13 February 2024, The Tablet

Aid agencies join pleas against IDF Rafah offensive

Cafod, Sciaf, Trócaire and Christian Aid renewed calls for the UK government to oppose Israel’s operations in Gaza.

Aid agencies join pleas against IDF Rafah offensive

Palestinians fleeing the Israeli offensive in Khan Younis arrive in Rafah under the sights of an IDF tank on 26 January.
Associated Press / Alamy

Israel’s allies joined international aid agencies in warning against its planned offensive in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

The European Union expressed “grave concern” about the danger for civilians from Israel Defence Force (IDF) operations, fears have echoed by the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

UNRWA reported this week of “alarmingly high rates of diarrhoea, which for children if you cannot get them enough water can be very deadly, also outbreaks of Hepatitis A”.

The Ministry of Health in the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip reported on Monday that at least 28,340 people have been killed in the territory over the four months since the 7 October terror attack on Israel.

Pax Christi welcomed a ruling by a Dutch court on Monday which ordered the Netherlands to halt delivery of fighter jet parts to Israel, noting a clear risk that the parts are being used in “serious violations of international humanitarian law”.

“There is nowhere left for Gazans to go,” Quakers in Britain said this week, warning that “an assault on Rafah risks mass casualties…we must act now to stop the Israeli offensive, end all military support for Israel, and call for an immediate ceasefire.”

The US-based Jewish Voice for Peace tweeted on Monday: “The Israeli military is bombing Rafah, the most densely populated area in the world, while Americans watch the Super Bowl. This is intentional. This is genocide. We're demanding the world watching the Super Bowl turn their eyes to Rafah.”

Cafod, Sciaf, Trócaire and Christian Aid renewed calls for the UK government to oppose Israel’s operations in Gaza, joining 18 other aid agencies as signatories of a letter delivered to 10 Downing Street on Monday urging the prime minister to “demand that Israel immediately stops its offensive into Rafah and call for a ceasefire now”.

Christian Aid's head of Middle East Policy and Advocacy, William Bell, said: “With this order [to attack Rafah] Netanyahu appears to be confirming Palestinians' worst nightmare that Israel wants to clear Gaza of Palestinians.

“The UK government must demonstrate unambiguous opposition to this and call out attempts to forcibly transfer people, in order to prevent ethnic cleansing and further civilian suffering.”

The Revd Dr Munther Isaac, pastor of the Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, will lead a Vigil for Gaza on Sunday 18 February at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London. The service will begin with a 30-minute reflection by Dr Isaac, speaking about the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank and how the worldwide church should respond.

“I am traveling to the UK to call the church to be the church, and to act in costly solidarity towards an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire. This is a moral obligation. This is not the time for neutrality or soft diplomacy,” said Dr Isaac.

According to Church sources, 30 Christians have died in the last four months of the conflict in Gaza. Out of approximately 1,000 Christians in the territory on 7 October, 19 have been killed by military action and 11 have died because of a lack of medical care.

George Akroush, director of the Project Development Office at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that 10 more people are at risk of dying because of a lack of adequate treatment. ACN has launched a Lenten Holy Land appeal to support Gaza’s Christian community.

The situation in Gaza continued to deteriorate. Water pumps have stopped functioning, so residents have to try to manually extract water from wells, according to Mr Akroush.

He said: “Hygiene has become a serious issue, especially for the children, who are falling ill because of lack of water and basic supplies, such as flour and diapers.”

He added that the mass destruction of homes and infrastructure makes the future of Christianity in the Gaza Strip uncertain.

Mr Akroush told ACN: “They say that 62 per cent of the houses have been totally destroyed. With all of this, one has to ask what future is there for Christians in this country? Please, pray for us, do not forget the suffering of the Christians in this part of the world.”

Meanwhile, six ecumenical accompaniers have returned to Palestine and Israel, resuming in-person operations for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme after accompaniers were evacuated in October 2023.

The programme brings international volunteers to the West Bank to witness life under occupation and support local communities, aiming to contribute towards a future of coexistence and mutual respect between Palestinians and Israelis.

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