Gaza Strip Catholics suffer amid renewed conflict

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The sixth day of military operations launched by Israel against militants in the Gaza Strip. Credit: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The escalating conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has caused the Catholic faithful in Gaza to fear for their lives, while Caritas Jerusalem has suspended most of its humanitarian work in the area.

Father Jorge Hernandez, a Latin Catholic parish priest of Holy Family Parish in Gaza, reported on the situation.

“Do not forget how war is always terrible. In war nobody wins,” he said Nov. 19 in a message on the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s website.

“The deafening sound of bombs, insecurity and fear make people live a torture, not only bloody, but also cruel and ruthless both spiritually and mentally,” he added.

The people are “scared.”  And the missiles do not show ethics or morality but “simply fall and destroy,” the priest said.

In recent weeks rocket attacks have been launched on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza, causing retaliatory airstrikes from the Israeli military. However, the Israeli armed forces launched a military offensive in the Gaza Strip on Nov. 14.

Over the weekend, Israeli forces began attacking homes of Palestinian activists in Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza.

At least 24 Gaza civilians have died in just two days as the Palestinian death toll nears 100, including 53 civilians. About 840 Gazans, including 225 children, have been injured.

Palestinian rockets have killed three Israeli civilians and dozens have been wounded, the Associated Press reports.

Fr. Hernandez stressed the harsh conditions Palestinian civilians face.

“The situation has not changed, but rather worsened day by day,” he said. “The pressure of continuous bombardment day and night is growing ever more as the conflict lasts.”

“The people want nothing more than simply live their lives. We ask all leaders to leave Gaza to live in peace!”

He said the Christian Palestinians suffer from the “unjust aggression” but “resign themselves and put their trust in the Divine Providence of God the Father.”

Priests and religious sisters have been making calls on parishioners to see if they are in need.

“Those with whom we speak are very scared and cannot sleep at night,” Father Pablo De Santo said.

The Missionaries of Charity care for disabled children, who have been put in rooms more protected from the noise of the attacks.

The Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary live in an area that has suffered intense bombing. Their school’s physical structure was not damaged but its windows were broken.

Caritas Jerusalem, the local affiliate of the international Catholic charity, said Nov. 19 it shut down its mobile clinic and health center “due to the escalation of the bombardments and the life-threatening situation to medical staff.”

It aims to serve the people of Gaza through other ways. Its two coordinators in Gaza City and its project manager in Jerusalem are in “constant contact” with hospitals and health officials to assess the needs of Gazans and to coordinate supplies.

Caritas Jerusalem said there is a “severe shortage” of medical staff in Gaza and an increasing number of injured people are overcrowding hospitals. Doctors face a lack of medical supplies, which Caritas Jerusalem is trying to provide.

Gazans also face immediate needs like drinking water, medication and medical supplies, plastic shields to protect windows from explosive blasts, diapers, and milk formula for babies and toddlers.

“An emergency response in Gaza will only be possible once major hostilities have ceased and the border is reopened,” the charity said.

A threatened ground invasion from Israel could postpone relief efforts for several weeks.

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