Christians in Gaza face extinction: The rise of Islam adds to woes of campaigning Orthodox priest

STANDING beside an ancient fresco in Gaza's Greek Orthodox Church the priest, George Awwad, could not deny the likeness between himself and his 5th-century forefather, St Borserios, who built the church. Their features are a perfect match.

Borserios built the church in 405AD after securing the help of the Byzantine Emperor Arcadrus in Constantinople, who encouraged him to spread the word of Christianity. Borserios was granted money, soldiers and engineers to build the church and fight off the hordes in what was then a pagan land.

Today George Awwad is also seeking favours to extend his influence - this time from the Israeli military authorities who occupy the Gaza Strip. His request is a modest one.

In a letter addressed to 'His Excellency General Dov Gazit' (the military governor of Gaza) and 'His Excellency Yitzhak Rabin' (Religious Affairs Minister as well as Prime Minister), Diodores I, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem, has asked for a small piece of land to build a new church and a school in Gaza City. Mr Awwad believes the venture might reinvigorate the community and is hoping for a reply before Easter, which according to the Orthodox calendar gives the Israelis another week.

Since Borserios' day the Christian community of Gaza has experienced many bad times, but today it is facing extinction. Of the 800,000 Palestinians, 60,000 are Christian, the rest Muslim. As in other parts of the Middle East, Christians have been leaving Gaza at alarming rates. Eighty families are currently applying to leave. There were once 40 churches, now there are only two, while mosques are mushrooming and Islamic fervour is on the rise.

Only three Gazans came to morning prayers at Mr Awwad's church in the scrambled alleys of the old city while the mosque behind spewed out worshippers like a football crowd. The priest has erected loudspeakers on the roof to ring out the pre-recorded bells. But the sound was easily drowned out by the loudspeakers next door, announcing the call to prayer.

The priest is not predicting a joyous Easter in Gaza. 'Psychologically speaking the people are tired. They will come to the feast and I will do what I can. But I cannot put happiness inside them.'

Mr Awwad is himself subdued this year as he, like the other Palestinians, has been barred from Israel as a result of the latest closures and cannot attend Easter celebrations in Jerusalem.

Many explanations are given for the Christian demoralisation in Gaza, but persecution by Islamic extremists is not among them. Gaza Christians insist they are all one family, all Palestinians and nationalists together. 'We have always been nationalists first. That is why we were massacred by the Crusaders,' said the priest.

JERUSALEM -Israel has agreed that Faisal Husseini, the top PLO leader in the occupied territories, can head the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks, government sources said yesterday, AFP reports.

Until now Israel has refused to have any Palestinian who does not live on the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank in the delegation, let alone an open member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Mr Husseini, 53, lives in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
people
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

£26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

The Jenrick Group: Project Engineer

£33000 - £35000 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Project E...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

£35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'