I am a white, Western male living in Australia, one of the richest countries in the world. Freedom is something I take for granted. So it was quite a contrast to visit the Holy Land in November 2016 to see the work that Anglican Overseas Aid is doing with Palestinian women and children.
The majority of my time in the Middle East was spent with a colleague, Chris Dureau, seeing the work of the Spafford Children’s Center in East Jerusalem and running a training workshop for Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) working with the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza.
Our first stop was the Spafford Children’s Center in East Jerusalem. The Center is supported by Anglican Overseas Aid and provides therapy for Palestinian children who are traumatised by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
On arrival at the Center, we were introduced to Jantien and Marwan, two of the directors. During our conversation we soon learned that an increasing number of Palestinian children are experiencing mental health problems.
“The reality is that Palestinians face soldiers bursting into their homes, or randomly having to show ID to soldiers. This is psychological harassment that we Palestinians experience daily”, Marwan explained. Children are also frisked randomly by soldiers carrying machine guns. A six year old Palestinian child has experienced three wars in their short lifetime. How does anyone deal with that?
Marwan explains that the Center “sees children that are violent, children that have adopted being shy, or dropping their academic achievements, or beating their friends or talking back to their mothers”. It is these kinds of issues that the Center attempts to counter through programs such as play, art, speech, and drama therapies. All of this is done within an atmosphere of unconditional love and warmth, a context with which these children are often not familiar outside of their home.
Our time in Gaza was even more impacting. Gaza is the third most densely populated region in the world. Unemployment sits at 41 percent, electricity is available for only about six hours per day, and water, when it is drinkable, is scarce and expensive.
Once we made it through the checkpoint into Gaza, one of the first things that struck me was a sign saying Make Gaza liveable by 2020. Coming from Melbourne, which for the past six years has been awarded the title of “World’s Most Liveable City”, my first thought was that maybe Gaza was vying for similar recognition. How naïve that thought was. I later learned that the United Nations has declared that Gaza may in fact be uninhabitable by 2020 – just three years away – if current conditions persist.
These conditions were further highlighted when we arrived at Ahli Arab Hospital. Anglican Overseas Aid supports a breast screening service at the hospital, funded by donations from our supporters and grants from the Australian Government’s aid program.
We were warmly greeted by two of the hospital’s directors, Suhaila and Mahmoud. As we sat down, our conversation quickly turned to life in Gaza. These two beautiful Palestinian Christians told us that Palestinians living in Gaza are only allowed to leave under controlled circumstances.
“People cannot leave even if they want to”, Mahmoud explained. “The borders are closed and if people try to leave by sea, Israel sends boats back”. He clarified that the air and maritime space around Gaza is controlled by Israel. It was then that I realised that these people are prisoners in their own land.
With this context in mind, Chris and I spent the next three days facilitating the workshop, which was on a strengths-based approach to community development. It was attended by representatives of about 25 CBOs which provide support to the local population.
Following the workshop we were able to visit some areas where the CBOs work. Walking through the narrow laneways, we were made to feel very welcome in the homes of some of the local residents.
In the land which bore the Prince of Peace, the reality of peace seems a distant hope for both Palestinians and Israelis. The vast majority of these people just want to live a normal life, a life that I have been able to live.
Through an accident of birth I was born into privilege. The lottery of life hasn’t been so kind to the people of Gaza and East Jerusalem. In the middle of this reality, Anglican Overseas Aid is proud to continue to support the work of people like Jantien, Marwan, Suhaila and Mahmoud as they work to bring healing to the suffering people of Palestine.
If you would like to donate to the work of the Spafford Children’s Center in East Jerusalem or the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, click on the ‘Donate Now’ button: