I spent this morning with the Sisters of Charity at their shelter for disabled children in downtown Gaza City.
When I first started going to the shelter, a boy called Na'el, with a consistent look of fear in his eyes, would hold on to me - not wanting to let go. Sister Delphina told me that it was the first time since he had arrived at the home that he had allowed a male to hold him. Na'el is deaf and she assumes his father had abused him before he was dropped off at their shelter. Na'el can walk but he has to be holding on to something while doing so, either a person's hand, a table, door, or his little wheeled chair.
So today sister Delphina and I tried to get him to walk on his own, because I am sure he can - he just doesn't trust himself. Sister Delphina would wave him towards her with her gracious hands, her constant smile drawing him toward her. As soon as I would try to let go of him to let him walk alone his face filled with an immense expression of fear.
Today fear fills the hearts of Gaza's people. A fear that they may one day return from their perpetual search for charity and donation empty handed (80 percent of Gazans are receiving food aid from international organizations); a fear of waking to another day of hopelessness (70 percent of Gazans are either unemployed or only partially paid government employees); a fear that the economic disaster they are experiencing today may overcome their lives (60 percent of the population live under the poverty level of $2 per day); a fear that this economic crisis will divide the entire population in inter-factional feuding and result in a lawless chaos as factions and political parties vie for the little power that still remains in Gaza.
The difference in the atmosphere between the Gaza Strip and the sisters' home must have something to do with each place's wardens. The Sisters of Charity live out an undying love and care for these children; Israel, legally responsible for a people they occupy, has thrown away the keys to a piece of land they would rather forget about.
One day soon Na'el will walk on his own.
I trust that one day Gazans will live the life of peace so many of them long to live, free of the closure, the embargo, and the prison walls surrounding them today.
Philip Rizk is an Egyptian-German Christian working with the Foundation for Reconciliation and Development in Gaza.