Responding to the 60-foot deep steel wall Egypt is building between itself
and the Gaza Strip and Israel's blockade of Gaza preventing the
importation of food items, medicine, and building materials, Father Manuel
Musallam said, "We should remind the world that this siege is not
only affecting the lives of 10 or 20 people. It is 1.5 million
Palestinians who are suffering every single day. Any obstacle put in
our face is an obstacle in the face of our liberation. We will all
die. But we will never die as slaves to others nor in fear of
American and Israeli hegemony. We will dig deeper in the ground or
go by sea. This wall will never stop our freedom." The steel
wall Egypt is building is reportedly being built with the consultation of
the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers and U. S. tax dollars and is meant to
stop Gazans from tunneling into Egypt to obtain blockaded items.
Israel prevents freedom of movement for Gazans.
Photo Mohammad Omer
Father Manuel Musallam, Holy Family
Church, Gaza City
As the sun rises in the east on the
first day of Advent, the bells of Gaza’s churches fill the air, mixing
amicably with the Muslim call to prayer. There is an air of quiet
serenity, spiced with excitement, as the faithful walk to their churches
and mosques, the doors swinging open, and Christians and Muslims bid each
other Good Morning on yet another Sunday.
Gaza’s oldest church, the Greek
Orthodox Saint Porphyrus, dates back to the 16th Century.
The majority of Gaza’s Christians are served by the Roman Catholic
Church on Al Zayotoun Street and the Gaza Baptist Church which offer
living room prayer groups, interfaith outreach, several schools, and
humanitarian/medical Christian charities staffed by both locals and
internationals. Today Gaza is home to approximately 3,000
Christians, the majority of whom live near these Gaza City churches.
Until November 1947, when the U. N.
General Assembly passed Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine,
Palestinian Christians lived peacefully among Muslims and the small Jewish
population in the area. With the passage of the non-binding
Resolution 181, however, Zionist forces began their ethnic cleansing
campaign in earnest. At the time, Christians represented 18% of
Palestine’s population, with many families tracing their ancestry back
to the time of Christ. Today, Christians comprise fewer than 2% of
Palestinians, with the loss of Jerusalem’s Christian community being the
most profound, plunging from a peak of 51% in 1922 to just 4% today.
By the time of the Deir Yassin Massacre in early April, 1948, over a
quarter-million Palestinians, many of them Christian, had been displaced;
either killed or made refugees.
Like their Muslim neighbors, Christian
Palestinians sought to find a safe refuge following the establishment of
Israel. Because Gaza came under Egyptian rule in 1948, Palestinians of all
faiths fled there. As the Zionist militias advanced, razing entire
towns, massacring families, and confiscating all property in their wake,
many Christians fled to Jerusalem, a divided. yet still international
city. For a time Christians and Muslims in East Jerusalem, which was
under Jordanian control, remained relatively safe.
In 1967, Israel chose to further expand
its borders, attacking Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Within six days,
all three nations had been defeated, and Israel had tripled its territory,
rendering millions of Palestinians homeless or living under occupation or
in Israel under martial law. Along with its Muslim neighbors, Gaza’s
small Christian community found itself imprisoned between Israel and the
sea and the land swollen with additional refugees. But Gaza’s
Christians also discovered they were invisible; unacknowledged, dismissed,
denounced, or forgotten by fellow Christians throughout the world
especially in the United States.
It is well known that one of the most
effective tools for rendering a society subservient is the tactic of
divide and conquer. Thus the October kidnapping and murder of Rami
Ayyad, the manager of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore, presented a
dangerous challenge. Speculations about the motive still abound: Was
it a hate crime or simply a random tragedy?
Father Manuel Musallam, the senior Roman
Catholic priest in Gaza, doubts the attack was religiously motivated.
“Rami was not only Christian,” the
priest explained. “He was Palestinian. Violent acts against
Christians are not a phenomenon unique to Gaza.”
Immediately upon hearing of what he
described as a “murderous crime,” Ismail Haniyeh, Palestine’s
elected prime minister, ordered the Ministry of Interior to dispatch an
investigative committee to “urgently look into the matter.”
“We are all one people who suffer
together for the sake of freedom, independence, and restoration of our
inalienable citizenship rights,” Haniyeh said publicly. “We are
waging a single struggle and refuse to allow any party to tamper with or
manipulate this historical relationship [between Muslims and Christians].”
Muslim and Christian
Photo Mohammad Omer
Recess at Holy Family School, Gaza City
“My life is normal, and I’ve never
felt oppressed,” said Ali Al Jeldah, a 17-year-old Christian student
attending Holy Family School. “Being Muslim or Christian is never
an issue,” he emphasized, adding, “I have many Muslim friends.
We hang out and study together with no differences at all.”
Lelias Ali, a 16-year-old Muslim who
attends Holy Family School, agrees. “We have a unity of struggle,
a unity of aim to live under the same circumstances,” she stated. “This
land is for both of us, and being a Christian or Muslim should not
“I have lots of friends,” said Diana
Al Sadi, 17. “Being Muslim or Christian is not an issue. I
go to my friend’s homes for happy and sad occasions including Christmas
and Easter,” she elaborated. “They visit mine during Eid.”
Asked if Christians in Gaza are being
harassed by Hamas or the Palestinian police, all the students agreed that
this is not the case.
“Every society has extremists,” Ali
observed. “Like sometimes I’m criticized for not wearing my hijab.
But that has nothing to do with being Muslim or Christian.
Those people don’t represent our Palestinian society.”
Pausing for a moment to consider the
international media’s portrayal of strife between Muslims and
Christians, she concluded, “We should not let such ideas sneak into our
minds. If we don’t unite, then we lose.”
The Thoughts of Clergy
Father Musallam explained why Christians
in Gaza do not feel singled out or oppressed. “Palestinian
Christians are not a religious community set apart in some corner.
We are part of the Palestinian people,” he asserted. “Our
relationship with Hamas is as people of one nation. Hamas doesn’t
fight religious groups. Its fight is against the Israeli occupation.”
When asked about Western media reports
that Gaza’s Christians are considering emigrating because of Islamic
oppression, Father Musallam sighed. “If Christians emigrate, it’s
not because of Muslims,” he emphasized. “It is because we suffer
from the Israeli siege. We seek a life of freedom, a life different
from the life of dogs that we are currently forced to live.”
Archimandrite Artemios, the top
clergyman in Gaza of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, chooses
to live and minister in Gaza. Though Greek by birth, he insists he
is Palestinian by heart. Asked what Christians in Gaza pray for
given the circumstances Palestinians must live under, he replied gently,
“We pray for peace, wisdom, and improvement of the situation in Gaza.”
He added that he anxiously anticipates the day when all Christians and
Muslims will have free access to all parts of Palestine. “Then we’ll
go together to Bethlehem and celebrate Christmas and Eid Al Adha.”
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was not
optimistic about the effect of The Annapolis Conference on Gaza’s
current situation, however. “We all know that Gaza is out of the
game,” he said sadly. “I pray God will give the wisdom to President
Abbas and the Israeli side to find a solution.”
As church pews and mosque prayer halls
filled on the first Sunday of December, a pensive hope prevails as faith
in God endures. For in Gaza there are no Jews or Gentiles, no
Muslims or Christians. In Gaza there are only Palestinians.
*"As announced, President Bush and
Secretary of State Rice look forward to hosting an international
conference in Annapolis on Tuesday, November 27, 2007, focused on
supporting the efforts of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to
realize President Bush's vision of two democratic states, Israel and
Palestine, living side by side in peace and security." - United
States Department of State
Mohammed Omer, winner of New America
Media’s Best Youth Voice award, reports from the Gaza Strip where he
maintains the Web site www.rafahtoday.org.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published in
Report on Middle East Affairs
After returning home to Gaza from London on June 26, 2008, where he
traveled to receive the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, Mohammed
Omer was questioned for four hours and strip searched at the
Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge Crossing between Jordan and Gaza.
Mr. Omer said that after the strip search and questioning, he passed
out as he was being dragged by the legs by two officials with his head
hitting the ground. He woke up in a hospital in Jericho, Israel,
where he called the Dutch officials who had helped with his trip to
London, and the Dutch officials drove Mr. Omer to a hospital in Gaza where
he was treated for several broken ribs.
Israeli officials said Mr. Omer was
strip searched and questioned, "because of the suspicion that he had
been in contact with hostile elements and had been asked by them to
smuggle something in." Israeli officials also said,
"fair treatment and no irregular action was taken towards him.
At the end of the search, he lost his balance and fell for some reason
unknown to us. A team of medics, an ambulance and a paramedic were
summoned, and he was transferred for treatment to Jericho."
Six months later, Mr. Omer was
recuperating in an Amsterdam hospital for injuries sustained June 26,
2008,at the Allenby Bridge Crossing.]
Mr. Omer toured the United States for a
second time in November 2009 and said Americans were more aware of the
situation in Palestine then they were on his first visit.
Monsignor Manuel Musallam, Pastor of
Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, returned to Holy Family after being
allowed by Israel to visit his family in Bir Zeit in the West Bank in 2008
for the first time in 13 years. Reportedly, Israel denied 600 of 900
requests of Gazans seeking permission to travel to the West Bank for
Christmas in 2008 because Israel doesn't want Gazans to permanently
relocate to the West Bank. Rarely is a Permit granted to a Gazan
between the ages of 17-35 to visit the West Bank.
At age 71, and after 14 years at Holy
Family Parish in Gaza, Father Musallam is retiring to Ramallah in the West
Bank to be with his family and friends. "I am leaving this
place forever. I am not anxious or sad. I have completed my job and my
successor is in place," said Father Musallam.
Israel permitted 300 of the 3,000 Gazan
Catholics to travel to Bethlehem to attend Christmas services.
Permit recipients were required to be under 16 or over 35 years of age.
Israel arrested Bethlehem University
student Berlanty Azzam and is holding her in jail three months before her
graduation because her legal address is in Gaza and she was attending
Bethlehem University in the West Bank as Israel prevents freedom of
movement by the Palestinians. Azzam is not allowed to attend her court
hearing because it is being held in Israel not Gaza.
Naseem Sabbah, 21, Holy Family Parish, Gaza City, Gaza,
Palestine, bombed by Israel, RIP
Funeral Mass celebrated by Father Manuel
Musallam at Holy Family Church in Gaza City for Christine Wadee' al-Turk,
14, who died from unknown causes after an Israeli missile barrage shook
her home. Christine had no visible wounds so it is thought she died
from fright/heart attack. Christine attended Holy Family Parish
Father Manuel Musallam describes the
aftermath of Israel's bombing of Gaza:
We are trying to come back to life,
but it is really difficult. Like everyone else, our families have
also lost their homes or suffered incalculable damage. These have been
terrible, shocking days. Now it is truly difficult to return to
normalcy. We have reopened the three schools of the patriarchate,
and the children have started coming back, but everything is in short
supply. One of the buildings was also bombed, and it's more
difficult there than at the others. More than anything else, these
days have been an opportunity to start visiting each other again,
finding out about our friends and relatives.
We are trying to help each
other. Sisters, religious, families, are doing the best they can,
but we do not simply need food. The destruction of buildings is
minimal compared to what our people have suffered in their hearts.
Every form of aid is helpful, but something very different from
humanitarian assistance is needed to bring back joy. There is
still the fear that from one moment to the next, Israel could begin
bombing again, and the frustration of ending up being treated always as
Monsignor Manuel Musallam on thanking
Aid to the Church in Need on April 30, 2009, described the situation in
The destruction has become deeper
and deeper. Things are getting worse and worse. Many, many families
People cannot receive electricity all the time because there is a lack
of fuel to run the generators. There is a shortage of clean water,
sanity is poor. Education and medical care is also not good.
Our precious trees have been
uprooted. Our buildings have been destroyed. Our streets have been
destroyed. Our land has been burnt by bombs, and so we cannot produce
anything. We are just consumers now. The machines and cars are old.
Everything needs to be renewed.
The people are more aggressive.
There is a lot more hate towards the situation they are in,
especially among the young.
I am leaving this place forever. I
am not anxious or sad. I have completed my job and my successor is in
Israeli soldiers break rank over Gaza war
Gaza refugee camps washed away in storms
Homeless Palestinians Squeeze Into Tents in Gaza
Palestinian families juggle to keep children in
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
counted 1,434 Gazans killed by Israel during the recent 22-day offensive
including 960 civilians, 239 police officers and 235 fighters. Included as
civilians were 288 children and 121 women. "The Ministry of
Health have also confirmed that a total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured
in the assault including 1,606 children and 828 women," The
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said. The Obama administration is
giving Israel $30 billion in military aid.
Father Manuel Musallam thanked the pope
for his support of Holy Family Parish in Gaza. "The people of
Gaza have lost almost everything and are now destitute after the bombing
of their homes and crops. Our children are suffering from trauma,
anxiety, undernourishment, malnutrition, poverty, and a lack of
heating. The world has to find a solution for the Palestinian people
and not simply revert to their previous positions. The borders with Israel
must be redrawn, and the occupation, which began 60 years ago, must
end. Peace is only possible if it embraces justice. If the
world grants the Palestinian people their human rights, there will surely
be peace in the Middle East."
According to the Associated Press,
Israel was not allowing rebuilding materials into Gaza.
President Jimmy Carter said the United
States gives Israel $10MM a day.
U. S. President Carter visited Gaza and was
Doctor in Bethlehem
Crisis in The Holy Land
Going to America by Mohammed Omer