The Western media has shown the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in predominantly one way: Palestinian Muslim extremists against civilized Israelis. In doing so, the conflict has been dangerously oversimplified into little more than Palestinian religious intolerance.

Today, Palestinian Christians are approximately 8% of the West Bank population, 10% of Israeli Arabs, and number around 1,500 in Gaza. Although the Palestinian Territories are not as religiously diverse as other Arab countries, Palestinian Christians have a notable presence and played an important role in the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The existence of Palestinian Christians is very rarely mentioned in the Western media. When this group is discussed, it is as a “victim” of Muslim hegemony. Contrary to this perception, it is not their Muslim neighbors that place travel restrictions on themdesecrate their churches, or attempt conscription, but rather the Israeli government. While the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Palestine is not without its problems,  a vast majority of these conflicts are tied to misconceptions about the Palestinian Christian community rather than religious intolerance. It is also worth noting that Palestinian officials, including those from Hamas, have denounced acts of violence committed against the Christian community in Palestine.

In fact, the current situation in Gaza has turned the territory’s only Greek Orthodox church into something U.N. buildings could not accomplish: a refuge for internally displaced Palestinian Muslims. They have flocked to the Church of Saint Porphyrius, which was seen as a “neutral zone” (the church has since been hit by tank shells). The Church of Saint Porphyrius is not the only church or Christian school to open its doors to non-Christians in Gaza: the Holy Family School, run by the Latin Catholic Church, is currently housing 800 refugees.

Even as the bombardment continues, leading Christian figures have actively visited the wounded and held prayer services for those in Gaza; churches have prepared iftar meals for Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan. Although these gestures have fostered solidarity in the community, Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexios is unsure how much longer Christian establishments can be sanctuaries for Gaza’s besieged population. In his words, “The church will continue to offer a safe haven to the people, though I am not sure whether the church is immune from Israeli attacks.”

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