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Personal Account — Visit to Gaza

I was reminded by my host that we needed to get back on the road to ensure that I meet the deadline for my exit from Gaza. After a great meal with wonderful company, I set back into the hard realities of Gaza. The driver took us back through the wrecked streets of Beit Lahia where destruction was so evident. Many buildings were destroyed, a school on our way half destroyed with the middle part completed demolished and both ends standing tall, and garbage lined the streets. We finally arrived at the Hamas checkpoint, now the first clearance point on my way back. There were about 6 diplomatic and EU marked cars ahead of us lined up to enter. It looked like this is the place, as a Palestinian, I was being given preferential treatment where I was cleared ahead of all the VIP’s ahead of me. Maybe it was a statement by the Hamas official in the rusty container that since the international community does not wish to talk to Hamas, we can at least make you sweat a little on your way back to Israel! We drove quickly to the PNA checkpoint where a final clearance must be coordinated with the Israeli side before I am allowed back in this lonely one kilometer pathway. After a 5 minute wait, clearance was given. I said my goodbye to these fine people I only met a mere 5 hours before, but now feels that I have known them a lifetime, and started to walk. There was only one other person making the lonely return back.

We both started rushing to make this 20 minute walk before the magical closing time of 3:30 p.m. I was standing inside this state of the art metal detector that encircles you twice as you wait with your hands up in the air at exactly 3:25 p.m., a mere 5 minutes before the deadline. Though no questions were asked, and although the terminal (which can potentially process hundreds of people at a time) had only 4 people inside it, it took a further 40 minutes to grant me the final clearance to leave.

Final Thoughts

I am sure it will take me a very long time to absorb what I saw in this brief visit, but my initial reflection is one of great pride of the wonderful work we were able to advance in Gaza in 2009 as a result of the war and beyond. Some of the work is ongoing into 2010. Our work is much needed and is very much appreciated. My only hope for the future is that we will be able to do more. Our strategic contributors to our work, namely Caritas Switzerland and Luxembourg, Secours Catholique, Manos Unidas, Kinderhilfe Bethlehem, Misereor, PMK, CNEWA — US, and CNEWA Canada should be very proud of how their money was spent and how far it went to alleviate the suffering in Gaza. The NECC Mother and Child clinic is back in full operation serving tens of thousands of disadvantaged people in Gaza. And again, all the quality services are provided with love and in dignity.

As for our strategic partners in Gaza, administrators and staff at NECC, particularly Mr. Constantine Dabbagh, staff of Shija’ia Clinic, staff of Rosary Sisters School, Myrrh Bearers Orthodox Society volunteers, Fr. Jorge and his school staff, and many others, it should be pointed out that they should be very proud of their contributions to society at large, but most importantly to the Christian witness in Gaza. Indeed, it is quality and not quantity that counts.

I am enthusiastically looking forward to my next visit to Gaza!

Sami El-Yousef
Regional Director
Pontifical Mission

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