Saturday, July 08, 2006

Gaza: A place of hurt...

Just 8 months ago, I traveled to Gaza the day after I was in Amman, Jordan. I was in Amman on the day that the hotels were bombed, and was just a few hundred yards away from them visiting with an American missionary who is a pediatrician working in the refugee camps in Jordan.

Getting into Gaza was difficult enough. Getting out left a little to be desired. I traveled with Peter Omran, the Project Manager for MOM for that area. Peter used to be a member of the PLO, Palestinian Liberation Front, who came to Christ, and left the PLO. There we were, Peter, an ex-PLO and me, a Messianic Jew (a Jewish believer), traveling to Gaza to see if we could get a medical team into the country to take care of hundreds of refugees. Here is what I saw and did:

We left Amman to go to Gaza via the road to the Dead Sea passing the Baptismal site for John the Baptist. We arrive at the boarder crossing only to find 1000 cars already lined up to get across into Jerusalem. We use our pull with American passports and get to the front of the line and realize that even with that we have a long wait. We decide to use a "VIP" service that for $82 a person will do all the paperwork, and move us through "no man's land" and get us through the Jerusalem side with assistance. It seems like a good idea. We pay a 5 JD departure tax to get out of Jordan. "No mans land” is simply that. A stretch of 5 kilometers that belongs to nobody but is protected by everybody. We go through no less that 4 checkpoints, see multiple bunkers and multiple armed sites. Our passports are checked at each check point. We arrive at King Hussein Bridge and cross the Jordan River. Into NML. We arrive on the Jerusalem side at the Allenby Bridge check point. Israel security is very thick and a lot of questions are asked. As we cross NML we see the city of Jericho and Mt. Temptation. Getting through from Jordan to Jerusalem takes us almost 8 hours with clear evidence of harassment and discrimination from the Israelis to the Jordanians. There is a bomb scare on the Israeli side and we are all told to stay put. There is tension everywhere. The Israeli undercover agents are not so undercover. They all carry AK47's in plain clothes and look like they are ready to use them. We arrive in Jerusalem and go to the Jerusalem Hotel for a late lunch and wait for John Carlock the AOG missionary from Gaza to meet us and to take us into Gaza. He and his wife have been there for about 2 years and are the only Americans in Gaza. They have 2 boys, 8 and 6 and a girl 2 years old. Their faith is very evident. They live in a walled in complex but feel safe being in Gaza. We get to the Gaza boarder and find the city surrounded by huge walls, like Berlin used to be years ago. We go through 3 more check points, passport control, and then we enter a bunkered tunnel that is a half mile long that we have to walk though carrying all of our stuff. The walls are riddled with bullets and there are cameras everywhere. We feel like we are entering a prison and we are. Gaza is a prison. No one can come in unless they are with the UN or are with an NGO. I sent my passport information weeks ago to John who got me clearance to enter Gaza as a member of AOG. No one can get out. Before the disengagement, 100,000 Palestinians from Gaza would go to work in Israel and return at night. Now they can’t. 99% of all Palestinians are unemployed. The Hammas rule the streets and the Palestinian authority rule the government, or what they think is the government. Before the disengagement there we about 6000 Israelis living in Gaza in 20% of the land and 1.4 million Palestinians were living in the other 80% of the land. Israeli spent billions of dollars trying to protect those Israelis and finally disengaged from Gaza, pulling out all the Israelis. That land now belongs to the PA Authority. There are multiple refugee camps in Gaza that house the Palestinians. Jabalia is one of them, and that is where we went.

The Gaza Lighthouse School is what John is responsible for. It is a school that is from 1st to 3rd grade and has 60 students from the refugee camps that are bussed in. It costs$40 a month to support a child and they have full sponsorship form the Baptist churches in the US. Of the 60 students only 1 is a Christian. The 3 teachers are Christians. MOM is trying to start an after school program for about 100 kids from the Zeitun area of Gaza. The school is very nice. It used to be a nursing school. The top 2 floors are not being used and can be easily turned into a medical clinic.

I noted that there is a lot of mental illness, depression, etc, and bed wetting in children because of the atrocities that the children have witnessed. The refugees are so poor that the children are kept from school to sell peanuts in the street which no one buys because there is no money to buy peanuts with.

The UN is very active with the refugees. The UN Relief Works Agency is responsible for having medical clinics for all refugees and I visited one which is fairly modest with doctors, but the care is suboptimal. Medicine is scarce.

I met with the administrator of the Ali Arab Hospital which began in 1882 as a CMS hospital from England then became a Baptist hospital in 1952. It is now under the Episcopalian diocese of Gaza. It serves as a base for foreign teams to do plastic and orthopedic surgery. Even though it is a Christian hospital only 10% of the staff are Christian. It has 80 beds of which only 50 are used because of funds. It is primarily a surgical hospital and is well equipped, albeit with old equipment. The average cost per bed per day is $98 none of which the patient pays. The hospital has a $600,000 deficit per year. It receives help from the UN and private donations.

We finally went to the Jabalia refugee project. I can't describe what it was like. The buildings are simply shells with as many as 10 people living in small room without heat or electricity. They do have water. We visited 5 families. We visited a small dwelling with 5 severely mentally incapacitated women living there under the care of an elderly woman who herself had cancer (I have pictures that describe it better than he words ever can). The poor and destitute are beyond hope. We were with 2 of the refugees who themselves began an organization to get food and goods to the poorest of the poor. It was quite a testimony to their love of humanity.

Gaza in short is a prison with walls, filled with people who have no hope, and children who are forgotten. Today, July 8, 2006, the Israeli army is now only 500 yards from Zeitun, the refugee camp that I wanted to take a medical team to. The war is heating up. Zeitun may fall. The refugees that we met are in hiding, unsure of what is going to happen next. And the "forgotten children" are hungry, alone, and scared. Medical Mercy. A medical team from Mission of Mercy, wanting to go, but can't. Maybe another time. Maybe in God's time. We'll be ready.

In all things, give thanks.