ISRAEL: An airstrike damaging a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza: Investigation

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights without Frontiers

HRWF (25.10.2023) – On 20 October, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, the annex of the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church, the oldest church still in use in Gaza (12th century), which was said to be sheltering hundreds of people, was damaged in a fatal Israeli airstrike on Gaza City.


Palestinian health officials claimed that at least 16 Palestinian Christians were among the 18 people killed in the blast, reported The Washington Post. At least 20 others were injured.


On 7 October, the attack of Hamas on Israeli communities near the border with Gaza killed at least 1,400 civilians, including over 30 Americans. Moreover, Hamas took over 200 Israeli and foreign hostages to Gaza that it is using as a human shield and a bargaining chip.


The atrocities perpetrated by Hamas were filmed by its own fighters themselves and uploaded on internet. A few days ago, the Israeli authorities screened in camera a 42-minute movie including Hamas videos and other sources for foreign press correspondents. The images were so intolerable that some of them left the screening room.


An increasing number of Middle East experts consider that Hamas has been islamized and is now using the same cruel fighting methods as the terrorist group ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) applied to the Yezidi and Christian minorities under its rule.


Israel’s position: collateral damage, not intentional

The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) confirmed that a portion of the church had been damaged during an airstrike intended to destroy Hamas military compounds but maintained that the church itself was not the intended target.


“As a result of the IDF strike, a wall of a church in the area was damaged. We are aware of reports on casualties. The incident is under review,” the Israeli military said, adding that they “can unequivocally state that the Church was not the target of the strike.”


Orthodox Times: Excerpt

“Witnesses told AFP that a place nearby appeared to be the target of the strike, where many Gaza civilians had fled as the war raged in the Palestinian enclave.

The Israeli army admitted that it carried out an airstrike in the area yesterday.

“Earlier today (Thursday) Israeli military fighter jets attacked the command and control center of a Hamas terrorist who was involved in firing rockets and shells at Israel,” an army spokesman said.

This center “served to launch attacks against Israel and there was a terrorist infrastructure of the terrorist organization Hamas,” the spokeperson said.

It is noteworthy that the number of Christians in the Gaza Strip has decreased in recent years. It is estimated that there are less than a thousand left (most of whom are Orthodox), while before Hamas took power in Gaza (2007), there were more than seven thousand Christians. (Source: Orthodox Times)

The Christian Post: Excerpt

“As a result of the IDF strike, a wall of a church in the area was damaged. We are aware of reports on casualties. The incident is under review,” the Israeli military said, adding that they “can unequivocally state that the Church was not the target of the strike.”


Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias, who was at the site, said the strike “hit the offices and the entrance of the monastery,” according to The Orthodox Times.


“They were bombarded with a missile and the whole building collapsed. There were Christians inside, many of whom have been injured. They have to bring bulldozers, so we can see how many people are under the rubble,” the archbishop added. (Source: The Christian Post)


Statement of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

On 23 October, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem expressed its strongest condemnation of the Israeli airstrike that have struck its church compound in the city of Gaza.

The Patriarchate emphasized that targeting churches and their institutions, along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored.

The Patriarchate added that despite the evident targeting of the facilities and shelters of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and other churches – including the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem Hospital, other schools, and social institutions – the Patriarchate, along with the other churches, remain committed to fulfilling its religious and moral duty in providing assistance, support, and refuge to those in need, amidst continuous Israeli demands to evacuate these institutions of civilians and the pressures exerted on the churches in this regard.

Finally, the Patriarchate stresses that it will not abandon its religious and humanitarian duty, rooted in its Christian values, to provide all that is necessary in times of war and peace alike. (Source: Orthodox Times)

Hamas, a terrorist organization in Israel, the US and the EU

Hamas is listed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU.

The United States designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation in 1995, as did Canada in November 2002 and the United Kingdom in November 2021.

The European Union designated Hamas’ military wing a terrorist group in 2001 and Hamas itself in 2003. Hamas challenged this decision, which was upheld by the European Court of Justice in 2021. Japan and New Zealand have designated the military wing of Hamas as a terrorist organization. The organization is banned in Jordan.

Hamas is not regarded as a terrorist organization by Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Russia, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, China, Egypt, Syria, and Brazil.

Photo Source: Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church Orthodox Times

Further reading about FORB in Israel on HRWF website