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Personal Account — Visit to Gaza

Due to the lack of time and an emergency meeting scheduled with municipal officials, I was not able to visit the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza which we helped renovate major parts of the school premises that were damaged during the war. However, I spoke on the phone with Sr. Davida Twal, school principal who briefed me on progress of the renovations and apologized for not being able to receive me due to this emergency meeting with municipal authorities. She had prepared a report including photos of the renovated spaces and she sent the report to me with the school secretary.

I told Sr. Davida that I hope to visit Gaza soon and look forward for a meeting in the very near future. She was most appreciative with what we were able to do from a distance.

Fr. Jorge Hernandez had barely completed one year as the Latin parish priest, as well as the principal of the Holy Family School in Gaza — my next appointment. He arrived in Gaza immediately after the war, replacing Fr. Manuel Musallam, an icon and the leading Christian voice out of Gaza for so long. Though born in Argentina, he spoke fluent Arabic and was very eager to share with me the many challenges facing the whole Palestinian population in Gaza as a result of the continuing blockade, and in particular those affecting Christians. “It is clear that life under Hamas cannot be categorized as systematic persecution against the Christian population, but it is neither a very welcoming environment either” Fr. Jorge said. Alcohol is no longer permitted in Gaza, even for Christians, and the general feeling is neutral. He explained that the situation seems to be a tense one and there is a lot to be desired to make the local Christians feel welcome. His assessment is that many of the remaining Christians talk about emigration should the opportunity arise. He complained about the meager resources available to him and the sense of isolation. I offered assistance in the traditional areas we work in, primarily in youth support and job creation programs and invited him to submit proposals for funding. He was very happy to hear my offer and said that one of his main priorities is to care for the youth and reactivate the Boy Scout troop. Despite the difficulties, this young priest is full of energy and ideas and will do what he can to be a voice of love and peace in a hostile environment.

Brotherhood Park — A Great Sign of Hope

With the limited time I had left, I asked my hosts to arrange for a visit to the Brotherhood Park at Al-Shati (Beach) Refugee Camp which was launched with funding from The Doty Foundation in 2001. A hastily arranged visit was put together to include a meeting at the Park with Gaza municipality officials.

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