CATHOLIC aid organisations are hopeful that the most recent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will hold as they begin to assess the needs in Gaza after 50 days of war.
“This is a window of opportunity,” said Sami El-Yousef, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Israel and the Palestinian territories. “(We hope) the unity government will take the lead. A lot of people here think the stage is set (for) a meaningful resumption of negotiations. Now it is up to leaders on both sides to make it happen, to move beyond (the same political hurdles.)
“Both leaderships must rise up to the occasion for us to move forward. Otherwise, the temporary cease-fire may last for a few months, then we will be back to the resumption of hostilities.”
The cease-fire that took effect on Tuesday, August 26, calls for the easing of the Israeli-enforced embargo to allow humanitarian aid and construction material into Gaza under strict monitoring. Egyptians, who brokered the cease-fire, will open the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip. Terms also include enlarging the offshore zone for Palestinian fishermen to 9.6km.
The agreement was the latest of numerous attempts to end a seven-week conflict in which more than 2100 largely civilian Palestinians and 70 Israelis, including 64 soldiers, were killed.
The organisations have co-ordinated their aid efforts, with Caritas Jerusalem focusing on food and cash assistance while Catholic Relief Services is distributing non-food items and CNEWA is assisting with repairing damaged homes and institutions.
Caritas Jerusalem director Fr Raed Abusahlia said his agency’s long-term emergency appeal would last until Christmas. He said Caritas would provide food to 2000 families as well as a cash distribution of about $350 to all the Christian families in Gaza, with specific emphasis on those who lost all of their possessions and homes.
Caritas also would provide all the necessary school supplies for the students of the five Christian schools in Gaza, although it was not clear when school would begin.
“At the same time we have already sent three truck-loads of food, (nappies), milk and hygiene supplies last week,” he said, noting that the almost $84,000 worth of supplies came from local Catholic parishes as well as four Israeli groups.
Mr El-Yousef said response to CNEWA’s earlier appeal for help from its donors had surpassed expectations, largely thanks to donations from European donors; he said donations would soon top $1 million. He said the money would be largely used to help rebuild and rehabilitate Christian homes and institutions damaged during the conflict.
He said the big challenge was the Holy Family School, which Argentine Fr Jorge Hernandez, of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, opened up to shelter hundreds of Palestinians who fled their homes during the Israeli airstrikes. Much of the furniture had been destroyed and the classrooms, which were used and divided as living quarters, must be restored to their previous conditions.
Mr El-Yousef said when school began in Gaza, CNEWA would implement its psycho-social intervention plan. The United Nations said about 373,000 Gaza children were in need of psycho-social help, he noted.