Christmas in Gaza
Since the war in Gaza over the summer, many innocent civilians are faced with the overwhelming task of rebuilding their homes and their livelihoods. Life was already far from easy before the war, with a suffocating blockade by Israel and Egypt, making it nearly impossible to make a decent living or gain access to basic necessities.
Since the war, life is nearly unbearable for many and, as Christmas nears, Christians are trying to salvage hope so that they can be a light to those around them.
The following is a conversation between “Abbsi” and a member of the Gazan Christian community:
How do you celebrate Christmas in Gaza?
“We go to churches and we visit families. Sometimes we distribute gifts if someone gave gifts through organizations. The YMCA distributes gifts and they host a party. Most of the time, both Christians and Muslims attend the YMCA celebration. The Evangelical church sometimes hosts a Christmas party followed by lunch. About 50 people participate. Other traditional churches have more participants. Of course we celebrate the Eastern Christmas.
There are three main churches
1. Greek Orthodox (majority)
2. Catholic Church (second largest)
3. Baptist (minority)
How would you celebrate Christmas differently if the occupation was over and you could travel freely?
“We could get more gifts to the kids. People would come and visit us. We would not be isolated from our brothers and sisters. We would be more creative and have more centers could be open for children and youth.”
How does the government in Gaza recognize your holiday?
“They do not attend anything or recognize it. Some, if not a couple, who have lived their lives next to Christians come the third day and give greetings. There are no banners, no ads. As a minority we are not even recognized ….A couple of hundred-not many compared with the population of Gaza. Our dignity is respected but not publicly recognized”
Would you celebrate Christmas differently if the PA were in power and not Hamas?
“Hamas does not interfere in our celebrations and, as a government, they also assist if needed. Unfortunately both governments are not in great shape to choose any other than the two. The resources are miniscule and the people of Gaza are receiving the leftovers from the present government. It is a matter of being a minority, not who can do more for us.”
What was your life like before the war, and how has it changed after?
“My life was hopeful and peaceful before the war, especially after the reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority . When the agreement took place, we hoped for two reconciled governments. The first thing the people of Gaza thought of is the break of the siege, especially through the Egyptian borders, hoping that it would be open all the time if the new government took over. The Israeli war took place and this resulted in bad news, as the government was over because the Israelis’ purpose was not to have reconciliation between the people of Palestine. As a result, attacks continued on both sides, using excessive power or extreme military force and most of those attacked were civilians. The attackers claimed they were aiming to destroy Hamas. Unfortunately Hamas is living in most of the houses and they were not harmed, except for a few, but the majority of those harmed were civilians.
As a Christian in Gaza, how do you try and be a light and witness to the people around you?
“The main thing is to show the love of Jesus Christ to all people without discrimination. And to share our faith and prayers with the people that are next to us or whom we have access to. We pray for justice and that this barbarian war would pass away swiftly. Helping the needy in health care, The Christian Org helps people in Gaza, especially those in need, not according to their faith but as equals. We also try to treat everyone equally without discrimination and showing love is a great witness to our faith.”
Are you afraid of your Muslim neighbors? Why or Why not?
“I never feel afraid or threatened by my Muslim brother. There are many evil makers from the Muslim community that are looking to Christians as the weak ones from the community and are trying to take some of their rights, such as land and other rights that they have. They are a small minority, though, and we have many Muslims who stand in solidarity with Christians.”
Is there something I can do or pray for - is there a dream he has that we can pray into reality?
“Pray for support and an understanding of the truth and to look for a just solution for the occupied. It is not only a human problem. It is, at its root, occupying land by force and displacing the people and that is something we should work against. We are not treated like humans. We are treated like cattle and, let me tell you, not even like good, healthy cattle but diseased ones where everyone tries to give us to others because we are not welcome in any barn. Imagine how hard that is and it is something that our kids are now born with…..We have such a history of pain, bitterness, and pressure that, at this point, I believe we even need psychiatrists to help our children and we need prayers, resources and financial aid to build what has been taken from us.”