The first thing they said was “Can you help us help?” recalls Sarah Funkhouser, who, together with her husband, Seth Malone, is Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representative for Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
MCC staff were reaching out to MCC partners in Gaza to see if they were safe in the wake of days of bombing and military strikes by the Israeli military following a series of coordinated attacks on Israelis by Hamas on October 7, 2023. When staff reached MCC partner Al-Najd Developmental Forum (Al-Najd), Funkhouser almost couldn’t believe that amid all that was happening around them, their staff were already focusing their energy on how they could best aid their neighbors.
MCC is responding to this new wave of violence in Palestine and Israel. Some MCC partners in Gaza remain unable to mount any type of relief response due to the immense threats they face. However, despite the incredible danger around them, Al-Najd has distributed bedding and emergency food rations to more than 230 families so far.
Malone says what he and Funkhouser are hearing from MCC partners about the reality in Gaza is dire.
“The overall sentiment here is that this bombing is unprecedented. There’s been nothing like it,” Malone says. “Whole neighborhoods are wiped out. The amount of destruction is almost unfathomable. And they’re doing their best to stay safe, but they say they fear for their lives every night. And we’re very worried for them day in and day out.”
MCC has repeatedly responded to humanitarian crises in Gaza to deliver relief supplies like food and bedding as well as longer-term recovery efforts in psychosocial support for children and repairing homes. But despite the monumental risks they’re facing, Funkhouser says MCC partners have shown an unbelievable resilience and commitment to helping those who need help right now.
“I cannot fathom how they’re doing the work that they are doing,” says Funkhouser. “Almost immediately the response from Al-Najd was ‘Can you help us help? We want to do something. Our volunteers are asking, is there something we can do?’”
Scenarios like this, where getting relief into a high-risk area from the outside is almost impossible and safety conditions are changing minute-to-minute, highlight the immense value of MCC having local partners working on the ground, says Funkhouser.
“It’s incredible,” she says. “It’s really only possible to respond with trusted, existing partners. MCC being able to support Al-Najd in providing food baskets and bedding to families who have been displaced or have had their homes destroyed, there’s just no way to do it if we didn’t have partners like them already working there and being able to access local resources.”
A major contributing factor to the high number of civilian deaths in Gaza is the indiscriminate bombing of buildings like schools, hospitals and churches, where people have gathered to seek shelter. In late October, the Church of Saint Porphyrius, a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City believed to be the third-oldest active church in the world, was impacted by a series of airstrikes. The bombing killed 16 Palestinians and injured dozens more who were seeking shelter there, including staff from MCC partner Near East Council of Churches (NECC).
Malone says they were discussing with NECC staff about how MCC could support a response for those sheltering at Saint Porphyrius just hours before the attack.
“We were reaching out to them to try to figure out how MCC could support the people taking shelter. He said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ We got off the phone and were sitting in our living room in Jerusalem, just reading the news and suddenly, we start seeing reports of the church bombing.”
The dangers of this conflict are not solely limited to Palestine and Israel. Nearly 20,000 people in Lebanon have been displaced as they fled the southern regions of the country where there is fighting along the border with Israel. MCC partner Imam Sadr Foundation in Tyre, Lebanon, has provided emergency food, bedding and hygiene items for 700 internally displaced people so far.
While the needs are overwhelming, MCC is responding and calling for an end to the violence, inviting everyone to take up the call to action as MCC partners continue to do—to pray, advocate and give.
“The cycle of violence must stop. Along with the international community and international humanitarian organizations, MCC calls for an immediate ceasefire and a just peace in Palestine and Israel,” says Bruce Guenther, MCC’s director of disaster response. “At a minimum, all parties must abide by international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and humanitarian access. We ask for people to give to urgent humanitarian needs and invite supporters in the U.S. and Canada to advocate for a long-term solution to the conflict, where everyone can flourish in safety and dignity.”
The Government of Canada has announced it will match all donations made between October 7 and November 12 to the Humanitarian Coalition’s Gaza Humanitarian Emergency appeal, up to $10 million Canadian dollars. MCC is participating in the Humanitarian Coalition through its membership in Canadian Foodgrains Bank.