When an Israeli air raid destroyed Walaa Sobeh’s house and much of her neighborhood, the Palestinian Muslim sought shelter in Gaza’s oldest church.
At the Church of Saint Porphyrius, she found not just sanctuary, but a feeling of belonging to “one family” — united by both the terror of bombs exploding around them and a hope that they could survive Israel’s attacks.
So she telephoned other relatives in north Gaza and asked them to make their way to the church, too. Sobeh and her family are among hundreds of Palestinians across different faiths who have found safety — at least for now — at the church.
At a time when the deadly Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza have sparked a surge in Islamophobia in parts of the world, the Greek Orthodox church has emerged as an emblem of a deeper identity as Palestinians.
“We are here living the day, not sure if we can make it to the night. But what eases our pain is the humble and warm spirit of everyone around,” Sobeh said. She described receiving “enormous support from the priests and other people in the church who volunteer tirelessly around the clock to help the displaced families”.
So far, the church has escaped Israeli missiles.
“The Israeli military has bombed many places of sanctuary,” said Father Elias, a priest at Saint Porphyrius, adding that he was “not sure that Israel won’t bomb the church”, even though it provides shelter for hundreds of civilians.
Israeli bombs have hit several mosques and schools sheltering people whose homes have been blown up.
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