Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Catholic Relief Services promotes Middle East peace
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Sept. 13, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
Burcu Munyas visited Spokane recently on behalf of Catholic Relief Services’ projects in Jerusalem. (IR photo)
Friday, Aug. 17, two Catholic Relief Services (CRS) staffers flew to Spokane from Seattle.
The first was Joe Hastings, an education officer from the CRS West Coast Regional Office in Seattle. Catholic Relief Services is the U.S. Bishops’ overseas development and emergency relief organization.
Hastings accompanied the second, who was the featured speaker at the Catholic Pastoral Center in downtown Spokane.
About 26 people gathered in the first-floor meeting room for a presentation by Burcu Munyas. A Muslim native of Turkey, she studied International Relations at Eiskent University in Ankara, Turkey, and after graduating she decided to pursue graduate work.
Munyas received a scholarship to study for an M.A. in International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University, in Indiana, for 2004-2006. The program included a semester of field study, during which Munyas worked with CRS in Cambodia. “During that time,” she said, “I worked with young people in Cambodia on the transmission of the memory of genocide.”
Following the completion of the master’s degree program at Notre Dame, Munyas applied to and was accepted by CRS to work as a project officer in its Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza offices, to provide relief services and work with programs related to promoting peace in the midst of the ongoing Arab/Israeli conflict. This she has been doing for about one year.
Munyas spoke for more than a hour, using a PowerPoint presentation, about current social, political, and economic conditions in Gaza and the West Bank.
“It’s so important for us to be able to come over to the United States,” Munyas said, “and share about where we work and the kind of work that we do ....”
Following an overview of the current Arab/Israeli situation, Munyas explained that in 1948 and 1967 “around 800,000 (Palestinian) people were either forced to flee their homes or fled their homes out of fear. These people became refugees in West Bank and Gaza and in the surrounding countries, in Jordan, in Syria, in Lebanon especially. Now their numbers have grown to 4.5 million, and they live in 60 refugee camps ... Any time there is a solution to the political conflict, for them it has to (include) the resolving of their situation. For some of them it means the right of return. When you go and visit some refugee families in their homes you will find that they still keep the keys to their grandparents’ home that they had to flee.
“But for some of them, the right of return is not so important. They would be happy with some kind of compensation, because. . .the second or third generation. . .who have been born and lived all their lives in the refugee camp, and never got to actually see houses and the villages that their grandparents came from, they don’t really have an attachment there, they would not like to live within Israel.”
Munyas also showed photos of and discussed the wall that Israel began to build in 2002. Israel calls it a “security fence” or “separation barrier,” Munyas said, “while the Palestinians call it the ‘annexation wall’ or the ‘apartheid wall.’” The Israeli government decided to build the wall to prevent terrorist attacks, especially suicide bombings in Israel. Between 2002 and 2006 there had been, Munyas said, “about 38 suicide bombings that took the lives of about 200 people.” One consequence of the wall for Palestinians, she said, is the separation of villages from one another, which isolates families from each other, and neighbors from one another, because the wall meanders around in apparently random ways, often through the middle of villages. “It also cuts off people from their means of livelihood, such as olive orchards, in the West Bank.”
CRS, Munyas said, has an Emergency Response Program. “We have, in the past year, been doing humanitarian aid, food distribution, hygiene products and blanket distribution. We’ve done three of them. After the internal clashes that ended in June, we tried to think about what would be a meaningful intervention in Gaza. Talking to the governors, and our partners, and looking at what other organizations (are doing), and talking to a prominent mental health organization, we felt that this time we would support a psycho-social intervention with women, and children, and youth who have witnessed over the past months incredible violence in the streets, who have been stuck in the confines of their homes, whose apartments and homes have been taken over by the fighting factions, and so forth.”
The resulting CRS project, Munyas said, “is exciting, because it engages our youth that we currently work with in our youth projects in Gaza and helps them process their experience, their trauma, and also engages them in ... awareness-raising activities in their own communities, on how to deal with their trauma. We also do emergency assistance to university students, which is basically about paying tuition fees and photocopying fees, and paying for meals at school. After the budget crises of the Palestinian authorities, many families were no longer able to send their children to university. We tried to help a few hundred students in a couple of universities that we have partnerships with, but of course, it was in no way enough.”
The biggest CRS emergency program that Munyas and her co-workers are involved with is a food distribution program in partnership with the United Nations. “It’s called ‘Food for Work, Food for Training,’” she said. “We work with 130 communities in the West Bank, and we distribute food rations in return for community development work or training, like business training or home economics training, or training in agriculture for farmers. This program feeds about 120,000 people every month.”
Seattle CRS education officer Joe Hastings concluded the session by telling the audience that, “The kind of work that Burcu and her team are doing all over the West Bank and Gaza is due largely to your support, and your putting the word out there, and your inviting other people to participate... When you feel compassion, and sometimes anger, or a commitment around these issues, express that to your friends and neighbors, and your representatives in congress.”
(More information about Catholic Relief Services efforts is available on the agency’s web site: www.crs.org.)