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War is personal for Prospect MP

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Hugh McDermott MP visited the Sisters of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem, Deir Rafat on his recent trip to the Holy Land.  Photo: Supplied
Hugh McDermott MP visited the Sisters of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem, Deir Rafat on his recent trip to the Holy Land. Photo: Supplied

Hugh McDermott MP says his office is being deluged by people seeking help for relatives trapped under bombardment in Gaza.

The state member for Prospect, a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, spoke to The Catholic Weekly just hours before Israeli defence forces began air strikes on Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, attacks the United Nations denounced as “appalling.”

More than 1000 Palestinians, most of them Christians, live in the Labor MP’s western Sydney electorate which includes Prairewood, Wetherill Park and parts of Eastern Creek, Blacktown and Wentworthville.

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Mr McDermott said he and his colleagues were being constantly contacted by people trying to get family members out of Gaza or worried about relatives further afield, including Lebanon, as the war deepens.

“Certainly in my community in western Sydney whether they be Christians or Muslims there’s no support for Hamas,” he said.

“But my personal belief is that Israel is so determined to get Hamas that if there’s collateral damage of civilians that’s just part of the war.

“And you’ve got supposedly 8000 casualties or more at the moment and 30 per cent are children which is horrific.”

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem serves the Catholic church and supports its presence in the Holy Land.

During July and August Mr McDermott visited the Holy Land to coordinate charity donations and projects in the large archdiocese, including more than $100,000 raised by New South Wales members of the order to help Sisters of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem in their work with Palestinian Christian youth in central Israel.

Staying at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate as a guest of the Latin Patriarch Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, he met with leaders from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Caritas Jerusalem, the Catholic Relief Service and Bethlehem University.

Hugh McDermott MP visited the staff at St John of Jerusalem Hospital, Sheikh Jarrah on his recent trip to the Holy Land.  Photo: Supplied
Hugh McDermott MP visited the staff at St John of Jerusalem Hospital, Sheikh Jarrah on his recent trip to the Holy Land. Photo: Supplied

Last month he signed an open letter from the cross-party Parliamentary Friends of Palestine condemning the 7 October terror attacks by Hamas and calling for the Australian Government to “clearly call upon all actors including the state of Israel, to comply with international humanitarian law.”

“We stand with Palestine and the Palestinian-Australian community who are currently facing a catastrophic crisis,” the letter read.

Mr McDermott also belongs to the Parliamentary Friends of Israel and believes in a two-state solution for the Holy Land.

“They both have a right to exist and deserve to be treated equally. You don’t have to agree on everything but you’re there for open dialogue,” he said.

But Palestinian Christians are caught in an impossible bind between Hamas and other Islamic extremists known for brutality and Israel’s settler movement “which is also very extreme.”

He said the impact on the local Palestinian community had been “unbelievable, just terrible.”

Years of occupation and blockade have seen Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank treated like “second-class citizens” lacking basic legal rights and Mr McDermott believes the current forced displacement of Gaza residents amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Most Catholic priests and members of religious orders throughout the Holy Land are Palestinians and very vulnerable but their focus is on “care and love,” he said.

“That obviously permeates all through our faith, to educate people and raise them out of poverty but also to make it a better and more secure place for all,” he said.

“That’s why they say they are the living stones, they’ve got all those sacred buildings there but they need the people there as well.”

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