Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Gaza's Christians seek better life outside the prison


From his office in Gaza Suheil Tarazi, chairperson of the YMCA, is reflecting on the steady decline of the Christian community in the Gaza Strip: "You were born free by default and then you have the siege. Those that have the opportunity to get out, they get out. Some people never return because they find their freedom somewhere else," he says.

It appears that leaving, whether permanently or temporarily, plays on the mind of many Christians in Gaza. Over the Christmas period, the Israeli authorities decide who will be granted permission to travel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to visit family and friends in the West Bank.

One of the holiest sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is located in Jerusalem yet authorisation is not given to everybody who applies. Those under 35 are refused, which could mean that a husband is granted permission to leave, but his wife is not. Ironically, Christians from across the world can travel to visit the birthplace of Jesus and the site where he was resurrected.

Members of the community at home still celebrate during the festive period. They decorate their houses with a Christmas tree - a symbol of joy - pray together and visit their family and friends. "It's peace and love during this time," says Tarazi.

These days there are roughly 1,300 Christians, made up of 350 families, living within a population of around 1.8 million in Gaza. The majority are Greek Orthodox; there are a few hundred from the Latin Church and very few Baptists. During the 1948 Nakba up to 50,000 Christians were forced from their homes in Palestine, some settled in Gaza. more

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