Palestinian Christians in Gaza Pray for Peace on Palm Sunday

Gaza City, Palestine — Amid a humanitarian crisis, Christians gathered at the only Roman Catholic Church in the Gaza Strip to pray for peace during the religion’s Palm Sunday while just a few blocks away heavy fighting between Palestinian resistance and Israeli forces raged on. After nearly six months of war on Gaza, solemn worshipers prayed and walked in a procession holding olive branches in front of the Holy Family Church in Gaza City.

Churchgoers see an urgent need for peace this spring – the Israeli military has killed over 32,000 Palestinians, a large majority of them being women and children, in the widespread and deadly war against the Gaza Strip since the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on Israel. The bombardment, which has affected the entire Gaza Strip, has come to be seen as an act of collective punishment.

Despite a historically destructive bombing campaign on Gaza, the church property has been largely spared, however the same can’t be said about its parishioners. Christians have been taking refuge in the church since Israeli forces invaded the city and in December, Israeli snipers shot and killed a 49-year-old church worker and her mother as they attempted to cross a courtyard to use the bathroom.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said the women “were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents.” Seven others were “shot and wounded” protecting others.

The Patriarchate also noted that the church’s Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa (Missionaries of Charity) was targeted by an Israeli tank and the building’s generator and fuel resources were destroyed. The building was home to 54 disable people that were further displaced.

Nahida Khalil Boulos Anton, “Umm Imad,” and her late daughter, Samar Kamal Anton – both killed by an Israeli sniper while attempting to use the bathroom in Gaza City’s Holy Family church as they took refuge from Israeli forces in December 2023.

According to the National Catholic Register, there are approximately 1,000 Christians in Gaza, a majority being Greek Orthodox and about 100 being Catholic. One month into the war, Israel bombed the Greek Orthodox St. Porphyrios church in Gaza City and killed 18 Palestinians taking refuge.

Christians have historically gotten along with Muslims and Jews in the Gaza Strip. During last year’s Ramadan, Unicorn Riot reported on a young Christian named Ehab Ayyad, who passes out water and dates to people during rush hour in Gaza City.

In 1967 Israel captured the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel has since occupied the Holy City and the West Bank and continued a full scale siege on the Gaza Strip for over 16 years. In Jerusalem, many Christians gathered for Palm Sunday while many Palestinians who attempted to travel from the West Bank to Jerusalem for this important Christian holiday were barred from travel. Israel controls all Palestinian people’s movement with checkpoints and border walls.

Legal proceedings have taken place in the United States and the International Court of Justice where courts have heard claims of apartheid and genocide. In January the International Court of Justice gave a preliminary ruling issuing an order to allow aid to war-torn Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip. On March 25, the United Nations Security Council voted in favor to demand an immediate ceasefire.

Among the deadly tactics that Israel has deployed in the war on Gaza are forced starvation and targeting and killing aid workers and those seeking food and aid. Air dropped aid has also killed civilians.

At least 560 Palestinian civilians have been “killed by the Israeli army while trying to get food and humanitarian aid in Gaza City,” Mustafa Barghouti, the general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, said on March 23. Furthermore, at least 168 aid workers for the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) have been killed since October.

Also on Palm Sunday, despite imminent risk of famine to all of Gaza’s more than two million residents, Israel definitively barred the United Nations from making aid deliveries in northern Gaza. Between 300,000 and 500,000 Palestinians remain in the north.

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