Bethlehem and Nazareth cancel Christmas celebrations to mourn the targeting of civilians in Gaza 

London, 22nd December 2023- The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians condemns the ongoing systematic targeting of mosques and churches in Gaza. On Saturday 16th December, mother and daughter Nahida and Samar were shot and killed inside the premises of Holy Family Church, Gaza’s only Roman Catholic Church. Seven more people were reportedly wounded in this incident.  

On the 19th October, four Israeli missiles hit the oldest church in Gaza, also believed to be the third oldest in the world, the Greek Orthodox St Porphyrius Church, killing at least 16 Christian Palestinians. At least 400-500 Christian and Muslim Palestinians were taking shelter there. 

Religious leaders around the world spoke up against these heinous crimes against the Christian Palestinians of Gaza and its churches. Amongst them are the archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal of Westminster, and the Pope, who called the killing of the two Palestinian women in the church an act of terrorism.  

British Palestinian MP Layla Moran has relatives stuck in the Holy Family Church including her grandmother, her cousin, his wife, and children after their homes were destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. The MP’s relatives reported white phosphorus and gunfire being fired into the compound. Israeli forces also destroyed the water tanks and solar panels belonging to the church, depriving those inside of their access to water and electricity sources.  

In an interview with LBC’s Nick Ferrari, Israeli Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said that there were ‘no Christians in Gaza’. The Deputy Mayor denied the existence of the Christian Palestinian community of Gaza as well as the existence of churches in an attempt to legitimise and justify further massacres against Palestinians in Gaza. 

Palestinian leaders of Christian denominations collectively decided to cancel public celebrations of Christmas across Palestine, including in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. In Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, Christmas celebrations were also cancelled. One Lutheran church in Bethlehem even created a nativity display of the baby Jesus laying amongst the rubble, instead of in a manger and swaddled in a keffiyeh. 

In the days leading up to Christmas,  Israeli forces continue to impose collective punishment and aerial bombardment on Palestinians in Gaza, whilst settler violence in the West Bank continues to rise. In Gaza, schools, hospitals and places of worship continue to be targeted and white phosphorous bombs continue to be used.  

ICJP Public Affairs and Communications Officer Jonathan Purcell said: 

“The denial of the existence Christians in Gaza is not only highly disrespectful to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, but also reckless rhetoric at best, that seemingly seeks to erase their existence. 

Palestine is quite literally the cradle of Christianity. This year, Christmas celebrations have been cancelled in Jesus’ birthplace of Bethlehem, and his hometown of Nazareth. 

For Christians across Palestine and the rest of the world, there is understandably little to celebrate when Palestinians of all faiths and none are subject to collective punishment, forced displacement and bombardment in Gaza.” 


Notes to Editors:  

  1. The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians is an independent organisation of lawyers, politicians and academics who support the rights of Palestinians and aim to protect their rights through the law.   
  1. For more information, or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson please contact the ICJP news desk at [email protected].