Christians in Gaza are close to extinction, charity warns

17 June 2016

RALPH HODGSON

Prayer breakfast: Archbishop Welby joins the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, who talked this week about the alienation, and declining numbers, of Christians in the Middle East

Prayer breakfast: Archbishop Welby joins the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, who talked this week about the alienatio...

THE Palestinian Christian community of Gaza could cease to exist within the next generation, the Christian charity Embrace the Middle East has said.

The Christian population of Gaza stood at 1313 in 2014, down from 1688 in 1997, and from 2300 at the time of the occupation of the Gaza Strip by Israel in 1967, figures from surveys conducted by the British-based charity and its partners suggest.

Today, the total number of Christians in the region stands at only1200 — about eight times smaller than the 10,000 it would have been, if it had stayed in line with the population growth of the region (currently about 1.9 million).

This may be down to an acceleration in emigration, the chief executive of Embrace the Middle East, Jeremy Moodey, said. More than 40 years of occupation, and ten years of Israeli and Egyptian blockade — resulting in food and water shortages, a poor health system, and increasingly high rates of infant mortality and unemployment — is driving 50-100 Palestinian Christians a year to leave Gaza.

“The emigration figures are very worrying, but those who are left make a massive difference, out of all proportion to their number,” Mr Moodey said at the launch of the charity’s summer appeal this week.

The Christian community runs five schools, a general hospital, four health-care clinics, two training centres, and a YMCA community centre. “It’s an incredible commitment, and a humbling witness to their Christian faith,” he said.

Embrace the Middle East works with about 50 partners in education, health care, finance, and community development to improve the lives of disadvantaged people, primarily in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria.

Among those it supports is one of the largest Christian organisations in Gaza, the Near East Council of Churches (NECC), which offers “vocational training for young adults, who can choose from secretarial and IT courses, electrics, car maintenance, and other skills that will help them towards a secure future,” Mr Moodey said.

“In Gaza, practically everyone bears the physical or psychological scars of war. Embrace’s partners are serving local families, with hope in their hearts, because of the support given to them through prayers and financial gifts.”

Visit www.embraceme.org/gaza for more details.

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