08/14/2014, 00.00
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For Gaza parish priest, Israel's offensive on the Palestinians was like an "atomic bomb"

Fr Manawel Musallam talks about the conditions in which people live in the Gaza Strip after four weeks of bombing. Children and adolescents have been hurt "in body and spirit," unable to "find joy, talk about peace or offer it others." By its actions, Israel "is not only destroying the humanity of the people of Gaza, but also that of its own people."

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - "What the people of Gaza suffered in recent weeks is comparable to the dropping of a nuclear bomb. Large-scale blasts on this land have turned more than half a million people into refugees once again. They no longer have a home or a place to go. Their lives have been swept away," said Fr Manawel Musallam, parish priest at the Holy Family Church in Gaza.

The clergyman, who also runs a school in the Gaza Strip, spoke to AsiaNews today, just as Israel and Hamas agreed to a new five-day truce, already broken after Israel launched an air strike overnight in response to Hamas rocket attacks.

As the ceasefire continues to hang a thread, one in which the priest does not place great hope, he spoke about the suffering endured by the people of Gaza, especially the children and young people.

"For 14 years I ran a school in the neighbourhood of Shejaiya," Fr Musallam told AsiaNews. "Most of our students lived right here." Shejaiya was destroyed in recent weeks. Many kids were killed, others injured. Some were orphaned and taken away; others witnessed the death of their brothers. Now I wonder: If I ever go back to school, in what conditions will these kids be? Will they be able to study, sing, read, dance, or write?"

"The pain of young Palestinians," the priest explained, "is a physical, mental and spiritual injury. Since 2007, they have lived through four wars in just seven years. Reacting positively to such a reality is impossible. Can they feel joy in their hearts? Can they talk about peace and offer it to others? Are they prepared to love and have compassion and accept Israel? How can we convince these kids not to hate Israelis, explain to them the possibility to live with Israel, if the latter continues to hit at them?"

Some 2 million people live in the Gaza Strip; half of the Palestinian population. Living as "refugees," without the ability to lead a normal life, with the constant threat of a new conflict, has created "spiritual and mental difficulties."

Palestinians, Fr Mulallam said, "reject Israel's existence. They wonder in the name of what quality or human virtue they can accept the presence of this state. In the Bible, the prophet Hosea says, 'Sow for yourselves justice, reap the reward of loyalty'. But Israel is not sowing justice, darkened by the blood of women and children, with no respect for the right to life of these people, destroying everything indiscriminately."

By its actions, the clergyman noted, "Israel does not realise that it is not only destroying the humanity of the people of Gaza, but also that of its own people. What will the soldiers who are fighting tell their children, wives and parents when they get home? That they killed other children, mothers, parents? That they destroyed homes and threw families into total destitution. How can they speak of peace to their families?

"They will be aware (of what they did) because they will not be able to talk about peace. Because peace cannot be built on or accepted in misery, humiliating others, terror, fear, destruction. Peace can only be built on peace. Peace can provide security, not the opposite. War cannot create peace."

In light of this and of the attitude of the international community, Fr Musallam has little faith that the current truce will last. "We can be grateful for the show of solidarity towards us," he said, "but we cannot forgive the silence. Gaza cannot be blocked forever and its people cannot be left in this condition forever, exhausted by hunger, by anger, and fear." (GM)

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