US aid is critical to survival in Gaza: Lift the hold on humanitarian funding

US aid is critical to survival in Gaza: Lift the hold on humanitarian funding
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For the past month, the desperation and volatility that characterize activity in the Gaza Strip have been evident in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces. These clashes have left more than 40 Palestinians dead and thousands injured.

For more than a decade, an air, land and sea blockade has choked commerce and trapped roughly 2 million people in the area, which is about half the size of New York City. On most days in Gaza, the electricity lasts four hours or less. Ninety-five percent of the water is contaminated. Without power to operate treatment facilities, people dump raw sewage into the sea on a regular basis, raising the risks of a cholera outbreak.

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Gaza has an unemployment rate of 42 percent, which is among the highest in the world, and a staggering 60 percent unemployment rate among youths. It is no wonder that 80 percent of the population relies on humanitarian aid for survival. With the blockade still in place, this is not the time to pull back assistance.

 

U.S. funding in Gaza, which has been critical to providing opportunities and hope to those in a desperate situation, is on hold pending a policy review process by the Trump administration. While the United States isn’t the only country providing aid to the people of Gaza, it is the largest, and any interruption of U.S. funding is noticed in the daily lives of the most vulnerable Gazan families.

We see the good that the U.S assistance has done for the people of Gaza. With a grant from the U.S. government, Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, runs a program — suspended at the moment — that has helped thousands of Gazans find work. On a recent visit, we met with a man in his 50s who, through the program, gained employment as a cleaner. He had been out of work for more than a decade and was so proud to show us his worker ID badge and excited to come to work each day.

One woman used the money she earned during a teaching internship to start her own tutoring business. The mother of two young girls, she hopes the self-confidence she has gained will be passed on to her daughters. These people exemplify so many of the Gazans we’ve encountered — eager to work, hopeful for a better future, and yearning for a chance to support themselves and their families.

If the administration decides to end assistance to Palestinians, the decision will impact not only these employment services but also food distributions, schools and health services. All these things, supported by U.S. aid, will be in jeopardy.

On Christmas Day, Pope Francis said that we see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of continuing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. As Christians, we are called to do what we can to end suffering and to preserve the dignity of all people, no matter where they live. For our Palestinian brothers and sisters, that means ensuring they have what they need to survive, and giving them the means to provide for themselves and their families.

Policymakers on both sides of the aisle long have recognized that desperate conditions in Gaza are bad for Israeli security, and that American aid plays an important role in stabilizing a tenuous environment. We remain hopeful there will come a time when Gaza no longer needs international aid, but we know that time will not come about until the blockade of Gaza is lifted.

Until then, aid is the only way for the people of Gaza to survive, and the United States must continue to do its part in keeping the peace.

Sean Callahan is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian and development agency for the Catholic community in the United States. Bishop Gregory J. Mansour is board chairman for Catholic Relief Services.