CMEP Fears Devastating Impact of Violence on Christians in Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) urgently raises concerns regarding the sustainability of the Christian community in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in light of Israel’s ongoing military and settler violence. Before October 7, the Christian community in Gaza included less than 1,000 people from several denominations, including Orthodox, Latin Catholic, Episcopalian, and Protestant traditions. Israel’s continued ground invasion of Gaza and relentless bombing campaign has indiscriminate effects and threatens to completely eradicate the Christian community in Gaza. The bombing of St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church, for example, killed 18 Christians and left many more injured.
Presently, hundreds of Christians are sheltering in the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza City. As the collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza persists, those sheltering are quickly running out of food and other necessities. Despite being a short distance from a Jordanian run field hospital, Israel’s ground invasion makes it impossible for the safe transport of much needed supplies. Facing the prospect of imminent death and unable to offer any measure of safety, reports from Gaza indicate parents are baptizing their children as what could be one final act. No one is safe.
As children are baptized, even elderly Gazans are victims. We grieve the killing of Elham Farah, an 84-year-old Christian woman who was shot in the leg by the Israeli army after leaving the Holy Family Church. As Elham lay wounded on the ground, she reached by phone family and neighbors who desperately tried to get her medical attention. The ongoing bombing and threats of shooting made it impossible for help to arrive. Elham, a retired music teacher who was a pillar of her community, spent her last hours in pain and died alone. This is just one story of many.
No place is safe from the ongoing Israeli military offensive. Vital Christian institutions are under threat and unable to carry out their mission. The Al Ahli Anglican Hospital, one of the last functional hospitals in Gaza City, was surrounded on November 16th by Israeli tanks. Bombings in the surrounding area greatly impacted the ability of medical professionals in the hospital to offer services to patients requiring immediate care. The Orthodox Cultural Center, a newly built multi-million dollar facility bringing together Gazans from across religious communities was also destroyed.
The continued collective punishment through the shutting off water and electricity alongside the severe limitation on gas and humanitarian aid only compounds the problem. Because of gas shortages, communications have completely shut down. Those outside of Gaza, including Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, do not know if their loved ones or colleagues are alive. For more than ten days Dar Al Kalima staff in the West Bank were unaware of the safety of the director of their Gaza location. While the director is alive, three artists affiliated with their program, in addition to others, have been killed.
Christians are not only under threat in Gaza, but in other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories as well. Over the past 24 hours, Israeli settlers have threatened to take over up to as much as a quarter of the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. In a statement (full text below) the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem shared they are “under possibly the greatest existential threat of [their] 16th-century history. This existential threat fully extends to all the Christian communities of Jerusalem.” Israeli settlers emboldened by the government are directly threatening the livelihood and safety of Palestinians in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank, including Christians. The bombing of Gaza must stop. The United States must do everything in its power to protect Christians and innocent civilians in Gaza, including calling for an end to all violence. A bilateral ceasefire, negotiating for a release of hostages, securing immediate and adequate humanitarian assistance in Gaza, and addressing core causes is the only way forward that will allow for the protection of Christians and all people in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel. Right now, the United States government has a critical role to play in ensuring Christianity does not disappear in the land where it began.