A Christian living in Bethlehem has spoken of the importance of his faith to see him through the horrors of war as communities lose their homes, loved ones and livelihoods amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Speaking to Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Rony Tabash, a shop owner in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, described how the current violence is affecting the lives of Christians in the West Bank.
“The situation is terrible; it’s not easy at all. Every day, new challenges arise. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, never! It’s a war, not like a war, it is a war,” he said.
Tabash explains that the conflict has dramatically impacted his business, as the usually bustling tourist spot is now completely deserted.
“There are no pilgrims – everything is empty, there’s no one. And they say it will last until Easter.”
Bethlehem’s economy relies heavily on religious tourism to sustain local businesses and the recent conflict has affected everything from hotels and restaurants to souvenir stands. As a result, many families have been left jobless and homeless.
On Tuesday, Israel launched air strikes towards a refugee camp in Gaza. Israel Defence Force (IDF) said it was in pursuit of Hamas commander Ibrahim Biari. The IDF have confirmed he died in the strike that injured and killed hundreds more.
“These days, there are bombs in the sky over Bethlehem – children are scared, my kids don’t want to be separated from our side,” Tabash said.
More than half of the 2.3 million population in Gaza have fled their homes. A territory-wide blackout has made food, medical, fuel and water supplies scarce, leaving hospitals struggling to cope.
Tabash continues to open his shop, located in front of the Basilica of the Nativity in a bid to support his family. He says he is trusting God to sustain and protect them.
“The only thing that sustains me is faith, without faith, I couldn’t continue, not even for a minute. We’ve lost hope – all that’s left is faith,” he said.
He explains that his family have no plans to leave the Holy Land, as they see it as a “sacred” place.
“We’re living in the place where Jesus was born; we can’t leave; if it weren’t for that, I would leave instantly.
“But as a Christian Palestinian my mission is to be here, even though every day new challenges come. The war has to end. We are tired – we want peace, only peace for our children and our families.”
He has asked Christians across the world to join them in praying for Christian families in the Holy Land and for peace.
Wednesday saw civilians able to leave Gaza for the first time since the fighting broke out between Hamas and Israel.
At least 320 people including injured evacuees and foreign nationals have crossed the only open border, out of southern Gaza, into Egypt.
Hamas abducted 240 people during its initial attack on Israel, five hostages have now been freed - four released by Hamas, and one rescued during Israel's ground assault. Hamas continues to fire rockets into the country.
At least 1,400 Israelis are known to have been killed during the Hamas assault on 7th October. The Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry, based in Gaza, said on Saturday that more than 7,500 Palestinians, including 3,000 children had been killed in Gaza since then.
The United Nations, which previously verified and documented such figures, says it has stopped counting because of the sheer scale of the violence.