April 30, 1997

"When the peace came three years ago, we kept thinking this is the beginning, tomorrow it will be better, "said WVJ Project Partner Darwish Abu Sharkh in Rafah, Gaza. "But now, we know that tomorrow the situation will be worse." This sentiment reflects the feelings of WVJ project partners throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

The peace process is crumbling. Violent clashes have erupted throughout Palestinian areas since the Israeli government started bulldozing the Jebal Abu Ghneim mountain to make way for the new Israeli settlement of Har Homa. While during March an extremist bomb killed three in Tel Aviv, daily demonstrations in the west Bank have left hundreds of Palestinians injured. Tensions in Hebron have escalated to the boiling point. On 9 April, armed Israeli settlers shot and killed a Palestinian in cold blood. When demonstrations erupted, Israeli soldiers killed two more Palestinians with live ammunition and rubber bullets. Meanwhile the Israeli closure of Palestinian areas has strangled the economy and left thousands of families without income for food.

"An empty stomach paralyzes the mind," stated Abuna Manuel Musalam, the Latin Catholic priest in Gaza. There is a growing fear that the desperate economic situation will lead to further acts of extremism Militant groups in Gaza are gaining popularity as Israeli oppression continues. Measures taken by the PNA cause further frustration for a people who have suffered too long under occupation.

Background: The Closure Begun in March of 1993, the ongoing closure continues to strangle the Palestinian economy; however, since September of 1996 stricter Israeli closures have kept thousands of daily laborers from working inside Israel and East Jerusalem as unemployment hover at 65% in Gaza and 40% in the West Bank. WVJ staff have received alarming reports from project partners that more and more families cannot buy food. Two months ago, a daily laborer may have worked three days, and then this month two days; but the pittance earned will not even cover bread for the average family of ten in Gaza. While UNRWA (United Nations and Works Agency) distributes assistance to hardship refugee cases, families do not qualify if members are of working age.

Emergency Assistance Requested "The situation is like a hospital," said Im Ibrahim of the Al Majid Women's association in Nusseirat Refugee Camp. "We thought we were n the recovery unit, but now we're back in ICU (Intensive Care Unit)."

Over the past few weeks WVJ staff visited and canvassed WVJ Projects througout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The urgent need from each area was food and assistance with daily living. Sister Munira at the Bethlehem Babies home (JWG-12-036002, WVUS), said "the priority needs are food, milk and medication for the Bethlehem area." Their social department regularly distributes food and medications to 150 families; now they have to deluge of requests, in Sister Munira's words, from "the poorest of the poor". This scenario is the same throughout the Palestinian areas, not from lack of food availability but due to lack of income.

People are losing hope. On Monday, 21 April WVJ staff distributed assistance to families in Gaza City with long time WVJ project partner Abuna ("Father") George Awad, the Greek Orthodox priest for Gaza. Abuna expressed his appreciation. "We thank you for this help that is truly needed in Gaza, but we need peace in our daily lives more than we even need to eat and drink." He continued, "we need your voice to bring a real, just peace to us here in Gaza!" If this peace would come, Abuna maintained Gaza wouldn't need assistance.

Looking into the tired eyes of Ghassan Jahshan, a father of four children who has been unable to work in Israel since the closure in March, 1993. Barely scraping by with local mechanic work, Ghassan earns 50JDs (US$70) which even stretched can not cover expenses for his family with the high cost of living in the region. Originally from Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, this refugee family receives no help from UNRWA or the PNA Ministry of Social affairs because Ghassan can work, but there are few opportunities inside Gaza. Ghassan old us, "we are very tired, but I look to God, for only He can make this situation better."

Hebron Area Last week WVJ staff visited the Bani Na'im Charitable Society, administering the Hebron Area Family and Community Development Projects [JWG-11-164965, JWG-11-165264, WVCanada]. Usually these social programs provide support services for 100 families in the Hebron area; however, due to the closure and tensions in Hebron, they have 50 additional families in need of food. (Average family size: 8 to 12). With the Moslem Eid al-Adha last week, these programs planned the usual purchases of new clothing for the children; however, they provided basic food, as this was the urgent need.

The village of Surif, located near Hebron, remains a closed military area after a lengthy curfew imposed by the Israeli military. The alleged Palestinian suicide bomber came from this village that is situated in an area still under Israeli control. The 15,000 residents of this village suffering from collective punishment face daily brutality from the Israeli soldiers: over 120 villagers have been injured; over 50 cars and 200 water tanks damaged by gunfire; and five have died from untreated health emergencies. Project partner Shehteh Manasra from nearby Bani Na'im village called with an urgent plea for WVJ to supply food to 30 desperately needy families in this village. [JWG-11-164965, JWG-11-165264/ Hebron Family & Area Development projects/ WVCanada]. WVJ staff will take resources tomorrow to meet this need in Surif.

WVJ Response After compiling a needs assessment, visiting projects throughout the West Bank and Gaza to discern the need, WVJ staff are organizing an emergency response that will provide food assistance for 1,600 families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Working through project partners in each area this emergency response will help the neediest families that are "falling through the cracks."

This emergency distribution is, of course, not the answer. As Abuna George asked, "we can help these families this month, but what about next month? We need your voice to pressure Israel to lift the closure and allow the Palestinian economy to breathe."

WV Jerusalem staff and project partners prefer to work in the area of development, but Mrs. Gerry Shawa, the director of Atfaluna School for Deaf Children in Gaza summed it up well, "It is hard to come up with development projects for an impoverished society where there is no market!"

Please pray and do whatever you can to meet this situation of critical need in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

COMPILED BY: Virginia Woodward WVJ Public Relations

FOR: WVI Distribution