“How old is he? Twenty-eight. What is his his occupation? Nothing. There is nothing for him to do here except trying to get away and have a future beyond that wall. Because on this side there is nothing.” Miechel Tarazi lives in Gaza with his wife Emily. He spoke to us about his son, Youssef, one of five, with a degree in economics. Three of his sons are married and living abroad, another is still studying with the same prospects as Youssef: to stay home without a job, only with the dream of a decent life.” As he speaks Miechel turns his gaze to his parish priest, who is sitting next to him, Father Gabriel Romanelli, who listens to stories similar to this one every day. In fact these situations are widespread in the Gaza Strip, as the number of young people who populate it. It is estimated that 56% of Gaza’s two million inhabitants are less than 18 years old. “Youth unemployment reaches peaks of up to 70%”, explained the parish priest.
Amid hopes and dreams. Today is a special day for the family of Miechel because some bishops from the Holy Land Coordination (HLC), on their annual pilgrimage of solidarity with local Christians in Gaza, Ramallah and East Jerusalem, have come to visit him.
“Studying in the awareness that you will hardly find a job, you won’t be able to get married and settle down here where you were born and raised, somehow forced to leave, is not easy and is frustrating to say the least – Miechel pointed out – a dramatic situation that unites Muslims and Christians”.
“Fifteen years ago – Father Romanelli said – there were over 3,500 Christians in the Strip, but today they number less than 1,000. Furthermore, in the last year, 25 to 30 thousand young Muslims have emigrated, via the Egyptian border.”
These figures intertwine with those of a crisis that has grown worse over the years also as a consequence of the Israeli blockade and three successive wars (2009, 2012 and 2014). Bassam Nasser is the coordinator of the projects promoted by CRS – Catholic Relief Service – the humanitarian agency of the US Bishops’ Conference in Gaza: “Families only have electricity for 8 hours a day – he told SIR – generators or batteries must be used instead; tap water is not drinkable and drinking water must be purchased, in some cases people recycle rainwater. Post-war reconstruction proceeds at a very slow pace, those who can afford it are rebuilding their homes thanks to the low cost of manual labour, but a large part of the population lives in battered houses or makeshift shelters; only 5% of dwellings have access to what remains of the sewerage system, the rest is poured into the sea or open air; the health system collapsed, people are forced to leave the Strip for medical treatment, but local authorities have very limited capacity to transfer patients outside the Strip. Today 80% of Gazans rely on international humanitarian aid to survive.” Relief assistance decreased considerably since the State Department, at the behest of President Trump, decided to suspend all financial aid to Palestine and UN agencies working with Palestinian refugees. “But the worst thing – Bassam emphasized – is that
people are losing hope day after day and dream of leaving Gaza.
Tens of thousands of children, especially those born after 2009, grew up during the war and experienced nothing but violence, deaths among family members and hardships.” “For my part,” he said, “I continue hoping for peace.
I believe that the solution Two Peoples, Two States is now unfeasible, there remains the solution of one State where we can all live together.
One thing is certain: many Israelis and Palestinians are tired of war and violence and are willing to put themselves on the line to seek a fair and sustainable solution.
Church in the front line. In the economically and socially-depressed context of the Gaza Strip, the local Church continues to offer its “concrete and auspicious” contribution, as the bishops of the Coordination of the Holy Land were able to verify directly by visiting the new Caritas Jerusalem clinic, “Gaza Health Centre” and the “St. Thomas Aquinas” centre, set up in 2018 by the “Holy Family” Latin Catholic parish in the Strip, a service that has also obtained the recognition of the ministry of Education.
“The purpose of our Centre – said Father Romanelli – is to create a new generation of well-trained ‘leaders’ capable of successfully entering the challenging job market of the Strip”.
“The high level of education, also theological, linguistic skills, high professionalism combined with respect for all political ideas and religious beliefs, will contribute to the creation of jobs and consequently to the economic and social development of this land.”
The first phase of the project, financed by the German chapter of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, saw the inclusion of 46 young people, another 16 are expected to join the programme which, the parish priest remarked, “requires continuity and therefore depends on the generosity of the benefactors.” Randa, widow and grandmother, who hopes in this way to be able to help her grandchildren, is one of sixteen new participants. Like Lana, just over twenty-five years old: “a decent job will help us grow and live here. We want to stay in Gaza because it is our home.”