Wednesday 30 July 2014

"Israel can't keep controlling the will of a nation"

Father Raed greeting Pope Francis.
(From Fr. Raed's Facebook page)
Full transcript of my interview with Fr. Raed Abusahlia, head of Caritas Jerusalem, about the situation in Gaza. The news item, in Portuguese, can be found here.

Transcrição completa da entrevista com o padre Raed Abusahlia, dirigente da Cáritas Jerusalém, sobre a situação em Gaza. A reportagem pode ser lida aqui.

Whjat is the situation on the ground?
The situation in Gaza has been dramatic for 24 days. Escalation from both sides, huge damages to properties, but most important are the human casualties from both sides. Unfortunately we have had more than 1250 Palestinians from Gaza who were killed. Most are innocent people, women, children and old people. More than 7000 people were injured. More than 250.000 people who evacuated their homes and are living in the UN schools, so it is a huge humanitarian crisis and at the same time, from the Israeli side, there are casualties, mainly among the army and soldiers, with more than 55 soldiers killed. And the whole Israeli society is under fear and they are terrorized.

So our position is very clear. This should stop and end as soon as possible, to save more lives, mainly among innocent people.

Have the staff at Caritas in Gaza been able to do their job?
We work in Gaza since 1990, mainly in the medical field. We have a medical center in Al Shati refugee camp and we have a mobile clinic working in six different localities in the Gaza Strip.

Now the mobile clinic cannot move, but we work in our medical center and we are receiving a lot of casualties, especially children, who are transferred to our center from the UN schools.

Then we have an immediate intervention, working with the displaced people who are living in the two schools which belong to the Catholic and Orthodox church. We have 1100 people in the Holy Family Catholic Church and 1900 in the Orthodox School. So Caritas Jerusalem is providing them with food, daily meals, milk, gasoline, for over 1 week, and we will continue doing that.

We hope that someday, after the end of this conflict and the war, we will be able to have a long term intervention, because we launched an emergency appeal through our partners in Caritas Internationalis, and thank God we had a good response from many friends all over the world.

We will intervene in three directions. The first is food distribution for 3000 families, distribution for 3000 families in medical supplies for our center and three other medical centers in Gaza, including Al-Ahli Hospital, which is run by the Anglican church. So we have a huge responsibility and work to do.

The 14 members of our staff are working hard, day and night, and sometimes risking their lives. Hopefully they will remain safe.

You mentioned The Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza. I have seen news that it was hit by Israeli bombing. Can you confirm this?
Our parish of the Holy Family is located in the Al-Zeitoun quarter, which has been under attack for over 1 week, with bombardments from all sides. So the situation is severe and critical. The population of the quarter received messages from the Israeli army asking everybody to evacuate, but our Parish priest, who is Argentinean, did not want to evacuate the Church and the school because they also have the sisters of Mother Theresa who are taking care of 28 Handicapped people and nine old people. So the question is, if they leave, where do they take all these people? For this reason they prefer to remain there.

The Israeli jets bombarded the surrounding houses in the last few days, and these houses were completely destroyed. Due to the explosions, the windows of the School and the Church were broken, but it was not targeted directly, but there were damages due to the surrounding buildings, which were destroyed.

Are you from Gaza?
No, I am not. I am based in Jerusalem at the moment, but originally from the West Bank and also the Parish priest of Ramallah and general director of Caritas, but I was in Gaza recently and already the situation was dramatic, but now it is worse.

This conflict is between Israel and Hamas, because al-Fattah is not involved. Do the Christians in Gaza feel at all represented by Hamas? Are they tired of Hamas? What is the relationship like?
Firstly you have to know that the Christian population in the Gaza Strip is very, very small. They are only 1300 people, around 300 families, and we can say that their numbers decreased over the last 10 years, due to the occupation and the siege. They are really tired. But we can say that the relationship is good, we can't say they are persecuted, because at the end of the day they are Palestinians and part of the Palestinian people. They are Christians, Arabs and Palestinians, like their brothers and sisters who are Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims. But they are tired of the whole situation.

My opinion is that if the siege could be lifted and the crossing opened... if the conflict is not resolved I am afraid that many of them would leave to Egypt or Jordon, or come here to the West Bank, because they are tired.

For this reason, the best solution for everybody is that Israel and Hamas, under the umbrella of the Palestinian Authority, with this National Unity Government, sit down and negotiate and resolve the root cause of this conflict, which is the occupation, which should end as soon as possible.

There is no military solution to this conflict. Israel, with its military might can't keep controlling the will of a nation, of a people asking for their freedom. Of course, in the case of Gaza Strip, they have to lift the siege and at the same time open the crossing at both sides, the Egyptian side and the Israeli side, so that the people of Gaza can live a normal life.

If the crossings from both sides are under the control of the Palestinian Authority, with an International presence, the crossing and the borders will be controlled. Hamas will not have any excuse to dig these thousands of tunnels which are underground from both sides.

So we say, really, ending this conflict, putting Gaza under the Palestinian Authority with an International presence, is in the interest of Israel and the Israeli people.

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