Baptist pastor Hanna Massad speaks openly about what he sees happening as he helps to shelter Gaza’s Christians and others during the current conflict.
The summer of violence in Gaza and Israel on Tuesday entered its fifth week after rockets, fired from inside Gaza, broke the latest ceasefire. After the attack, Israel recalled its negotiators from peace talks in Cairo, and Israeli forces launched new airstrikes.
Since the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, the IDF has completed 1,300 air strikes, and ground troops have destroyed more than 30 cross-border tunnels. Since January, combatants inside Gaza have fired about 3,000 rockets into Israel. It is the deadliest conflict between Palestinians and Israelis since the Second Intifada, which ended in 2005. As of mid-August, more than 2,000 have died in the current conflict, including 1,975 Gazans (combatants included), 64 Israeli soldiers, and two Israeli civilians.
The Christian minority inside Gaza has not been spared fatalities. But it has also offered shelter, food, education, and medical care to hundreds of Gazans. Hanna Massad, former pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church, has been coordinating Christian aid efforts from his current pastorate in Amman, Jordan. Massad is a graduate of Bethlehem Bible College and earned a doctorate in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. There have been Christians in Gaza since the third century.
Timothy C. Morgan, senior editor, global journalism, and journalist Deann Alford interviewed Massad recently by phone and email as the conflict continued. CT is pursuing a similar interview from the perspective of Christians inside Israel on the latest conflict.
What are Christians inside Gaza telling you?
I was happy to hear about the ceasefire. This morning the news was that, unfortunately, the fighting has continued. Several times daily I communicate with Gaza by phone or Skype. Water supplies are very low in Gaza. There’s little or no electricity. I’ve spoken with my Muslim neighbors and Christians. All are waiting and anxious about what will happen next.
Are Gazans being sheltered in churches?
Gaza Baptist Church hasn’t been damaged, but it's next door to Gaza’s main police station, which is a target. The bombs have made it too dangerous for Baptist church members to meet. But thousands of Muslims have found refuge in other churches that have opened their doors to refugees. My neighbor called to ask if he and his family could move into my family home in Gaza. Now there’s almost 100 people living in my house. People throughout Gaza are taking care of each other.
Eastern Gaza is very dangerous. Most of north Gaza borders Israel. Through the Christian Mission to Gaza that I founded in 1999 and in partnership with Bethlehem Bible Society and Gaza Baptist Church, we’ve supplied food relief to hundreds of Muslim and Christians. Our goal is to help 1,000 families.
How many Christians remain in Gaza?
Four hundred families. Two months ago there were 1,333 individuals—mostly Greek Orthodox, Catholics, and Baptists.
How should Christians understand this conflict?
A Jew killing a Palestinian or Palestinian killing a Jew are symptoms of the problem. The root of the problem is the Israeli occupation of Gaza. As Christians we know there won’t be any peace in peoples’ lives without the Prince of Peace. But as long as this occupation continues, there will not really be a solution.
Even before the war, Gaza suffered more than 40 percent unemployment, while 80 percent of Gazans have been going to charities for food. We as Christians provide relief to both Christians and Muslims through the Christian Mission to Gaza, which reflects God’s love in a practical way. I teach in the Bethlehem Bible College extension campus in Gaza. We hope and pray that through these ministries we reflect Christ’s love in Gaza.