De ca. 3.000 kristne i Gaza opplever tøffe tider. Etter at den kristne bokhandleren Rami Ayaad ble drept i oktober, uten at drapet er oppklart, har mange mistet motet. Mange som drar til Vestbredden for å feire jul, sier de ikke kommer tilbake. De kristne som har blitt værende holder en meget lav profil.
Community leaders say an unprecedented number of Christian families are already migrating from Gaza — rattled by the religious tensions and tough economic sanctions Israel imposed on the area after the Hamas takeover.
While no official statistics were available, the signs of the flight are evident. Rev. Manuel Musallem, head of Gaza’s Roman Catholic church, said he alone knows of seven families that sold their properties and left the area, and 15 more are preparing to do the same.
Musallem blamed Israeli sanctions and excessive violence in Gaza for the flight.
«In previous years we didn’t see this rate of migration,» Musallem said. «Now, exit is not on individual basis. Whole families are leaving, selling their cars, homes and all their properties.»
The signs of despair are evident at Ayyad’s home. Posters declaring him a «martyr of Jesus» hang on the walls. There is no Christmas tree this year.
Ayyad’s older brother, 35-year old Ibrahim, said his 6-year old son, Khedr, was nagged in school about his uncle’s murder. Muslim schoolmates call him «infidel.»
Ayyad’s wife, Pauline, 29, left for Bethlehem a month ago with her two children. She said their 3-year-old son, George, has been shattered by his father’s death.
«I tell him Papa Noel (Santa Claus) is coming to see you, and he tells me he wants Papa Rami,» she said tearfully during a telephone interview.
Pauline, who is seven months pregnant, said she plans to come back to Gaza for the birth.
But many Christians privately said they would use their travel permits to leave Gaza for good, even if that means remaining in the West Bank as illegal residents. Israeli security officials said they were permitting 400 Gaza Christians to travel through Israel to Bethlehem for Christmas.
Fouad, a distant relative of Ayyad, said he also is packing up. He said his father, a guard at a local church, was stopped recently by unknown bearded men who put a gun to his head before he was rescued by passers-by.
«We don’t know why it happened,» the 20-year-old police officer said. «We can’t be sure how they (Muslims) think anymore.»
Those who are staying are trying to limit the risks. Nazek Surri, a Roman Catholic, walked out from Sunday’s service with a Muslim-style scarf covering her head.
«We have to respect the atmosphere we are living in. We have to go with the trend,» she said.