Note: Due to the sheer amount of evocative and telling photography coming out of Palestine, we have transitioned our weekly photograph features into daily photograph features and will continue uploading images on a daily basis until further notice.
Photo credit: Lefteris Pitarakis
Date taken: July 23, 2014
Location: Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Palestine
Palestinians take shelter inside of the St. Porphyrios Church in Gaza City. Following fierce shelling in surrounding neighborhoods, the Greek Orthodox Church opened its doors to Palestinians who fled there homes but had no place else to go. Over 600 Palestinians had been killed on Wednesday when this photograph was captured. As of Saturday morning, at least 867 Palestinians were confirmed dead since Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip began on July 8.
Israel and its supporters frequently frame the situation in Palestine as fight for survival against anti-Semitism rather than as a heavy military occupation. What this has done is construct the false premise that people who oppose the occupation actually oppose Judaism. This couldn’t be any further from the truth, of course, but it’s become such a pervasive attitude that we sometimes unknowingly fall into it ourselves.
When I first found this photograph, one of my initial reactions was to highlight the refreshing nature of the scene: Christians, who are the minority in Palestine, opening their doors to Muslims in an awesome display of humanity. Perhaps that’s why so many news agencies reported this feel-good story. Perhaps that’s why I’ve insisted on featuring it.
But this kind of mutuality between faiths has historically always been the case in Palestine. Prior to the Jewish paramilitary-led expulsion and widespread murder of Palestinians that preceded Israel’s establishment, coexistence between members of all faiths was the norm. Religious difference was the last thing on everyone’s mind. Still today, Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims regularly live, laugh, and love with one another. Christians help distribute food for fasting Muslims on the streets of Ramallah during Ramadan and Muslims help decorate Bethlehem for Christmas festivities, for example. There is nothing spectacular about something so standard.
Nevertheless, the fact that this photograph can remind us of similar displays of humanity throughout the course of history really gives it weight.