On the way from the church to the small market of Gaza City, Father Jorge Hernandez is walking through asphalt and ruins, children are playing near ghost houses destroyed by the bombing, and people are trying to get back their everyday life stolen by 50 days of conflict with Israel.
375 days after the beginning of the raid on Gaza, 2139 Palestinians dead, including 490 children and 8600 injured, everyone is trying to get back to normal, but as the Argentine priest, pastor in the territories of the Gaza Strip, says, “the youngest ones still cannot sleep” because overcome by fear.
The bombing began on July 8, 2014 when Israel launched a military operation against Gaza after thousands of rockets and mortar shells had been fired by Hamas. The tension reached its peak on June 30, with the discovery of the bodies of three students who attended a rabbinical school and who were kidnapped on June 18, with the subsequent kidnapping and then killing of a Palestinian boy.
And here, within the walls of a city that is struggling to stand up again, Father Hernandez continues to serve a population hit by years of war. In his church he hosted 1,400 people, mostly Muslims, and he is one of those who remained in Gaza because he believes that the desire to rebuild the city is stronger than pain and fear. The difficulties, however, are many, and religious discrimination is one of them.
It’s not just blood shed in the name of faith, what many Christians are experiencing in Gaza is a “silent persecution”, a slap to civil rights. Not throats cut and gruesome torture, but a kind of “apartheid” which divides the population according to their own beliefs.
“If looking for a job, the first thing they ask you is whether you are Muslim. If you are, they ask you whether you are with Hamas or Fatah. If you do not support either of them, they ask you which mosque you frequent, because they want to understand whom you are faithful to”. The parish priest of Gaza continues explaining that “if you are a Christian, nobody will ask you these questions, because no one gives you a job. The only way to get one is through a Muslim friend who acts as an intermediary. No store, school or bank would ever give you the chance of a job”.
For Christians, therefore, there is not only the fear of any other Palestinian who fears sudden bombing, but they also fear internal reaction against them, as happened in Syria or Iraq where fundamentalist movements started to target this minority. Since the beginning of 2000, the percentage of Christians in the Gaza Strip was literally halved from 2 to 1% in 15 years. Among the main reasons of this new exodus, there is certainly the lack of those minimum requirements that can guarantee a dignified life. Today there are about 3000 people left, those who suffer discrimination, a number significantly low considering that Muslims are 1.4 million.
The risk for Gaza, as well as throughout the Middle East, is that the Christian roots will be completely deleted; for this reason Father Hernandez does not want to leave the city and remains at the side of the faithful and the population of the Gaza Strip, continuing to believe that dialogue with Muslims is possible.
Translation provided by Maria Rosaria Mastropaolo