As international outrage grows over Israeli attacks on churches in Gaza, we speak with Philip Farah, co-founder of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace. Israeli snipers shot dead an elderly woman and her adult daughter at the Holy Family Parish, a Catholic church, on Sunday. Pope Francis denounced the killings as “terrorism.” Farah’s elderly relative Elham Farah, a beloved music teacher and member of one of the oldest Christian families in Gaza, was killed by an Israeli sniper in November while sheltering outside the church. Israeli soldiers have also attacked Palestinian Christians elsewhere in Gaza as part of this “genocidal war,” says Farah. “There’s no other name for it.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
“It is terrorism.” Those were the words of Pope Francis after an Israeli sniper shot dead two Christian women, an elderly woman and her adult daughter who tried to save her, at a Catholic church in Gaza City on Sunday. The shooting took place at the Holy Family Latin Parish, where scores of Palestinian Christians have been trapped with little food or water. The pope condemned the shooting in remarks 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: That was the pope this Sunday. British MP Layla Moran has also denounced Israel’s attacks on the Gaza City Catholic church. Some of her relatives are trapped inside.
LAYLA MORAN: I’ve spoken before in this House about my extended family who are in the Holy Family Parish Church in Zeitoun in Gaza. And the situation has been desperate for weeks, but now it’s descending. There are tanks outside the gates. There are soldiers and snipers pointing into the complex, shooting at anyone who ventures out. And the convent was bombed. On Saturday, two women were shot. They were simply trying to get to the toilet. There is no electricity. There is no clean water. And the update that I had last night was that they’re down to their last can of corn. I’m told, after pressure, that food has been delivered. But they’ve not seen it.
And when this began a week ago, the IDF soldiers ordered these civilians to evacuate against their will. Can the government confirm that it sees the forcible displacement of civilians as unacceptable? The people in this church, Mr. Speaker, are civilians. They have nothing to do with Hamas. They are nuns, orphans, disabled people. They are a small Christian community, and they know everyone. As the pope has said, and my family can confirm, it is categorically untrue to say Hamas are operating from there. This situation has been condemned by many. Will this government do so?
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Philip Farah. He is a co-founder of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, has relatives sheltering in the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, which has also come under attack. Last month, one of his relatives, Elham Farah, who was a beloved 84-year-old music teacher, daughter of a famed Palestinian poet, was killed by an Israeli sniper outside the Holy Family Church, where the mother and daughter were killed on Sunday by an Israeli sniper.
Philip Farah, can you describe what is happening there right now? And talk about this small Palestinian Christian community under siege. How is this happening?
PHILIP FARAH: Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Democracy Now!
Yes, three of my grandparents are from Gaza. I was raised in Jerusalem, but we had very strong connections to Gaza. There were many, many Palestinian Christian families in Gaza. It was a thriving community. Our relatives, the Medbaqs, the Tarazis, the Sabas, the Jahshan, Farah, including Farah, and Sayeghs, were a thriving community that lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors and even their Jewish neighbors. Back then, one of my granduncles was a greens merchant, and some of his best friends were Jewish greens merchants, as well. They were in the business of exporting barley, actually, to the United Kingdom for upgrading beer in breweries in the U.K.
Over the years, that community has dwindled to a tiny minority because of the horrible conditions that Israel has imposed on Gaza, especially — back in 2013, the number was 3,000, far, far smaller than it was, say, at the turn of the century. Now it’s only barely a thousand people. And they’re all sheltering in Saint Porphyrius, the Orthodox church. That is the church where my father, uncles and aunts and members of my extended family were baptized. So, many were sheltering in Saint Porphyrius. I think still some are. Four of my Tarazi relatives were killed there.
Elham actually was sheltering at Saint Porphyrius until the bombing that killed — the Israeli bombing that killed 18 Christians in that church. And then she moved to the Holy Cross, the Holy Family Church. She was a delightful 84-year-old woman, beloved of many students in Gaza. But she was strongheaded. And against the advice of her fellows who were sheltering there, she wanted to go home. She just simply wanted to go home. And she proceeded to do that. A sniper shot her in the leg. And folks who were trying to rescue her were all being shot at, so she bled to death. What could a woman like that, 84-year-old woman, have done to hurt Israelis?
So, you know, this is a continuing saga. Now the vast majority are sheltering in the Church of the Holy Family. And as you said, the snipers have shot two other elderly — well, Nahida, an elderly woman, and her daughter came to carry her, and she was shot and killed. And several others were also injured.
I have a relative by the name of Philip Jahshan. Actually, my family originally was Jahshan. Philip Jahshan is the only Gazan whom I’m able to reach through social media. He’s sheltering there. You know, for four days, I was worried about him and tried to reach him, but communications was shut down. Finally, I was able. He told me that he was OK. But, like you said, they have no food. And as you know, Israel has used water and food and electricity as part of its genocidal war. There’s no other name for it.
AMY GOODMAN: Philip, we want to continue this conversation after the broadcast, and we’re going to post it online. Philip Farah is co-founder of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, has relatives sheltering in the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, which was bombed by the Israeli military. Porphyrius is thought to be the third-oldest church in the world. Last month, his family member Elham Farah was killed by an Israeli sniper outside the Holy Family Church, where she had been taking refuge.
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