being the minority

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

last night we took a walk through the busy town centre of gaza city in quest of an ice cream. we witnessed a vibrant night life contrasting with the quietness of the day. people were queuing at all corners of the streets for take-aways or ice creams, buying clothes and shopping. 

as a group of westerners, we wouldn’t go unnoticed in gaza. we had a chat with people in the streets, who all started the conversation with the same message 'welcome to gaza', most of them wanting to know where we were from and what we were doing here.

a woman, who didn't have her hair covered, approached me and asked if i was christian, i was un-certain with what to respond with. after what was barely an answer, she invited us to come to mass that day and meet the christian minority living in gaza. she wrote down the address on the back of a card so we could give it to our taxi driver.

i have always loved churches and wherever i travel, i always visit them. there is something captivating about churches and places of cult in general, an aura and a palpable depth.

so on sunday morning, i woke up early and headed down for the orthodox church with a few members of the convoy. we drove through the back streets of the old quarter of gaza that we had not seen before. 

as we arrived, we walked through a quiet court and a small cemetery before entering the 4th century church. the chants resonated through the doors of the church. mass had already started so we tried to make ourselves as discreet as possible. on the benches, some women had covered their hair with lace scarves. in this church, the harsh sound of arabic found a new depth to my ears in the biblical melodies that echoed in the transept.

christians represent less than one percent of the population of the gaza strip, but they face in their daily lives the same concerns and the same hopes for palestine as the muslim majority in the israeli siege.

in europe, the majority of the population is christian, at least culturally. but in gaza, being a christian has a different meaning, it means to be part of the minority who are the last remnants of a community that dates back to early christianity. here, the eucharist is traditional, passed from hand to hand and shared among the people attending mass.

the church of st. porphyrius is the gathering point for the majority of gaza's christians. it miraculously escaped the damages caused by the numerous bombings targeting the city. after a recent renovation, it glows with beauty and the characteristic opulence of orthodox churches. the blue of its murals, which have been given a new breath, capture by its depth.

as mass ended, we stood outside, an old lady with her hair and make up perfectly done approached us and told us about her experience as a christian in gaza. we then moved into an large reception room and the archbishop offered us coffee. he told us about the history of gaza since ancient times, from being an affluent port exporting wine to europe in the middle ages to the first monasteries being build in the city and the various occupation before the israeli siege. we then sat down with kamel ayyad, a 41 year-old father of three who works for the church, and spent a couple of hours with him and his daughters. in his office, a large portrait of yasser arafat was hanging on the wall behind the desk. he told us that there is no differences between muslims and christians in gaza, they all share the same suffering. he gave us a message of peace and tolerance for both the palestinians and the israelis. a video of the interview will be available soon.

it was also ahmed’s birthday that day, we surprised him and all sang along as the cake arrived on the terrace of the restaurant where we were working. he couldn’t stop smiling like a young child overwhelmed with emotions, he looked very moved. after few photos, the men started dancing, trying out some traditional Palestinian dance moves. it was a very nice moment for the group to release some pressure and celebrate together. 


  1. Your blog is captivating Julia! What a beautiful job and some amazing images that detail your trip to Gaza. Very unique. I like it a lot- can't wait to see your documentary next year- good luck!


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