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Churches lend hope to Palestinians' struggle to survive

10/15/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

Photographs and two sidebars, UMNS stories #491 and 492, are available with this report.

By Paul Jeffrey*

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Graffiti in Nablus. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-354, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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Near the Qalandiya refugee camp, Palestinians walk through an Israeli checkpoint. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-353, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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An 8-meter high concrete wall surrounds the West Bank town of Qalqilya. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-350, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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A Palestinian girl searches through the rubble of a house in Nablus blown up by the Israeli military Aug. 8, purportedly because it was being used as a hiding place for Islamic militants. The military used helicopter-launched missiles and tanks against the building, where two people died. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-351, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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An 8-meter high concrete wall surrounds the West Bank town of Qalqilya. Here the wall has been painted by protesters. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-349, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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Christian Peacemaking Teams. Photo number W03044, Accompanies UMNS#490


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Near the West Bank village of Qalqilya, the roots of olive trees uprooted to build a "separation fence." A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-356, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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Daily Life


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A man, pistol tucked into his pants, prays at the Western Wall, all that remains of the first and second temples. The Wall is located in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-355, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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Near the West Bank town of Jayyous, Palestinians are forced to carry goods around a barricade the Israeli military used to close this road, one of scores of road closures throughout the occupied territories. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-352, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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Sandra Olewine. Photo number W03038, Accompanies UMNS#490


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ACT regional appeals officer Leila Dzaferovic (right) walks with Katam Mahmod Zud through a field the Palestinian villager will lose to the seond phase of the wall's construction in the village of Tiíinnik. "Where am I then going to grow food for my children? The wall is taking the food out of their mouths," Zud says. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-348, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03


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Children of War. Photo number W03042, Accompanies UMNS#490


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Palestinians collect the remains of olive trees bulldozed in April by the Israeli military in the Gaza strip, occupied since 1967 by Israel. Many of the trees were hundreds of years old. The trunks are often taken to be replanted on Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT. Photo number 03-347, Accompanies UMNS #490, 10/14/03
JERUSALEM (UMNS)-While peace in the Middle East remains elusive, Action by Churches Together International continues providing help and hope to people in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Despite efforts by the international community to push the "road map for peace," Palestinians still face travel restrictions, unemployment, hunger and daily humiliations under Israeli occupation. Yet they also can count on support from ACT members that have been working in the area for decades, healing the sick, providing job training, and helping Palestinians build a functioning civil society.

"We are grateful to ACT, because through their support we've been able to treat many in need and give hope to those who are hopeless," says Suhaila Tarazi, director of the Episcopal Church's Ahli Arab Hospital in the strife-torn Gaza Strip. "Because of ACT's support, we feel we are not alone."

ACT is an international alliance of churches and church-related agencies responding to emergencies. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is an active member of ACT.

Much of ACT's work focuses on helping people survive during a time of tension and violence between Israelis and Palestinians. The current intifada, or popular uprising by the Palestinians, has been under way since late 2000.

In August 2002, when several West Bank cities were cut off by the Israeli military, the International Christian Committee - a service arm of the Middle East Council of Churches, an ACT member - sent five trucks loaded with 1,900 food packages to the besieged cities of Tulkarem and Nablus. The convoy, accompanied by international church leaders, faced down Israeli tanks to deliver the emergency supplies.

Khaldiyeh Hamdan was one of those in Nablus who received food from that effort for her family. She had lost part of her house when an Israeli bulldozer smashed through it to open a wider access for military tanks to enter the narrow streets of the old city. Four months pregnant, she fled with her children to a neighbor's, and they were allowed to return home three days later, their hands in the air under the gaze of Israeli snipers. Searching through the rubble beside what was left of their home, her children found the body of a neighbor, yet they weren't allowed to remove the body from the neighborhood until the curfew was lifted for a few hours seven days later.

Hamdan says the food provided by ICC/ACT helped restore hope to people terrorized by the incursion. "When the food came, it not only helped us survive physically, it reminded us that people outside of here cared about us," she says.

In Hebron, an ancient city in the southern part of the West Bank- where more than 5,000 Israeli soldiers protect some 500 Jewish settlers - a state of siege earlier this year trapped thousands of Palestinians in their homes. Israeli tanks and bulldozers destroyed the city's vegetable market in January, and in the weeks that followed, people began going hungry. The ICC/ACT prepared 1,000 family food packages, each weighing 30 kilos and containing sufficient food to feed a family of five for three weeks.

"Getting the packages to the hungry families wasn't easy, as the city was under curfew and the soldiers would often shoot anyone who moved in the streets," says Ramzi Zananiri, the executive director of ICC/ACT. "So in many areas, we took the packages apart, and children smuggled the food from house to house until it got to its final destination. They'd first take the milk, then come back for the rice, until we had finally moved all the food to people who were truly desperate with hunger."

ACT members in the occupied territories, where the overall unemployment rate is more than 35 percent, are also engaged in a variety of income generation and vocational training programs.

However, chronic road closures have devastated the economic and social life of Palestinian communities, says Nora Kort, the country representative for International Orthodox Christian Charities, another ACT member. Travel to work, to visit relatives or to take products to market turns impossible when Israeli bulldozers pile rubble on the main roads, blocking vehicular traffic, and soldiers at military checkpoints either refuse to let Palestinians pass or leave them waiting for hours before letting them through.

The state of siege has also hurt health care, as sick people and their families, turned back at military checkpoints, endure lengthy delays and detours in order to get to their health care provider. ACT-supported medical programs in the Palestinian territories are reaching out in creative ways to deliver health care to poor Palestinians. Hospitals are busing in patients from remote locations to get them through checkpoints more efficiently, and several ACT members have started rural clinics or dispatched physicians to refugee camps.

Health professionals in ACT-supported facilities long for the day when they can focus on encouraging wellness rather than repairing bodies broken by violence.

"During the worst of the intifada, for more than two years, I was in the operating room from 7 in the morning until well past midnight," says Dr. Maher Ayyad, the chief surgeon at Ahli Arab Hospital. "Every day. I know how a child dies from bullets. I know a father's face when he comes to pick up the body of his son. I've lived with war for too long. When it comes someday, peace will be good for health care."

Through the Middle East Emergency Advance No. 601740, the United Methodist Committee on Relief helps underwrite nutrition, micro-enterprise, medical aid and other support projects for citizens throughout the Palestinian territories. Donations can be made through local churches or directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit card donations can be made by calling tollfree (800) 554-8583.

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*Jeffrey is a United Methodist missionary in Central America who traveled to the occupied Palestinian territories as a field communicator for ACT.

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