RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Christians normally permitted to leave Gaza for Bethlehem during Christmas found themselves unable to return home and separated from their families when fighting erupted between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza in late December.
Isa,* a layman at Gaza Baptist Church, was one of those separated from his family. He returned to Gaza on Dec. 26 to take care of some church business. His family remained in Bethlehem, unaware the borders were about to close. “This is the worst it has ever been [in Gaza],” Isa told a Christian worker.
The Gaza Baptist Church building has sustained damage over the past two weeks. According to a Christian worker, the majority of the damage occurred Dec. 27 when a police station across the street took a direct hit.
Another Christian family found themselves separated when they tried to exit Gaza to find safety in Israel, the Christian worker said. The father and his two sons were allowed to go to Bethlehem, but the wife and two daughters were not. The man quickly returned to Gaza, despite the violence.
Residents of Israel are struggling, too.
One Israeli soldier asked a Christian worker to pray for him while he was at war. To the worker’s surprise, the soldier didn’t ask him to pray for his safety but rather that he wouldn’t have to use his gun.
Life must go on — even in scary situations, the Christian worker added.
A nurse in southern Israel was on her way to a hospital one morning when bomb sirens started blaring. “You can’t stay in your car, because the shrapnel will kill you,” a Christian worker in the area said. “You have to get out of your car and lie in the ditch beside the road.”
Schools in southern Israel have been closed because of bomb threats. Many kindergarten buildings have been hit directly by missile fire from Gaza, a worker said; however, no children or teachers were inside at the time.
“Pray that those who want peace will have the victory,” the worker said. “There’s a lot of praying [among Israeli believers], not only for the soldiers but for the believers in Gaza.”
The hope of Christian workers in Israel is that calm will be restored quickly and that the economy will recover.
Employment in Gaza has plummeted, the worker noted. Twenty years ago nearly 100,000 men went into Israel daily to work; before the latest conflict that number had decreased dramatically. Now, with the border closing, it is down to zero.
Flour has been scarce for more than a week in Gaza — in a culture where bread is served with every meal, the worker said. When a bakery does receive a shipment, it is not uncommon for more than 600 people to line up for the chance to get one piece of flatbread.
Even if families have flour, rotating blackouts make baking nearly impossible, the worker explained. They never know when electricity will be available. Some areas of Gaza haven’t seen power for five days.
Because food, water and electricity are limited in Gaza, Israel is promising to allow aid to reach Palestinian civilians during a three-hour period each day, according to news reports. Food, water, cooking oil and medicine are among the supplies expected to flow into the area.
* Name changed for security reasons. Emilee Brandon writes for the Richmond, Va., bureau of Baptist Press.