Of the 1.5 million Palestinians now living in the Gaza Strip, fewer than 1,400 are Christian and those who can are leaving. The church hopes reconciliation will bring them back.(Full article here).
There hasn't been a Christmas tree in Gaza City's main square since Hamas pushed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in 2007 and Christmas is no longer a public holiday.
This article brings to mind an op-ed piece from The Telegraph from a couple days ago about the persecution of Christians in the Middle-East. From that piece:
Father Immanuel Dabaghian, one of Baghdad’s last surviving priests, is expecting a quiet Christmas. To join him in the Church of the Virgin Mary means two hours of security checks and a body search at the door, and even then there’s no guarantee of survival. Islamist gunmen massacred 58 people in a nearby church last year, and fresh graffiti warns remaining worshippers that they could be next.I know that the Gospel is supposed to be preached to all nations (at least, all Gentile nations) prior to Christ's second coming. However, I have to wonder if the Middle-East already had its chance in the time of the primitive church. Nations such as Jordon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and so on, were some of the first to receive Christianity, and were the primary center of Christianity and Christian thought during the First Millennium. So, in a sense, they've already been the subject of missionary work.
The Americans have gone now, and Iraq’s Christian communities – some of the world’s oldest – are undergoing an exodus on a biblical scale.
Of the country’s 1.4 million Christians, about two thirds have now fled. Although the British Government is reluctant to recognise it, a new evil is sweeping the Middle East: religious cleansing. The attacks, which peak at Christmas, have already spread to Egypt, where Coptic Christians have seen their churches firebombed by Islamic fundamentalists. In Tunisia, priests are being murdered. Maronite Christians in Lebanon have, for the first time, become targets of bombing campaigns. Christians in Syria, who have suffered as much as anyone from the Assad regime, now pray for its survival. If it falls, and the Islamists triumph, persecution may begin in earnest.
The idea of Christianity as a kind of contagion that is foreign to the Arab world is bizarre: it is, of course, a Middle Eastern religion successfully exported to the pagan West. Those feet, in ancient times, came nowhere near England’s mountains green. The Nativity is a Middle Eastern story about a child born to a Jewish mother, whose first visitors were three wise Iranians and who was then swept off to Egypt to escape Roman persecution.
His Apostles later scattered to Libya, Turkey and Iraq, to establish the Christian communities that are now under threat. For most of history, they have coexisted happily with Muslims: dressing the same way, even celebrating each other’s festivals. The rise of the veil, and other cultural dividing lines, is a relatively modern phenomenon.
These dividing lines are now being made into battle lines by hardline Salafists, who are emerging as victors of the Arab Spring. They belong to the same mutant strain of Sunni Islam which inspired al-Qaeda. Their agenda is sectarian warfare, and they loathe Shia Islam as much as they do Christians and Jews. Their enemy lies not over a border, but in a church, synagogue or Shia mosque. The Salafists may be detested by the Muslim mainstream. But as they are finding out, you don’t need to be popular to seize power in a post-dictatorship Arab world – you just need to be the best organised. The West is so obsessed with government structure that it doesn’t notice when power lies elsewhere, and Islamist death squads are executing barbers and unveiled women in places like Basra.