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In photos: Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Palm Sunday in Gaza

on 20 Comments
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  Gaza, Palestine, Palm Sunday procession at Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius April 28, 2013 (Photo: Joe Catron)

Greek Orthodox Christians at Gaza’s Church of Saint Porphyrius, which recently commemorated its 1,606th anniversary, celebrated Palm Sunday yesterday according to the Eastern church calendar.

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(Photo: Joe Catron)
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(Photo: Joe Catron)

The liturgy and procession in the church’s ancient courtyard followed an annual gathering on Friday afternoon, when parishioners wove palm reeds into crosses and baskets for yesterday’s event.

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(Photo: Joe Catron)
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(Photo: Joe Catron)
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(Photo: Joe Catron)

Unlike Christians in much of the world, those in the besieged Gaza Strip cannot attend religious celebrations elsewhere in Palestine without special authorization by Israeli occupation authorities.

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(Photo: Joe Catron)
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(Photo: Joe Catron)

The Israeli army’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit only issues a small number of these permits, to Christians younger than 16 or older than 35.

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(Photo: Joe Catron)
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(Photo: Joe Catron)

Christians between these ages, too old, young, or ill to travel without assistance by relatives in the prohibited age range, or arbitrarily denied permits, as well as all the Gaza Strip’s large Muslim majority, are prevented from accessing religious sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and elsewhere.

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(Photo: Joe Catron)
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(Photo: Joe Catron)

This year COGAT authorized roughly 540 Greek Orthodox Christians to travel to the occupied West Bank for Easter celebrations, out of a current population around 1,500.

Joe Catron

Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine, where he works with Palestinian groups and international solidarity networks, particularly in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and prisoners' movements. He co-edited The Prisoners' Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, an anthology of accounts by detainees freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange, blogs at and tweets at @jncatron.

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20 Responses

  1. pabelmont on April 29, 2013, 7:46 pm

    Not many Orthodox Christians in Gaza. I was glad to see the young blond girl who — if Palestinian as I suppose — is a reminder that Palestine was a (military) invqasion/meeting place over many, many centuries, including north European Crusaders way back when.

    • W.Jones on April 30, 2013, 12:24 pm

      Pabel, you can’t really judge about her like it might at first seem. She could have an American grandparent or something.

      On another note:
      “the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment.” (Genesis 25:25.) “And they called his name Esau.”

      Certainly, Gaza has been a melting pot for centuries, including Crusader invasions. However, if someone were to conclude that the Christians there were mainly a Crusader or Protestant happenstance, it would be a major mistake. The reason is that the Greek Orthodox were actually attacked and their Patriarch was expelled by the Crusaders. Their Church is a continuation of the Christians that have been there since their beginning.


    • lysias on April 30, 2013, 6:52 pm

      There are a goodly number of blond people in Turkey. Circassians, many of whom are blond, have been in Turkey for centuries. And, as Ottoman rule was displaced from the Balkans during the 19th and the very early 20th centuries, Muslims from the Balkans were driven out, and ended up in places that were still under Ottoman rule.

  2. Citizen on April 29, 2013, 8:33 pm

    With all the Christian churches of every stripe dotting America, how many know anything at all about what’s happened to Christian natives under Israeli control for so many decades?

  3. Mike_Konrad on April 29, 2013, 9:28 pm

    Those kids are precious.

    • Ellen on April 30, 2013, 3:31 am

      How many hundreds of Gazan children were killed in Operation Cast Lead? What did Sharon’s son call on Israel to do? Nuke Gaza, kill them all? He was speaking for the thought of many Israelis.

      This is what an occupation and coveting land of the other does to a people, any people.

  4. Mike_Konrad on April 30, 2013, 4:46 am

    With all the Christian churches of every stripe dotting America, how many know anything at all about what’s happened to Christian natives under Israeli control for so many decades?

    The Christians in Israel proper are doing well, for their circumstances

    In some areas, they outperform both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs up to high school.

    I am sure the Christians see some discrimination post high school, but they tend to do very well.

    In terms of their socio-economic situation, today’s Christians are more similar to the Jewish population than to the
    Muslim Arab population. This is also reflected in their birth
    rates and average age. According to Raed Mualem, VicePresident of the Catholic Mar Elias Colleges, 25 percent
    of Arab Christians work in academic professions. This
    percentage is the same as for Jews but far exceeds the
    Muslim Arabs (14 percent).

    So in Israel proper Christians do well inspite of social discrimination.

    In the contested areas of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) I am sure it is different.

    In both cases, Christians are hammered between competing religions.

    Israel is a Jewish state, not a secular state.
    Palestinian nationalism is becoming increasingly Islamicized.

    Christians have no place in either of these. Hence they have extraordinarily high rates of immigration from both Israel proper and the contested areas.

    They are Arab but many cannot identity with an Islamicized Palestianism. Israel, with its emphasis on Judaism, may not be as immediatly dangerous to them as a Muslim extremist, but will slowly wear them down with resistriction after restriction.

    In the contested areas they are minority Christian.
    In Israel, they are minority Arabs.

    It is easy to see why they flee to the West, America or Chile (where the is a large amount of Palestinian Christians).

    Until recently, the majority of prominent Arab politicians in Israel were Christian. Not that they had much power in the Knesset, but they had some power in their communities.

    Druze and Muslims are starting to assert their demographic.

    Like it or not, because of religion, the Christians of the Mideast – with the exception of the Copts – have tended to be Westward Looking.

    There was a major migration to the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. Damascus was about 20% or more Christian in 1918.

    Lebanon was over 50% Christian at one point. Now it is down to 38% and many are leaving.

    And, whether you like to admit it or not, the Christians were often fleeing the dhimmi status they had under Islamic rule.

    Right now the Christians in Syria mostly support Assad because, as bad as Assad is, he is secular. If the religious rebels win, the last of the Christians will flee Syria.

    Actually, when it comes to the Mideast, it is not the Jews nor the Muslims who have suffered the most, but the Christians who were stuck in the middle. There numbers have plummeted drastically over the last 150 years.

    That may be politically incorrect to say … but between a Jewish state, and Muslim extremism … Christians were often forced to flee.

    You might want to look up the massacre of Christians in the 1860s in Damascus and Lebanon. The French had to intervene to stop a genocide.

    • joecatron on April 30, 2013, 6:20 pm

      “Lebanon was over 50% Christian at one point. Now it is down to 38%”

      Did a big influx of Sunni Muslims in 1948, as the result of a certain ethnic cleansing in the region, have something to do with the shift in ratio?

      “There numbers have plummeted drastically over the last 150 years.”

      That’s not true.

      Most talk of Christian demographics ignores a few key points:

      1. Birth rates and population growth. Yes, the percentage of Christians in Lebanon, for example, has shrunk. But as Cole notes, “there are still twice as many Christians in Lebanon in absolute terms now as there were in 1931.” Just because Christian populations aren’t growing as fast as other religious groups in much of the region doesn’t mean they aren’t growing.

      2. Palestine is not Lebanon or Syria. Christians here have said more than enough about the unique reasons so many are leaving at this point in history. I have no need to vulgarize their statements, which are freely available in English translation. Read them for yourself.

      • lysias on April 30, 2013, 6:48 pm

        Another factor: Christians from Lebanon and Palestine tend to emigrate to the West a good deal more than Muslims from those places do. They’re better educated and more prosperous. They tend to feel more at home in Western countries. They’ve now been emigrating for such a long time that a lot of them have family connections already in the West.

      • James Canning on April 30, 2013, 7:37 pm

        Joe Catron – – Arab Christians, and Turkish for that matter, tended to emigrate to the US, and other countries, at higher rates than Muslims.
        This explains much of the erosion of Christian presence in Lebanon.

      • Walid on May 1, 2013, 4:24 am

        At Lebanon’s independence in 1943, Christians represented about 56% of the population and were alloted 50% of the members of parliament as well as 50% of the civil service jobs. Today, Christians (because of emigration) number about 25% of the population and they still get 50% of the parliamentary seats and 50% of the Cabinet posts and civil service jobs. Nobody can say Lebanese Christians are not getting their fair share of the pie.

        As to the dwindling number of Christians in Palestine, most Palestinian Christians attribute it to Israeli intimidation. That wall around Bethlehem is not very welcoming.

    • Bumblebye on April 30, 2013, 6:54 pm

      @ Mike_Konrad
      I presume by “contested area”, which you repeat, you are using your pet euphemism for occupied Palestine?

  5. Mayhem on April 30, 2013, 9:42 am

    @Joe, are you aware of the property boom in Gaza?
    The presenter of a Channel Four documentary about Gaza has said that the local population would not recognize the portrayal of the area in much of the UK media as war-torn.
    Seyi Rhodes travelled to the Gaza Strip in February to film an episode of Unreported World, which aired last week on Channel 4 in Britain.
    You can watch the episode at
    Rather than reporting on a region torn apart by conflict, the program focused on the property market and booming construction taking place in Gaza.
    Mr Rhodes said the experience confounded his expectations. “Before I started researching, I thought the region was destitute – people living literally hand-to-mouth on aid, with constant security threats. I took it for granted that people would be living in temporary accommodation provided by the UN.”
    In fact, he found “a growing wealth gap”, with ordinary families struggling even to rent but new flats being sold for up to $3 million to wealthy Palestinians with money from abroad or from jobs with the Hamas government.
    “As a left-wing student, I was given one view of Gaza/Palestine,” said Mr Rhodes. “But I realise now that many of those representations were entirely politically motivated.
    “Even Gazans wouldn’t recognise the image that is portrayed of them sometimes. The woman crying over her dead son, the man throwing stones at tanks.”
    He added that such stereotypes were “frankly offensive as most of these people live their lives with the same concerns as you and me… getting on the housing ladder, educating your children. People didn’t even talk about Israel unless I brought it up.”<p?
    Read the story at

    • Citizen on May 1, 2013, 2:12 pm

      @ Mayhem
      What’s your point? That a handful of rich Palestinians are getting rich by shipping building materials through the tunnels, making money doing that, and then erecting some new structures with that profit and charging high rent so a few of the beseiged general populace can have a weekend away from the shambles that most Palestinians live in daily? Even the handful of rich Gaza people able to climb the middle class ladder have to put up with Israeli bombs destroying their new structures, but they are counting on less of this, and they build in areas with foreign agency residents to avoid those bombings. Gaza is under siege and Gaza is one of them most densely populated areas in the world, and the residents cannot move away from Gaza, or travel away, due to the siege. Your comment suggests Gaza is generally thriving, rather than most residents are jobless, totally dependent on foreign aid dispensed as humanitarian gesture, and those residents are subjected to daily humiliation by Israel.

    • joecatron on May 1, 2013, 5:35 pm

      Oh, yes. There’s quite a building boom here at the moment. I haven’t yet had the chance to watch the Channel 4 documentary (thanks for the link), but if it dispells the people-weeping-in-rubble stereotype, I like it already.

      While I wouldn’t have chosen some of his wording, I found Mark LeVine’s analysis of the political economy behind much of this very helpful:

      “Rather than starving Gaza into submission, it now becomes clear that Israel has a strong interest in encouraging a rapid development of the Strip under the friendly guidance of the Turks, Qataris and Egyptians (not surprisingly, few if any structures recently built with Turkish or Qatari money were damaged in last November’s Operation Pillar of Defence). The sooner Gaza can evolve into a Mediterranean Islamist beach paradise – a Beirut without alcohol, scantily clad women or Shia (at least not out in the open) – the better for all (foreign) parties concerned.”

      • tree on May 2, 2013, 3:01 am

        I watched the episode and its actually quite good. I suspect Mayhem’s too indoctrinated to realize that it doesn’t portray Israel in a bad light, nor does it portray Gazans in a bad light. (That’s assuming he even watched it himself. He may have simply read the article about it that he posted.)

        According to the TV show, the boom has everything to do with the fact that Gaza is under siege, and that Israel has destroyed so many buildings there. There are tunnel millionaires because tunnels are the only way that construction materials can get in. There are areas that are high priced because, for instance they are near to UN quarters and its assumed they won’t be bombed by Israel in the future, and there are inexpensive areas that people would prefer not to live in because they feel its likely that Israel will bomb the same areas again in the future. Near to the border with Israel, or close to the beach in some places, are considered dangerous areas to live, and so those prices stay down. The population is growing but limited to a small area, and people who’s house have been destroyed need new places to live, plus the tunnels have made a few millionaires, so thus the boom. As the blurb on the you-tube video says, “In war-torn Gaza, ‘Location, Location, Location’ means finding an apartment in one of the highly sought-after areas that are usually not shelled or hit by missiles.”

  6. W.Jones on April 30, 2013, 12:25 pm

    Thanks for the photos.

  7. James Canning on April 30, 2013, 7:35 pm

    Great photos. Bravo.

  8. ckg on May 1, 2013, 11:24 pm

    Pabelmont & W. Jones– you both have a point. Christian Palestinians as a group exhibit a modicum of physical features which may reflect western intermarriage from both 12th/13th and 20th/21st centuries.

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