Churches mobilise globally for ceasefire in Gaza

By Ecumenical News International
15 Jan 2009

Churches and associated groups around the globe have mobilised to send aid and assistance to those affected by Israeli attacks on Gaza and to lobby their governments for a cease-fire in the tiny territory where 1.5 million Palestinians live - writes Hans Pienaar.

Three mobile health clinics, supported by DanChurchAid, a Danish aid and development group, were destroyed in a night-time Israeli air strike on 5 January. Israel says the aim of its campaign is to halt the continuous firing of rockets into its territory from Gaza.

DanChurchAid along with individuals, groups, churches and councils of churches from Kenya to Sweden to the United States to Australia are carrying out hundreds of advocacy actions involving Christians concerned about the Gaza crisis.

The World Council of Churches described the Israeli actions as "collective punishment of the people of Gaza", and said there is a "need for a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples".

The Roman Catholic Church in South Africa and the country's council of churches have offered support to a local Muslim charity's mercy mission to Gaza, "to show the South African people's sympathy with our brothers and sisters in Gaza".

The Gift of the Givers charity, based in South Africa's east coast city of Durban, is negotiating with the governments of Jordan, Egypt and Israel for safe passage of medical supplies and equipment, bottled water, food, baby milk, high-energy and protein bars, mattresses and blankets. Organizers said a Being 747 airliner is standing by to take the cargo to either Jordan or Egypt on a flight scheduled for 19 January.

The South African Council of Churches and the country's Catholic bishops conference, which is part of the church grouping, have met with the charity, the foreign ministry, and Cosatu, the largest trade union grouping in the country, to coordinate the mission.

"The GG has the capacity and we would gather the support, in order to show that the whole of South Africa supports the mission," Eddie Makue, general secretary of the SACC, told Ecumenical News International. He said the charity has shown it can organize "gigantic" missions to conflict stricken areas.

Makue stressed that the cooperation was on a humanitarian level, and that the various partners would continue to engage separately on a political level with governments and other organisations to help resolve the conflict.

GG's Imtiaz Sooliman said on the aid airlift, "This is the largest plane ever used by Gift of the Givers in its 16 years of disaster operations." He said he did not find the war zone strictures daunting. "I've been in Bosnia, Iraq and other places, with bombs falling around us."

Sooliman said that in a previous mission, during the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, GG succeeded in getting provisions through to Maronite communities cut off by the war.

In Geneva, Action by Churches Together International said in a statement on 14 January that three truckloads of food, milk and medical supplies had reached Gazans in desperate need of assistance and the agency planned to send more.

"Medical supplies have replenished scarce stocks at the Ah Ahli Arab Hospital and high-protein biscuits are being distributed to highly vulnerable children and nursing mothers who have sought refuge in UN schools and shelters," ACT said in a statement. "Dr Suhaila Tarazi at the Al Ahli hospital says the deliveries will help a lot of people; especially kids and breast feeding mothers, they have had nothing. The medical supplies will also help numerous injured people."

The WCC, the world's largest grouping of Christians with more than 500 million church members, said it has received reports of advocacy action in about 20 countries. These included statements, public demonstrations and letter campaigns addressed to government officials and parliament members. The actions are often accompanied by vigils and prayer services and collection of funds to support humanitarian relief work.

Their goals include an immediate cease-fire that ends violence against civilians on both sides of the border, free access for humanitarian aid, lifting of the blockade on Gaza, and internationally sponsored negotiations under the framework of international law as the basis for peace.

Officials in the health services run by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, in Gaza said on 14 January the death toll from nearly three weeks of military action had exceeded 1000 people, of which two thirds were civilians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the Israel Defense Forces were failing to fulfil their obligation under international law to help wounded civilians in Gaza. A U.N. relief agency suspended aid operations in Gaza after some of their facilities were targeted and two of its local staff killed.

Details of churches advocacy campaign may be found here: http://oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1722/christia...

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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