Church leaders appeal for end to siege of Gaza

In a statement issued on January 22, the heads of churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land called on the international community and the state of Israel to end the current siege on the Gaza Strip which has caused most recently cuts in electricity and limited the shipments of medicine, fuel, food and other goods across the border. The statement says the siege of Gaza has effectively imprisoned one and a half million people without proper food or medicine. The church leaders stress that "this is illegal collective punishment, an immoral act in violation of the basic human, natural as well as international laws. It cannot be tolerated anymore. The siege over Gaza should end now."

The statement urged Palestinians to unite in ending their differences for the sake of the people in Gaza and urged Israel to act responsibly.

In a letter issued yesterday, the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia called on the Council's 347 member churches around the world to pray for the end of the suffering in Gaza and speak out for the people in Gaza to their governments.

"Address your parishes, the public, your governments and the embassies", Kobia writes, "calling for an end to the siege, an end to their collective punishments and a negotiated ceasefire."

The letter urges churches to manifest solidarity with the churches in Palestine by supporting the work done by local churches on the ground and church-related agencies like Action by Churches Together. Kobia also suggests to send messages of support directly to the local churches.

At the same time the UN and humanitarian partner agencies launched their largest ever appeal for Palestinians—$462 million—as the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is forced into greater dependency on humanitarian assistance in 2008.

Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator said, “Closures not only hurt the economic well-being of families and communities in the occupied Palestinian territory, they also erode the basic human dignity of the Palestinian population.  It is for this reason that we call for continuing support for our efforts in bringing real and meaningful assistance where it is most needed in the West Bank and Gaza. The current lockdown of Gaza is of mounting concern.”

Despite welcome developments on the political horizon, if the closures continue, living conditions for 3.8 million Palestinians are expected to further deteriorate. Restrictions on the freedom of movement of goods and people are already stifling the economy and quality of life in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). In addition, the UN and other humanitarian organisations are also facing new obstacles, increased costs and restrictions in delivering aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as the closure regime becomes more entrenched.

Twelve UN agencies together with 28 nongovernmental organizations (15 international and 13 national) launched a joint appeal for US $461.9 million to meet the basic human needs of the Palestinian population in 2008.  It is the largest appeal for emergency humanitarian assistance ever launched in the oPt and the third biggest in the world, after Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The situation in the West Bank and Gaza is dire and getting worse. With the total shut down of Gaza, the vast majority of people there are now dependent on UN assistance, which is now in serious jeopardy”, said Filippo Grandi, the Deputy Commissioner General of UNRWA, “In the West Bank, hundreds of physical obstacles are destroying the economy and hindering aid delivery at a time when the international community is trying to put new life into efforts to get the peace process back on track and build capacity and institutions.”

According to the most recent figures, 57 percent of Palestinian households are living in poverty, with about 49 percent in the West Bank and 79 percent in the Gaza Strip.

Source: Independent Catholic News and UNOCHA

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