Palestinian boys sit on rubble near their homes in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood on Aug. 11. / Hatem Moussa, AP
JERUSALEM - When the Rev. Raed Abusahliah, director of the Catholic humanitarian aid group Caritas Jerusalem, sought donations of food, clothing and other vital supplies for Gazans, he hoped for generous support from Christians and Muslims eager to help their beleaguered brethren recover from the destruction left by Israel's conflict with Hamas militants.
What Abusahliah didn't anticipate was the outpouring of support from Israeli Jews, who he said constituted about half of the 600-700 donors to the campaign. "I admit that I am somewhat surprised," the Palestinian Catholic priest said. "Many Jews have also sent us messages of solidarity and offers of everything from baby clothes to blood donations."
As a new cease-fire was holding Monday while Israel and Hamas seek a longer-term truce, the casualties of the war have confronted many Israelis with a dilemma: how to help Gaza's civilians without boosting Hamas.
The Israeli government said it lost 64 soldiers and three civilians. The United Nations has tallied more than 1,900 Gazan deaths, including 448 children and nearly 1,000 other civilians. An additional 250,000 Gazans have been left homeless, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. (Israel claims nearly half the Palestinian deaths were Hamas fighters.)
While polls in Israel show that a vast majority of Jews believe the Israel Defense Forces had no choice but to shell Gaza to stop nearly 3,500 Hamas rocket attacks over the past five weeks, "that doesn't mean we believe the civilians in Gaza are the enemy," said Angy Shavit, one of the Jews who promoted Cariatas' campaign through social media.
Shavit, who is politically left wing, said many of her Palestinian friends in Gaza relayed their need for toilet paper, diapers, baby formula and eye drops.
After spending time at St. Anthony's Church in Jaffa, where cartons full of sugar, flour, bottled water, diapers, baby wipes and other essentials with Hebrew lettering were piled high, Shavit surmised that most of the Jewish Israelis donating "don't feel guilty" about Israel's military operation against Hamas, which the United States, European Union and Israel classify as a terror organization. "It's just that when a baby needs diapers you donate diapers."
This and other initiatives, such as an effort by peace activist Gershon Baskin to buy surplus potatoes in Israel to donate to the people of Gaza, however, have their critics in Israel.
"I've received many phone calls from people who didn't understand why we would be funding 'terror' or people who are afraid these donations will end up in Hamas' hands," Shavit said. "But Hamas's tunnels won't be built with diapers."
Shavit said some callers insist there can be no shortages in Gaza because of all the humanitarian aid Israel and Egypt have been allowing into the impoverished Gaza Strip.
Aid organizations such as Caritas Jerusalem say the deliveries fall far short of meeting the needs in Gaza, where the main power station and most bakeries and factories were destroyed during the war.
"The situation is terrible everywhere in Gaza," Abusahliah said.
The distrust about aiding Gazans is not just in Israel. An Israeli women's organization that is donating large amounts of items for new mothers and their babies did not want its name mentioned for fear Hamas officials who govern Gaza will reject the contributions if they know they were donated almost entirely by Jewish Israelis. So they are being delivered by a third party.
Hamas is not permitting Palestinians to be treated at an Israeli military field hospital and its blood bank politely declined Israeli blood donation offers.
Abusahliah said every donation is vital regardless of its source. Caritas, which also launched an international campaign to raise nearly $2 million, is providing medical supplies to the hospital run by the Anglican church, operating a medical clinic and providing food and other assistance to the 3,000 people who have taken refuge in Gaza's Christian institutions.
Only 1,311 Christians live in Gaza, so the vast majority of the organization's aid is going to needy Muslims, he said. "All Palestinians are suffering. We make no distinctions based on religion."
Kathleen Saba, a Palestinian Israeli who donated to Caritas, said it is "heart-warming" to see Christians, Muslims and Jews pull together for the people of Gaza. "This is what giving is supposed to be," she said.
Read the original story: Israelis' quandary: How to aid Gazans but not Hamas