Christian Aid Middle East Communications Officer, Amy Merone, shares her experiences after a trip to Gaza last month.
It’s been several weeks since I returned from Gaza and yet the memories of what I saw, and the people I met, are etched in my mind. You can’t easily forget scenes of utter devastation or piles of that much rubble, caused by fifty days of a relentless offensive by Israel. This week marks three month since the ceasefire, yet Gaza remains a long way from recovery.
The first sign of what was to come came moments after we entered the Gaza Strip from the Erez crossing. As we started on the long walk towards the Palestinian checkpoint, enclosed in what felt like a metal cage, there was something startlingly wrong with the Gaza horizon. Buildings had crumbled. They were blackened. There were huge holes through the walls. Some had disappeared from the horizon altogether. As I made the journey from the Palestinian checkpoint into Gaza City, I was aghast at what I saw. Yet nothing could have prepared me for what was to come in the days ahead - scenes of unbelievable destruction and stories of suffering beyond my comprehension.
Few trips would be tougher than this one, I imagined. It is hard to find hope amongst that much rubble. It is hard to find hope when you sit with parents whose 22-year-old son was killed on his birthday. It is hard to find hope when a father tells you that his five-year-old daughter has lived through two conflicts in her short life. It is hard to find hope when returning to visit families whose livelihoods have been lost again.
The lives of the people I met bore difficult, painful truths. I met some individuals and families whose pain is being held and, in small ways, lessened by the work of Christian Aid partners - many of whom risked their own lives during the conflict to provide humanitarian assistance to people in desperate need. In the days, weeks and months after the conflict, they have continued to set aside their own pain to ease the suffering in the communities they serve.
Of course I also met people for whom there was no lessening of the pain and no hope that things would ever be any different – or better.
I was deeply inspired by the work of our partner CFTA (Culture & Free Thought Association) whose three centres in Khan Younis provide a sanctuary to children and young people, and their parents, who have witnessed scenes of incomprehensible violence. Their therapeutic psychosocial work uses art and drama to help children try to make sense of what they have seen and experienced. The UN estimates that 373,000 children are now in need of psychosocial support. Children like Dawish (12), who saw his uncle and cousin killed in the conflict, and Lama (15), who had to be pulled from the rubble after her family home was bombed.
I was also moved and heartened by the work of our partner PMRS (Palestinian Medical Relief Society) whose staff provided lifesaving medical care to injured people in heavily shelled neighbourhoods like Shejaiya during the conflict. They now provide much needed comprehensive home-based medical care to people like Baha’ (16) who was struck with shrapnel in both legs while trying to get injured people to hospital following a bombing in his neighbourhood. His brother, Ala’a, was killed on his 22nd birthday in the same bombing. Baha’ is one of almost three and a half thousand children who were injured in the conflict. Many are now thought to be suffering from life-long disabilities.
Amidst the hope that I saw through the work of our partners CFTA and PMRS, I have to also say that when I met with our partner PARC (the Agricultural Development Association), and with families who I had visited some eighteen months earlier, there was a profound sense of hopelessness.
Even before the latest conflict began, the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) found that food insecurity levels were at 57 per cent in Gaza, making the need for Gazans to harvest fresh produce vital. It is now estimated that the recent conflict has cost the agricultural and fishing sectors more than US$100 million with land, livestock, boats and nets destroyed.
What do you do when your home and livelihood is repeatedly bombed and subsequently destroyed in every conflict? What do you do when your work to support the resilience of farmers who live on the most fertile agricultural lands is made virtually impossible because that land is razed to the ground during every major Israeli offensive? This is now the challenge for partners like PARC.
While the lives of the people I met illustrated to me the vital importance of our partners’ work, they also showed the deep rooted need for change and justice for people living imprisoned lives in the Gaza Strip.
On the morning that we left Gaza, a child of about ten waved us goodbye and said: ‘See you after the next war’. It is unacceptable that a child cannot hope or conceive that there won’t be another war. But more than that, it is unacceptable that this young child only sees people outside his community after a renewed period of violence. We come and we go, but he can’t - and nor can the majority of people in Gaza. The blockade lives on and on, and so too the collective punishment of an entire population for the acts of some - shutting the people of Gaza away from the outside world. This has to change.
If you would like to donate to the Christian Aid Gaza Crisis Appeal please visit www.christian-aid.org.uk/gaza
Christian Aid believes that for there to be security for both peoples and a viable solution to this conflict then the climate of impunity must come to an end. Innocent Israeli and Palestinians civilians continue to pay the price for political failure. The essence of peace must be based on new relationships founded on equity. If non-violent forms of justice, such as respect for international law, are routinely ignored, then the international community will continue to fund an unsustainable status quo.
Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org
4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire
5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk