Tag Archives: Gaza

Gaza concerns raised at White House

CRS, one of our Caritas members in the USA, has written along with other American aid agencies to the US government with its concerns on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Join CRS action here at Action Alert

The Honorable Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State

Dear Secretary Rice,

As leaders of major international relief and development organizations operational in the Palestinian Territories, we are writing to express our grave concern about the humanitarian disaster taking place in the Gaza Strip which has worsened exponentially since we first wrote to you one year ago.

Nearly two weeks into the fighting between Hamas and the Israeli Government, it is estimated that 758 people have been killed and more than 3,000 injured, including humanitarian workers and medical staff working in Gaza. Among the dead are 257 children. Scores of rockets are being fired into Southern Israel on a daily basis, and Gazans and Israelis alike are living in fear and insecurity. In a recent incident, 40 Palestinian civilians were killed as they sheltered in an UNRWA school.

There is a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Hospitals in Gaza are on the brink of collapse, trying to cope with a flood of casualties. Doctors face severe shortages of essential medical supplies, including medicines, sterilizing equipment, blood, bandages, beds, as well as medical staff. With 75% of the electricity cut off in Gaza, and a serious shortage of fuel, hospitals are struggling to function and the most vulnerable patients are at serious risk. An estimated 1 million people are living without water or power, including 560,000 children, and sanitation services are not functioning due to the fighting. Gaza’s sewage system is highly dangerous, posing serious risks of the spread of water borne disease. Sewage continues to flood into Beit Lahiya, farmland, and the sea due to electricity cuts to waste water pumping stations. To date 16 schools have been damaged from the airstrikes. Of these, five received direct hits. In Israel, two schools have been hit by rockets fired from Gaza. Prior to the current operation 80 percent of Gaza’s population was reliant on food aid, and presently many are having serious difficulties obtaining basic food items.

Thousands of homes have been damaged making them difficult to live in due to the cold weather, and thousands have been displaced from their homes. The long term trauma and psychological scars can’t begin to be measured.

Many of our agencies have been forced to suspend operations due to the fighting and are unable to get humanitarian goods in to respond to the enormous human suffering. Our local and partner staff based in Gaza are being severely affected by the disaster, in some cases even losing their lives. The crossings have been open only intermittently, allowing a trickle of aid through. This is not enough to support 1.5 million people running out of food and water. The unsafe conditions mean that many families are too frightened to leave their homes to get aid. Although we welcome any move to improve humanitarian access, the decision by the Israeli Government to halt military operations for 3 hours is clearly inadequate to deal with the scale of the humanitarian crisis. Moreover it is not a substitute for a comprehensive ceasefire which would allow an unbroken flow of humanitarian assistance and begin to reduce human suffering. Without a full opening of the crossings to and from Gaza for humanitarian and commercial goods, and of people, the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate.

Finally, it will be important once this emergency phase has passed to begin immediately transitioning into activities that build a base for longer term economic and social recovery – and aid that is sustained long enough for these activities to be effective. We would hope that US government assistance packages would allow for a broader range of activities to bring the kind of economic and social stability that will foster progress aimed at more lasting solutions to the conflict.

We urgently request that the United States Government use its influence to:

1) Press for an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties leading to a comprehensive and permanent cessation of hostilities.

2) Restore unrestricted humanitarian access for staff of international NGOs.

3) Restore unrestricted humanitarian access by reopening crossings into and out of Gaza for humanitarian and commercial goods

4) Ensure that humanitarian goods and basic supplies are able to move freely within Gaza

5) Press on all parties the urgent need for meaningful momentum towards a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advocacy, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in the Palestine, Jerusalem, Middle East & North Africa, North America, Peacebuilding, United States

Shining a light on the Gaza conflict

By Joseph Cornelius Donnelly, Head of Caritas Internationalis Delegation at UN Headquarters in New York

Morning news started with: “Despite the raw winter cold, the sun rises, the light of a new day is on us.” Indeed, a blazing sun rises up over the UN as it sits nestled on the edge of the East River in Midtown Manhattan.

This near poetic brightness shines over the historic and architecturally unique headquarters of the world community’s organization – where with several thousand international staff the Security Council sits, the General Assembly meets, UN agencies work and the presiding Secretary General, Korean diplomat, Ban Ki-moon, exercises leadership on peace, security and development.

Likewise this same global light rose up this morning over Gaza, nestled on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, considered the most densely populated place on the face of the earth, adjacent to Southern Israel, two hours from Jerusalem.

In fact, even in winter when the sun rises on the Gaza Strip, you can feel its potential to transform suffering darkness, if only for a moment. Everything in Gaza is constantly confronted with old history and devastating bitter reality checks, not to mention borders and blockades. Many ask where is it? What is it? How did it get to be this way? These are both simple and complex questions which have and need honest answers if the Gaza quagmire is ever to be resolved peacefully.

Gaza has been part of the land called Palestine since biblical times when the Holy Family journeyed on their flight into Egypt. For centuries it’s been resplendent with orange groves, tomatoes growing on the rushing shores of a well-fished sea supporting local economies. It is part of the survival in the land called holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims for centuries until today. This land has hosted all kinds of conquerors through the ages and geo-political machinations, knitting too little life and too much death.

These are facts, however frightful the details which all too often are not known, not accepted, or simply not understood.

In modern times, before 1923, Palestine was still the name of the Land, with Gaza part of the north Egyptian community. From 1923-1947 under British control, it became known as Mandate Palestine with Lebanon and Syria to the north, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the East and Egypt to the south, cities and towns leaping from pages of biblical histories. In 1947 the UN allocated 56% of Palestine to a Jewish immigrant minority who were 1/3 of the population, owning 6% of the land.

War unfolded so by 1949 Israel took by force another 22% of the land and in 1967 occupied the remaining 22% as well as Syria’s Golan Heights. This matter, these changing maps, generating exceptional population shifts, displacement and refugees have held life hostage for decades.
These realities are the quintessential context for understanding the past history as it lives deeply in the current Gaza crisis.

In the midst of 61 years of wars, treaties, accords, negotiations, peace building mechanisms, the historic impasse is deeper than ever. While we condemn all forms of violence on all sides, we advocate for a just solution based on equal rights and dignity for all.

Last UN Secretary General described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the most intractable problem on the UN agenda. The current Secretary General has repeatedly advocated to Security Council and all parties for a comprehensive ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Today he travels in the troubled land and region to demand an immediate facing-the-facts moves forward fast to save lives now.

Humanitarian crises have unfolded time after time, are again requiring millions of dollars in urgent international aid as first steps. With near 1000 people dead and thousands more injured, many critically, ending the war in Gaza must be a world priority.

Our UN Liaison Office looks across the street into the UN Secretariat where 192 flags fly daily around the entrance gates. While a Palestinian national flag exists, one does not fly here with the rest of the world, though you might purchase a small one nearby. To create an independent Palestinian state, existing side-by-side with Israel, has been the determined hope and struggle of many. This long pilgrimage to mutual recognition, peaceful co-existence and a complete end to occupation is necessary for a durable peace.

Without global commitments, political will beyond rhetoric, every rising sun dances still in the darkness created long ago in the land.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in the Palestine, Jerusalem, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding

UN Human Rights Council calls for international protection in Gaza

By Floriana Polito, Caritas Internationalis Delegate at UN in Geneva

On Friday 9 and Monday 12 January 2009, I attended the 9th special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the grave human rights violations in Gaza. The meeting room was crowded with State delegations, NGO representatives and UN officials. A strong feeling of solidarity united all of us in the desire to express deep concern at the suffering of the innocent civilian population and to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. During this special session, Caritas Internationalis, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Pax Romana, and the International Young Catholic Students, joined their voices to condemn human rights violations perpetrated in the Palestinian Territories; We also called on the Human Rights Council and the international community to ensure an effective protection of civilian populations in Gaza and Israel, in accordance with the International law and to facilitate necessary discussion leading to a just and longstanding solution.

On Monday morning, at 11.45 a.m., the President of the Council announced a suspension of the session to allow Member State delegations to reach an agreement on the draft resolution. Meanwhile, I received the sad announcement that one of the six operational Caritas Jerusalem’s clinics in Gaza had been completely destroyed by an Israel F-16 fighter jet. Our NGO colleagues in the room expressed their solidarity with Caritas Jerusalem, its staff, and those whom it serves.

(Made public yesterday afternoon was an address by Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi C.S., Holy See permanent observer to the United Nations at Geneva, delivered during the ninth special session of the Human Rights Council, on “the grave violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent aggression of the occupied Gaza Strip”.

The address appeals for a cease-fire and a return to negotiation, intended to express the Holy See’s “solidarity with both the people in Gaza, who are dying and suffering because of the on-going military assault by the Israeli Defence Forces, and the people in Sderot, Ashkelon and other Israeli cities who are living under the constant terror of rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants from within the Gaza Strip, which have caused casualties and wounded a number of people”.

The archbishop mentioned the initiative taken by patriarchs and heads of Churches of Jerusalem who declared Sunday 4 January “as a day of prayer with the intention to put an end to the conflict in Gaza and to restore peace and justice in the Holy Land”. He also recalled the Pope’s comments during the Angelus on that day and his meeting with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on 8 January during which he reiterated “that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned”.

“It is evident”, the permanent observer went on, “that the warring parties are not able to exit from this vicious circle of violence without the help of the international community that should therefore fulfil its responsibilities, intervene actively to stop the bloodshed, provide access for emergency humanitarian assistance, and end all forms of confrontation.

“At the same time”, he added, “the international community should remained engaged in removing the root causes of the conflict that can only be resolved within the framework of a lasting solution of the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the international resolutions adopted during the years”. VIS 13 January 2009)

The President later resumed the session. Since consensus on the draft resolution could not be reached, the Human Rights Council decided to proceed to a vote, which resulted in the adoption of the resolution, with 33 votes in favour, 1 against and 13 abstentions. The text strongly condemned the recent Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip and called for immediate international protection of the Palestinian People. The Council also decided to dispatch an urgent independent international fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law against the Palestinian People by Israel.

The resolution – which calls for the immediate cessation of Israeli military attacks the occupied Gaza Strip and withdrawal of Israeli military forces from this area – also requests the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to investigate the latest targeting of UNRWA facilities in Gaza, in particular, its schools. Such attacks resulted in the deaths of Palestinian civilians, including women and children.

Since the Human Rights Council was established in 2006, it has held nine special sessions, and, of particular note, is the fact that five of these sessions have focused on Israeli military operations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in the Palestine, Jerusalem, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding

Caritas medical clinic in Gaza destroyed

Caritas Archives.  The Caritas team in Gaza are used to working in makeshift environments.

Credit: Caritas Archives. The Caritas team in Gaza are used to working in makeshift environments.

By Conor O’Loughlin

In a place that is in the glare of the world’s media, all too little information is coming out of Gaza on the reality of the situation for ordinary people.

What is clear is that the crisis is both reaching cataclysmic proportions and showing no signs of abating. Of the 884 people confirmed dead, at least 275 are children, 93 are women and 12 were medical personnel. Supplies of medicine, food and blankets are all at critically-low levels as humanitarian access remains extremely difficult.

Those trying to get medical help to those most in need are facing the most difficult circumstances.

A medical clinic in Gaza run by Caritas Jerusalem was destroyed by an Israel F-16 fighter jet on Friday.

The clinic, in the Al Maghazi district of Central Gaza, was completely destroyed in the bombing that also razed four homes. At least another twenty homes sustained heavy damage in the blast.

Thankfully, since all of the families from the homes had already fled the violence and were staying in various schools in the district, nobody was hurt in the bombing.

Indeed, the day after the bombing took place another medical clinic was destroyed by another Israeli bomb. On Saturday, a clinic run by the Middle Eastern Council of Churches in Al-Shuja’ia, east of Gaza City was completely destroyed by another fighter jet.

Not only now have Caritas Jerusalem lost one of their six local medical points in Gaza, but the people of Maghazi are temporarily without medical support and over $10,000 worth of medical equipment was destroyed. Caritas Jerusalem staff are now struggling to stretch their operations to Maghazi from the existing point at Al Mosaddar.

The bombing at the clinic comes at a time when medical supplies are severely depleted throughout Gaza. Since the medical points had decided to focus on minor injuries, thereby freeing up the hospitals for more serious cases, Caritas Jerusalem had already shared much of its stock of equipment to four hospitals. These include such essentials as adrenaline, syringes and alcohol. As the Caritas outlets come under severe pressure, the strain on the already-overloaded hospitals will only worsen.

Fr Manuel Musallam, the Parish Priest of Gaza, said in a telephone conversation from Beit Hanoun this morning, “There are dead bodies lying on the streets. The clinics are carrying out operations on the floor and women have no place to give birth.”

One Caritas doctor has been carrying out clinical duties from his home because neither he nor the patients who depend on him have been able to reach the medical point. Another doctor had his home bombed on Sunday and because he doesn’t know where he can live, his clinic’s short term operations are also under question.

Caritas Jerusalem have also opened new informal medical platforms in the schools where people are staying during the incursion. These platforms are being run by medical staff who have been forced to leave their homes and are actually living in the schools themselves. Through the provision of basic medical supplies from Caritas, they are able to administer basic assistance and help keep the burdens on the hospitals down.

In the schools people are hungry, cold and afraid. Caritas has conducted so far a food distribution to 3000 people. Stories are pouring out of people sleeping three-to-a-blanket and near-freezing temperatures.

According to Fr Manuel, “”There is extreme fear everywhere here. The phosphorous gas being thrown in by Gaza is causing horrible reactions and the bombs the Israelis are dropping are literally cutting through people and through homes. You can hear children crying constantly. They don’t sleep. They have lost everything. 70,000 people are living in schools and they are very cold. The ones who haven’t gone to schools are living in their bathrooms or stairwells because they are afraid of shattering glass from bombs.”

And children and families are suffering most. He continued, “The children are lacking medicine and are literally incontinent with fear. There is no water here. We are almost out of diesel for our generator that we have allowed people to come and cook from. When the diesel runs out we will have nothing.”

Caritas Jerusalem General Secretary, Claudette Habesch, said, “To get medication into Gaza is extraordinarily difficult. There are small amounts getting through but the stocks are nothing compared to the needs. The humanitarian window being allowed for access to Gaza by the Israelis is not enough. They have given us a window when what we need is a door.”

Conor O’Loughlin
International Humanitarian Communications Officer

M+353 86 2071942
skype: coloughlin

2 Comments

Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in the Palestine, Jerusalem, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding

Caritas Mobile Clinic in Gaza

The mobile clinic is similar to an ambulance but has the type of things you’d find at your local doctors. It is run by two doctors, a health worker, and a lab technician.  The Caritas mobile clinic has treated hundreds of patients for minor sickness at UN schools, but also treated seven people wounded in the recent Israeli attacks.

Credit: Caritas archives. The mobile clinic is similar to an ambulance but has the type of things you’d find at your local doctors. It is run by two doctors, a health worker, and a lab technician. The Caritas mobile clinic has treated hundreds of patients for minor sickness at UN schools, but also treated seven people wounded in the attacks.

Comments Off on Caritas Mobile Clinic in Gaza

Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in the Palestine, Jerusalem, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding

Arcbishop Kelly: What is needed in Gaza is the will to listen

World religious leaders rally in Bethlehem for peace in Gaza

World religious leaders rally in Bethlehem for peace in Gaza

The Episcopal Co-ordination in Support of the Church in the Holy Land was set up in Jerusalem in October 1998 at the request of the Holy See and is organised by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales.

Last year at a meeting between Bishops from the Holy Land Co-ordination and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State Cardinal Bertone renewed the mandate and thanked the Holy Land Co-ordination for its vital work in supporting the Church in the Holy Land.

The Holy Land Co-ordination meets every January in the Holy Land with the aim of acting in solidarity with local Christians and sharing in the pastoral life of the local Church as it experiences intense political and social-economic pressure.

Speaking from Bethlehem on Sunday, Archbishop Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool and Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

“Everyone I meet at this time speaks with immense sadness of the suffering and destruction taking place in Gaza and the fears of the people in Israel because of rocket attacks. As someone who beyond all deserving or planning on my part has visited the Holy Land many times and Gaza once, this sadness reflects my own heart at this time. The conflict has deep roots but the priority now must be the immediate end to all violence. Violence is evil especially when it blocks humanitarian relief desperately needed. Because the roots are so deep and complex this outburst of violence cries out for such wise and courageous leadership that justice for all those for whom the Holy Land is home is achieved so that all violence is relegated to the past and peace shall be secured for generations to come.

“There needs to be an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian relief through. There is an urgent need for humanitarian relief for the population of Gaza. Violence is evil, especially when it blocks humanitarian aid.

“The first duty of leaders in this situation is to take the necessary steps to stop and avoid violence and to take the costly steps to engage in dialogue. What is needed now is a will on both sides to listen, understand and move towards reconciliation. History always judges as truly brave those who are open to any conversation that saves a single life.

“The agencies, supported by the Church, seek to serve all. However they have a specific responsibility to the needs of the minority Christians and also to appreciate the role of religion and faith in this land. Any solution must recognise this land has to be home for two peoples and three religions.”

Also on Sunday, while addressing a group of Christian schoolchildren who had paraded through Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, said the following:

“Here in Bethlehem in these days when we are witnesses to so much horror in Gaza … I say: violence, no matter where it comes from or whatever form it takes, must be condemned… I want to take this opportunity to condemn the violence in the Middle East and in a special way the attacks in the Gaza Strip. In two weeks these attacks have hurt Israel and the region more than all the rockets launched across the years.

“The birth of the child Jesus in the lowly stable of Bethlehem, so weak and undefended, leads us naturally to think of the situation in Gaza, where over the past two weeks we have witnessed a renewed outbreak of violence. This violence has caused a huge loss of life and destruction of homes, schools and institutions, wreaking immense damage and bringing terrible suffering for the civilian population, especially to many innocent children.

“Violence tempts us because it seems as if it might resolve our problems. This is a false hope. This outbreak of violence brings nothing but complications in the quest for a just settlement to the conflict, which is fervently sought by people across this land and indeed across the world.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Advocacy, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in the Philippines, Europe, Jerusalem, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding, United Kingdom

Gaza: only solution is peace

By Conor O’Loughlin, Caritas Communications Officer

The road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is no simple highway connecting two major cities. Not for one moment are you allowed to forget that you are enveloped in the world’s most complex political skirmish. Metres-high concrete walls bear down on you from either side. Highly-fortified Land Rovers ply the lengths like the old police vehicles in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles. Israeli settlements sit loftily and well-lit upon every hilltop; crooked Palestinian villages cower, ashamed and dark, in the valleys.

A sign rushes towards us: ‘Welcome to Jerusalem’ written in Hebrew, then Arabic, then English. Yet another checkpoint rises in the distance. I don’t feel particularly welcome.

Towers raise their heads at various points. Palestinian Mosque or Israeli watchtower? In the pre-dawn light, it’s impossible to tell.

And Jerusalem itself. It’s beauty, history and diversity the very reasons it is so contentious. Am I in east, or west? Is the man crossing the street Israeli or Palestinian? Or tourist? It feels like it shouldn’t matter. But to so many, it does.

My taxi driver tells me that it should be raining at this time of year. Possibly even snowing. But the morning is bright and crisp like a Northern European spring morning.

In Bethlehem this weekend the Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land are meeting. A group of European and American bishops here to show the Church in the Holy Land that they are not forgotten.

And so I make my way. As we pass yet more settlements and precariously perched Palestinian villages we get to the ‘Welcome to Bethlehem’ sign. Not as daunting as the last. Until just after, another: ‘Palestinian Authority Controlled Area. No entry by Israelis’. The land is utterly biblical: hillsides striated and ash baked. Olive trees puncture the slopes. Great palms sway gently, oblivious to the travails beneath.

I have some time to kill. So to the Church of the Nativity, the reason I am here in more than one sense. Where Jesus was born and which is now so intertwined with that which makes him saddest. Deep in its chambers, I watch a group of Orthodox priests chanting vespers. Surrounded by ancient scripts, portraits of dead saints and elders and the deep musk of incense clouding the air, it is easy to imagine that they, like their beliefs, have been found on this spot for two millennia.

It is calm here. There are tourists and the hawkers that harass them. Priests, nuns, monks and bishops of every denomination wearing every colour. Police. Taxi drivers.

And yet… And yet. It is impossible to banish from the mind what is happening in another corner of this place. Impossible to forget the images of pain and suffering on every television bulletin and newspaper just down the road in Gaza. It is in the lips of every Palestinian; their anger and frustration barely contained. 800 dead – and why? No-one can say. Here, Israel is the enemy. But Israel is here. Israel is the neighbour and it is not always even clear where Palestine begins and Israel ends. How can you know where to direct your hate when the object of your hatred is so intertwined, so enmeshed in your land and way of life?

For many Palestinians, their enemy is not just their neighbour. Their enemy lives in their house.

The difficulties here are age-old and well documented. The solution has evaded humanity for decades, and even centuries. But the violence in Gaza is certainly not part of that solution. Israelis and Palestinians must learn to work and live together. The hope is that recent events might force both sides to realise that the only solution is peace.

1 Comment

Filed under Advocacy, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in the Palestine, Jerusalem, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding