01/15/2009, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Gaza Christians, powerless victims

Some 5,000 Christians amid 1.5 million people call the Gaza strip home. The parish priest of Gaza City keeps in touch with his parishioners via text messages. Those who have become homeless are sheltered by friends and relatives. Many use the oven in the Patriarchate’s school to bake break. Religious institutions outside the Strip are ready to take in children but cannot because of the Israeli blockade.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – About 5,000 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox with about 300 Catholics, live among the Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million residents. They too are living through days of anguish and pain as a result of the ongoing Israeli offensive.

Fr Manawel Mussallam, who is the parish priest at the Holy Family Church in Gaza City and in charge of the Latin Patriarchate school by the same name, described the dramatic situation that the population must endure to the members of the Holy Land Co-ordination that just ended.

He was invited to take part in the event held in Jerusalem upon the request of Patriarch Fouad Twal in order to tell a group of visiting European and North American bishops about the humanitarian crisis that is gripping the territory and the climate of terror that his parishioners must face every day.

Air and ground operations are making it impossible for Father Mussallam to keep in touch with the members of his community; the only way he can reach them and give them moral support is via text messages.

Beside the air strikes people have to cope with the lack of power, electrical power, medicines and food.

According to the Gaza City parish priest the latest actions by the Israeli army have destroyed many houses and forced entire families into the streets, relying on the hospitality of other families.

The school itself has been turned into a shelter and its oven is being used to bake bread, but now it is running out of fuel.

Never the less, the fear and desperation of those who live in the Strip can get through Israel’s blockade via the Internet and the phone.

For instance, the Assist News agency has published a message that a Gaza Christian, probably Protestant, was able to send to friends in the United States.

We have had a lot of bad times before, but nothing like this one,” she wrote. “A huge number of people are dying everyday; a lot of them we know.”

Fear and desperation are such that people are paralysed. Indeed, the author of the message, anonymous for security reasons, describes how it is impossible to walk the streets, how her father lost a friend and how one of her girlfriends had her home blown up.

I'm writing this e-mail while Israeli bombs are blowing up in uncountable places. Some are so close that I can feel and hear; some we know about from the radio. We are not in our house because it's too dangerous over there. All of the windows [. . .] are broken because of the bombs . . . . It became freezing over there, so we went to our relative's house.”

Outside Gaza, religious organisations are willing to take in local children but as Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custodian of the Holy Land, pointed out no one has been able to get in or out of the territory.

Pleading to the international community Father Mussallam wants the outside world to intervene.

In saying so he is reiterating appeals made recently by other Catholic religious leaders, the latest one by Mgr Celestino Migliore, the Vatican permanent observer at the United Nations. 

Speaking before the United Nations Security Council he urged the international community “to concretely commit itself to protecting civilians during armed conflict.

A few hours before Nuncio Migliore addressed the United Nations, the patriarch of Jerusalem also addressed the international community, lamenting their inaction and belated intervention, which is costing hundreds of lives.

In light of the continuing fighting, the custodian of the Holy Land noted that as the conflict worsens and positions harden, the possibility of future dialogue is being undermined, “not so much the political dialogue, which the authorities will have to undertake because of their function, but the dialogue between people. Mutually acknowledging that dialogue is necessary will remain something for the distant future, impossible to implement for a long time.”

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