We are heartbroken by the events in Gaza and southern Israel since 7th October. Through our contacts on the ground we have been doing our best to react quickly to get immediate help to those sheltering in the Christian churches and buildings, largely in Gaza City, as well as increasing our emergency support elsewhere in the West Bank and Israel. 

Friends of the Holy Land is registered as a charity locally and so operate our own bank account in country which allows us to take swift, direct action. The Bethlehem branch of our bank has advised us that their Gaza branch is still operating at the moment so we are able to send vital funds to where they are most needed. Conditions on the ground are constantly changing and it is unclear how long this window to send help will last. To date we have been able to send out £125,000, with confirmation that funds have been received and used to buy provisions immediately. 

Initially there were around 4,000 people sheltering across the Christian churches and building around Gaza city but that number has now decreased as some people have been able to gain visas to leave Gaza or have moved south. Most who are not able to leave Gaza have opted to stay in the churches as they are seen as the safest places to be. Those sheltering are Christians, Muslims and people of no faith. There are around 500 sheltering at the Church of the Holy Family and around 200 at St Porphyrios church. 

The monies we have been able to send so far have helped the Christian committee coordinating the care of so many people to buy water, food, basic medical supplies and other essentials where and when they are available. International Aid is coming into Gaza very slowly and struggles to reach Gaza City. Prices of food and fuel have increased to 10-15 times their pre-war price. George Akroush, director of the Project Development Office at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said: “20 litres of diesel cost €200 [£170], and only provide energy for the generators for two hours.” He said that 10 more people are at risk of dying because of a lack of adequate treatment. So far 34 Christians have died since October 7th, out of a population of just over 1000. Around 25% of the Christian population has left Gaza for other countries.

At the same time, the situation in the West Bank is deteriorating. There are strict travel restrictions which, compounded by fear, have resulted in some intermittent food shortages of staples like flour, sugar and medications and inflated prices for these items in the longer term. Staple items like milk, bread and eggs have all increased by as much as 30%. Many bakeries have stopped selling more than just basic bread as people cannot afford to buy more expensive items like croissants and cakes.

Those who had permits to travel for work to Israel are no longer allowed to cross the border. Tourism has shut down so once again, those who rely on pilgrims and tourists for their income cannot earn any money. The public sector workers are being paid half salary as the Palestinian Authority has no money, the money has to be paid to them by Israel. 

But most of all there is fear. Fear of escalating violence, fear of attacks, fear of demonstrations and indiscriminate arrest for making comments (on social media or in person) and fear of an uncertain future. People mostly stay at home and very few venture out in the evenings, although there is no official curfew. Our team in Bethlehem and the wider West bank are still able to deliver our routine projects and grants to individuals and families, they report that the need is increasing.

Sadly there is also an increasing divide amongst the people and the religions. Even through previous conflicts, there were few tensions between the different religions. Now our Holy Land Committee report that there is suspicion from everyone and people no longer talk to each other from different religions in the street. There are increasing attacks on religious clergy. 

We will need your help to prepare for the longer-term impact of this terrible war. Obviously there will be a  need for rebuilding across Gaza, as well as other vital help such as medical treatment and trauma counselling not only in Gaza but in the West Bank and Israel in the aftermath of these dark times. We don’t know today how the challenges for Christians in the Holy Land may evolve, but we stand ready locally to provide relief where we can with your help. 

Sami El-Yousef, CEO of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem writes about the situation and the people in Gaza "After 4 months, they are exhausted to the limit, but still miraculously find the strength to keep going through their strong faith."

In response we have doubled our support for emergency cases each month to a budget of £10,000 per month. We have increased the numbers of children at the School of Joy and at St Martha’s House for elderly women and we have started projects to help develop small businesses. We have also improved water supplies by placing tanks on the roofs of the vulnerable across the West bank, a £100,000 project. We are developing programmes of trauma therapy with local specialists for the West Bank and Gaza with a particular focus on children and programmes to mentor people into new vocations and small business as a route to generating income.

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We have set up a prayer page dedicated to prayers for peace at this time

To read our blog with updates from the Holy Land and relevant articles click here