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Behind the Blockade

Gaza’s Christian institutions help sustain a beleaguered population

text by Fares Akram with photographs by Eman Mohammed

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At the Mother and Child Clinic in Shija’ia, Gaza, some 40 women sit patiently in the waiting room. Most are wearing black niqabs (the Islamic head–to–toe veil and dress). Many clutch babies in their arms. Others closely monitor their older children, who wander around the crowded room. A few are visibly pregnant. The women have come for the free, first–rate medical care.

A nurse enters the waiting room and calls out the name of the next patient. A woman and her 4–year–old son walk over to the nurse, who escorts them to the examination room. Moments later, the doctor arrives, greets the boy, Muhammad Jendeya, and his mother, Sobhia, with a smile and asks about the boy’s health.

Muhammad suffers from anemia. Two years ago, a medical team from the clinic visited the family as part of its outreach services and diagnosed the disorder.

“We had not followed up with any doctor before the team visited us,” admits Mrs. Jendeya, who studies at the Islamic University in Gaza. She lost her husband in the January 2009 war between Hamas and Israel and now struggles to provide for her family on her own.

Since the diagnosis, the doctor insists upon seeing Muhammad once a month to monitor his condition.

“We give him folic acid and vitamins and he is improving,” says the doctor.

The clinic, run by the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.) with funds from CNEWA– Pontifical Mission, specializes in pre– and post–natal care and pediatrics. Thanks to CNEWA’s benefactors, the clinic in Shija’ia reopened at its current location in the spring of 2009 after the previous facility, located in the same town, was demolished during the January 2009 war. Though no one was injured, tens of thousands of dollars worth of machinery and supplies were destroyed.

The clinic in Shija’ia is one of three the N.E.C.C. runs in Gaza. Together, they serve close to 200,000 residents in densely populated and underserved areas where access to quality health care is all but absent.

Established in 1952 to help provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the N.E.C.C. continues its mission. In addition to the clinics, it provides other vital services, such as education, job training and community development programs.

The council and several other Christian institutions in Gaza serve as a lifeline to its 1.5 million inhabitants, two–thirds of whom are Palestinian refugees. The vast majority of the population is Sunni Muslim. Nevertheless, the Christian–run institutions operating in Gaza provide vital social services each year to hundreds of thousands of residents — regardless of religion.

Since 2001, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, restricting the flow of supplies. In 2007, Egypt and Israel intensified the blockade after Hamas assumed control of the territory. The blockade prevented humanitarian assistance from reaching Gazans. Though Israel eased the blockade in 2010 and Egypt reopened its border with Gaza in 2011, it devastated the already fragile society.

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Tags: Refugees Education Gaza Strip/West Bank Health Care Women (rights/issues)