by Paul Lansu, Pax Christi International
Since about 10 years I attend the annual meetings of the Holy Land Coordination. I do that in my capacity as Senior Policy Advisor of Pax Christi International.
Part of the programme of this year’s Holy Land Coordination was a visit to the Gaza Strip on 11 and 12 January 2015. This was my third visit to Gaza. The first one was in 2007, and then again in 2014 and 2015. In the past six years, Gaza has suffered three consecutive wars, thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands are wounded, and the people live in an aftermath of destruction and despair. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are left to sink deeper and deeper into poverty and misery. The destruction of that small piece of land is complete. The Palestinian expression “Go to Gaza” means “Go to hell!”
Prior to our visit we received a briefing about the situation in Gaza from the Pontifical Mission and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS as a humanitarian aid organization arranged the permits with the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. Already in early December 2014, all the details of the passports had been passed to the Ministry. Nevertheless, on Sunday 11 January 2015, we had to wait for 6 – 7 hours to receive permission to start proceeding in the direction of Gaza through the Israeli Erez border. The exit border closed at 3.30 pm and most of the delegates got the permission between 3 and 3.30 pm. After a walk of about 1 km through no-man’s land, we ended up at the Gaza border, where CRS staff welcomed us.
The Gaza Strip, (technically a ‘pene-exclave’) is a region of Palestine on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea that borders Egypt on the southwest for 11 km and Israel on the east and the north along a 51 km border. Gaza has a population of about 1,8 million people. The Christian community has only about 1500 faithful, most of them Orthodox and a minor Catholic community of about 150. We visited the Catholic Parish and celebrated liturgy in the church that was luckily not touched by Israeli rockets during the latest war…