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Conflict in the Holy Land updated Jan 2003

Catholic Relief Services believes that in addition to being useful, our programming provides an excellent opportunity for bridge building. For not only do we build relationships with other organizations serving alongside us here in the Holy Land as we implement our programs, but more importantly we develop new partnerships with the local community in order to better respond to both their immediate and long-term needs. CRS accomplishes this bridge building in several ways:

  • As an American Catholic agency we build links between the U.S. and the Holy Land.

  • Our Catholic identity allows us to cooperate with and serve others based on need not creed. This fosters a working relationship with faith-based and secular organizations in practical programming that has interfaith and ecumenical components.

  • As a relief and development agency committed to the "do no harm" principles, consulting the community in planning our intervention portrays a message of respect and helps cement our relationship.

Life In The Holy Land

The conflict in The Holy Land has dominated international news reports for months, and is often depicted as an irresolvable situation. CRS and its staff, who live with the curfews and tensions everyday, continue their work striving under the belief that American leaders and people of good-will are capable of assisting the parties in finding a solution that addresses the needs of both sides, in ways that will promote a just and enduring peace in the Holy Land.

CRS echoes the words of Bishop Wilton Gregory, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in his April 10 letter to President Bush: "...It is clearer now more than ever before that the present state of affairs is unacceptable. Palestinian attacks on innocent civilians cannot be tolerated - both because they are morally abhorrent and because they undermine the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. Israeli occupation and efforts to dismantle the Palestinian Authority cannot be sustained - militarily or morally.

Nor can the indiscriminate and excessive use of force in civilian areas, and the failure of the Israeli military to permit humanitarian access for the civilian population be justified. These and other actions indicate that the Israeli assault has gone far beyond efforts to combat terrorism and, in fact, risks fueling it. Immediate withdrawal is essential. This deadly cycle of action and reaction, suicide bombing and aggressive attacks must be ended."

Overcoming Challenges

CRS continues to maintain agency relief and development programs in the West Bank and Gaza and asks for prayers and support for the people who are currently living through this time of strife. Staff, almost all of who are national staff, continue to face the same restrictions of movement and risk as the population. Many continue to work from home or from partners' offices near their homes, conducting business via e-mail or over the phone.

Other staff have been unable to return to their homes for weeks at a time. Despite this, CRS offices in Hebron, Gaza, Jenin, Beit Hanina and Jerusalem remain open with projects operating at or near full capacity.

Because of the debilitating economic impact of the crisis, the continuation of CRS projects has offered vital support to communities. This is done in part through job creation programs. In addition, CRS projects in the West Bank and Gaza provide opportunities for at least 5,000 people to work through microfinance programs.

Even though the situation seems bleak at times, CRS and its staff remain hopeful that peace will come to the Holy Land and continue to work towards that end. "It saddens me as a parent to see that children in this Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to be innocent victims of violence. Some children are killed; others are injured, while others are becoming increasingly malnourished. Many children bear the psychological scars of a generation being raised in conflict. When a student dies, his or her place is kept in their classroom by a poster of the dead child and a bunch of flowers on their desk.

Despite this, it is uplifting to see the smiling faces of children going about their lives under the specter of military operations. We must find ways to offer them hope for the future. Our generation owes them that at least," said CRS' Executive Director, Kenneth Hackett.

CRS asks everyone to pray for our brothers and sisters in this land of two people, Palestinian and Israeli, and three faiths, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian, who strive for the ultimate goal of peace. Please also keep CRS' staff in your prayers during this difficult time as they continue to do their part to combat poverty and injustice in this divided land. It is through the support of our American constituency that this work, and the work of CRS throughout the world, can be maintained.

Catholic Relief Services Responds

Some recent activities in the region include:

CRS along with other members of the Joint Emergency Relief of the Christian Organizations, a seven member group of international aid organizations working in the Holy Land, distributed food, blankets, school and house kits, and medicines in Nablus in early October.Additional money left over from this emergency response will be used to purchase mattresses and clothes for children whose homes have been destroyed in the conflict.

Nablus residents have been under 24-hour curfew for more than 100 days, not allowed to go to work or attend school. Access to food and healthcare has also been hampered. This spring, the agency worked through the Joint Emergency Relief to deliver food aid to nearly 36,000 people in Bethlehem, Tulkarem, Nablus, Jenin, Qalqiliya and Ramallah. CRS committed $50,000 to these efforts.

CRS distributed a total of 720 tons of wheat flour, 120 tons of rice and 36 tons of vegetable oil to families in Gaza, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jenin through its Emergency Food Aid Program.

CRS is helping the Birzeit Roman Catholic Parish purchase educational materials and rehabilitate a playground at a youth resource center for its children and children in neighboring villages.

CRS is helping the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees purchase books for 12 kindergartens throughout the West Bank. Providing the books reduces the financial burden of families sending their children to school and encourages their attendance.

CRS is helping the Bethlehem branch of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society purchase 200 school bags for needy children.

CRS recently hosted a 10-day visit by Presbyterian USA and United Methodist partners and U.S. based CRS staff. The visitors met with a wide range of civic leaders, political analysts and peace activists to discuss future activities in the region. The group visited several areas including the Gaza Strip, Bethlehem, the Golan Heights and Galilee. The purpose of the delegation was to develop a close relationship between these U.S. based partners, and to support their work in the Holy Land to better communicate issues, provide educational material and coordinate existing policy and advocacy efforts with the American people.

Caritas Jerusalem has completed a food distribution in Gaza in conjunction with CRS and funded by Caritas Germany and the German Government. The distribution supplemented the wages of 1,500 former workers in CRS' Gaza Rapid Employment Program.

CRS recently received funding for a new program, Connecting and Protecting Children in Palestine. The program will set up youth centers in seven West Bank cities and three areas in the Gaza Strip for children ages 6-18. The centers will provide a safe place for the children to come together, have fun, and release tension from their difficult daily lives. Staff hiring and planning for this project has begun.

CRS currently has a $5 million program in Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza, of which $200,000 is allocated for emergency assistance to needy families. CRS continues to run a variety of relief and development programs including village revitalization, food distribution, and microfinance programs.


CRS began working in the region in the 1940s, serving Polish and Hungarian refugees fleeing Europe during World War II. The first official office was opened in Jerusalem in 1961. In the early years, work included food distribution and other services to assist the poor.

Today, the agency runs a variety of relief and development programs including village revitalization, food distribution, and microfinance programs. Please visit our Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza pages for more information on our work in the region.

Your support is needed.

Donations can also be made by calling:

or by sending checks to:
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, Maryland 21203-7090.

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