Christian population in Gaza dwindling as residents seek way out of Israeli blockade

Palestinians take part in a rally organised by Islamic Jihad in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 18, 2015, in support of what organisers said is a Palestinian uprising against Israel.Reuters

Young Christian Ibrahim Tarazi has an engineering degree but has no job in Gaza. This sad reality is making the young lad think of leaving the Palestinian region.

"I am trying to find any way to get out. All the youth are suffering here, all of them are trying to leave," Tarazi said, in an article published by USA Today.

Tarazi said the thought of Christians leaving Gaza pains him, but the circumstances are giving them little reason to stay.

"Nobody would leave if we had a life here," he said. "If the situation remains the same then the numbers will keep going down, but I can't see any future where it is better."

Tarazi is just one of the Christians in Gaza trying to leave the area where they have lived and prayed since the birth of Jesus. The Christian community in the region is believed to be declining at a rate of 5 percent per year, and more are thinking of packing their bags and leaving.

Jaber Jilder, an official with the Greek Orthodox Church, attributed the Christians' exodus out of Gaza to the ongoing Israeli blockade of the region, which restricts movement and the flow of goods.

"People might think we're leaving because of Hamas, but no it's because of ... [Israeli] policies on Gaza," Jilder told USA Today.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the blockade, saying it prevents the entry of illegal weapons into Gaza. The World Bank, however, earlier pointed out that the economy in Gaza is on the "verge of collapse" due to this restriction.

Jilder further admitted that some Christians might use the Christmas season, when they are allowed to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem, to leave Gaza and settle somewhere else.

"Most of our community have no opportunities. There are no jobs, especially after university," the Greek Orthodox Church official said. "I hear this Christmas about 50 people will leave Gaza ... but they won't return."