Despite the packed pews at Gaza’s Church of St. Porphyrius just weeks before Christmas, Christianity is not booming here. Rather, the worshipers at the 1,600-year-old shrine believe they may be the last group of Christians in Gaza, where they have lived and prayed since the birth of Jesus.Share
The ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the highest unemployment rate in the world are prompting Christians to leave the besieged area in droves, some using the holiday season to their advantage.
Although Israel rarely grants permits to leave the Palestinian territory, dozens of Christians are allowed to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem during Easter and Christmas, and some take the opportunity to never return home so they can start a new life elsewhere.
Today, the population that once spanned 3,000 Christians in Gaza just a few years ago has been reduced to 1,200, and worshipers say the area could be entirely devoid of the religious denomination within two decades.
“People might think we’re leaving because of Hamas, but no it’s because of ... (Israeli) policies on Gaza,” Jaber Jilder, an official with the Greek Orthodox Church said, referring to the militant group that governs Gaza and is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and others.
Israeli sanctions on Gaza have made freedom of movement and goods almost non-existent, and have contributed to an economy that the World Bank said is on the "verge of collapse." A United Nations report this year said the 2014 Israeli-Hamas war and the current blockade will make the Palestinian territory "unlivable" by 2020. (Read more.)