FHL Vice Chair, Peter Rand, gave an update to members of his own parish at 4 Masses over the weekend 22/23 May on the reality of the situation in the Holy Land. 

Peter said:

"We have all been shocked by the news coming out of the Holy Land in the last two weeks.  In the last few days, we have been in communication with our local Committee, the small team in our Bethlehem office and our partners in Israel and Palestine.

I would like to share with you the situation for our Christian brothers and sisters in Nazareth and in Gaza.

Nazareth is a City in Israel to the north, near Galilee with a population of 77,000. 30% are Christian, all Arabs. They are surrounded by towns and villages including Israeli Jews. In Israel, the Arabs have generally got on with their Jewish Israeli neighbours. In the last 10 days that has changed dramatically. There is now within Israel, what is being described as a civil war, clashes between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews, causing deaths and multiple injuries. There is no distinction between Arab Muslims and Arab Christians.

This is something new and very worrying. Friday’s ceasefire will not change this narrative. The ceasefire was forced on both sides by the outside world. Neither side is happy with that perception. There is still ’unfinished business’ which is causing nervousness and continued tension across the region.

The situation in Gaza is much worse. 1042 homes were destroyed and a further 769 severely damaged. 6 hospitals and 11 medical clinics were damaged.  Of the 242 killed and 1,948 injured, over 50% were women and children. Access to electricity is down to just 3-4 hours/day. Over 800,000 do not have access to safe piped water.

Earlier this week, I spoke for an hour with Fr Gabriel, the parish priest at the Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza. He has a congregation of 133 (around 40 families). The only other Christians in Gaza are around 800 Greek Orthodox, so that is less than 1000 out of a population of 2 million. There are 5 Christian schools. At one of those, the Rosary Sisters School, the head, Sr. Nabila, whom I know well, told us the school housed some of the 106,000 families who had to leave their homes. Mercifully, many have now been able to return home. The school has suffered some structural damage from rockets and bombing.

The Parish compound itself is considered a safe area during these conflicts, but around 25% of the parish families have suffered damage to their nearby homes including blown-out doors and windows and took refuge in the parish centre. FHL are expecting to repair some of these homes to enable families to return. We are awaiting detailed proposals in the next few days from Sami El Yousef, CEO at the Latin Patriarchate, our partners in this project.

There will also be a priority need for psychosocial support to address the trauma, especially for the children and young people. We do not know the financial demands on FHL but it is likely to be significant, given our experience of the last conflict in 2014.

All of this is of course on top of COVID which has had a devasting impact across Gaza and the West Bank. There is concern that all the good work to vaccinate people in Israel to enable pilgrims and tourists to return may have been undone. Jerusalem remains very quiet as if under curfew. People are afraid of travelling even locally.

We also need to recognise that with so many Christians especially in Bethlehem, dependent on pilgrims and tourists, being without work, without any government support and therefore no income for 15 months, they are going to need ongoing help. As the only UK Charity with an office and staff in Bethlehem, we are under huge pressure to help so many families who are knocking on our door.

Don’t forget our Pentecost Challenge which runs until 30 June. There is still time to compete by walking, running or cycling our virtual 84 mile pilgrimage between Bethlehem and Nazareth or indeed to sponsor some of the parishioners who are participating.

Above all, please keep everyone in the Holy Land in your prayers. As the Latin Patriarch preached at the Pentecost Vigil Mass last evening at St Stephen’s Basilica in Jerusalem, ‘We pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon everyone in the Holy Land so everyone will realise they are part of one body in Christ’.

God Bless you all."