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A Letter From Gaza

by Suhaila Tarazi

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I was born in Gaza, in Palestine, to a Greek Orthodox middle-class family. I had my elementary and secondary education in Gaza public schools and later left for Egypt for further studies, where I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree.

When I was young I was sent by my parents to join Girls of Light, a Christian program at the Baptist church, to study the Bible and learn more about Jesus. During the course, I was very much inspired by the life of Lillian Trasher, an American missionary in Assiut, Egypt, who founded the first orphanage there. She was known as “the Nile Mother.”

The essential message I learned from her story was from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”

I started my work at Al Ahli Arab Hospital, the only Christian hospital in Gaza, which belongs to the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. This was during the first intifada (uprising) in 1987, when Palestinians fought Israeli occupation, which brought with it violence, fear, strikes, kidnappings and killings of innocent people.

At the sight of all those atrocities, I seriously thought of leaving my job and my country to join my family in the United States.

At this time, God sent a message to me through a Catholic woman whose parents were Palestinian refugees who had fled Jaffa in 1948. She had come from Vienna to work in Gaza with a U.N. organization. She eventually lived in the neighborhood and we became friends.

We spent hours talking about the misery of the Palestinians in general, and the people of Gaza in particular. I changed my mind and decided not to leave my people in such circumstances, but to remain in Gaza to keep our Christian presence in the land of Jesus.

In 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Agreement, the newly constituted Palestinian Authority arrived in Gaza. Never before had the Gazans enjoyed such peace and tranquility. Everyone hoped to witness an era of reconciliation, which would bring an end to the Israeli occupation. Unfortunately, this hope faded and proved to be false. Israel imposed restrictions on the Palestinian economy, prohibited the freedom of movement, confiscated land, built new settlements and constructed a separation wall — all of which have had a devastating effect and have left no hope for some for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

During that time of political instability, the hospital board offered me a promotion to become its director. No one in my family liked the idea; Gaza was in a state of chaos and total unrest. It was not easy for a Christian woman — in a predominantly Muslim male society — to shoulder the burden of the most difficult tasks and responsibilities. But after wrestling with this, and with God's help and guidance, I finally accepted the challenge.

In 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections in Gaza, which the international community described as transparent and legitimate. Since then, Israel has engaged in three brutal wars in Gaza — the most recent in August 2014, which lasted 51 days and killed thousands of innocent people, mainly women and children. The war destroyed homes; ruined cultivated lands and uprooted orchards; and damaged infrastructure, ruining water pipes and sewer networks.

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