One year after the start of 50 days of fighting in Gaza, Catholic aid agency CAFOD and its partners have delivered aid to more than 117,000 people – but is warning that long-term recovery remains a distant prospect.
During the war, which began on 8th July last year, the people of Gaza endured airstrikes, naval bombardment, artillery fire and a ground invasion, while Israeli communities came under rocket and mortar fire from Palestinian factions.
More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, while 71 people in Israel died, including four civilians and one foreign national.
Mary Lucas, CAFOD’s representative for the Middle East, said: “Last year, we heard many people in power state that a return to the situation before the war was not an option and that the reconstruction of Gaza had to be part of a meaningful political process. Yet little has changed.
“The blockade of Gaza, through which Israel controls all but one of the entry points, has now entered its ninth year. It continues to have a devastating effect, limiting people’s movement and their access to health care and markets, and leaving the majority of the population dependent on humanitarian aid.
“Pope Francis reminds us that peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. We firmly believe that the only way out of the cycle of violence is to renew efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice. That surely has to involve ending the occupation of Palestine. When people can support themselves and live with dignity, there will be hope for a stable future.”
In response to last year’s crisis, Catholics in England and Wales donated more than £480,000 to CAFOD’s Gaza appeal. Their donations have enabled CAFOD’s partners to run mobile health clinics, provide clean water and hygiene kits, build new temporary houses, support farmers, and repair and refurbish 28 kindergartens damaged in the bombing.
Ibrahim Abu Amsha, who manages a kindergarten that was bombed, said: “I want to thank CAFOD and the people who donated money for rehabilitating the kindergarten. The 300 families who use it appreciate your support. You are helping to keep 11 employees in work and supporting so many families – to get children an early education, but also to help them come to terms with what
“Almost all the children here had their homes fully or partially destroyed. So it is important for them to come back and to see a nice place to learn and be with others.”
As well as donating money, 25,000 CAFOD supporters from more than 300 parishes signed a petition calling for Philip Hammond, the UK Foreign Secretary, to push for a just and lasting peace. In reply, the Foreign Office wrote: “We are clear that a political solution is required to the current crisis in Gaza if we are to avoid this suffering happening again. I can assure you all UK effort is focused to that end.”
Eyad Abu Jamea, whose farm was bombed during the fighting, said: “I thank everyone who supported us. Their solidarity is very important.
“You can give money, but solidarity and advocacy are everything. I want British people to come here and see what Gaza is like. They should come and see how hospitable we are. Palestinians in general and in Gaza are very resilient. We have no other option but to survive and live.”
After visiting Gaza last year, Bishop John Arnold, CAFOD’s Chair, said: “Whatever the politics of the situation, one thing is clear: it can’t go on like this.
“Most people I met were facing a continuous struggle just to get by, but they remained grateful for the compassion and solidarity of Catholics in England and Wales. I marvelled at their patient endurance and their belief that things will change.”
CAFOD has worked in the occupied Palestinian territory since the mid-1980s, and also works in Israel.
The agency strongly condemns violence against civilians by all sides.