The Work of the Church During the Intifada

By Dr. Maria C. Khoury

Many priests at different church communities made a great effort to create temporary jobs for people that are not employed during these tragic times in the Holy Land. The priests had to find ways to give money with dignity. Fr. Majdi Siryani created a new park in the Beit Sahour parish for small children especially to use during the summer months for entertainment, family gatherings, cooking outdoors and having swings and slides available. This park provides several people with temporary jobs in order to care for the playground area and serve the people visiting.

Also, temporary jobs were created during the restoration of the Church of Our Lady of Fatima. Furthermore, the convent had its doors open to people in deep need especially during November when at least two families needed a place to stay because their homes were in dangerous locations during the Israeli invasion into Bethlehem. The convent was hospitable for over ten days. Another way to help people in serious need is by having them select food items from the supermarket themselves and the parish priest will make the payment.

The Beit Sahour parish also provided a social worker during the last six months coming to the parish twice a week to take care of people in need. Ms. Lydia Habash served as a bridge between the Beit Sahour parish and Jerusalem where the Caritas office is located and helps people in need of food and medicine and families with special situations. Many people are in deep need in the Beit Sahour area because their main source of income usually comes from olive wood handicrafts, tourism and mother of pearl items. Fr. Shawki Batrian, the assistant priest in Beit Sahour reveals: “If you had rich families, in the last year and a half, they spend most of their money.” Most of the 270 families amounting to about 1200 members belonging to the Beit Sahour parish, are categorized in need. Fr. Shawki estimates 80% of his parishioners are not working. Also, a new phenomenon is taken place were you have the majority of women working as teachers and secretaries. It is unusual to have women be the only source of income to support large families. The social ramifications of this situation are great.

Fr. Ibrahim Hijazin in Ramallah also confesses that at least two people every day Christian and Muslim come to the church seeking financial help. His parish has 360 families with about 1650 members in the church and 127 families are categorized as very needy. The St. Vincent de Paul Society has twenty-six volunteers helping these families especially at Christmas and Easter with whatever funds they receive from outside. They periodically visit the families, make assessment of the need and provide as much support as possible. Bingo activities raise money for the poor and having bake sales the first Sunday in each month raises local money as well. Many of the needy families have not had work for over a year and a half not only in this parish but also in Palestine in general.

The Taybeh church under the guidance of Fr. Ibrahim Shomali in his second year in this little Christian village sponsored temporary jobs for people by creating a garden on the parish grounds. He had workers take shifts in working on developing the garden in order to provide as a wide opportunity as possible for people to receive an income. A handful of people started the work and a different group of workers completed it. The Latin Church in Taybeh has 185 families with about 600 members. The village itself has about forty families in serious need but at least twenty of these families are not able to survive at all without help from the church. Fr. Iyad Twal admits that with the 300 families in the Birzeit Latin Church he feels responsible to help more than just financially but to help all Christians and Muslims in their pastoral needs as well morally and educationally. He has over 45 families that are very needy and poor. He helps them find jobs if he can or provides them with food and money. In his parish he estimates 50% of the people do not have work. The worst of the Intifada Fr. Iyad feels is the high unemployment that has devastating affects in caring for large families.