quarta-feira, 30 de julho de 2014

Gaza is “truly horrible and really getting worse”

Full transcript of interview with Matthew McGarry, head of Catholic Relief Services in Palestine, on the situation in Gaza. News item (in Portuguese), can be found here.

Transcrição completa da entrevista a Matthew McGarry, responsável da Catholic Relief Services na Palestina, sobre a situação em Gaza. Pode ler a reportagem aqui.


How often are you in contact with your team in Gaza?
It depends on power, the power situation has been quite bad the last few days, but generally I am able to touch base 2 or 3 times a day, via phone call or SMS.

How would you describe the situation in Gaza at the moment?
It’s truly horrible and really getting worse. Gaza is a difficult place in what passes for normal circumstances, but with the escalation over the last three weeks, with the damage to the power plant, the sheer number of people displaced, its truly becoming completely unsustainable, potentially catastrophic situation.

Catholic Relief Services work with the whole population, correct?
That's correct. We've had an office in Gaza for over 30 years at this point, we have a network of partner organizations, we coordinate our work with the local church and work with a variety of partners but we are a needs based organization, that works based on needs not creed.

Has Hamas's rise to power made your work more difficult?
There are certain constraints. Being a US organization, obviously the blockade of Gaza since 2007 has created a lot of difficulties in economic activity and movement of goods. We are able to coordinate our activities through the UN Cluster System, through our connections with local partner organizations, our relationship with the church and our extremely talented hard working staff.

There was news that the only Latin Catholic Parish in Gaza had been hit by shelling. Can you confirm that?
I can't confirm that, I would refer you to the Latin Patriarchate. We are in contact with them, but I would not want to speak on their behalf.

The local priest says the Hamas militants fire rockets from nearby and hide in the alleys. The idea that we get overseas is that seems to be how Hamas works, they fire from civilian areas and then those areas get hit by Israeli shelling. Do you see any solution for this situation at the moment? Any way to avoid more civilian deaths?
As an agency, from the start of this most recent escalation we have been calling for an unconditional cease-fire. As an organization, our staff are affected directly by this conflict, we are calling on all parties to unilaterally cease-fire and to resume negotiations for a sustainable solution to the blockade of Gaza. Gaza is in a completely unnatural, unsustainable position. The status quo in Gaza is not acceptable, so we call on everyone to cease the current escalation which has resulted in so much suffering and loss of life in Gaza and to find a sustainable long-lasting solution which allows the people of Gaza the freedom and dignity to which they are entitled.

Your staff in Gaza, are they mainly Christians?
We hire people based on ability, we don't screen based on gender, age or religious belief. Our staff has been affected by the conflict. We have one staff person who lost several family members in an airstrike, we have several staff who have had to flee their homes and move in with relatives because of damage to their homes or airstrikes nearby. We had one woman who was an intern in a programme we were running for job placement for the hearing impaired, who was killed at her home. So this is a conflict which touches everybody in Gaza.

Have you been able to get into Gaza since the conflict started?
Not since it started, no. We have one international staff person, an American, who is based there full time and she came out about 3 weeks ago when the fighting really intensified. For much of the last three weeks her office has been closed and staff have been working from their homes, or moving around as they are able, but the freedom of movement we need to carry out our activities just hasn't been safe.

We have used a few of the cease-fires to carry out distributions, we actually have one running this afternoon, but I would be more of a burden on staff, because they would have to waste their time making sure I was ok, rather than taking care of their families or doing their jobs.

Um centro dirigido pela CRS, na Palestina
You mentioned distribution... there has to be something to distribute... has it been easy to get assistance in, or are you working with stocks you already had?
We have been able to procure some items locally that were imported through legitimate channels via commercial vendors. We are in the process of procuring additional items which may need to be imported from the West Bank, we've had a great deal of support from our donors, USAID is facilitating the shipment of goods, so it’s been possible. Right now our distribution is focused on hygiene kits, kitchens, coking sets and water storage kits. We've covered 300 families so far, we are planning on another 200 or so today and scaling up to an additional 2500 families over the next 10 to 15 days, depending on security.

The images coming from Gaza show a people who are obviously very badly affected by what is going on, but their spirit seems to be set on resisting. Does this include the Christian population? Do they feel the same as their Muslim neighbours in this situation?
I wouldn't speak for somebody who has lived their entire life in Gaza. I visit every few weeks, but it is a very superficial exposure, I am able to come and go as I please with my US Passport.

The Christian community is very much a part of Gaza. Many of the families trace their history back generation after generation, there has been a Christian presence in and around Gaza for thousands of years. They are a small minority, but they are woven into the fabric of Gaza and they are Palestinians, they are Gazans. An errant tank shell, mortar or rocket does not discriminate between Muslims, Christians or Atheists. The Christian community has had its own losses and fatalities, roughly proportional to their representation in the larger community and are very determined to riding out the current conflict in a prayerful, hopeful way, and rebuilding a more sustainable, just future for Gaza as a whole.

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