The tiny Christian community in Gaza is squeezed on two fronts: first, by an Israeli blockade that cripples the economy and makes freedom of mobility virtually impossible; and second, by the policies of Hamas—the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—which came to power in 2007. The reign of Hamas began an extreme Islamization process from above and especially from below, which was deepened after the Arab Uprisings of 2011 and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in neighboring Egypt. Christians in Gaza today are targeted on the basis of their religious faith in ways even more acute and systematic than Christians in the West Bank and Israel.

Scholarly Analysis: Christian Responses to Persecution in Gaza

Egypt, Libya, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkish-Occupied Cyprus

Panel: Findings from the Middle East & North Africa 
Moderator: Christian Sahner, University of Cambridge
Speakers: Joshua Landis, University of Oklahoma
Elizabeth Prodromou, Tufts University
Mariz Tadros, University of Sussex
Christian Van Gorder, Baylor University

Christian Demographics

Between 2014 and 2021, the population of the Gaza Strip increased from 1.8 million to 2 million, according to U.S. government estimates. However, the population of Christians decreased over the same period due to extremely high levels of emigration and declining birth rates. 1,300 Christians now remain in Gaza, down from an estimated 3,000 prior to 2007. A 2014 survey by the YMCA suggests that eighty-nine percent of the Christian population in Gaza are Greek Orthodox, while 9.3 percent are Roman Catholic, and 1.52 percent belong to Baptist and other Protestant denominations.

History of the Gazan Christian Community

Christianity in Gaza dates to the fourth century, and Gaza is home to some of the oldest churches in the world. Hilarion, a leading figure of early Christianity, was the Gazan founder of monastic life in Palestine. After World War II and the establishment of the Israeli state, however, a large number of Christians left the region.

Current Situation of the Gazan Christian Community

Today, Christians in Gaza are squeezed on two fronts. First, Gaza is subject to an Israeli blockade that cripples the economy, contributing to an unemployment rate of around 50 percent, and severely limits freedom of movement for Palestinians. This blockade isolates the small Christian community and prevents them from seeking solidarity with the larger Church or traveling to holy sites. Gazan Christians must seek travel permits to visit family and holy sites in Israel and the West Bank during Christmas. For Christmas in 2021, Israel issued permits for about half of Gaza’s Christian population. Consequently, many Gazan families were unable to travel for Christmas together. 

Gaza endured significant armed clashes between Israel and militants in Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014 that debilitated its already damaged infrastructure and virtually destroyed its ability to produce goods for the domestic market. In May 2021, eleven days of fighting between Hamas and Israel resulted in many civilian casualties and destroyed essential civilian infrastructure in Gaza such as hospitals. A 2012 United Nations report suggested that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 if existing economic and political trends persisted. Ten years on, conditions have not improved, yet 2 million people still inhabit Gaza. 

On the other side, Christians are squeezed by the policies of Hamas—the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—which came to power in 2007. The reign of Hamas began an insidious Islamization process from above and especially from below, which was deepened after the Arab Uprisings of 2011 and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in neighboring Egypt. 

In 2007, shortly after Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip, extremists firebombed the last Christian bookstore in Gaza City on two occasions and abducted and killed the bookstore’s owner, who had maintained the store for years despite receiving numerous death threats. Although this level of violence against Gazan Christians has fortunately not continued, Christians in Gaza today are targeted on the basis of their religious faith in ways even more acute and systematic than Christians in the West Bank and Israel. Christians feel coercion to convert to Islam, while Christian women experience harassment and pressure to cover their hair and adopt Islamic forms of attire. In general, Christians are made to feel like second-class citizens, despite their Palestinian patriotism and historical affinity to the land.

Responses to Persecution

In Gaza, as in other parts of the Holy Land, the ecclesiastical and lay responses to the Israeli blockade and to the Islamization of society diverge. On the one hand, the leaders of the ancient churches believe that the only response that would ensure their survival and the protection of their historic heritage, both architectural and cultural, is to remain. But on the other hand, many everyday struggling Christians consider emigration the only option for the preservation of family cohesion and survival, just as many members of the broader Gazan population believe that leaving Gaza is their only hope for a better livelihood.  

Christian leaders have sought to ensure the survival of a Christian presence in Gaza through strategies of association. For example, when Muslim leaders began to openly vilify Christians as infidels, Christian leaders sought dialogue with both the imams of the mosques and the leaders from the Islamic establishment. In some instances, Muslim religious leaders desisted from anti-Christian rhetoric. However, Hamas does not address discrimination against Christians, and no measures have been taken to stop the slurring of Christians by, for example, children on the street. Christian churches have also played a patriotic and humanitarian role, emphasizing both solidarity with Palestinian forces resisting Israeli occupation and compassion for civilians impacted by the conflict. During the 2014 Gaza War, for example, the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius opened as a refuge for people of all religious backgrounds fleeing Israeli shells. In 2015, after a funeral in the same church for a civilian killed by an Israeli missile, both Christians and Muslims participated in the victim’s burial. 

Continuing a long tradition of friendly relations between Christians and Muslims, churches observe courteous and respectful relations with the authorities, ensuring that on every religious festivity, Christian leaders pay their Muslim counterparts a visit to wish them well, just as Muslim leaders have traditionally attended major Christian religious celebrations. Gazan Christians and Muslims continue to celebrate Christmas together, despite a 2020 Hamas directive attempting to forbid this. However, in essence, the churches in Gaza have little leverage in engaging with the authorities and are therefore in a weak position to hold the authorities accountable for any infringements. 

The Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church have also played central roles in providing education for girls and boys in Gaza through their Christian-run schools. These schools, though not entirely immune from attempts at Islamization, have been particularly important for creating a safe enclave for Christians to be educated without intense Islamic indoctrination. One way the Greek Orthodox Church in particular has adapted to the Israeli blockade is by appointing Greek priests to parishes in Gaza and encouraging them to learn Arabic upon arrival. They reason that foreign-born priests are less likely to face mobility restrictions than Arab priests, although the cultural differences can present other problems.

Additionally, churches have sought to support their followers by establishing housing projects on land that has been endowed to them, often through tenancy. They have been unsuccessful, however, in helping the Christian community secure employment. In fact, many Gazan Christians criticize Christian organizations (in particular charitable and developmental ones) for privileging Muslim applicants, a policy they believe to be driven by a desire to appease the Islamic authorities and avoid bureaucratic hurdles. Many fear that faced with the absence of jobs, the only recourse of young Christian men would be to emigrate.

Lay Christians adapt to the Islamization of society in disparate ways. Some Christian men grow their beards so as not to stand out (in other words coping by assimilating). Many women, on the other hand, choose resistance and refuse to don any form of head cover even if it means being exposed to harassment on the streets or restricting their freedom of mobility. Despite these strategies, however, emigration, though always difficult and often impossible, remains the primary strategy of survival. Many leaders fear that if trends are not reversed, the indigenous Christian population in Gaza could become extinct.


This country profile draws on research by Dr. Mariz Tadros and on the report In Response to Persecution by the Under Caesar's Sword project. It was updated by Joseph London at the University of Notre Dame in June 2022.