COLUMNIST: There are Christians in Gaza, too, and they are dying as well

L ike other Palestinians and Israelis with family members in Palestine/Israel, I have found the latest and unprecedented outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas hitting closer and closer to home. My dread became reality on Oct. 20 upon hearing from Tanya, one of my relatives. Her family lost a loved one who had been sheltering in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius in Gaza, one of the world's oldest churches. An Israeli airstrike hit one of the four compounds of the church, killing 18 Palestinian Christians, and injuring at least 20.

Amidst the grief, Tanya reminded us to celebrate Aunt Elaine, our relative, who was a devoted teacher and school principal.

Then a message from former Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who is Palestinian American, went viral. In a post with more than 20 million views, Amash announced that several of his relatives, including two of his cousins, Viola and Yara, were also killed in the church blast. He added a picture of the two young women, dressed in Christmas colors, with holiday lights, a wreath, tree decorations and a Santa hat behind them.

While most Palestinian Christians in the Occupied Territories reside in the West Bank, the number of Christians in Gaza, and across Palestine/Israel, has been dwindling to less than 2 percent of the overall Palestinian population. Most members of these communities have migrated to Europe and North America seeking economic stability and peace of mind.

There is fear now that the Christian presence in Gaza, and across Palestine, may ultimately disappear altogether. The rubble lying around the Church of St. Porphyrius is heartbreaking, particularly when considering its symbolism for the community and the church's rich history.

Palestinian Christians, descendants of the oldest Christian communities, feel largely abandoned by the world--particularly by other Christian communities in Western countries--who seem indifferent or even hostile to the Palestinian struggle for freedom and human rights.

Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, are subjected to collective punishment from Israeli bombardment, and we are praying for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. UN officials have called for the prevention of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Gaza. A recent poll also found that 80 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans believe that the United States should call for a cease-fire.

I hope that every form of violence and oppression in Palestine/Israel will end--sooner rather than later--so that Jews, Christians and Muslims can share the land as equal neighbors. Regardless of faith or ethnicity, we deserve to live in peace and security.

Sa'ed Atshan is a professor of peace and conflict studies and anthropology at Swarthmore College.