Threads - "We have the right to live. We have the right to dream."

MCC staff and partners reflect on the crisis in Gaza

room of rubble
Audio file

Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge explores MCC’s local partner experiences in Palestine and Israel as the crisis in Gaza continues. MCC Manitoba’s Joanna Hiebert Bergen shares the personal story of a friend in Gaza, and Reverend Ashraf Tannous, Reverend Sally Azar and Rachel Beitarie express deep concern for their homelands and invite a response from Christians in the West.

Threads is a 15-minute radio program featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of each month.


Episode Transcript:

Kyle Rudge (00:02):
It begins with a single thread, woven through other thread, and then another and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut, and stitched together with another, just like it. This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to an MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.

Ashraf Tannous (00:51):
First of all, as Palestinians, we are human beings.

Kyle Rudge (00:56):
Meet Reverend Ashraf Tannous who pastored at Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Beit Jala, just outside Bethlehem.

Ashraf Tannous (01:04):
We are normal human beings. We are created in the image of God, in God's own likeness, male and female. Please don't look at us as people who don't deserve to live. I want to remind everyone, and especially the Christians, brothers and sisters all over the world, that we are all praying the Lord's Prayer. The first word we say, our Father. This means that the moment we say our Father, there are relationships created.

Kyle Rudge (01:55):
After the attacks by Hamas in Israel on October 7th that saw over 1100 people killed. War has raged on across Gaza. Thousands more are dead, and it continues today.

Joanna Hiebert Bergen (02:07):
My name is Joanna Hiebert Bergen, and I'm the program director for MCC Manitoba.

Kyle Rudge (02:12):
Meet Joanna Hiebert Bergen. Her work as program director includes the MCC programs that are local, like Abuse, Response and Prevention, Migration and Resettlement, Indigenous Neighbors work and Peace and Advocacy,

Joanna Hiebert Bergen (02:24):
And included in this role, I also work on advocacy and education around Palestine and Israel over the long term. Because I have past experience in the region, my husband Dan and I, were country representatives for Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine and Israel between 2012 and 2015.

Kyle Rudge (02:45):
Joanna's connection to Palestine and Israel is deeply important to her, and the violence since October 7th weighs heavily on her heart.

Joanna Hiebert Bergen (02:52):
So the current situation in Gaza, I would say is almost unfathomable. You can get updates just by going on the UN website.

Kyle Rudge (03:05):
As of January 31st, the UN estimates that approximately 1.7 million people have been displaced with over 26,000 reported Palestinian casualties since October 7th. Over 70% of whom are reported to be women and children. Over 65,000 Palestinians have been reportedly injured. As of January 30th, UN reports approximately 60% of housing in the area is destroyed, while some news outlets are reporting over 70%, which further adds to the displacement.

Joanna Hiebert Bergen (03:33):
I think when I sit back and try to take in the scope of this, I'm astounded by the fact that here you have a people living in a space that has been under siege for 17 years, meaning nothing, no supplies, no food, no medicine, no potable water gets in or out without Israel giving its permission. You know, there's gunboats along the sea and there's a wall around the land spaces, and 80% of those folks living in this space are refugees from 1948 and 1967. So you have essentially a huge number of refugees now being systematically targeted and killed in hospitals, in schools, in their homes, on the streets, in ambulances, and the world is largely silent.

Kyle Rudge (04:33):
In December, MCC spoke to partners and pastors in the area to share their experience and story. This is Reverend Sally Azar, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. She shares Joanna's concern of silence.

Sally Azar (04:47):
As we Christians are here in the Holy Land. As we prepare or as we are facing these challenges that we're facing, it's been quite a lot that we feel also forgotten in that sense, that people are not remembering us as a Christian Palestinian community here. We've been also facing the occupation since many, many years. All the Christians have a connection in a special way, and not only as Christians, but also as Palestinians. So it goes back to where our grandparents, parents left or were kicked out of their homes, in 48 and 67. And this is still happening till today. And with the war right now in Gaza and Israel, it's more challenging and a lot of families are leaving. And if the whole occupation, the whole human rights that are being violated every day keeps happening, then our Christian community will leave. And if we trace Christianity back to the Holy Land for over 2000 years, we know that Christianity has been essential here. But as I said, if things are staying like that, our congregation, our Christian community, they're thinking where is a better place to be? Where your human rights are given, where you can feel like you're a part of a community and you're not being dehumanized every time in your own country.

Kyle Rudge (06:31):
Joanna is in touch with several Gazans, some on a daily basis just to provide some encouragement, support, and care from thousands of kilometers away. One story she shared was about her friend Ahmed. That's not his real name, but it's a pseudonym to protect his identity. Ahmed was a true friend to the entire family and checked in via WhatsApp regularly over the years since Joanna and her family left in 2015. It's September of 2023, just weeks before the deadly attack in Israel, she received a different message from Ahmed.

Joanna Hiebert Bergen (07:02):
From Ahmed, it was “something big is gonna happen, and we don't know why, but we are all very afraid.” Now he has two preschool boys, ages four and two and since the war started on October 7th, he has lost a number of family members. His home was scheduled to be bombed. Initially, some folks were given a heads up. They would get a text from the Israeli government saying you need to leave. That no longer happens. But they were aware that they needed to leave their home. And when they did, the neighbor's home was struck. His home was not, and 17 members of his neighbor's family were killed. A few weeks after that the texting was almost every day I would get an update from him about how worried he was for his sons. They've had to move twice. He's in the north. They moved close to Al-Shifa Hospital then, which was still kind of in the North Central area because they couldn't go back to their home.

Kyle Rudge (08:08):
The tragedy for Ahmed hasn't slowed. Among the many Palestinians killed, his father, brother, and sister-in-law, who was 12 years old and had just visited him and his family for the day have been included in that number.

Joanna Hiebert Bergen (08:23):
He said to me that something died. Something died in him that day. So he sent me a number of texts, and I kind of put them together and it reads a little bit like a lament. It’s  very short. I'll just read to you sort of what kind of text I was getting from him after November 10th. So he texted November 10th "Today, today, Israel killed my wife's sister, 12 years old. Another sister is in the hospital. She is not fine. Doctors say, pray for her. I'm not fine. She played all the time with my sons and his sons are two and four. Yesterday she gave me tea and she said, ‘I'm happy when I play with your sons.’ Her name is Noor, and she's 12 years old." Noor, and this I added means light in Arabic. On November 11th, he sent "Joanna, do you have any news to stop war? I don't know where to go. I'm so worried. No one tells me where to go, who can help me. I can't sleep. I have not slept for days. I need to see my family safe. I don't have food, but what I really need is to be safe. My dream is to buy a home, but if my family is fine, that is good enough, and when I die, I will rest." Then on November 22nd, he sent "My brother, my father, and my sister die, shot. My heart died with them."

Rachel Beitarie (09:52):
The cost in, in human lives right now is just astronomic. It brings unfathomable misery.

Kyle Rudge (10:02):
That's Rachel Beitarie. She's the director of an MCC partner organization in Israel. Now, both her name and the organization is difficult to pronounce for non Hebrew speakers. So I'm not entirely certain I'm gonna get this right, but I'll give it a shot. The organization is called Zochrot. She speaks about the history of Palestine and Israel since the Nakba in 1948.

Rachel Beitarie (10:26):
All Israelis to different degrees inherited the gains from the Nakba, from this possession of Palestinians, we are living on land from where Palestinians were expelled. So we also inherited this responsibility to correct the wrongs, to be accountable to what Israel did and is doing still to Palestinians. And I think our own liberation and safety is bound up in Palestinian's liberation and safety. One cannot happen without the other.

Joanna Hiebert Bergen (11:17):
MCC first was in Palestine and Israel in 1949, responding to what Palestinians called the Nakba, which was the crisis, the displacement of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes due to the creation of the state of Israel. And so MCC showed up and was working in refugee camps there in Jericho, and I think also in the Gaza Strip in that area to provide humanitarian aid to refugees. And then we continued that work. MCC continued that work over the long haul. So we've had a presence in Palestine and Israel for a considerable time.

Kyle Rudge (11:57):
There's little more that I can personally add to the heart's cry of so many. Instead, I will conclude with the heartfelt requests from Reverend Ashraf and Reverend Sally, both of whom are there now living through this tragedy.

Ashraf Tannous (12:09):
As Palestinians brothers and sisters here, we are in pain and we are asking our brothers and sisters, I'm praying for my brothers and sisters, to feel us and to shout for our freedom, for our righteousness, for our rights, for our justice, and for our equality. We have the right to live. We have the right to dream.

Sally Azar (12:34):
It's a big challenge for us as Christians here, and we hope that this whole war will end soon. I ask you all to pray for us here in this land, in this part of the world, that we have the patience and endurance to bear it all, to pray that we feel seen and to pray for a peaceful place to live in a place where we can all coexist in that sense.

Kyle Rudge (13:10):
MCC is responding to humanitarian needs in Gaza with its existing partners. Since the beginning of this crisis, MCC has supported the distribution of locally purchased food packages, hygiene items, and bedding, as well as cash transfers to families in need. MCC is also supporting partners to deliver psychosocial care to women and children affected by the conflict. If you're looking for ways to help make an impact on what is going on in Palestine and Israel, MCC has some suggestions. First, MCC is asking for people to connect with the Canadian government for increased aid and access, cancel weapons sales to Israel and also work to address the underlying causes of violence, including Israel's military occupation and blockade. Second, financial donations to MCC are also a much needed option to continue to provide those humanitarian services and aid to those in need. Both options can be found at On the front page of the website, you'll find a link to Gaza's crisis response page that includes all the relevant information you'll need to know. I'm Kyle Rudge, and this is MCC Threads.

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