Note: A message has arrived from courageous and widely admired pastor of the Catholic Church in Gaza, Fr Manuel Mussallam, written on 20 January, speaking of the plight of his community in the wake of the Israelis’ vicious assault. Here is what this veteran of the long struggle says.
By Fr Manuel Mussallam – Gaza
From the Church of God in Gaza: Peace and blessings upon you, as we pray to God to lift man’s anger and shower Gaza with his mercy and kindness.
Gaza was suffering prior to the war, it suffered during the war and it will continue to suffer after the war.
Hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured in the Israeli invasion. Our people have endured the bombing of their homes, their crops have been destroyed, they have lost everything and many are now homeless. We have endured phosphorus bombs which have caused horrific burns, mainly to civilians. Like the early Christians our people are living through a time of great persecution, a persecution which we must record for future generations as a statement of their faith, hope and love.
Many families fled to United Nations (UNRWA) schools where they thought they would be safe. But with 50-60 people to a room, no electricity, water, bedding or food and nowhere to wash, living conditions are terrible.
Emergency aid has not yet arrived at the Church and because they are too frightened to venture onto the streets our people cannot reach the warehouses which hold Red Cross and UNRWA relief supplies. We trust in God but appeal to the whole world and in particular the Church to help Gaza. Your prayers and your kindness will be our salvation.
The war has affected everyone in Gaza. A teacher fled to our school with her husband and four children. He was hit by shrapnel from an Israeli bomb and his legs badly injured. She is distraught and terrified and when I spoke to her she was desperately looking for clean water to make a bottle for her baby.
The Church has lost a 26 year old Catholic man, Naseem Saba, who was killed in an Israeli air raid on 7 January. The day before, Israeli jets destroyed his family home where he lived with his three uncles.
As well as the destruction and physical injuries the mental trauma of our people is incalculable. They will need help and support for years to come. They will have to find somewhere to live and we will need centres for those injured and disabled in the shelling, special schools for traumatised or orphaned children and a whole array of rehabilitation services.
Clean water is scarce so both our schools in Remal and Zaitoon provide local people with water from an artesian well, dug through the generosity of Austrian donors. The school’s generator produces electricity for the nearby bakery as there have been no bread deliveries for weeks. People say: “The priest has become a baker," and it’s true – we are glad to be able to do it.
The war must end now. The world has to find a solution for the Palestinian people and not simply revert to the position they were in before it began. The borders with Israel must be redrawn and the occupation, which began 60 years ago, has to end.
The status of Palestinian refugees must be resolved pursuant to the Right of Return, and East Jerusalem must be the Palestinian state capital. We must tear down the Apartheid Wall, open the border crossings, free Palestinian detainees and remove Israeli settlements so the land can be returned to its original Palestinian owners.
Peace is only possible if it embraces justice. If the world grants the Palestinian people their human rights there will surely be peace in the Middle East.
From all the people of Gaza we thank you, our friends everywhere, for your constant prayers and particularly for the support which we urgently need and we hope will reach us soon. We thank His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI for his stance in calling for peace in the Middle East and for his generous support to the poor of Gaza. And we thank all bishops, priests, pastors, monks and nuns across the world for remembering us in their prayers.
On behalf of every Gazan, we share your prayers and say to the world: “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.” (Galatians 6: 17-18)
– Father Manuel Musallam is the Pastor of the Catholic Church in Gaza. (His message was relayed by Stuart Littlewood.)