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Christian witness disappearing from parts of the Holy Land says Bible Society

by Ros Mayfield

As the Israeli military pushes deeper into Gaza City in its battle to obliterate Hamas, there are fears that the Christian presence there could disappear altogether.

Increasing numbers of Gazans are fleeing the north of the territory, which has been continually bombarded by Israel for over a month, in an attempt to eradicate the radical militant group Hamas. The United States brokered a deal to allow four-hour pauses in the fighting, to allow innocent civilians to escape.

Nashat Filmon, Director of the Palestinian Bible Society, tells Premier most people in northern Gaza have been "displaced".  He says there's been no safe haven or special treatment for Christians, even their own facilities were hit.

"We lost office space, we lost everything, but the staff are fine."  Mr Filmon says two Bible Society staff are recovering after they were injured as a result of a different strike, on the Orthodox Church in Gaza.

In total 18 Christians are known to have been killed in Gaza in the recent fighting.   The Christian community in Gaza numbers around 1,000 out of an estimated population of 2.3 million.

we're there to help people, you know, find hope even in the midst of darkness.

The Israeli action is in response to the brutal terror attacks by Hamas militants on 7th October, when 1,400 Israelis died in a co-ordinated series of attacks and more than 200 were taken captive.  It was the Jewish people's deadliest day since the Holocaust.  Most the hostages are still being held by Hamas. 

Referring to what was unleashed, Filmon says the scale of the violence has taken everyone by surprise: "Nobody expected this size of [attack] as ugly as it was, with the death of kidnapping people, but the retaliation is even much worse.

"You correct an evil with another evil, and you try to justify this or that it's not right. It's not biblical. It's not Christian. We are all created in the image of God."

He's urging Christians throughout the world to pray fervently for the fighting to stop: "Call that God would have mercy over us and have this mercy quickly."

In an effort to bring a message of hope and encouragement, the Palestinian Bible Society has launched a series of social media posts, providing short online videos, of less than 90 seconds, based on the Bible.

Filmon is trusting that the ministry will reach those who need to hear it, despite Gaza being subjected to repeated communication blackouts, with no power or internet, sometimes for days at a time. "The whole aim of these messages is to inject peace, through the word of God.  We say, 'Let's read the Word of God together, let's go to the cross together, let's suffer the pain, let's go through the Via de la Rosa', because at the end there is victory, there is a resurrection."

He asks people to pray for their work, in Gaza, which continues to provide humanitarian assistance with limited supplies. "Pray that God will provide his needs and give us the ability to help all those who are in pray for wisdom for the leaders so that they would go on the path of peace, rather than the path of war and pray for an end to this misery of Gaza.

"I do not want a temporary ceasefire. I wanted a radical solution for the Gaza Strip.  It's time to change tactics and to change plans. Let's not keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. Let's do it in a different way. And let's start as Christians with prayers - genuine prayers on our knees, for the Gazans, for the Palestinians, for the Israelis, and for the salvation of the nation's living in this amazing land.

He says the future of Christianity in the Holy Land is at stake.  "I pray that this place would never turn into a museum where you come and say, Oh, Christ lived here. But he doesn't have any followers. What a shame! We need the living stones, to testify for our Lord from the Holy Land.  Our calling here [is] to be salt and light and to give a different taste, to give light to the  darkness."

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