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Phone Calls, Evacuations: Gaza’s Christians Work Together to Stay Safe

A Palestinian man examines the damage to his destroyed house following an Israeli airstrike north of Gaza City 11 July. A Catholic priest in Gaza said Israeli missile attacks are wide-ranging and that there is no safe zone. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA) 

14 Jul 2014 – By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Members of the tiny Christian community in the Gaza Strip have been keeping tabs on each other and lending a helping hand to keep each other safe during Israeli airstrikes throughout the region, but nowhere in the territory is really safe, said a priest at the territory’s only Catholic parish.

Father Jorge Hernandez, an Argentine member of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, said that one night, after a bomb siren sounded, he helped three Sisters of Charity evacuate 20 handicapped children from their home to his.

“We had to carry all the children in our arms,” Father Hernandez told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview. “There is no space in my house, so we laid down blankets on the floor and put the children there.

“It was very intense and there was a lot of fear, but the bomb fell farther away,” he said.

Israel has said that its airstrikes in populated areas are targeted to the homes of militants, and they give phone warnings to all civilians in the house to leave the premises before attacking. The airstrikes began on 8 July.

While some people leave after the phone calls, there have been reports of others climbing on the roofs of houses to act as human shields. Almost half of the more than 100 Gazan dead are civilians, including women and children.

Father Hernandez said that three Gaza neighborhoods had been warned to evacuate, but there are no safety zones large enough for all the residents. Instead, the people seek refuge in government- and U.N.-run school buildings, he said.

“Everything is so close there is no place for them to go,” he said. “They are 100,000 people who have been told to leave, and then there is the problem of food and water for them. It is an enormous problem.”

The people of Gaza suspected that an attack was imminent a few days before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, so the people prepared themselves by stocking supplies. Some neighborhood stores remain open, Father Hernandez said, and Israel has said it continues to allow food and humanitarian supplies to be taken into Gaza by truck. Media reported some 240 Palestinians with foreign passports have been allowed to leave the Gaza Strip.

Holy Family Parish was about to begin its summer camp and Father Hernandez was celebrating the opening Mass when the bombing began, he said, adding that the children were sent home.

The Sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word have been calling members of the parish to check up on them on a daily basis, he said, and he has remained in touch with his parishioners either by phone or by Skype. He is also in touch with the Greek Orthodox priest and Baptist pastor, and they remain united in helping the Christian community, he said.

“Maintaining contact with the people is important. Maybe I can’t reach them myself because of safety, but, for example, there is a very elderly woman who did not have any water on one of the most intense days of bombings, so I couldn’t go there but I called a neighbor who lived close by to bring her water,” he said.

Some 1,300 Christian Palestinians now live in Gaza amid 1.8 million Muslims, with 130 Catholics, a sprinkling of Baptists and a large majority of Greek Orthodox.

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Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Violence against Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict Holy Land Christians