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MCC provides food assistance in Gaza

Gladys Terichow
December 23, 2008

WINNIPEG, Man. — The Israeli economic blockade on the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, continues to push people into deeper levels of poverty.

"The situation was very bad in July when we visited Gaza but it is a lot worse now," said Bassem Thabet, administrative director for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Jerusalem.

MCC staff has not been able to visit Gaza in recent months but MCC partner organizations in Gaza are reporting that some of the most vulnerable families now use milled animal feed to make pita bread and discarded plastic pipes as fuel to cook bread and meals.

In response, MCC approved an emergency cash grant of $10,000 in early December to help the Amira Society, Al-Najd, and Culture and Free Thought Association distribute food assistance to some of the most vulnerable families in the Gaza Strip (north, central and south). The food assistance will be distributed to 350 households in December and January.

Although there is a shortage of food in Gaza and prices are high, the partner organizations will purchase the basic food staples, such as rice and flour, within Gaza.

"There are no other options," said Thabet, noting the economic blockade makes it very difficult to get food, fuel, medical supplies and other necessities into the region.

Currently, the Israeli government is allowing a few trucks a day with humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza but most of the food, fuel and basic supplies sold in Gaza have been smuggled through underground tunnels from Egypt.

The Israeli government closed all of its crossings into Gaza in early November in response to escalating violence triggered in part by Israel’s attempts to demolish Gaza's tunnel systems.

The security barriers surrounding Gaza's economic blockade create large scale unemployment, poverty and feelings of isolation, said Ryan Lehman of Boswell, Pa., MCC's representative in Jerusalem.

"This economic blockade has many ripple effects," said Lehman, explaining Gaza does not have enough fuel to operate its electrical power plant at full capacity.

Raw sewage is pumped into the sea because treatment plants do not have enough electrical power to operate and frequent power outages place immense pressure on hospitals, schools and other essential services.

People feel isolated because it is difficult to get permits to visit Gaza and people in Gaza can't leave the region. Telephone services and access to the internet are interrupted by frequent power outages.

"The only things that have kept Gaza from becoming a large-scale humanitarian crisis are regular food and medical shipments from the World Food Program and other humanitarian organizations," said Lehman. About 75 per cent of the population is now dependent on humanitarian assistance.

Representatives of MCC’s partner organizations continue to feel optimistic that things will improve, said Lehman, but he added it is getting harder for them to remain optimistic and hopeful.

MCC’s aid packages, he said, remind MCC partner organizations and the people they serve in Gaza that they are not forgotten. “It is a gesture that shows we care,” he said.

In February, MCC approved a $25,000 aid package to purchase food kits, blankets and winter clothing for distribution to 180 households in the Khan Yunis refugee camp and Gaza City.

A material aid shipment followed in early April providing 3,159 school kits, 3,285 health kits, 200 bales of comforters and 750 relief kits.