Christians are less than two per cent of Palestine’s population. Catholics are a minority within that minority. But Palestinian society leans heavily on Catholic and other Christian institutions.
Since it opened in 1990 about 800 metres from the birthplace of Jesus, Holy Family Hospital has delivered more than 60,000 babies. Under the auspices of the Order of Malta, the hospital specializes in care for women and infants and is the sole provider in the region of care for high-risk pregnancies. Like Holy Family Hospital, The Creche also provides essential support for young mothers and infants.
“The Creche is a very necessary institution,” said social worker Andon Iskandar.
It’s necessary because nobody else is working with battered women and orphans. Social services Canadians would expect from their government are more often than not the work of religious orders and Catholic institutions relying on foreign support.
Iskandar concedes that the relatively young Palestinian administration set up after the 1993 Oslo Accords has limited resources. But he also faults the Fatah-led government in the West Bank for its priorities.
“They invested just one-point-something (per cent) in social services — less than two per cent in social welfare,” he said. “On the security issue they invested more than 35 per cent, and we’re still under occupation. It’s a matter of vision, of priorities.”
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace tries to encourage a responsible and effective civil society in Palestine by partnering with key organizations, including the Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human rights organization that provides legal aid, and Dan Church Aid that provides mico-credit loans to the unemployed in Gaza.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, known in the Middle East as the Pontifical Mission, has supported both NGOs and the more traditional institutions Palestinians rely on daily. That includes Wi’am, the Palestinian Conflict Transformation Centre.
Wi’am runs programs for youth, women, children and families, pushing for peace using the principles of non-violence.
“We work with children under trauma,” Wi’am founder Zoughbi Zoughbi told me. “We don’t have
post-traumatic stress disorder. We have ongoing stress.”
Zoughbi bristles at the suggestion the Fatah-led government is leaning on NGOs and the Church to do work a government should. You can’t hold a country and a government under occupation to those standards, he said. At La Creche, Iskandar laments the political immaturity, the absence of priorities, in the Palestinian leadership.
“If they cared about people they would enhance health care (and) social services. It’s easy to do it,” he said.
Holy Family Hospital gets nearly 40 per cent of its budget from outside of Palestine, mainly from the Sovereign Order of Malta. Without Les Amis de La Creche based in Switzerland, La Creche would not have been able to set up its Social Centre where they address family violence and conflict.