Gaza’s churches are under attack at Christmas

Gaza’s churches and the areas surrounding them have been under attack since the early stages of Israel’s latest war on Gaza. 

Mohammad Abu Elsabeh DPA via ZUMA Press

The 1,000 Christians living in Gaza have dreams. They want a better future.

The war came suddenly, forcing people to leave their homes. Many went to churches, hoping they would provide safety.

The fear of Christians has been heightened as Israeli tanks have been surrounding them. An elderly woman and her daughter taking shelter at the Holy Family church in Gaza City were killed earlier this month by an Israeli sniper.

Suhail Saba is among those who have taken shelter in the Holy Family church.

She is a survivor of the massacre Israel carried out at the nearby Church of Saint Porphyrius during October. Eighteen people were killed in that massacre.

“The bombing was violent, like an earthquake,” she recalled. “The walls were broken and I was thrown from one place to another. People were tripping over me and I could hear the screams of children and women.”

Multiple members of one family were “instantly killed” when one missile fell on the church, she said.

Saba herself was wounded in the head, back and legs.

“No joy”

Ramez al-Souri lost three children during the attack on the Church of Saint Porphyrius. Israel’s attacks are carried out with weapons supplied by the US.

“I left my home and came to the church because it was supposed to be a safe place,” al-Souri said. “My children were sleeping in the building. Suddenly the place was bombed with a missile from a warplane.”

He added, “I cannot believe that I lost my children. I feel like I am in a nightmare. America and Israel killed my children while they were sleeping in a place of worship.”

Kamel Ayyad notes that conditions in churches have been harsh since the beginning of the war. He had taken shelter in the Church of Saint Porphyrius before the October attack on that building.

“It is painful that the church was targeted while they [the Israelis] knew that the displaced people inside it were civilians,” he said. “We had gone to the church in search of safety.”

Christmas will be very different for his family than it was in 2022.

“Last year we celebrated the holidays with the family,” he said. “We decorated the house and had lights on the Christmas tree. We went to Bethlehem and visited the Church of the Nativity. This year we are suffering from loss and destruction.”

“There is no joy in anyone’s heart these days,” he added. “Everyone is crying for those they have lost.”

In previous years, Christians in Gaza applied for permits from the Israeli occupation so that they could visit Bethlehem in the West Bank during the festive season.

Nobody is waiting for permits this year. Like their Muslim friends and neighbors, Christians in Gaza are under siege.

They have very little to eat and drink. And they fear being killed by snipers or by other forms of Israeli violence.

Ruwaida Amer is a journalist based in Gaza.