For the past five weeks the Christian community in Gaza have taken refuge in one of the two churches in the Zeittun neighborhood of Gaza City, the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic, or Latin Church. I have been in frequent contact with a number of them since the war began and remember well the first time the IDF order was issued to residents in the north of Gaza to go south.
October 12th at 10:00 pm EST I started receiving messages from some in the churches asking if this was real or fake news. Conflicting stories and false information were circulating widely, and they were in a panic and unsure what to do. Throughout the past five weeks I have also been receiving almost daily updates from COGAT, the Israeli Coordinating Office of Gaza and the Territories. I quickly sent a Whatsapp message to COGAT and received an immediate response that this was not fake news or false information. Everyone in the north of Gaza were to relocate south of Wadi Gaza immediately. The Christian community in Gaza made a decision that night to stay in the north where they were taking refuge in the churches. This is where they are currently, five weeks later.
On Friday November 17th Joel Rosenberg published an open letter to the Israeli government entitled “Very Urgent: Israeli leaders please evacuate Palestinian Christians out of Gaza and into the West Bank immediately – these Christians face genocide by Hamas if they are forced to move south. I was shocked when I received the link and read Joel’s urgent appeal this past Saturday morning. The letter is filled with false information and inaccurate statements that will hurt, rather than help, the Palestinian Christians in Gaza. I do not intend to question Joel Rosenberg’s intentions or motivations, but the facts he provides are baseless, false and dangerous.
To begin with, he mentions three churches where the Christians are taking refuge, but only two, the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic are providing refuge for the Christians in Gaza. Joel mentions 53 Christians in Deir El Balah, an area in the central part of the Gaza Strip where there are no Christians. These were red flags in the letter that quickly revealed Joel was not getting good information from those on the ground in Gaza. The claim of genocide and the fear of Palestinian Christians to go south because of Hamas and other Islamic groups is completely unfounded, inaccurate and very dangerous. Joel states that if the Christians are forced by the IDF to go south, Hamas will “butcher them, behead them, and burn them alive, but only after raping, torturing and mutulating them.” This is a serious accusation that needs to be founded in truth with supporting evidence. Joel provides none. Palestinian Christians have lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors for centuries, both in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Christians in Gaza have lived under the Hamas government since 2006 and not a single Christian has been beheaded or burned alive by the Hamas government. As an American Christian I have lived with my family in Gaza and traveled in and out for over twenty years and have never been threatened by Hamas, neither in the north or south of the Gaza Strip. Genocide by Hamas is not a fear of the Palestinian Christians in Gaza.
Ironically on the same morning that I received the link to Joel’s letter, I received two messages from Palestinian Christian friends in Gaza who had safely reached the Egyptian side of the border. Their families had traveled south, from the churches in Gaza City to the Rafah Border where they were officially processed and given permission to leave by Hamas officials. They were not harmed in any way by any Islamic group; no rape, no mutlation, no torture. The real danger in Joel’s letter is the propagation of a narrative that Israel has put out for a number of years and has been helped by organizations like the Philos Project; that Palestinian Christians are leaving the Holy Land because of Islamic extremism and persecution. It is an intentional effort by the Israeli government to deny responsibility for the diminishing Christian population and to create division within Palestinian society between Christians and their Muslim neighbors.
Joel’s letter helps to further that divide, and in a time of war, encourages the emigration of a greater number of Christians from their ancestral homeland.
Palestinian Christians in Gaza have remained in their churches, not for fear of Hamas, but for fear of the IDF. They have lived through more than five of these wars since 2008 and have experienced the terror of Israeli warplanes, tanks and missile strikes on residential buildings.
They know by experience that no place in Gaza is safe; not hospitals, schools, churches or mosques. All have been hit in the past five weeks, both in the north and south of the Gaza Strip. These facts have determined their decision, and therefore they remain in the north. The church is their refuge, Christ is their salvation, and they are not calling on the IDF to come to their rescue to protect them from Hamas. They are calling on the IDF to leave Gaza and return across their border. They are calling on the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian people, Muslim and Christian, both in the West Bank and Gaza, and to hear their cries for help.
They are calling on their brothers and sisters around the world to acknowledge their existence and remember them in prayer. And they are calling on God for their deliverance.
On behalf of the Palestinian Christians in Gaza, I’m calling on Joel Rosenberg to retract his letter
Dr. John Carlock is Founder & Project Director - Gaza Lighthouse School