Destruction of UCC partners’ clinic, university in Gaza during Holy Week testifies to horrors of ongoing crisis 

During Holy Week, two ecumenical partners of the United Church of Christ witnessed institutions of theirs in Gaza — one a medical facility, one an education center — devastated by attacks on Rafah and Gaza City by the Israeli military.

In Rafah, a clinic run by the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR) sustained heavy damage March 27 after “a huge bombardment took place very close” to the building, according to DSPR. Doors, windows, and medical equipment were destroyed, and the clinic had to temporarily close — an alarming prospect for any medical provider, much less one operating in a war zone. 

For six decades, DSPR has been a regional partner of the UCC through Global Ministries, the common witness of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has been giving regular updates on the continued crisis in the Middle East

“Knowing that the staff of DSPR have been selflessly continuing to provide much needed medical and psycho-social care in Gaza throughout the last six months — despite injury to self and family, loss of life, and displacement — it was especially tragic to know of the damage to its medical clinic, which had been serving 500 patients per day, despite the difficulties,” said Global Ministries’ Peter Makari, who serves as the organization’s global relations minister for the Middle East and Europe. 

University branch ‘completely destroyed’ 

Meanwhile, around the same time, Israeli forces were raiding al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical complex in Gaza. In that attack, the hospital and many of its neighboring buildings were reduced to rubble.  

That included the Gaza headquarters of Dar al-Kalima — a university based in the West Bank — which was “completely destroyed,” the school said in a statement

The Rev. Mitri Raheb, president of Dar al-Kalima, posted pictures of the destruction on social media

“The images make us speechless: While we were celebrating the Holy Week, Israeli air strikes wiped out the whole neighborhood behind as-Shifa hospital in Gaza fully destroying Dar al-Kalima University – Gaza Training Center,” he wrote. 

“Dar al-Kalima’s Gaza branch has been providing a quality education for some years,” Makari said. “It is highly unlikely that it had been open for much of this academic year, but the effort to be present, now destroyed, is indeed quite devastating.” 

Long-term partners 

Makari noted that both DSPR and Dar al-Kalima have partnered with the UCC for many years. 

“The UCC has accompanied DSPR since the 1960s, and supported its work in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and in Israel for decades,” he said. “Dar al-Kalima is also a long-term partner whose educational mission is inspiring.” 

He added that donations to the ongoing UCC appeal for humanitarian aid, launched amid escalating violence last October, will help support both organizations. Just as these relationships have existed for years past, Makari asserted that UCC solidarity must endure for years to come.

“We will continue to walk with these — and other — partners, as our accompaniment is long-term: that is how we understand partnership,” he said. “The UCC appeal for the Middle East crisis will be used to support emergency needs in the short- and long-terms.” 

Deaths of aid workers ‘appalling’ 

As the violence in Gaza spreads, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still threatening an invasion of Rafah — currently home for an estimated 1.4 million Palestinians, many of them internally displaced. 

Even those involved in humanitarian responses are in grave danger. Last week, the Israeli military killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen who were attempting to deliver food to people in Gaza, to the outrage of the international community. 

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) — an organization that the UCC and Disciples are founding members of — joined many others in condemning the attack and calling for an investigation.

“This incident is the latest of several in which those distributing, or seeking aid, have been killed as ‘collateral damage’ between warring parties with indiscriminate concern for civilian life and disregard for humanitarian law,” CMEP said in its statement. “A fundamental principle of international humanitarian law is the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid during armed conflict. These deaths are appalling; the international community is rightly reacting with anger and should be similarly outraged by the deaths of so many Palestinians, including aid workers, in Gaza over these months and years due to Israeli military actions and blockade.” 

‘Horrors never even imagined’ 

The death and destruction that Palestinians are witnessing is not limited to Gaza.  

“With the world’s attention focused primarily on Gaza, violence across the occupied West Bank and in the region is spreading and intensifying weekly,” wrote the Rev. Victor Makari and Sara Makari, Global Ministries mission co-workers in the West Bank with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), in an April 5 article. “Beyond the Gaza Strip, which is devastated and destroyed, and whose remaining population is in dire need of food and all manner of humanitarian assistance, the crisis has reached most of the West Bank, as well as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.”

ELCJHL supports the educational ministry of the Dar Consortium. Raheb — who, in addition to his role as Dar al-Kalima’s president, is a renowned theologian and the former president of ELCJHL’s synod — will be on hand to share about his experiences at CMEP’s 40th anniversary advocacy summit this week in Washington, D.C., according to Peter Makari.

In a recorded message for Holy Week and Easter, Raheb spoke about the “horrors never even imagined” that he and other Palestinians are witnessing. 

“Our ancient Christian community in Gaza, and with it thousands of years of Palestinian culture and heritage, disintegrates before our own eyes,” Raheb said in the March 26 video. 

Dar al-Kalima University President the Rev. Mitri Raheb offered a video message for Holy Week and Easter last month.

‘No one is exempt’ 

As Global Ministries’ area executive for the region, Peter Makari will also be present at the CMEP summit. He says that the destruction of UCC partners’ healthcare and education institutions demonstrates the wide-ranging and devastating impact of the ongoing conflict on Palestinians. 

“No one is exempt,” he said. “Every person and institution has been affected and live in constant fear for their lives. There is no safe place to go. The medical and nutritional needs are urgent and immediate in order to avoid further starvation. Almost all the Palestinians in Gaza are facing a high level of food insecurity. Disease is spreading due to an unhealthy and unclean environment, with little food or drinkable water. Schools are being used as shelters, and no classes have been held for most of the school year, so this crisis has already impacted children’s education negatively.” 

Calls for a ceasefire remain widespread among international and interfaith communities. During Holy Week, more than 140 global Christian leaders signed a letter urging a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. UCC and Disciples respective General Ministers and Presidents, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson and the Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, were among the signatories, along with the Co-Executives of Global Ministries — the UCC’s Rev. Shari Prestemon and the Disciples’ Rev. LaMarco Cable — as well as several UCC Conference Ministers. 

The letter now can be signed by anyone through an online form, Maraki said. 

Watch webinar, sign letter 

UCC pastors and denominational leaders, including Prestemon and Makari, will be part of a webinar panel tomorrow, April 10, centered on navigating interfaith relationships in the context of this escalating violence and crisis in Gaza and the Middle East. 

“We know this is a challenging time for interfaith relationships as they have been impacted by the reality on the ground, and the U.S. role,” Makari said. “We hope the webinar will provide tools for such continued engagement.” 

Register for the webinar here. Sign the recent letter calling for a ceasefire here.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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