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The Parish The Sacred Heart and St. Margaret Mary. East Dereham, Norfolk

A Cry for Peace with Justice in Gaza

Many of you may be aware of the situation facing the Christian communities in the Middle East perhaps without knowing how it became so bad or what can be done about it.

In 1947 when the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine, Palestinian Christians lived peacefully among Muslims and the small Jewish population in the area. With the passing of the non-binding Resolution, however, a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Zionist forces began. At the time Christians comprised 18% of Palestine’s population, with many families tracing their ancestry back to the time of Christ. Today Christians comprise fewer than 2% of Palestinians, with the loss of Jerusalem’s Christian community being the most profound, plunging from a peak of 51% in 1922 to just 4% today. After the Jewish-Arab war of 1948, many Palestinians of all faiths fled to Gaza – then under Egyptian rule, and to Jerusalem – then an international city.

In the Six Day War of 1967 after the defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan by Israeli forces, Israel tripled its territory, rendering millions of Palestinians homeless, living under occupation or in Israel under martial law. Along with its Muslim neighbours, Gaza’s small Christian community found itself imprisoned between Israel and the sea and the land swollen by additional refugees.

Presently about 5,000 Christians live in Gaza among a predominantly Muslim population of one and a half million, some of them parishioners of the oldest church in Gaza, the 16th century Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrus, some members of the Baptist Church and about 300 Roman Catholics, parishioners of the Holy Family Church in Gaza. Our Catholic Church also runs a school in this parish which takes Muslim children. The Catholic founded and run University of Bethlehem (www.bethlehem.edu) also takes Muslim students, indeed the majority of students are Muslim. Two wonderful examples of the Church working in the community, extending the hand of friendship and giving educational opportunities to people of other faiths. The orphanage founded in Bethlehem by our Catholic Church is also open to all. I was privileged to visit Bethlehem last year and spent some time at the orphanage run by Sister Sophie. I also visited the village of Aboud on the West Bank and for an insight into the scandalous injustice inflicted on Palestinians, go to www.leicester-holyland.org.uk/Aboud%20palestine.htm (the Aboud is case sensitive) and follow the links to the various reports from Fr Firas Aridah who is the parish priest there. Conditions in Aboud have regretfully not improved since these reports were written.

The situation in Gaza remains desperate. I quote the words of Father Manuel Musallam, parish priest of the Holy Family Church in Gaza, words which he directed to Palestine and the whole world after the funeral mass for a young 14 year old Palestinian girl who died earlier this year due to action by Israeli forces:

 May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

From this valley of tears, from Gaza drowning in blood, the blood that has stifled the happiness in the heart of one and a half million people, I bring you these words of faith and hope. I do not use the word "love”, that word has been stuck in our throats, even in the hearts of Christians. The priests of the Church raise the banner of hope so that God will have mercy and compassion on us and give Him a chance to rest in Gaza, in this manner the light of Christianity that was ignited in the early church, by Deacon Felipe will continue to shine. May the compassion of Christ raise our love up to God, even though at this time it is in "critical condition”.

With all my heart as your priest I ask you to pray for the soul of our daughter, our beloved daughter who died in this war: Cristina Wadi al-Turk. She died on Saturday morning, January 2nd 2009, from the effects of fear and cold. The windows of her house had been left open to protect the children from the effect of the bomb blasts on the glass. The rockets passed over her home, affecting the whole neighbourhood and causing everything to tremble in an ominous way. She was not able to stand all that and went to complain to the Creator and ask for a new home where there were no tears or rockets or crying, but only joy and happiness.  

Dear brothers in Christ, what you see on your TV screens and what you hear is not the whole truth of the suffering that the people of Gaza are enduring. Neither television nor radio is capable of transmitting in all its immensity that which is happening in our homeland right now.

The siege of Gaza is a hurricane that has grown little by little until reaching the point where it has converted itself into a crime against humanity. The people of Gaza now present their tragic case for every man of "good will” to pass judgement. In the coming times it will be the time of God to pass judgement.

The children of Gaza, with their parents, are forced to sleep in the hallways of their houses, if they still even have a house, or in their bathrooms, in order to protect themselves, trembling with fear caused by the rumbling and the shaking, the terrible shaking caused by the F-16 jet fighter planes.

It is true that until now the targets of the planes have been mostly the government buildings and the headquarters of Hamas, but all these buildings are located among people’s homes which are separated by not more than 6 meters, which is the legally allowed distance between buildings. Because of this people’s homes suffered severe damage and many children were killed due to this. Our children live in a constant state of panic and terror, and this makes them sick. This and the lack of food, poor nutrition, poverty, cold... The tragedy that hospitals are going through has reached a critical state. These hospitals before the war, lacked emergency facilities, and now they are being overwhelmed by thousands of wounded and sick caused by these events. It has reached the point where operations must be done in the hallways of the hospitals. Many of the wounded are sent via the Rafah crossing to Egypt, but those that manage to get through do not return, because the majority die along the way. The people in the hospitals are scared, sad, almost hysterical. I briefly describe this in my letter asking for help from you, and also from God. Our people in Gaza are having to live like wild animals, not people. They eat but they are not nourished; they cry but they have no tears.....

We ask that you offer to God your most ardent prayers and that no Mass or religious service be celebrated without remembering before God the tragedy in Gaza. For my part, I continue sending notes to our children to encourage hope which lies in their hearts. We have decide to pray together every hour this prayer. "Lord of peace, grant us peace. Oh Lord of peace, grant peace to our country. Lord have mercy, have mercy on your people and do not ever become angry with us”. I ask you now to rise and pray with us. Your prayers, united with ours, will move the whole world and will teach us that the miracle of love which has been detained along the way and which still has not reached your brothers in Gaza, is not the love of Christ and His Church. For the love of Christ and the Church, political or social differences are not an obstacle, neither are wars or any other cause. When we receive your charity we feel that we here in Gaza have not been forgotten by the rest of the Church of Christ, a holy Church, Catholic, and that our Muslim brothers who are among us are part of our family, our destiny, with whom we share everything and with whom we form, all of us together, the Palestinian people.

But amid all this, the people of Gaza continue to reject war as a solution for peace, and are convinced that the only path to peace is peace itself. In Gaza we are patient and in our eyes you can read: "Between slavery and death, for us there is no choice”. We want to live to worship the Lord in Palestine and to bear witness to Christ. We want to live for Palestine, not to die for its cause. But if one day death comes, we will die happily with courage and strength.

We beseech that when you offer your prayers to God that you ask that our Lord Jesus Christ give us true peace......

May the peace of Christ, that peace which invites us to be one body, be with you and protect you. Amen.

Your brother

Father Manuel Musallam

Priest of the Latin Church in Gaza

 

Since Cristina’s death, the 22 day invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces which killed 1,434 Gazans including 960 civilians, 239 police officers and 234 Hamas combatants has taken place. As well as the deaths, 5,303 Palestinians were injured, a figure which included 1,606 children and 828 women. 

I share with you the words of Father Manuel from the 30th of April this year:

 

The destruction has become deeper and deeper. Things are getting worse and worse. Many families are suffering.

People cannot receive electricity all the time because there is a lack of fuel to run the generators. There is a shortage of clean water, sanitation is poor. Educational and medical care is also not good.

Our precious trees have been uprooted. Our buildings have been destroyed. Our streets have been destroyed. Our land has been burnt by bombs, and so we cannot produce anything. We are just consumers now....

The people of Gaza have lost almost everything and are now destitute after the bombing of their homes and crops. Our children are suffering from trauma, anxiety, undernourishment, malnutrition, poverty and a lack of heating. The world has to find a solution for the Palestinian people and not simply revert to their previous positions. The borders with Israel must be redrawn, and the occupation which began 60 years ago must end. Peace is only possible if it embraces justice. If the world grants the Palestinian people their human rights, there will surely be peace in the Middle East.

At a time when the Israelis are reported to be refusing to allow re-building to take place in Gaza, President Obama is reported to have given Israel $30 billion in military aid.

You may ask yourself, how can I help?  You can help:

By reading this and trying to understand.

By your prayers of course.

By visiting www.sacredheart-stives.org and follow the links to the Holy Land Project. Please note that the next Pilgrimage to the Holy Land to be led by Fr Paul is in June 2010 (see our parish news letter of 17th May for details).

 

Justice and Peace Committee Dereham  - 24th May 2009

 

 

 

 

 

Article written by Brian Moran

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