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Presbyterian Hunger Program partners flee violence in Gaza

Witnessing the horrors of war

by Valéry Nodem, Presbyterian Hunger Program | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Children flee homes in Northern Gaza with small bags of belongings. (All photos by Rajeh Abbas, taken on October 11.)

“If we get killed, tell your communities that Palestinians are peaceful humans struggling only for peace …”

These are the words of Presbyterian Hunger Program partner Rajeh Abbas, founder and director of the Palestinian nonprofit Improvement and Development for Communities Center (IDCO) based in Gaza.

Ever since the horrific Hamas attacks in Israel on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and the constant retaliatory bombing in Palestine, I’ve been checking in regularly with Rajeh and other partners in Palestine to verify that they are alive and safe.

Rajeh, his wife and six children were forced to flee their home in Northern Gaza for the South. On their tumultuous journey, they have witnessed the destruction of the city they love, their home and places of work, and have been surrounded day and night by death, injury, trauma, fear and tears.

As Rajeh has been struggling to find safety for his family, he lives with the constant reminder that at any second they could be killed.

Children’s clothing lies in the rubble.

Over the last several decades, the Presbyterian Hunger Program has partnered with many organizations in Palestine. Decades of occupation, land confiscation policies, and privatization of Palestinian water by Israel have resulted in less land available for food production, which in turn has led to increased hunger, poverty, food insecurity and limited opportunities for Palestinians.

Before the beginning of the war, more than 80% of Palestinian food imports came from Israel, which has forced Palestinian markets to rely on Israeli and other international aid for necessity goods. Added to this, the various wars and conflicts between both countries over the years have made life very difficult for most Palestinians. Before the attack by Hamas last month, 33.6% of Palestinians (1.84 million people, mostly women) were food insecure.

Israel has enforced a total siege on Gaza, cutting off access to most essential life-saving supplies like water, food, fuel, and medicine. According to Oxfam, 2% of usual food deliveries have been delivered to the enclave since the siege. The lack of sufficient food and water access is creating conditions for starvation; international law strictly prohibits the use of starvation as a method of warfare.

Israel has dropped more than 25,000 tons of explosives, the equivalent of two nuclear bombs, on Gaza since October. As of Dec. 4, at least 15,800 Palestinians have been killed so far, with the majority being women and children. More than 41,300 Palestinians have been wounded and 6,800 missing.

Men search the rubble.

The UN estimates that more than 1.7 million Gazans are internally displaced due to the conflict. Hospitals, schools, and mosques have been bombed in the last weeks. Gaza still doesn’t have access to electricity, and all roads in the Gaza strip are blocked and destroyed.

The United States and many other foreign powers (France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, etc.) have shown support for Israel during this situation and have also advocated for humanitarian aid for Gaza. Since Nov. 24, a temporary truce, conditioned on the release of hostages and prisoners, was reached between Hamas and Israel. This truce in fighting permitted more humanitarian assistance to reach Gazans.

The truce brought temporary relief and is now over. Fighting and bombing have since then resumed, with indiscriminate bombing reaching new levels. A complete ceasefire is necessary. A ceasefire will reduce death and suffering and will bring parties around the table to discuss ways to establish more long-term peace.

All around the world, there have been demonstrations of support and solidarity for Palestine in particular. A few weeks ago, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres condemned the attack by Hamas, but also recognized that the attack did not happen in a vacuum, as Palestine has been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.

Presbyterian Hunger Program continues to be committed to supporting the efforts of our partners in Palestine to serve the poor and oppressed and secure a healthy and dignified future for their communities and families.

Men walk through the bombed area.

Since 2016, PHP has partnered with IDCO to provide training and employment for women, scale up food production in Gaza, and work on enhancing market linkages between rural and urban areas in Palestine.

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, another PHP partner, has for decades offered academic education and psychological support and services to deaf children, children with disabilities and their families in Gaza. Its craft department has provided employment and a means of income to hundreds of deaf people.

And most recently, PHP has partnered with the Good Shepherd Collective in creating spaces for Palestinian communities and local leaders to document settler violence and Israeli occupation and colonization for the protection of human rights.

Since the beginning of the conflict few weeks ago, PC(USA) has issued a call to prayer and various statements, including a statement from the Rev. Bronwen Boswell, the Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. A crisis group comprised of staff from various offices was put into place and meets regularly to assess the situation on the ground and take or recommend action.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has issued an appeal and has already sent some grants to partners. The Office of Public Witness has issued several alerts. The Presbyterian Hunger Program has also mobilized for action, remained in touch with partners on the ground and provided presence and psychological support in these trying times.

War kills people, destroys and divides societies, exacerbates hunger and poverty, and depletes resources that could have been used to improve lives rather than destroy lives.

According to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since this war started on Oct. 7, over half of Gaza’s homes have been destroyed; 311 educational facilities were damaged; 26 out of 35 hospitals are not functioning and 87 ambulances are damaged. In addition, 157 places of worship were damaged.

It will take decades and an incredible number of resources to rebuild Gaza. Lives lost on both ends will never be replaced. It’s imperative to find solutions that allow the two states to live and coexist peacefully.

“Jewish and Christian Voices for Peace,” a webinar being put on by World Mission, the Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, is set for 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, Dec. 12. Register here.

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