AKRON, Pa – As casualties rise because of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is sending emergency funds to help Gazan families whose homes have been bombed. In addition, MCC Palestine/Israel has joined 43 other organizations that are calling on world leaders to enforce a ceasefire.
Ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip erupted last week after Israel killed the military chief of Hamas. Since then, Hamas has continued to fire rockets into Israel, and Israel has conducted an intensive attack from air and sea.
The BBC reported on Nov. 20 that since the current conflict began Nov. 14, at least 130 Gazans have been killed (according to a Gaza health official), and four Israelis have been killed.
“In Gaza there’s nowhere to go to feel secure,” said Joanna Hiebert Bergen, MCC Palestine/Israel representative with her spouse, Dan Bergen. They are from Winnipeg, Man., and live in Jerusalem.
Gazans have very limited space to move out of harm’s way and no safe shelters in which to take refuge. Israel controls and restricts the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza, so Palestinians there are unable to escape constant bombardment by fleeing to another country or safer space. Getting medical supplies into Gaza is also difficult, even for the United Nations, Hiebert Bergen said. Hospitals are overcrowded and supplies are limited.
Through a media statement issued by the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), MCC Palestine/Israel and the other organizations are asking world leaders to enforce a ceasefire, to deal with ongoing human rights abuses in Gaza and to address root causes of the conflict, said Hiebert Bergen.
She underlined the need to implement the 2009 UN Security Council Resolution 1860 which laid out a plan for reaching a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and a path to long-term security for both sides. The plan emphasizes the importance of the safety and well-being of all civilians.
In Gaza, violence, poverty and unemployment are constant threats. About 80 percent of the population is dependent on aid, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
MCC’s partners work with programs that strengthen people’s ability to grow their own food, earn a living and get an education. However, the bombing has threatened livelihoods and closed schools that children and adults were attending.
In the past few days, all three of MCC’s partner organizations in Gaza have reported bombing that seems random, making it impossible to feel safe, said Bassem Thabet, MCC Palestine/Israel director of partner relations. People are running to neighbors’ or family members’ homes, not because it’s safer but because they need to be together, he said.
Majeda Al Saqqa, who works with MCC partner Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA), said her family cannot sleep at night, fearing their house will be destroyed by a missile just like their neighbor’s house was demolished, Thabet reported.
People must leave their windows open, he said. If they don’t, the reverberations of the bombs can break them.
All of MCC’s partners are scared, he said, but they also are risking their lives to determine need and to purchase and distribute supplies, supported by $20,000 from MCC’s emergency budget. In addition to CFTA, MCC also works with the Near East Council of Churches and Al-Najd Development Forum.
Al-Najd and CFTA will purchase mattresses, pillows, blankets and kitchen utensils for 60 families in Khan Younis and 60 families in the Gaza City area. All of the families’ homes have been destroyed by the bombing, Hiebert Bergen said.
People who wish to give to MCC response with partners in Gaza should specify “MCC Palestine/Israel—Gaza Response” with their gift.
Only peace will bring security to Israel and Gaza in the future, said Thabet. Continued violence will only bring more hatred and more violence.
Linda Espenshade is news coordinator for MCC U.S.