By Baruch Yedid/TPS
25 December, 2022
The walls of Gaza’s Church of the Holy Family” in Gaza City were decorated with lights inside and out as children carried candles and beat drums. The Gaza Strip’s Christian community was holding a Christmas Eve ceremony on Saturday.
Father Gabriel Romanelli, the priest of the Latin Church, told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, “Christmas represents a joyful event that we celebrate every year,” but only a few dozen Christians came to the Christmas Eve ceremony, underscoring the difficult situation of the community’s life under Hamas rule.
Hamas tries to hide official data on Gaza’s socio-economic situation in general and the Christians in particular. But accounts told by Christians who have left the Strip, church associations, and foreign journalists point to large-scale Christian emigration.
This rate has greatly increased since the rise of Hamas in 2007.
Hamas denies claims of discrimination and persecution against Christians. But while the Palestinians see Christians as “partners in the struggle against Israel and suffering,” it seems that Gaza’s Christians are actively discriminated against on religious grounds and are forced to emigrate and seek a new life.
Studies published in recent years indicate a strong desire among the Christian population to emigrate from the Gaza Strip. The Tazpit Press Service reported at the beginning of December that 12% of Gaza’s population has fled the Strip since Hamas seized control of the Strip.
But studies published in recent years indicate that the desire of Gaza Christians to emigrate is twice as strong as the Strip’s Muslim’s desire.
The studies show that the main reasons for Christian emigration are first and foremost economic and social, the search for better education, corruption, the internal Palestinian situation, Gaza’s security situation — and religious persecution.
Testimonies in the media and on social networks indicate that the concern among the Christian population in the Gaza Strip increased with the ascendancy of Hamas as well as the growth of extreme Salafi organizations in Gaza and Islamic State in the neighboring Sinai.
Church officials have documented two murders and five kidnappings because the victims were Christian.
In 2020, a major survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research revealed that 25% of Palestinian Christians as a whole had witnessed violence on religious grounds and a large majority said that they felt unwelcome among Muslims.
Furthermore, 25% reported religious discrimination in job interviews, while 30% reported that they were subjected to expressions of hatred on religious grounds. One-quarter of the Palestinian Christians told the pollsters that Muslims suggested they convert to Islam.
Additionally, 70% said that at least once in their lives, they heard from Muslims that Christians’ judgment is to burn in hell.
The results indicated that Palestinian Christian desires to emigrate far exceeds that of Palestinian Muslims. The percentage of Christians wanting to leave the Palestinian Authority is twice that of the Muslims.
Today, only about a thousand Christians live in the Gaza Strip. A large part of the Christian population is mainly concentrated in the west of Gaza City and they lead a closed community life. At the beginning of the 2000s, about 3,500 Christians lived in the Strip.
Palestinian sources interviewed by Arab media indicate that the opening of the Rafah crossing in 2018 resulted in the departure of approximately 24,000 immigrants from the Gaza Strip, while government sources in Israel said that the number reached 35,000 this year.
Another survey published by the US-based pan-Arab Alhurra Channel in 2020 raised other significant issues.
That survey revealed that the Christian presence in the territories of the Palestinian Authority and Gaza A has decreased significantly over the past 100 years. In Bethlehem, for example, which has a Christian character and is the site of the Church of the Nativity, the number of Christians decreased from 84 percent in 1922 to 28 percent in 2007.
This survey also revealed a strong motivation for emigration: 36% of all Palestinian Christians said they were considering immigrating abroad, but the percentage of Christians living in Gaza Strip expressing a desire to leave was 84%.
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