The Salesians of Don Bosco have had a presence in Palestine and Israel since the late 1800s, beginning in the heart of Bethlehem city. In the context of the current conflict in this region, Salesians are responding to humanitarian needs in various ways in Bethlehem and Nazareth.

The Salesian Bakery in Bethlehem

The Salesian Bakery is a historical institution for the people of Bethlehem, a city whose name means “House of the Bread” in Hebrew. It has been a source of hope and practical assistance to people in need for over 130 years, having opened in 1891. On average, the bakery produces around 2,700 loaves of bread daily, of which 600 are donated to poor people while the rest are sold at the Salesian Bakery.

After the 7th of October, due to the conflict in Gaza, the socio-economic situation of the West Bank population deteriorated rapidly. The Salesian Bakery is providing free bread to 100 vulnerable families, and to 5 institutions who take care of orphans and people with disabilities in the Bethlehem area. The Bakery selects beneficiaries to ensure proper and fair support to the people who are in real need and are particularly affected by the socio-economic consequences of the 7th of October war that is still ongoing in Gaza. Furthermore, the winter season is associated with higher living costs, especially for heating. Therefore, by providing families and institutions with daily bread from the Bakery, they are able to save, even if only a small portion of the costs, to be spent on other relevant winter needs. Moreover, in Bethlehem, tourism plays a major role in the local economy. Around 20% of the population works in tourism and its related businesses (based on Bethlehem Municipality data). This business came to a complete halt following the war’s outbreak on October 7th, with no resolution in sight, and since the war is expected to be prolonged the consequences will continue to worsen. Considering all of this, the demand for basic goods and commodities such as bread is expected to increase.

Psychosocial Supports in Bethlehem

Another key element of the Don Bosco response in Bethlehem to the conflict is the psychosocial support provided for children and young people who are attending the activities at the Salesian Institution, such as sport and cultural activities at the youth centre. The Salesians plan to increase the psychosocial supports available for children and young people in Bethlehem, as the extended war is having a profound impact on their psychological and mental health functioning. This psychological burden is associated with exposure to violence and the difficulties that younger Palestinians experience in adjusting to the traumatic circumstances. They are facing a restless and insecure situation, which leads to anxiety, depression, anger, and sadness. Thus, the Salesians are planning to respond to the psychosocial needs of these children and young people by organising activities such as

  1. Psychological workshops and follow-ups with experts
  2. Religious and spiritual awareness and guidance
  3. Drama activities linked to psychological sessions.

Salesian Response in Nazareth

In Nazareth, the Salesians work to meet the needs of the young (both from Nazareth and from neighbouring villages) through their primary school, secondary school, Oratory Youth Centre, and the Local Union of the past students of Don Bosco. In the context of the ongoing war, the violent and insecure environment is having a number of direct negative effects on the mental health of the children and young people in the area. The Salesians are planning to address this on the psychological and economic level, through:

  • Provision of scholarships to 105 underprivileged students as a deduction of school fees – due to the economic hardship that their families are going through, especially during the war time whereby many Arabs inside Israel were economically affected. Through these scholarships, they can eliminate the number of dropouts of these students.
  • The psychosocial training of 50 school staff and teachers to raise awareness and improve their skills regarding the best practices to support their students, especially during conflict and war time.
  • Offering activities concentrating on psychosocial wellbeing to 100 children and young people through psychological workshops and activities with experts, and through religious and spiritual awareness and guidance.

Regarding Gaza, the Don Bosco response depends on the local residents in the West Bank and Israel, but they are unable to access the Gaza strip due to the blockade. However, the Salesians are doing their utmost to serve people most affected in the communities around them during this challenging time. Don Bosco Aid Ireland is starting a further fundraising campaign to support this response.