Gaza: Christians Trapped by Hamas

Source: FSSPX News

Mass on Sunday, November 19, 2023 in the Holy Family Church in Gaza

In 2004, around 3,500 Christians lived in Gaza. There were only a little over a thousand, mainly of the Orthodox faith, before the attacks perpetrated by Hamas on October 7, 2023, which pushed the region into the chaos. A little more than a hundred Catholics are still holding out under the bombs in the parish of the Holy Family.

In ancient times, the Gaza Strip was located at the crossroads of trade routes between Africa and Asia. In the very first centuries of the Church, the region, considered the place of passage of the Holy Family during the flight into Egypt, constituted an active religious center. In the center of the strip, St. Hilarion the hermit founded a monastery in A.D. 329, the first and most important in the Holy Land.

In the heart of the old city of Gaza, stands St. Porphyry Church. Built in the 5th century AD, it is the oldest active church in the Palestinian enclave and has become one of the centers of the Christian community.

The death of Yasser Arafat in 2004 – charismatic leader of the Palestinian independence movement – changed the situation. Two years later, in 2006, the Islamist organization Hamas came to power with the support of some Christians.

At the time,Fouad Twal – former Latin Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem – recognized that many Christian voters, exasperated by the inaction, the corruption of the old Palestinian political parties, and the non-compliance with promises relating to the creation of the State of Palestine, contributed to the political triumph of Hamas. They later regretted it. 

Because notwithstanding the protection in principle provided by the Islamist movement in power, which often uses double talk towards the Christian community. That is, they engage in practicing the taqiya, permitted by Islam, which allows the use of deception in the alleged interest of religion. Christians have become a prime target for Salafist groups.

And there is no question of them finding refuge in Israel, where the Jewish state views with suspicion and contempt Arab populations who seek to establish themselves there.

Beginning in December 2020, Hamas no longer hides its hatred of Christians. A measure taken by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in the Gaza Strip asked all Muslims to limit their “interaction,” then frequent, with Christian celebrations during Christmas.

From Jerusalem, Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, Egyptian brother of the Custody of the Holy Land, denounced with severe words the “black page” of the history of Hamas.

If Christians held on during the reign of Hamas, it was by clinging to what the current pastor of the Holy Family parish considers to be the most important thing: “Keeping the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” The question is how much longer this will be possible.