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Israeli Propaganda Targets Palestinian Christians During Christmas

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
27th December 2023
Israeli Propaganda Targets Palestinian Christians During Christmas
Israel bombed the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza (Getty)

Recently, Christmas and New Year celebrations have become focal points for Israeli propaganda. Israeli accounts have claimed that Christian population in Gaza is decreasing due to oppression and discrimination, alleging that Hamas prevents them from practicing their holiday rituals in the Gaza Strip.

Several pages took the opportunity to promote the official Israeli propaganda. For instance, the ‘Israel in Arabic’ page posted tweets containing cartoons to support this campaign. The focus of this campaign was on portraying Israel as a protector of Christians' rights and freedoms, asserting that Christians endure hardship in Palestine, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

Christians endure hardship in Palestine
Christians endure hardship in Palestine

Many pages also shared similar posts in English including a post by Israeli activist Yousef Haddad who commented on a cartoon post by Bella Hadid, who showed support for Gaza, by stating, “When Bella Hadid posts a picture of a Christmas tree spelling out the word "Palestine" in sympathy with the residents of Gaza, does she know that Christians in Gaza are exterminated and disappearing, suffering discrimination and persecution under Hamas’ rule?”

Yousef Haddad who commented on a cartoon post by Bella Hadid

The Deputy mayor of Jerusalem municipality, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said in an interview with LBC UK that “there are no Christian churches in Gaza City.”

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum

Misleading Israeli Information About Palestinian Christians

Although Christians in Gaza are a minority, where they are about 1200 people, there are three main churches in Gaza which are: the Church of St. Porphyrius, which is one of the oldest churches in the world, the Church of the Latin Monastery (also known as the Church of the Holy Family), and the Baptist Church. Thus, Israeli claims that there are no churches in Gaza are inaccurate.

Upon reviewing the conditions of Christians in Gaza, it turns out that before the aggression, they used to practice their religious rituals and celebrations regularly. Looking back to the last celebration that Al Jazeera broadcasted in December 2022, it showed a huge celebration organized jointly by Muslims and Christians for the end-of-year holidays.

Several other reports show Christians praying normally during the last holiday in 2022 in the Gaza Strip. This contradicts claims of discrimination, violence against them, prevention of religious practices, or any forced exodus from the country.

How Was Life for Christians in Gaza Before the Israeli Aggression?

Prior to the Israeli aggression on Gaza, a comprehensive report by Deutsche Welle Arabic highlighted that the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City, situated adjacent to the ancient Kateb-Wilaya mosque, drew large congregations of Christians attending Sunday mass weekly. Reflecting on this proximity, Abdullatif Abu Hashem, the Director of Manuscripts and Monuments at the Ministry of Palestinian Religious Affairs, emphasized the historical significance of coexistence and tolerance between Muslims and Christians in Gaza, a legacy spanning thousands of years.

Before the aggression, the Director of Public Relations at the Orthodox Church, Kamel Ayyad, mentioned that Muslims and Christians live in the Gaza Strip normally. He emphasized that the Christian community is an integral part of Gaza. Ayyad said that Christians in Gaza participate in daily life like other citizens, whether during the Israeli Occupation, after the Palestinian Authority came in 1994, or even after Hamas won the elections. Archbishop Alexios, the Greek Orthodox leader in Gaza, further affirmed that the Hamas movement and its government prioritized the security and well-being of the church and Christians in the Gaza Strip.

The Various Reasons Behind Christian Migration and Decreasing Numbers in the Gaza Strip

Despite the decreasing number of Christians in Palestine, there are misleading claims by Israeli sources suggesting that their decline is primarily due to killings, discrimination, or harassment. Additionally, these claims attribute the decrease to suffering inflicted by Hamas or other political parties. The reason behind the migration of Christians and the decrease in their numbers is complex and is not only related to Gaza. A study conducted by The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey in 2020 showed that most Christians have never been harassed by their Muslim neighbors in schools or workplaces.

The study showed different reasons behind the migration of Christians from Gaza, including the siege imposed by the Israeli occupation and internal Palestinian issues, along with the lack of national reconciliation with the ongoing Israeli siege on the Palestinian territories. According to the study, most Christians are migrating due to the economic situation, whereas small percentages state that the reason behind migration is education, finding a safer or less corrupt place, or for more freedom.

Christian Migration and Decreasing Numbers in the Gaza Strip

Although there are internal reasons that prompted the Palestinian Christians to migrate, portraying these as the main reasons is misleading. The increase of Christians’ migration is driven by a main factor which is the ongoing occupation policies and the repeated settlers’ attacks on holy places, including Christian ones and Palestinians' limited access to their holy places.

A report published by Al Jazeera in which Christian eyewitnesses spoke about their experiences, and contrary to the claims that Israel provides a safe place for Christians, another study by the Palestinian Center for Studies showed that Israel displaced many Christians since the Nakba in 1948 when 50 thousand Christians were expelled during the Nakba alone, which means 35% of all Christians at the time. The Israeli forces confiscated 50% of their properties in occupied Jerusalem and within the Green Line, and in 1967 Israel confiscated 30% of their properties.

In October 2019, researcher Ramzi Baroud pointed out that the ongoing decline in the Christian population in Palestine is not only limited to Gaza City but also closely linked to Israeli policies. Baroud stated that the composition of Bethlehem's population has changed. Where the majority of Bethlehem residents were Christians 70 years ago. The policies of the occupation and apartheid between Christian areas escalated the change in the population composition indicating that many expulsion operations of Christians took place.

Another study by Dar Al-Kalima University in Beit Jala in 2017 showed the impact of the occupation and discrimination policies on feelings of despair among Palestinian Christians. The study refuted the claims that Christians’ migration is related to religious disputes. The study also confirmed that there is an Israeli strategy to shape the conflict as being an internal Palestinian religious conflict to justify their policies in the region.

On the other hand, a study by the Palestinian Diyar Group indicated that the main reason behind the decrease in the Christian population was the Nakba in 1948, followed by immigration due to Israeli occupation policies and the deteriorating economic situation under the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip, along with other restrictions imposed on Palestinians in different areas.

During the holiday season in particular, the Israeli forces impose more restrictions on people in the Gaza Strip, preventing many of them from getting permits to visit Christian holy places in Palestine, such as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth. This situation exacerbates the difficulties in the lives of Gaza residents, as stated by Suhail Tarazi, director of the Young Men Christians Association in the Gaza Strip.

In 2018, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the most famous church in the Old City of Jerusalem, was closed in protest against the Israeli occupation authorities’ announcement of their intention to impose taxes on churches, and the adoption of a law allowing the confiscation of their properties in case of tax non-payment. This move was considered an aggression against Jerusalem and its sanctities.

Kyrgios Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, said at the time that these measures were an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem. In April 2023, Patriarch Theophilos warned of unprecedented attacks on the Christian presence by extremist Israeli groups. This warning came after settlers destroyed crosses and gravestones in the Anglican Cemetery, a historic cemetery in Jerusalem.

Bishop Hossam Naoum uncovered the destruction at the Anglican Cemetery, which was subjected to an attack by settlers
Bishop Hossam Naoum uncovered the destruction at the Anglican Cemetery, which was subjected to an attack by settlers

Israeli Attacks on Christians Contradict Claims of Tolerance

While Israel tries to portray an image of tolerance in its interactions with Christians, claiming an increased Christian population under Israeli governance and asserting the protection and provision of a decent life and safety, reports disclose major deception in this narrative, where Christians experienced harsh conditions under the occupation for decades just like Muslims. The Israeli record of violations against Christians documents widespread violence perpetrated by military or security forces, as well as by settlers.

Israeli Crimes Against Christians in the Gaza Strip

One of the most recent Israeli violations against Christians happened on October 19 when Israel targeted the Church of St. Porphyrius in the Gaza Strip with an airstrike, where more than 500 Muslims and Christians were seeking refuge in the church. Israel killed in the airstrike almost 17 Christians who were buried later by a group of Muslim and Christian citizens.

Israel targeted the Church of St. Porphyrius in the Gaza Strip

On December 16, 2023, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement that an Israeli army sniper assassinated two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza. The statement also reported that seven others were shot while trying to help the injured inside the nuns’ monastery in Gaza. On the same day, a missile fired from an Israeli tank targeted the monastery of the Sisters of Mother Teresa (Missionaries of Charity), which houses more than 54 people with disabilities. A fire broke out throughout the monastery complex, and the roof of the Holy Family Church collapsed within the complex.

the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement that an Israeli army sniper assassinated two Christian women
The image from the Latin Patriarchate's page in Jerusalem depicts the damage to the Latin Monastery compound in Gaza
The image from the Latin Patriarchate's page in Jerusalem depicts the damage to the Latin Monastery compound in Gaza

Yousef Daher, Coordinator of the World Churches Council in Jerusalem, said that many Christians in Gaza may leave because they cannot go back to their normal homes and lives, which is a concern since it is considered a direct ethnic cleansing against Christians.

Israel is waging a massive war against Gaza in which more than 20,000 people were killed and more than 54 thousand people were injured since October 7, according to the latest updates on the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

This year, the festive atmosphere for Christmas and New Year's celebrations was absent in Palestinian cities, notably in Bethlehem, a city besieged by Israeli checkpoints since October 7. In solidarity with the Gaza Strip, the city is preparing to observe Christmas rituals without any visible decorations.

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