World Vision has been working in Gaza the land of Samson, Goliath and the Philistines since 2009. I visited Gaza last week. Our agricultural partners are brilliant and making a huge difference. Watching families farm strawberries and lemons and multiply their backyard supply of goats moved me to tears.
Here was hope. Our psycho social work and child friendly spaces are working with 6, 000 traumatised kids teaching resilience and strategies to deal with anxiety.These are children who when they draw a picture of the sky always draw an Israeli helicopter. They have lived under bombardment. Now they see less fear in their parents eyes.
The whole city experienced disruption and darkness for 3 months when the Israelis intentionally blew up the single power station in 2006. But I saw children of parents with new purpose again thanks to our work. When Hamas won elections in Gaza Israel kept the Karni border crossing completely closed causing the shut down of 75% of Gaza factories due to the loss of access to raw materials. Giving the Gazans work and hope is good news.
Entry to Gaza from Israel is strictly controlled. It requires a 2 kilometre walk through a long barb wire tunnel with snipers on the separation wall.
For me it was reminiscent of another wall in Berlin I had crossed many times. Except here there are 1.5 million people packed into the highest density area in the world. Former President of France Sarkozy got it right calling it the largest open air prison in the world. Given last November’s war we drove past bombed out houses and buildings. Donkeys and carts share the road with cars and colourful flags announce their political aspirations. Green for the ruling Hamas, yellow for Fatah the biggest party on the West Bank , black for the more extreme Islamic parties.
Hamas are essentially an extension of Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood and though respected for their toughness against corruption are opposed to the existence of Israel. Hamas argues that only rockets have ever wrung concessions from them. Fatah favours non-violent resistance to occupation and Israeli control they and pursue negotiations. Sadly this last war appears to have proved the superiority of Hamas’ more violent strategy as they launched nearly 2000 Quassam rockets and mortars in the last 6 years.
Although only 4 Israelis had been killed up till then, the disruption of indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel was intolerable for the authorities and Israel responded with massive force killing 668 Palestinians in Gaza including 359 civilians who took no part in the fighting. Hamas escalated its rocket attacks including on Tel Aviv and outer suburbs of Jerusalem precipitating a barrage of Israeli fire in November 2012.
As part of the ceasefire agreement ( and not one rocket has been fired) Israel agreed to allow more trade into and out of Gaza and extended the fishing limit to 6 kilometres out to sea. This is hugely significant for incomes in Gaza. And of course the Rafah border to Egypt is now open. I was amazed by the resilience of Gazans who never give up hope. World Vision is proud to pursue non-violent peace through building lasting hope and caring for war traumatised children.
Tim Costello is the CEO of World Vision Australia, where he has been instrumental in ensuring that the issues surrounding global poverty are placed on the national agenda. Tim and his wife Merridie have three adult children, Claire, Elliot and Martin.