Easter in Palestine

Letter From Gaza and the West Bank

"Welcome to the world's largest open-air prison." That was how Tom Getman, the Israel country director for World Vision, introduced us to life in the Gaza Strip. Our pilgrimage tour bus motored away from the Erez security checkpoint, with its coils of barbed wire and walls of sandbags, and onto the highway to Gaza City. Soon we were winding our way through the sea of concrete hovels in the U.N.-serviced Jabalia refugee camp, the buildings sitting brown and gray and dusty in the April sun. When the bus doors opened at the Jabalia Health Center, we were met by the twin stenches of open sewage and never-collected garbage. In less than five miles, we had gone from one of the wealthiest countries in the world (Israel's per-capita GDP is around $17,000 U.S.) to a scene of intense economic devastation, where 36 percent of Gaza's Palestinian populace lives on less than $650 a year, imemployment hovers behveen 20 and 30 percent, population density is over 7,000 per square mile, and some 400,000 people live in squalid refugee camps.

For most of us, this was our first acquaintance with the largest and longest-standing refugee problem in the world. In Gaza alone, there are approximately 700,000 refugees, and the total number of Palestinian refugees in the world approaches 3.5 million. This figure represents not only the original 750,000 Palestinian Arabs (and their descendants) who fled from Israeli terrorism and ethnic...

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