The Christian community worldwide, and especially the leaders of our fellow Christians in the Middle East — in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the Gulf Sates, and not least in the Occupied Palestinian Territories — are deeply concerned about the plight of the people living in Gaza.

As we enter this new year, and as we still reflect on the recent special high and holy days of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, and al-Adha Eid, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) views with genuine alarm the worsening conditions affecting all of Gaza’s inhabitants. We are especially disturbed by the fact that the tiny minority of Christians, that already shares the suffering experienced as well by its Muslim neighbors, endures an added threat of violence and persecution by some of those very neighbors in the district.

The memory of the recent kidnapping and horrible killing of Rami Ayyad, a young man known only for his kindness and sacrificial love toward all his neighbors, and the earlier destruction of the Bible Society bookstore that he had managed, has haunted the Christians of Gaza. Seemingly empty promises of Gaza’s political leaders to bring perpetrators to justice have not alleviated the fear and sense of despair now deeply ingrained in the Christians’ hearts.

We denounce Israel’s refusal to allow humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, creating starvation, lack of medical care, and other catastrophic conditions for innocent non-combatants in Gaza. We continue to condemn and call for an end of the Israeli occupation. But we also deplore provocative acts of retaliation and expect the leadership of Hamas to exert restraint. Through it all, we call on the Hamas leaders to exercise responsibility for protecting and keeping all of Gaza’s Palestinians — Christians and Muslims alike — safe and secure from invidious religious intolerance and from abhorrent sectarian violence. Neither Israel’s actions or policies, nor Hamas’s apparent indifference or inaction, are acceptable as excuses for hostilities perpetrated by Muslim Palestinians against Christian Palestinians.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has continued, and will continue, to extend all possible humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without discrimination, through partner social service institutions in the Gaza District, while it will also continue to work for an end to the Israeli Occupation. We will also continue to pray to Almighty God, for whom nothing is impossible, that peace, justice, liberation, reconciliation, and mutual respect and care will prevail among all the children of Abraham.

The Reverend Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick is Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).