by Gladys Terichow
In the midst of air strikes, ground battles and a rising death toll, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner organizations in Gaza are distributing food, water and blankets to Gazans who have lost their homes.
On Jan. 6, MCC approved an emergency response package that brings the monetary value of MCC’s humanitarian responses in Gaza in 2008 and early 2009 to almost $345,000.
The latest emergency response includes shipping a large container of blankets and relief kits to Gaza and providing $30,000 for local purchase of food and other urgently needed supplies. While MCC’s partner organizations in Gaza cannot currently receive funds because banks are closed due to the war, they are purchasing food, water and blankets on credit and distributing them to families whose homes have been destroyed.
In addition to humanitarian assistance, MCC is calling for prayers for peace and advocating for the governments of Canada and the U.S. to work for an end to the fighting.
In a letter to the Canadian government, MCC Canada writes: “MCC believes that peace and security for all people in the region can only be gained through peaceful means. It cannot come from rocket attacks. It cannot come from bombing and air strikes. A lasting peace can only be achieved as all parties, including Hamas, engage in political negotiations to address the issues that divide them.”
A letter from MCC U.S. to the U.S. government states: “Fundamentally, a resolution to this conflict must address root causes. The use of military force only adds to the grievances that Palestinians and Israelis feel. It does nothing to address the root causes that lead the peoples of the region to feel insecure.”
Both letters urge their respective governments to insist that all parties allow humanitarian aid to reach the most vulnerable people in Gaza.
Before Israel’s military operations began on Dec. 27, 2008, humanitarian conditions were already desperate in Gaza due to an 18-month economic blockade, according to Rick Janzen, a director of MCC’s programs in the Middle East and Europe.
In February 2008, MCC sent a container of blankets, relief kits, school kits and health kits to Gaza and provided $25,000 to purchase food in Gaza. In December, MCC approved an additional $25,000 to provide food and other supplies.
Janzen said that MCC partner organizations now report that Gazans live in fear as the death toll and number of injuries continues to rise. Among the dead and wounded are close family members of staff members of MCC partner organizations. According to the United Nations, more than 25 percent of the Palestinian dead are civilians.
The United Nations reports that there is now an almost total blackout in many parts of Gaza. About 70 percent of the population has no running water due to electricity cuts and the lack of fuel to run back-up generators. Thousands of homes have been damaged, and it has become increasingly difficult for families to stay in them given the cold weather.
Currently, MCC does not have workers placed in Gaza, but MCC workers based in Jerusalem visit Gaza several times a year and maintain close communications by e-mail and telephone. Travel restrictions and frequent power outages have made communications more difficult this past year, said Janzen.
Donations to MCC’s response in Gaza can be made online at mcc.org, by telephone (in Canada at 1-888-622-6337; in the U.S. at 1-888-563-4676) or by sending a check to your nearest MCC office. Donations should be designated “Palestine Emergency Assistance.”
MCC is encouraging Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches to write letters to their representatives in government and urge them to use their influence to end the violence in Gaza and Israel. MCC’s Website, mcc.org, provides more information on ways to respond to the Gaza crisis.
Commissioned by Mennonite Church USA (MC USA), MCC has also produced resources for congregations, including an bulletin and website announcement and a prayer for peace, written by MCC workers in the region. Click here to download a PDF of these resources.
In addition MC USA has released the following list of resources to learn more about the current situation in Gaza and how to advocate for peace:
- Cindy and Daryl Byler, MCC representatives for Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and Iran, have recently posted an open letter to Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. leaders.
- Christian Peacemaker Teams in at-Tuwani, West Bank, have released the following reflection on happenings in the West Bank since the conflict in Gaza began: “Resistance will not be tolerated”–from Gaza to At-Tuwani, January 8, 2009.
- Write a letter to President Bush, asking him…
…To press for an immediate ceasefire by both parties,
…To ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the people who need it,
…To urge that root causes to the conflict be dealt with by face to face negotiations involving all parties.
- Sign the Ecumenical Christian Letter to President-elect Obama produced by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). “As current headlines about Gaza show us, peace in the Holy Land must be a priority for all who abhor violence and love peace,” states Marty Shupack, a New Hope Fellowship; a Franconia Conference PIM; and CMEP Board member. “This ecumenical letter from a wide range of U.S. Christian leaders lets President-elect Obama know the breadth of church support that exists for an immediate, bold and sustained focus by the Obama Administration on achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” MCC Washington Office Director Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, a member of Franconia Conference PIM congregation Peace Fellowship Church, is also a member of CMEP’s board of Directors.