“They let us pray. It’s changed my view of Christians — I didn’t really know any before, but they’ve become our brothers,” Gaza resident Mahmud Khalaf, 27, who admitted he never expected to perform his evening prayers in a church, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Saturday, July 26.
“We (Muslims) prayed all together last night,” he said. “Here, the love between Muslims and Christians has grown.”
Like hundreds of Gaza Muslims, Khalaf found a safe shelter at Saint Porphyrius Church courtyard in Gaza City.
“Walking into the Saint Porphyrius Church courtyard in Gaza City, visitors are greeted with a “marhaban” by Christian helpers, but with a decidedly more Islamic “peace be upon you” (Arabic: al-salamu aleikum) by most of its current residents — displaced Gazans who have made it their shelter for almost two weeks.
Khalaf, who fled his home in Shaaf after the area became a target for Israeli warplanes, has found sanctuary alongside some 500 other displaced Muslims.
“The Christians took us in. We thank them for that, for standing by our side,” he said.
“The Christians aren’t fasting of course, but they’re deliberately avoiding eating in front of us during the day. They don’t smoke or drink around us,” Khalaf says.
Yet, the daily deaths by Israeli bombardment have made it difficult for him to concentrate on religious piety during the bloody and indiscriminate conflict that has killed more than 900 Palestinians, most of them civilians.
“I’m normally an observant Muslim, but I’ve been smoking during Ramadan. I’m not fasting — I’m too scared and tense from the war. “
`Eid of Martyrs
Expecting Sunday to be the last day of the holy month of Ramadan, the ongoing bombardments, hundreds dead and thousands homeless has destroyed any chances of enjoying `Eid.
“Christians and Muslims might celebrate `Eid together here,” said Sabreen al-Ziyara, a Muslim woman who has worked at the church for 10 years as a cleaner.
“But this year it’s not the Feast of Breaking the Fast (Eid al-Fitr) – it’s the feast of martyrs,” she said, in respectful reference to the dead.
Gaza’s Christians have dwindled in number to around 1,500 out of a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 1.7 million.
The Christian community has been shrinking due to both conflict and unemployment.
But the shared experience of falling under occupation has fostered the feeling of brotherhood among Gaza faiths.
“Jesus said, love your neighbour, not just your family but your colleague, your classmate — Muslim, Shiite, Hindu, Jewish,” said Christian volunteer Tawfiq Khader.
“We open our doors to all people.”
Israel has been launching relentless airstrikes against Gaza since July 8 where hundreds have been killed and injured.
Israel occupation forces started a ground invasion of besieged Gaza, home to two millions civilian, on Thursday, July 17.
The Palestinian death toll in an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip rose above 985, with thousands more injured.
According to the UN aid agency for Palestinians (UNRWA), the large scale of mass destruction in Gaza has left about 1,255 home severely damaged, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes that were caught up in the Israeli air strikes.
`Eid Al-Fitr is one the two main Islamic religious festivals along with `Eid Al-Adha.
During `Eid days, families and friends exchange visits to express well wishes and children, wearing new clothes bought especially for `Eid, enjoy going out in parks and open fields.