Christmas in Gaza: No respite for Christians trapped in churches by Israel’s war

Christmas in Gaza: No respite for Christians trapped in churches by Israel’s war
Christmas in Gaza was marked with an exceptionally sombre mass this year as hundreds of displaced Palestinian Christians remain trapped in churches.
3 min read
25 December, 2023
Israel bombed the Church of St. Porphyrius in October, killing Christians and Muslims who had been sheltering there [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty]

Israel showed no mercy to Gaza’s Christians on Christmas Day as they remained trapped in besieged churches while deadly airstrikes continued to pound the enclave.

While Palestinians reeled from Israeli strikes conducted on Christmas Eve - including one on the Al-Maghazi refugee camp that killed at least 70 people - fresh strikes on Christmas morning saw a house struck in the Al-Zuwaida area of central Gaza, killing at least 12.

More than 20,600 people have been killed since Israel’s onslaught on Gaza began on 7 October, and almost all of its population has been displaced.

Gaza’s Christians, who make up around 1,000 of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million, have not been spared from the killing and devastation, with Israel’s raids and strikes even targeting churches.

No Christmas celebrations are taking place in the Palestinian territory, Sally Ibrahim, The New Arab's correspondent in Gaza reported Monday.

On Christmas Eve, The Holy Family Church located in Gaza City held an especially sombre mass.

Hundreds of Catholics are currently trapped in the church and its complex by Israeli tanks, snipers, and bombardment of surrounding areas.

"This Christmas is different from the Christmases before. This holiday is under siege, under war, under devastation… martyrs were taken from us from inside the church sanctuary," one mass attendee who had lost family in the war told Al Jazeera.

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Just last week, a mother and daughter were shot dead in the grounds of the church by an Israeli soldier.

"No warning was given, no notification was provided," the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem had said of the killings. "They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents."

Most of Gaza’s Christians are of the Greek Orthodox denomination, who mark Christmas in early January.

Hundreds of Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Christians are sheltering at the Church of St. Porphyrius, also in Gaza City.

Jordan’s Air Force said it had on Sunday night dropped aid to the church, adding that some 800 Palestinian Christians are  currently sheltering there.

It was Jordan’s seventh such drop of humanitarian aid to Gaza, which Israel has said is conducted in coordination with its forces.

The Church of St. Porphyrius — the oldest church in the world still in use — had been bombed by Israel in October, killing Christians and Muslims alike who had been sheltering there.

That strike came just two days after Israel bombed the Al-Ahli Hospital, otherwise known as the Baptist Hospital, killing almost 500 people. The hospital was being funded by the Anglican Church at the time of the bombing.

With Israel showing no let-up in its assault on Gaza, which kills hundreds of Palestinians every day, Christians there are continuing to plead for an end to the war.

"In the face of the ongoing genocide in Gaza, our focus has shifted from decorations and festive treats to mere survival," Basma Ayyad, a Palestinian Christian in Gaza and a member of the Al Mezan human rights organisation, was quoted as saying in a press release.

"As the Western world winds down for the holiday season, surrounded by twinkling lights and festive cheer, we extend a heartfelt plea: Do not turn a blind eye to Gaza, for our suffering will continue unabated."