outside the confinement of their barn. They must move and live their lives by force rather than by their own free will.

Since 7 October, more than 10,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed, including 4,237 children. More than 25,900 have been wounded. The destruction has increased the number of displaced people to 1.4 million, and 629,000 people are sheltering in 150 U.N.-designated emergency shelters.

The extent of the destruction has never been worse. Among the areas hit the hardest are Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya, Shijaia, and the neighborhoods around the Al Shati refugee camp, as well as Abasan Al Kabira in Khan Younis. Entire neighborhoods in northern Gaza have been reduced to rubble. Medical facilities and hospitals, places of worship, bakeries, water filling stations, markets, schools, and educational and social service institutions are in various states of collapse, while other buildings have been destroyed entirely.

Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people remain in the northern Gaza Strip, as people fear it’s far too dangerous to travel south. Since Monday, 6 November, the Israeli military has completely encircled Gaza City.

The Christian community in Gaza continues to remain steadfast at the Latin and Orthodox parishes through hardship, confinement and the inability to move. The local community and the displaced have all rationed food and water as market supplies are running dangerously low. Many of their homes are rendered moderately damaged or uninhabitable and they are unable to return due to the Israeli military’s position around Gaza City.

Five Christians injured at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrios compound continue to receive care at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital. We also learned that one of CNEWA-PM’s scholarship recipients and her family were killed in that same airstrike. Al Azhar University’s Al Mughraqa campus, where many of our scholarship recipients studied, was bombed two days ago. This was the 11th university bombed in Gaza since the beginning of the war.

We also learned the fate of some of our partner institutions in Gaza:

  • Al Ahli Arab Hospital is still operational — with limited medical supplies, medicine, water and fuel — despite being bombed in mid-October. The hospital still has patients, medical staff and internally displaced people sheltering there.
  • AISHA Association for Woman and Child Protection center, where we had a 3-year psychosocial program for schoolchildren and mothers, was bombed. Two employees died in the airstrikes and others have since fled south.
  • The Arab Orthodox Cultural Center (A.O.C.C.), where CNEWA-PM had psychosocial and employment programs, was destroyed in mid-October, and all employees have fled south.
  • The building of the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.) Mother and Child Clinic, where we supported psychosocial programs and a malnourishment program for children, was severely damaged, including its medicine storage facility and VTC classrooms. Many homes of N.E.C.C. staff have also been destroyed.
  • The Rosary Sisters School sustained moderate damage to the school courtyard and surrounding structures. The school’s foundation has been severely damaged and one small building collapsed. Sister Nabila, who is principal of the school, has been displaced to the parish of the Holy Family Church in Gaza.
  • The YMCA-Gaza, as of a week ago, was open as a shelter for the displaced. The current status of the building and its employees is unknown. Likewise with the Brotherhood Park in Al Shati Refugee Camp, which is located at the current center of Israeli military operations; the status of the park and its facilities is unknown.

I can’t imagine how Gaza will look when all this ends. How will we find our partner institutions? How many homes, apartments will still be standing? How many among our Christian community will be able to call Gaza “home”? But these are questions for later. Now, we continue to pray and hope that the war ends before more innocent people pay with their lives.

Joseph Hazboun is the regional director for CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem office.

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