The 'forgotten faithful' of Gaza
Christian charities are undertaking a new project to help understand the lives of believers in Gaza, where the number of Christians has dropped dramatically in recent decades.
Development charity Embrace the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission in Jerusalem and the Gaza YMCA are working together to survey local Christians for a new report that will give fresh insight into a community that has not been officially examined for over half a century.
An unofficial census commissioned by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1993 was the last study undertaken on Christians in the region, and the most recent official census took place a staggering 47 years go in 1967.
Increasing persecution in the Middle Eastern region in addition to unstable political structures has resulted in many believers leaving the country. Since1967, the number of Christians in Gaza is thought to have dropped from 2,305 – 0.6 per cent of the total population – to an estimated 1,500, representing less than 0.1 per cent.
There has never been, however, a comprehensive socio-economic study of the Christian community in Gaza, and charities are therefore keen to uncover more about this largely forgotten body of believers, most of whom identify with the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.
"The Palestinian Christian community in Gaza is tiny but determined," says Jeremy Moodey, chief executive of Embrace the Middle East.
"Media reports can sometimes be distorted and unhelpful, but for the first time in more than 50 years we are finally researching the size and make-up of the community, how it has changed since the Oslo accords of 1993 and the special challenges facing Christians in Gaza."
Volunteers have already begun visiting Christian homes in the region to collect data which will be compiled to assess social, medical, educational and economic needs, which Embrace and its partners will then use to formulate an effective and appropriate response.
Moodey says the information gathered will be "vital" in supporting those who have chosen to stay in Gaza, despite the difficulties.
"Gaza's Christian community is under great pressure, both from the continued blockade of the territory by Egypt and Israel, which threatens a humanitarian catastrophe, and by the Islamist government in Gaza," he says.
"We want to support this community in their presence and their witness, and this survey will be a vital building block in our own endeavours and those of our partners."