The daily news reports from Israel and Palestine, particularly Gaza, report harrowing accounts of missiles and rockets, exploding multistory buildings and deaths of innocents, including women and children.
“I have had the chance to speak to colleagues, friends and partners across Israel and Palestine,” writes CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Joseph Hazboun. “Their personal testimonies match what we hear on the news: everyone on both sides is terrified, exhausted and sleepless. Rockets fired on Israeli towns keep people terrified. Mob violence threatens the livelihoods of the innocent. The bombings in Gaza keep people on edge and awake all night.
“For everybody, this is a nightmare.”
The injury and death of so many innocent people, especially children, caused by escalating violence between the Israeli military and Hamas, who control Gaza, is “terrible and unacceptable,” putting the area at risk of sinking into “a spiral of death and destruction,” Pope Francis said on Sunday after reciting the Regina Coeli.
“Many people have been injured and many innocent people have died. Among them are even children, and this is terrible and unacceptable. Their death is a sign that one does not want to build the future, but wants to destroy it,” he said, adding that the violence in different cities in Israel “is a serious wound to fraternity and to peaceful coexistence among citizens, which will be difficult to heal if we do not open immediately to dialogue.”
“Where will hatred and vengeance lead? Do we really think we can build peace by destroying the other?”
Catholic News Service reports that the pope appealed for calm, a cease-fire and constant prayers so that “Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, to be patient builders of peace and justice, opening up, step by step, to a common hope, to a coexistence among brothers and sisters.”
Joseph notes that the family of a colleague who live in the mixed Israeli city of Ramle may, for the short term, return to their childhood home in the West Bank Christian village of Beit Jala, next to Bethlehem, which is considerably safer:
“Two days ago, I received a phone call from my parents-in-law, asking for advice on where to flee the violence. One consideration was their childhood home in Beit Jala, West Bank, as ironically, a safer place. With settler attacks emerging throughout the country, I advised them not to use the “settler road” meaning the highway built through the occupied West Bank as attacks are more likely. … Yesterday, I received a call from my wife’s aunt, who also lives in Ramle, who learned that Jewish extremists marked their house and other Arab houses as potential targets. She was naturally afraid for her family and children and had decided to move to her mother-in-law’s house. Her husband stayed behind at the home to watch over the house as well as other homes in the neighborhood.”
With daily and nightly rockets fired into Israel from Gaza, the population of entire cities — Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab — has had to take refuge in the government-run shelters. Joseph notes that a friend in the Israeli city of Beersheba has tried his best to entertain his three children while seeking shelter in a safe room. “His daughter,” Joseph writes, “couldn’t avoid asking whether her Arab teacher was also bombing them at this moment. My friend wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be shocked at his daughter’s suggestion.”
CNS reports that the pope’s appeal came as Israel escalated its assault on Gaza and as it faced growing civil unrest in its mixed Jewish-Arab cities.
Jewish mobs have destroyed Arab property, and Arab mobs have attacked Jewish businesses and burned synagogues, with attempted lynchings on both sides over the past week.
In Gaza, safe areas, government-built or private, are few.
Dr. Issa Tarazi, who directs the clinics of the Near East Council of Churches, which CNEWA has long supported, noted that he spent one night over the weekend with his wife in the hallway of the home, considered the safest part of the structure.
Scion of a prominent Orthodox Palestinian family in Gaza, Dr. Tarazi heads the local church council, and said the bombings were targeting nearby structures also close to the offices of the Near East Council of Churches. Dr. Bishara Khoury, board member of NECC, has reported that some of the windows were shattered, but remarked, that the “hammering and bombing will be imprinted in us for a very long time.”
The BBC reports that of the 219 people killed in Gaza, at least 63 are children. Of the 10 people killed in Israel, two children are among the dead. More than 35,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are now homeless, many of them taking refuge at some 50 schools operated by the United Nations. But even as people flee, their mobility is hampered by streets that have been bombed, including those that lead to hospitals, especially Al-Shifa Hospital, the main and largest hospital in Gaza. Banks and commercial buildings have also been destroyed, too.
“Once this war is over,” Joseph Hazboun concludes, “it is expected that asphalt and construction materials will be banned, which means that no reconstruction efforts will take place for a few years to come.”
And “these are just the material damages. What can we say about the horrors experienced by children who wake up to the sound of a blast or awakened by their parents to flee the house before it is bombed? Once this madness ends, and it will end, we will have to work together to bring back some sense and meaning to the lives of people,” he continued.
“Psychosocial support will be a priority.”