Thursday, January 08, 2009

Church World Service offers comprehensive aid in Gaza crisis


Church World Service offers comprehensive aid in Gaza crisis

NEW YORK CITY - Thurs., Jan. 8, 2009 - As the death toll continues to rise in the wake of the Israeli military attack on Gaza, Church World Service has set in motion an emergency response that includes humanitarian relief, protection for refugees and those displaced by the attacks, advocacy for intensified measures to create a just peace, and a public appeal for U.S. donations to further assist people suffering through the crisis.

In an attempt to stop the fighting that has trapped some 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza with little to no access to food, water or medicine, Church World Service has called its Speak Out advocacy network to action, asking people to immediately press their lawmakers in Washington to support prompt U.S. diplomatic action to end the fighting in Gaza and renew a meaningful process toward peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

Because some two thirds of the people now suffering in Gaza are refugees, CWS wants the governments of Israel and Egypt to allow civilians who want to leave the bloodshed to do so safely, as recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In a January 8 letter to U.S. congressional leaders, state department officials and Israeli and Egyptian ambassadors, Church World Service underscored the Gazan refugees' right to protection, saying "All human beings have a universal right to flee war and seek safety in neighboring countries." Both Israel and Egypt are signatories to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

"It is thus incumbent upon Israel and Egypt to immediately open their borders and provide protection to civilians attempting to flee violence and persecution.

Echoing the call of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, the agency communiqué also said that "it is absolutely imperative that the immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of this conflict be facilitated with the cooperation of Egypt and Israel."

Church World Service is a member of Action by Churches Together, an international aid alliance. ACT has sent trucks loaded with medicine, blankets, food and energy biscuits for children to Gaza. The supplies, along with trauma therapists, will be able to enter Gaza as soon as the Israeli Army gives permission for the supply trucks to enter. As of Wednesday evening, reports indicated that Israel would halt its bombing for a few hours each day to allow delivery of humanitarian aid.

CWS says aiding infants and small children and their mothers is a priority. CWS partners report a need for supplementary feeding for 80,000 preschool children, but only one in four children has received such supplements during the war.

The need for emergency psychosocial care within the war-torn area is overwhelming, Action by Churches Together reports. "The best therapy for children is to resume normal life," says ACT's representative in Israel and Palestine, Liv Steinmoeggen.

Steinmoeggen says emergency supplies including medicine and blankets also are needed at the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. The hospital's windows were blown out during the attacks and patients there now are exposed to cold weather.

The fighting began 12 days ago, after Israel announced that it would launch an assault on Gaza in retaliation for Palestinian rockets fired into Israel. More than 700 Palestinians have been killed and the United Nations already has warned of an impending humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

In December, Church World Service Executive Director Rev. John L.
McCullough and other major Christian leaders in the U.S. sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama urging him to make Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority.

HOW TO HELP: Contributions to support this emergency appeal may be made online or sent to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN, 46515. Please designate #6824, 2009 Gaza Humanitarian Response.