Gaza update: Keeping the light on

Stephen Tunstall, our Programmes and Partnerships Manager for Palestine and Israel, visits Gaza regularly and has been shocked and saddened by the downward spiral of conditions there. But he has good news to tell, of the work our Christian partners are doing, and the difference your support is making...

It has been a tumultuous few months for Palestinians. In late 2017, hopes were high that reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas would improve the humanitarian situation, potentially bringing an end to the blockade and new opportunities for long-term peace.

Nowhere is that needed more than in Gaza, under an Israeli blockade for over ten years since Hamas came to power. Effectively a large city in a tiny open air prison, without the freedom for people and goods to leave, Gaza simply can’t cope with the pressure of two million people requiring food, sanitation, and work.

Even more concerning for the humanitarian situation was President Trump’s announcement early this year that the US would drastically cut its funding to UNRWA. This UN body, in the absence of an  independent Palestine, acts as a quasi-welfare state for over five million Palestinian refugees, providing free education, healthcare, and relief services.  Were these services to be lost, the impact it would have on the people of Gaza, who have nowhere else to turn, is unimaginable.

But there is also good news!

On my recent visit I was able to witness first-hand the difference your support is making and on behalf of our partners, I would like to say a big thank you.

Where government-run hospitals are closing because of the power crisis, Al Ahli Hospital, the Anglican hospital in Gaza that you support, has stayed open!

Where government hospitals in Gaza are closing, your support has helped keep the Christian-run Al Ahli hospital open

We were also able to purchase a bone density scanner for Al Ahli, a vital tool for diagnosing cancers and osteoporosis. Before this purchase, there was only one 20 year old machine in Gaza that wasn’t available to everyone. Having a new machine at Al Ahli Hospital will mean the poorest patients can access this vital service for the first time, and it would not have been possible without your support. And your donations are helping to protect the next generation: we have extended our support for an antenatal healthcare programme for a further two years helping 4,000 more women give their unborn children the best chance of a healthy start to life.

I heard so many worries and concerns on my visit to our partners in Palestine. The mood throughout Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza is more despondent than ever. Many are frightened there will be a catastrophic new war, and the Palestinians feel defenceless.

The affect this has on children and young people is particularly concerning.

I met with a Christian youth worker in the West Bank who was worried about one of the young people who came to their centre. The teenager was arrested by Israeli soldiers in October 2017 and charged with stone throwing.

The youth worker said he believes the teen is innocent of the charge, and told me the boy is still being held in a military jail.

He is one of the hundreds of Palestinian minors detained by the Israeli military every year, most often on charges of stone throwing. Many of these children report being abused in detention, held in solitary confinement, interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or a guardian, forced to sign confessions in Hebrew they don’t understand, and face trial in a military court where the judge is an Israeli soldier. They can be sentenced to years in prison.

And so, with your help Embrace is working to give young people hope and opportunities.  

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, we are supporting a programme that reaches 14,000 young people in 40 schools. The programme gives students an opportunity to take part in extracurricular educational activities and personal development projects.

The project develops critical thinking, promotes forgiveness, and broadens the horizon of young people too often shackled by the pressure of having lived their whole life under military occupation.

Witnessing the impact the programme is having on her students, one teacher involved in the project told us ‘it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had as an educator.’ I hope that brings a smile to all our supporters who make this possible.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, there are the young people who have known nothing but war and blockade their whole lives.

The vast majority of young people in Gaza will have never left the five mile-wide strip of land. Can you imagine the frustration of not knowing when you will ever be able to leave your home town? They cannot leave Gaza by road as the checkpoints are closed. They are not allowed to leave by boat and the airport was bombed and has never been rebuilt.  

They have been traumatised repeatedly by aerial bombardments; many have known loved ones violently killed, and, perhaps worst of all, because the international community has done nothing, they have come to believe that they are worthless and that their lives and futures do not matter. They believe that they may never enjoy the rights and freedoms the rest of us take for granted. 

It never ceases to amaze me that despite these injustices, the young people I have the privilege of meeting in Gaza are absolutely determined to work hard for a peaceful and prosperous future. And that’s because of you!

Thanks to you, Christians are supporting young people in Gaza to become leaders in the wider community.

Scouts in Gaza are getting the chance to learn leadership skills, thanks to you!

The children and young people at the Orthodox church’s Scout group – which includes girls and boys – are being trained in youth work and leadership. They are being given knowledge and skills which the group then shares with Muslim Scout groups right across Gaza.

The scout life changed my personality and the way I deal with my problems. I learned more about the importance of team work and how to work under pressure.’  Azzam, 15.

The project is fully supported by you! You are providing opportunities for young people in Gaza to grow and develop - which is vital for the challenges that lie ahead of them. Thank you!

Click here to give and support the life-changing work our Christian partners are doing in Gaza.