“Many families cannot afford to buy even the most basic necessities, and more and more children can be found on the streets selling small items in an attempt to earn money for their families”, Constantine Dabbagh, Executive Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches/Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees (MECC/DSPR) office in Gaza, recently said.
“We can’t lose hope; otherwise it will be a disaster for the Palestinians”, Constantine affirmed in a recent email to Christian World Service (CWS), the aid and development agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
CWS has worked in partnership with the DSPR for the past 20 years. Last year $ 109 000 was provided for health and education projects (including a grant of $ 58 000 from the Australian Agency for International Development) and $ 22 000 for emergency assistance.
Poverty has increased dramatically, and the need for humanitarian assistance is enormous.
Cash assistance is being provided to families to give flexibility of purchasing food that is available at the time and to help them prioritise for their needs. Another project provides people with medical services at minimal fees. The medical caseload is expected to increase, given social service cutbacks elsewhere.
Now fishermen are allowed to fish in a very limited area of the long Gaza coastline and occasionally they encounter harassment from the Israeli navy.
Constantine, and other observers in Gaza, are not optimistic about the long-term prospects for stability or peace in the 360 square kilometer coastal area – an area which some Palestinians have compared to the world’s largest prison.
Much of the infrastructure has been destroyed. Lack of electricity is a large problem. The power station which was bombed by the Israeli fighter planes has recently been repaired with the assistance of the Egyptian government which provided technicians and equipment. It reached for a short period to normal, but unfortunately with cold weather and excessive consumption, breakdowns to the transmitters occurred. Everyone is encountering unstable power supply nowadays. The technicians are doing their best to effect the necessary repairs.
Constantine, a dignified man of 68, cannot underline enough how he feels continued policies and the present stalemate, exacerbated by international sanctions since the election of Hamas a year ago are hurting the day-to-day life of Palestinians. “The continuity of the occupation harms DSPR’s ability to get materials shipped into Gaza from organisations in the West Bank.
This affects the ability of DSPR to continue with programs such as vocational training for almost 200 young people – a group strikingly idealistic and hopeful, given the massive obstacles placed in the way of humanitarian work in Gaza.
“All we want to do is to live together in peace – a just peace”, Constantine says firmly.
“While the DSPR family is still OK, and we appreciate all the relief assistance provided to our people, we still need to be free and recognised, and live in an atmosphere of a just peace with our neighbours on equal footings.
“I seize this opportunity to express our appreciation and thanks for all your efforts to create awareness and provide support to our people”, concluded Constantine.
Photo : Executive Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches/Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees Constantine Dabbagh – photo by Paul Jeffrey/Action by Churches Together