On Christmas Eve, the Church of the Holy Family in Gaza City held a ceremony to celebrate Christmas. The church walls were decorated with lights, and children carried candles and beat drums as part of the celebration.
However, only a small number of Christians attended the ceremony, highlighting the challenges faced by the Christian community living under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. Father Gabriel Romanelli, the priest of the Latin Church, stated that Christmas is a joyful event celebrated every year, despite difficult circumstances.
Christian Minorities in Gaza Endure Ongoing Persecution
According to Arab America, only about 1,000 Christians live in the heavily Muslim Gaza Strip and are primarily concentrated in neighbourhoods surrounding the leading churches in the City of Gaza. These churches include Orthodox, Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, and an Evangelical hospital. Christians in Gaza can practice their faith and openly celebrate their holidays.
They work in various sectors, including government, private industry, medicine, education, engineering, and law. According to the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, Christians are entitled to the same rights as Muslim Palestinians. They are also allotted specific seats in the Legislative Council through a quota system. Despite these provisions, Christians in Gaza are facing difficult conditions and may be vulnerable to extremism due to the severe circumstances in the region.
Reasons for The Decline of Christians in Gaza
In a report by Israel Today, various studies say that the main reasons for Christian emigration from Gaza include economic and social factors, such as the search for better education, the internal Palestinian situation, and religious persecution.
Church officials have documented two murders and five kidnappings of Christians in the region. In 2020, a survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 25% of Palestinian Christians had witnessed violence on religious grounds and a large majority felt unwelcome among Muslims.
Many also reported experiencing religious discrimination in job interviews and hearing expressions of hatred on religious grounds. The survey results indicated that Palestinian Christians' desire to emigrate far exceeds that of Palestinian Muslims, with the percentage of Christians wanting to leave the Palestinian Authority being twice that of Muslims.
Christians who have left the Gaza Strip, church associations, and foreign journalists said that there has been a significant increase in Christian emigration from the Gaza Strip since Hamas came to power in 2007. According to The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Hamas denies allegations of discrimination and persecution against Christians. Still, Christians in Gaza appear to face active discrimination on religious grounds and are forced to leave to find a new life elsewhere. The socio-economic situation of Christians in Gaza is difficult to determine, as Hamas has reportedly attempted to hide official data on the subject. However, it is clear that the situation for Christians in the Gaza Strip is complex, and many feel compelled to leave.
Christian minorities in Gaza, like those in the West Bank, are a vital part of Palestinian society and culture and have faced numerous struggles and sacrifices over time. Most Christian Arabs in Palestine belong to the four main Christian denominations.
Many in Gaza are of high social and economic status, working in fields such as the gold trade, petroleum sales, and real estate. Despite facing challenges and discrimination, Christians in Gaza continue to live alongside their Muslim neighbours, particularly during times of conflict such as the first and second wars against Gaza and the Israeli siege of the region.