Gaza for Missionaries

Palestinians collect their belongings after an Israeli air strike. Gaza City, August 2014.

Gaza—the outpost of Africa, and the door of Asia—is situated in the south-west of Palestine, and is only about twelve miles to the north of Rafah (formerly Raphia), which marks the Turko-Egyptian boundary, running down to Akaba.

Who founded the city is unknown! It is the commercial and administrative centre of all the surrounding sixty-two villages, and for many of the Bedouin tribes who pitch their tents in the plains.

The area of Gaza is about 2,100 square kilometres. The present city is about two miles from the sea and lies on an artificial mound which is about 100 feet high above the plain, and 180 feet above the seashore. Five minarets break the outline of the flat roofs. There are no scavengers. The encroachment of rolling dunes of sand is one of the most serious evils now to be dreaded on the coast of Palestine. Nothing is done to arrest this enemy around Gaza.

The trade and commerce of Gaza are almost exclusively confined to the gathering in and exportation of barley, which is grown on the plain of Philistia, and in the neighbourhood of Beersheba. The majority of the inhabitants of the city and district obtain their livelihood from this trade alone. The widespread olive groves to the north and north-east, however, produces a considerable amount of soap, which Gaza exports in large quantities.

The average orange crop of late years has been good. The fruit is excellent. It is better than that of Jaffa, both in taste and in size. Eight thousand boxes were exported, chiefly to Great Britain, in 1910 (valued at £8,000). The soil is rich and excellent for the purpose.

Gaza has no harbour or any convenient facility for shipping cargo. A pier was constructed in 1906, but it proved a complete failure, on account of it being inadequate to meet the need. It should have been built 120 yards longer. In 1909 the violence of the waves during that winter destroyed about one-third of it.

No banks are permanently established in Gaza. All money transactions are carried on through the banks of Jaffa.  The Swastika is constantly found as the distinguishing mint-mark of Gaza, for example on Plate XI of the Numismatique de la Palestine. Gaza coins sport both the sign of the male Swastika and the more common female Swastika revolving in the opposite direction.

The Swastika is an Eastern symbol of the sun and is occasionally known as Gammadion, and the mystic Fylfot. The latest idea formed regarding the Swastika is, that it may be a form of the old wheel symbolism and that it represents the solar system. It is often connected with the Sun, as in the Island of Melos, first colonised by Phoenicia.

Gaza’s population is currently estimated to be about 70,000, including the surrounding villages. The fellahin form the bulk of the population—mostly of the poorer classes. The non-increase of population is due to the bad harvests of the last few years. 

As a consequence of the drought in 1905, 15,000 residents of the city and district, chiefly of the poorer classes, migrated to Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Nazareth, Damascus and Egypt, owing to the exactions of the government, and the high rate of interest demanded by the Effendis to whom they were indebted. This exodus is only a temporary misfortune. The population of Gaza is said at one time to have outnumbered that of Jerusalem.

Many Jews have been making inquiries with the view of purchasing land in this district, and especially over the boundary at Rafah. During the Hellenistic period, the Jews resorted to the Gaza fairs. Frequent mention is made of these fairs by Rabbinical authorities. In fact, the fairs in Gaza were always famed throughout Palestine.

There is no record to show that the Jews obtained any stronghold in Gaza during pagan times. Pompey liberated Gaza around 65 BC, which had been subjected to the Jews since the times of the Maccabees, and restored the city to its freedom.

With the institutions of Pompey, the freedom of the Jewish people, after having existed for scarcely eighty years, if we reckon it as beginning in 142 BC, was completely overthrown. Gaza’s people today are exclusively Muslims, with the exception of two Coptic officials. The town is beautifully clean. There is here a magnificent field for missionary enterprise.

Until the last seven years, the numerous hordes of 100,000 Bedouins within the Beersheba district were under the government of Gaza. They swarm the desert towards the south in the winter months, and then move northwards, up the Philistia plain, for herbage. Even in Christian families, until about thirty years ago, slaves were sold in Gaza.

The misgovernment of Gaza and its district is worse under the Young Turks than under the late régime. But the missionary work in the Gaza compound is indeed a bright spot in the city, and the persistent Christian teaching—boldly proclaimed—is bearing fruit in unexpected quarters.

Holy enthusiasm is bound to tell in the course of time. The leavening influence of Christian teaching is unquestionably having far-reaching effects.

Indeed, it is a far cry from the reign of Julian, when the pagans of Gaza attempted to destroy the church built by St. Hilarion.

During this revolt, Eusebius, a Gaza Christian, with his brothers Nestabis and Zeno, were thrown into prison, beheaded, and their bodies were burned outside the city walls, on a spot used for the disposal of dead animals. This persecution induced all the Christians to leave Gaza. 

There were supposed to be, in 1907, about one hundred and sixty Jews in Gaza (of whom thirty were Sephardim). We don’t know what became of them. The slave market has been abolished for about twenty years.

Adapted from Gaza: A City of Many Battles (1913) by Theodor Dowling, DD. Photograph courtesy of United Nations Photo. Published under a Creative Commons license.