1,077. This is the number of Christians left in Gaza and of them five hundred will have the long-awaited permission to travel to the West Bank and see their families this Christmas. Israel announced that it authorizes the travel of less than half of this minority that suffers from the blockade of the Strip as does the Muslim majority. “We have to wait until the situation does not get worse because of the pandemic and people can go out at least to enjoy those three weeks of leave,” says Father Gabriel Romanelli, a religious of Argentine origin from the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE). who has been in the Middle East for more than two decades and is in charge of the Sagrada Familia parish. Since 2020, Christian permits were frozen due to the coronavirus.
COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, has also reported that Christians living in the West Bank will also be allowed access to Jerusalem, without specifying the number.
Pressure inside and outside the separation fence has pushed most Christians to leave the Strip in recent years and the number has dropped from about 3,500 in 2006 to just over 1,000 today, most of them Greek Orthodox. But among them there are also 134 Catholics. “It is curious because among the so-called Latinos we are 14 religious and 120 laity, a percentage of religious in relation to the community greater even than in the Vatican,” jokes Romanelli, who tries to be positive despite the fact that more than half of Christians they are unable to leave, including the vicar of the parish.
Gaza, however, is not like Syria or Iraq, two other countries in the region with a massive exodus since the 2003 US invasion to end Saddam Hussein’s regime, because in Gaza “there is no persecution. Life is not impossible, but it is very difficult and if things do not change then it will be impossible. The more time passes, everything will get worse, you cannot have two million people locked up. There is the State of Israel and the Palestinian people also have the right to exist, “says the Argentine religious.
The arrival of the permits has been received with hope among a community that works these days in the Christmas decorations and dreams of being able to go out, especially the youngest. Marriage has become a mission impossible for them and the lack of permits to leave the Strip is a collective punishment for a minority suffocated by restricted movements, with broken families and young people forced to emigrate to Egypt to try to find a partner and marry.
This is the Holy Land and the Holy Family passed through Gaza on their way to Egypt, the faithful recall over and over again to claim the importance of their presence here. In the Sagrada Familia complex, in the Zeitun neighborhood of the old part of Gaza, Christians have a church, school and residence for priests and the sisters of the Institute of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin, the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Institute of the Sisters of the Rosary. Barely a hundred meters away is also the tomb of Samson, who, according to the book of Judges, “took the city gates with their two pillars and their bolt, threw them on his shoulder, and went off and raised them to the top of the mountain that is in front of Hebron ».
In the 21st century, being able to follow in the footsteps of Samson and overcome the fence raised by Israel around Gaza is a dream for the vast majority of its two million inhabitants, a dream that five hundred Christians will fulfill for three weeks this Christmas.