26 April 2024

‘We shout and plead with God … that this terrible suffering might end’

Ruins in Gaza. Picture: Caritas Jerusalem

Elspeth Kernebone 

22 February 2024

Australian Christians have been urged to keep praying for peace in Israel and Palestine, as thousands die in the Gaza strip. 

Leaders have called on Christians to push governments to action as civilians – many of them children – suffer through ongoing bombardment.  

More than 29,000 people have been killed in Palestine since the conflict began on 7 October, and at least 69,000 injured.  

The United Nations reports catastrophic levels of food insecurity, a rise in malnutrition in children and pregnant women, and a public health catastrophe.

Read more: Melbourne pilgrims to walk, pray for peace in Gaza as Lent begins

Palestinian Christians in Australia president Suzan Wahhab said she wanted the Australian government to start sanctioning Israel, as talk was not working. 

Ms Wahhab said people in Gaza were starving, and dying from lack of access to medication. She said families she knew in Rafah, in Gaza’s south, were sending texts and videos about the bombing, in which she could hear people screaming. 

Rubble in Gaza after an air strike. Picture: Caritas Jerusalem

St George’s College Jerusalem dean the Very Reverend Canon Richard Sewell urged Christians in Australia to keep paying attention to the situation in Palestine, and not to look away because it was too complicated or too much. 

Canon Sewell asked Christians to continue praying for a path to peace and justice, and to pressure government to keep alert to the suffering of ordinary people. 

Read more: Christians cannot look away from Gaza, we must speak up

He said he wanted the international community to stop excusing the extreme violence being visited on the civilians in Gaza, who were the primary victims. 

Canon Sewell said Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Israeli or Palestinian, everyone in the the region was hurting. He said everybody had their own story of why they felt profoundly angry, and why they felt the world didn’t take their pain seriously. 

But he said Palestinians would say nearly a thousand people from their community died every week, and the world didn’t seem to care. 

“Everybody is carrying this incredible weight of grief and anger that is caused by war. And both sides feel they have a just cause, and a right to fight for their existence,” Canon Sewell said. 

Canon Sewell said he wanted to see the international community put pressure on both sides to release hostages and end the war.  

“We shout and plead with God, and for God to change the hearts of world leaders, that this terrible suffering will end, so that how we move on from the killing begins to be considered,” he said. 

Read more: This Christmas we are mourning. We pray for a miracle

For Palestinians living in Israel, Canon Sewell said the situation felt like a lockdown, because they didn’t feel safe on the streets. He said people’s social media was monitored, and their movements were controlled, particularly younger men, who were often stopped and searched.  

He said the West Bank was also like a war zone, just not as bad as Gaza. For instance, Israeli forces were raiding towns, soldiers were killing adults and children, and Israeli settlers were attacking Palestinian homes. 

Ms Wahhab said PCIA was helping house Palestinian refugee families in Australia, who were deeply traumatised. They could barely think to perform normal functions, and were worried about the future, worried about their visas, and worried about their children. 

Ms Wahhab said these families had mostly left north Gaza during the first ceasefire, walking from the churches where they were sheltering to Rafah, a day’s walk. They left behind homes, possessions, and businesses. 

She said Palestinian Christians in Australia had been finding and furnishing accommodation for these families, alongside Muslim organisations. 

Ms Wahhab said the Australian public had welcomed the Palestinian refugee families, but the organisation still needed funds to support them to settle into their homes. 

“They lost everything. I spoke with some families, literally they’ve got nothing. They’re relying on handouts and food vouchers,” she said. 

Information about Palestinian Christians in Australia’s work is available at: palestinianchristians.org.au

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