Moving Forward in the Gaza Strip
An interview with a Palestinian Christian from #Gaza
The Gaza Strip experienced nothing short of a catastrophe throughout the summer of 2014. As of September 4, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported a series of tragic statistics: 2,131 Palestinians were killed, including 1,473 civilians, of whom 501 are children and 257 are women; 110,000 internally displaced persons remain in UNRWA emergency shelters or with host families; and 18,000 housing units were destroyed or severely damaged, leaving approximately 108,000 people homeless (OCHA; Sept 4 2014). Yet, in the aftermath of such disaster, it is the stories of the human experience that truly reveal the reality of the devastation and the path moving forward. Constantine Dabbagh, who has long been central to the work of DSPR in Gaza, describes the fear and uncertainty that have reigned over the Gaza Strip and reflects on the process of rebuilding and establishing peace.
“It was a horrible and depressing period during the barbarian assault on Gaza,” he expresses as he describes the horrors of innocent lives lost and hundreds of thousands of homeless, displaced persons. With so many thousands of houses completely destroyed, thousands of families were forced to seek shelter in schools, hospitals, public gardens, and church compounds. Yet, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, ambulances, factories, and even homes for the aged were targeted and damaged throughout the siege. This led to an unavoidable sense of uncertainty, of not knowing where one would be safe, according to Mr. Dabbagh: “…we could not know which would be the next target…”
Such uncertainty does not easily disappear with the signing of a truce. The cease-fire signed on Tuesday August 26 promised to open up the land borders between Gaza and Israel as well as allow greater access to the Mediterranean Sea for fishermen. While most Gazans welcomed the cease-fire to spare the loss of more innocent lives, they have been suspicious from the beginning, according to Mr. Dabbagh, of Israel’s respect of any truce. Prior experiences show that Israel can act with impunity and is only further supported by the silence of the USA and Europe. Indeed, Israel has acted in several ways in the past month that defy the agreements of the ceasefire. Mr. Dabbagh explains that Gaza residents continue to experience, “Israeli tanks and bulldozers advancing into the Gaza Strip territory while the Israeli navy has been shooting at the fishermen who are ‘allowed’ to be within [a distance of six miles from the shore]. The borders have not yet been opened as agreed upon.”
Moving forward, there are needs that must be met immediately and locally on the ground as well as systemically through international relations and institutions. The Gaza strip is devastated and requires great attention to restore some sense of normalcy. Mr. Dabbagh explains that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are now receiving humanitarian assistance but do not wish to depend on such aid. Yet, there is currently no other choice as there is too much talk but little action: “…nothing has happened yet in respect of the process of building and possible rehabilitation of the partially damaged houses as Israel has not allowed yet the entry of building materials.” Therefore, true rehabilitation and sustainable development of the Gaza Strip depends upon the cooperation of Israel and ending the Occupation. Mr. Dabbagh lists ending, “the only remaining occupation in modern history in order to establish [an] independent state,” as the true first priority in rehabilitating Gaza. Mr. Dabbagh also looks to the responsibility of the global community and international powers. “The International Community should consider to stop adopting double standards and must recognize our rights and aspirations in a just peace in compliance with UN and International law and regulations.”
Mr. Dabbagh also speaks of the responsibility of the Christian population moving forward. “The Christians are not different from their brethren and they are experiencing as much of the same oppression and difficulties caused by the continued arrogance of the Occupiers.” He describes a specific responsibility of the Christians as reaching out to churches around the world in order to advocate for Palestine’s right to liberty and freedom. He also adds a glimpse of hope, stating that it seems that the Global Church is slowly becoming more acquainted with the suffering of the Palestinians.
Finally, in his vision for the future of the Middle East, Mr. Dabbagh connects the Israeli Occupation of Palestine to the wider unrest throughout the region. It is essential that Israel realizes, “that they will
not conquer the strong determination of the Palestinian nation to become free and independent to enjoy their precious lives created by God…” It is also in the interest of Israel’s allies to aid in the establishment of a just peace that complies with UN resolutions and international law. According to Mr. Dabbagh, such action will save the region from further chaos and the rise of fanaticism and intolerance. “…we expect to live side by side complementing each other at equal footings and thus to save specifically this region and the world in general from further catastrophe.”