Catholic News: Air attacks make situation in Gaza unbearable

September 8, 2011 | John Newton and Reinhard Backes | Catholic News
Holy Land:  air attacks make situation in Gaza unbearable | ACN, Aid to the Church in Need, Gaza, Father George Hernández, Gaza’s Holy Family Church,
Pupils at Holy Family school, Gaza

The situation in Gaza is “unbearable” – amid ongoing aerial bombardments – according to church sources there. Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, Father George Hernández, parish priest of Gaza’s Holy Family Church, said: “The need of the people and the humiliations that they must endure daily are unbearable.”

Fr Hernández told ACN staff visiting Gaza as part of a project assessment trip that people there had been “repeatedly subjected to low-level flyovers and even bombardments by the Israeli Air Force”.

The most recent came last night (Wednesday, 7th September) when aircraft fired on militants stationed east of Jabalia, in southern Gaza.

Israeli aerial attacks began after the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza attacked a bus carrying Israeli soldiers on 18 August, killing 14 people. Reports from the region state that the following week there were 41 air strikes, killing 17 Palestinians – 12 were members of radical Islamist groups – and wounding 20, including six children.

Sister Davida, whose order, the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, runs a school for 630 pupils in Gaza, told Aid to the Church in Need that children were still reeling from the 2008-9 Gaza War.  She said: “During the war, several girls died of heart failure. Even today, many children react to aircraft noise with fear and panic.”

According to Fr Hernández it has become increasingly difficult to find work in the area and around 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million people – of whom around 3,000 are Christians – have no regular income.

Restrictions on travel in and out of the area, imposed by Israel in June 2007 following Hamas’ seizure of the Gaza Strip, were blamed for the high levels of unemployment affecting Christians, who find it difficult to leave the region.

In March 2011 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) concluded that Israel’s “easing of the blockade on the Gaza Strip since June 2010 did not result in a significant improvement in people’s livelihoods, which were largely depleted during three years of strict blockade”.

The report further noted: “Exit permits via Israel continued to be granted only on an exceptional basis, with an insignificant increase in the number of travellers (mainly traders) observed during the second half of 2010 compared to the first half – from 106 to 114 persons a day.”

Some middle-aged Palestinian Christians are managing to leave Gaza to find work elsewhere, leaving children and elderly people behind. Aid to the Church in Need was told that this had created huge problems for the Catholic schools and other social initiatives which depended on the support of the faithful and outside aid.

The Church runs a number of projects to support the local community. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem funds two schools in Father Hernández’s parish, attended by 1,100 boys and girls.

Like the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary’s school, these accept students regardless of their religion – and most pupils come from Muslim families.

Fr Hernández said that schools needed help to set up libraries, run holiday programmes and purchase Arabic Bibles. The Church also provides care for pensioners, people with disabilities and individuals suffering trauma.

In Gaza, four Sisters of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity care for nearly 25 pensioners who lack basic needs.

Father Hernández also spoke of the Church’s plans to renovate the parish centre and buy a minibus to help transport the elderly and those with mobility problems.

Following the 2008-9 Gaza War, Aid to the Church in Need gave £18,000 for emergency help, working closely with Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem and Monsignor Manuel Musallam, who was the Catholic parish priest in Gaza at the time.



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