United Methodists Look to Assist Civilians in Gaza
By Linda Bloom*
January 13, 2009— United Methodists are trying to assist with the ongoing need for aid to civilians caught in the war zone of the Gaza Strip.
They also are concerned, with other humanitarian organizations, about the effect the ongoing confrontation between the Israeli military and Hamas-led Palestinian government is having on medical care in Gaza.
The Rev. Alex Awad, a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries missionary based at Bethlehem Bible College, told United Methodist News Service the college has five students from the Gaza Strip.
"We have also been in direct touch with friends and relatives in Gaza," he wrote in a Jan. 12 e-mail message. "What they tell us is all the same: They have no food, no water, no electricity and they are afraid for their lives."
Since Dec. 27, nearly 900 people have been killed, Palestinian Health Ministry officials say. The Israeli military reports 13 losses. The Israeli government has escalated its efforts in recent days in response to continued rocket fire into southern Israel from Hamas territory. The fighting continues on both sides, despite the call of the U.N. Security Council for an immediate cease-fire.
According to news reports, the Israeli military said it was allowing more than 160 truckloads of aid into Gaza on Jan. 12.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief is working with Action by Churches Together and Muslim Aid to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza, according to Melissa Crutchfield, head of international disaster relief. "We're monitoring closely the situation on the ground," she said.
The agency already has contributed to ACT's previous appeal for general humanitarian aid to Gaza and is waiting for a revised appeal on this emergency, she explained.
Crutchfield also expects to get approval soon from UMCOR directors to contribute to the efforts of Muslim Aid, an UMCOR partner, which has access in a different part of the Gaza Strip. "That's going to allow us to expand our reach," she said.
Medical Clinic Destroyed
Damage to medical facilities in Gaza has become a major concern. On Jan. 10, for example, a Christian-run clinic in Gaza City supported by ACT was destroyed. Five days earlier, three clearly-marked mobile health clinics - supported by DanChurchAid, another ACT partner - also were destroyed in an Israeli air strike.
David Wildman, a Board of Global Ministries executive, received an e-mail from the Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees, an independent organization affiliated with the Middle East Council of Churches, informing him that Israeli missiles have hit the clinic in Al-Shuja'ia, destroying the facility and all its contents. There were no casualties.
"Minutes before the missile hit the building which hosts the clinic, the Israeli Air Force fired a warning missile next to it, forcing all residents of the building and the adjacent buildings to flee the area," Zack Sabella of the Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees reported. "A short while after, the army directly hit the building and razed it completely."
It is believed the Israelis may have been targeting the owner of the three-story building, who was residing on its upper floors.
The clinic was one of three in the Gaza strip, said Wildman, who last met personally with staff at the Department of Services for Palestinian Refugees in February 2008. "We (United Methodist Church) have supported the DSPR in some form or another for decades," he added.
"These clinics have been incredibly effective in lowering health complications for both mothers and children in Gaza. Now, all that is going to be set back."
The destroyed clinic served one of the poorest neighborhoods in Gaza City and staff see 40 patients a day, six days a week. "With the air strikes that started on Dec. 27, they shifted to being a primary care facility for people who had been wounded," he said.
Israel has imposed severe restrictions on medical aid ever since Hamas was officially installed as the majority party in the Palestinian Legislative Council in March 2006, Wildman said. He noted the current conflict has further limited options for Palestinian civilians.
For example, the destroyed clinic was the source of primary care for many pregnant women in that area, he said. "If a child gets a fever now, the family is on their own. Those are the hidden casualties when things like this happen."
ACT Sends Supplies
ACT was hopeful that it would be able to get supplies into Gaza on Jan. 12. Those supplies include 12,000 cartons of high-protein biscuits, 20,300 liters of fortified milk, blankets and quilts, and close to $68,000 worth of medical supplies. The delivery across the border into Gaza is coordinated through the United Nations, which is responsible for the transport.
Church World Service -- led by the Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist pastor - also is working with ACT on the humanitarian response in Gaza.
Through its "Speak Out" advocacy network, the ecumenical humanitarian group is asking Americans to "urge members of Congress to support prompt U.S. diplomatic action to help achieve an immediate cease-fire and address the Gaza humanitarian situation."
CWS backs a recommendation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the governments of Israel and Egypt to allow civilians to leave Gaza safely and find refuge elsewhere.
The Rev. W. Douglas Mills of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns said his agency was distraught over the loss of human life and property destruction in Gaza, but "also worried by the rhetoric from both sides claiming that there can be no dialogue."
"I believe that The United Methodist Church will stand firm in its desire for peace in the Middle East and firm in our call for a solution which protects those who are oppressed. We will continue to give political support to the state of Israel and its security and continue to call for a safe place where Palestinians also can live and work with security," he said.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.