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Palestinian Christian Community in Gaza at Risk Due to “Horrible Conditions That Israel Has Imposed”

Web ExclusiveDecember 20, 2023
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In Part 2 of our interview with Philip Farah, co-founder of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, we continue our look at Israeli attacks on churches in Gaza. In November, one of his relatives, Elham Farah, a beloved 84-year-old music teacher, was killed by an Israeli sniper outside the Holy Family Church.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We’re continuing to look at the plight of Palestinian Christians in Gaza. On Sunday, Pope Francis accused Israel of terrorism after an Israeli sniper shot dead two Christian women, an elderly woman with her adult daughter who tried to save her, at a Catholic Church in Gaza City. The shooting took place at the Holy Family Parish, where scores of Palestinian Christians have been trapped with little food or water.

We turn now to Part 2 of our conversation with Philip Farah. He is co-founder of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, has relative sheltering in the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, considered the third-oldest church in the world, was bombed by the Israeli forces in Gaza. Last month, one of his relatives, Elham Farah, who was a beloved 84-year-old music teacher, was killed by an Israeli sniper outside the Holy Family Church.

I want to begin by playing for you a comment made by Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem. She recently appeared on the British news program LBC and claimed there are no Christians in Gaza.

NICK FERRARI: Why is it necessary? It would — is reported to start shooting, having snipers outside a church.

FLEUR HASSAN-NAHOUM: I don’t — I saw the report this morning. The church — there are no churches in Gaza. So I’m not quite sure where the report —

NICK FERRARI: Well —

FLEUR HASSAN-NAHOUM:— is talking about.

NICK FERRARI: There’s a Catholic Church in there, isn’t there? That is in —

FLEUR HASSAN-NAHOUM: Yeah, unfortunately, there are no Christians, because they were driven out by Hamas.

NICK FERRARI: Well, there are — respectfully, there are Christians, because I spoke to an MP yesterday who has family members in the church who are Christians.

FLEUR HASSAN-NAHOUM: Well, I don’t know what happened.

NICK FERRARI: Unless you’re telling me she’s wrong.

FLEUR HASSAN-NAHOUM: I don’t know who was attacked. I didn’t see the report.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the deputy mayor of Jerusalem. Philip Farah, you have family in Gaza who’ve been sheltering in both churches, Porphyrius as well as Holy Family. Can you respond to what she’s saying?

PHILIP FARAH: I mean, it’s one of the many, many horrendous lies that come from Israel. Of course, there’s always been — well, for centuries, many centuries — Palestinian presence in Gaza. In fact, Gaza was a center of Palestinian Christian theology and learning. At the time that Athens was waning and Constantinople, Athens became a big center of Palestinian Christianity. I am named after Saint Philip the Evangelist, whose reputation is that he converted the Ethiopians to Christianity. Ethiopia became the first country to adopt Christianity. Saint Philip’s Church at the Ahli Hospital, which was bombed recently, where 470 people were killed, Muslims and Christians, they were sheltering. Saint Philip’s Church at the Ahli Hospital was actually built on land donated by my great-uncle in Gaza. As I said earlier, the Palestinian Christian community in Gaza was quite large, many families that are close relatives to the Farahs.

But, you know, the conditions have been such that the Palestinians have — Palestinian Christians have left, and now it’s a tiny minority of about 1,000. I mean, they left because their children were terrorized. According to a Save the Children report only last year, done only last year, before the horrendous genocidal war against Gaza, the recent one, 80% of Palestinian children are bedwetting because of the trauma of continuous attacks that Israel calls “mowing the lawn,” that they do occasionally, and the siege that has pauperized the people of Gaza, has deprived them of food, medicine. And also, you know, for example, the lack of fuel means that Palestinian — the waste treatment facilities in Gaza do not work. So the water, the wastewater, is dumped into the Mediterranean without adequate cleaning. So the Mediterranean is contaminated. The aquifers are contaminated.

That is, you know, Israel — the United Nations said that Gaza is not fit for human survival some years back. And now, after this bombing, as Rashid Khalidi said in the previous segment, how in the world does anybody in their right mind think that what is happening in Gaza is going to bring peace to anybody? Certainly, it’s not going to bring peace to the Jewish state, to Israel, because what they have done has just caused terrible, terrible destruction, and nobody’s going to forget that easily.

The hope is for us here in the United States to tell Israel — if you really consider yourself a friend of the Jewish people, you know, and — the duty is to take away the keys if your friend is driving drunk. This hubris, you know, is going to result in nothing but further hostilities and further hatred and further — but our role is extremely important, because if we support the nonviolent movement of the Palestinian people, we’ll reduce the chance of something even bloodier.

AMY GOODMAN: Philip Farah, if you can talk about these two churches where you’ve had family members sheltering, Porphyrius as well as Holy Family Church?

PHILIP FARAH: Yeah. Saint Porphyrius is, like you said, one of the oldest churches in the world. It was rebuilt, I think, in the 1100s. But it goes back to the fifth or the sixth century — I’m not sure — at a time when the Christian community, as I said, was thriving. At that period, Christianity was dominant in Gaza. And I’m less knowledgeable about the Church of the Holy Family, where, you know, now the majority of the tiny community of Palestinian Christians is sheltering.

But, you know, that is really a safe haven. Actually, in Saint Porphyrius, there were also Muslims sheltering, as well, and maybe in the Holy Family, as well. I’m not sure. But certainly at the al-Ahli Hospital compound, there were thousands of people sheltering in that compound, because Palestinians in Gaza think that — you know, at first, they were thinking that churches, schools and hospitals are safe havens. And, you know, Israel has done everything in its might to show the people of Gaza that there is no place that is safe. I think they specifically targeted churches — well, certainly mosques, that doesn’t count, you know — churches, schools and hospitals, so as to convince the Gazans that they have to move. But move to where? There is absolutely nowhere that is safe in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Pope Francis speaking on his 87th birthday at the Vatican Sunday.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] And let us not forget our brothers and sisters suffering from war in Ukraine, Palestine, Israel and other conflict zones. May the approach of Christmas strengthen our commitment to open paths of peace. I continue to receive from Gaza very serious and painful news. Unarmed civilians are being bombed and shot at. And this has even happened inside the Holy Family Parish compound, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, and sick people with disabilities, and nuns. A mother and her daughter, Ms. Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar Kamal Anton, were killed, and others wounded, by the snipers as they went to the bathroom. The house of Mother Teresa’s nuns was damaged, their generator hit. Some say it’s terrorism. It’s war. Yes, it’s war. It’s terrorism. That is why Scripture says that God stops war, breaks bows and breaks spears. Let us pray to the Lord for peace.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the pope speaking on his 87th birthday at the Vatican. He’s talking about the Antons. the elderly woman and her adult daughter, who on Saturday was gunned down by an Israeli sniper. The daughter had tried to save her mother, and then she was shot. Philip Farah, if you can talk about what your group, the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, is doing here in this country, how you’re weighing in, and what you’re trying to say to the Biden administration at this point?

PHILIP FARAH: Yes. My group has focused on advocacy among church communities, among faith communities, but specifically more so Christian communities in the U.S. And we work with groups that call themselves Palestine-Israel networks of different denominations. The mainline Protestant denominations, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, all the mainline Protestant denominations, they have these groups that lobby their denominations to take strong stands in favor of a peace with justice in Palestine and Israel. And some of these denominations have passed resolutions boycotting products made in the illegal Jewish settlements. They have passed resolutions to divest their pension funds from companies that profit from the occupation. We are a relatively small group, because Palestinian Christians in America are, you know, a small percentage of the population, certainly, but we leverage our contacts with our allies in the denominations to pass such resolutions.

And it’s really amazing how over the past two or three decades, we have come a long way. As I’ve said, you know, denominations have passed these resolutions. And many churches are opening their doors more and more, now even especially, because they see it. You know, they see it on television. You can’t hide it. It’s in plain sight, you know, as was the Warsaw Ghetto genocide of Jews in Warsaw in 1944, as was the massacres of Palestinians in Tel al-Zaatar, a refugee camp in Lebanon. The siege there lasted for many months, a siege by the right-wing Lebanese forces, supported by Israel. The world knew exactly what was happening. The U.S. Embassy, only a couple of kilometers away, knew exactly what was happening in Tel al-Zaatar, the killing and the merciless killing of basically defenseless people, and just stood and did nothing. And now it is even much more covered in the media, daily, for months and months. And still the world is not. This is the message that we have to our church communities and other faith communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Philip, I wanted to get your response to this AP piece. “Officials in Bethlehem said Christmas celebrations will be canceled in Jesus’ traditional birthplace due to the Israel-Hamas war and the thousands of Palestinians’ lives lost.” If you can respond to Christmas canceled in Palestine?

PHILIP FARAH: Yes, it is, you know, unconscionable for us to celebrate Christmas at this time in a joyful manner, when our brethren and sisters in Gaza are being slaughtered. You know, we talked about the Christian victims of Israel’s merciless bombing, but, you know, as you know, as the world knows, now almost 20,000 Palestinians, at least, have been killed, because there are many still under the rubble. I have a friend here in town. You know, I’ve lost a few relatives in Gaza. My friend Hani Almadhoun from Gaza has lost maybe over 20 people of his family. So, you know, it’s unconscionable for Palestinian Christians to celebrate in any joyful manner.

I urge you to try to get an interview with Reverend Munther Isaac. I can provide contacts for Reverend Munther Isaac, the pastor of the Lutheran Christmas Church in Gaza — in Bethlehem, sorry. And he gave a sermon in which he said that if Jesus were to be born today, he would be born in the rubble in Gaza, because the message of Christianity is that Jesus came to represent the suffering of the most oppressed and the poorest and the people who have no rights. And what better place in the world could there be for that than Gaza today?

AMY GOODMAN: Philip Farah, I want to thank you so much for being with us, co-founder of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, has relatives in Gaza sheltering in the Church of Saint Porphyrius. Last month, his family member Elham Farah was killed by an Israeli sniper outside the Holy Family Church. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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