Father Manuel Musallem speaks in a deep baritone. His voice is rich and soothing and his words determined. I study my surroundings as I listen to his sermon.

Half a dozen candles flicker at the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary and about 200 worshippers fill the pews, dressed in their Sunday best. Young boys twitch in their seats, struggling to sit still through the service.

As I stand here in Gaza, in the holy land, the images of the Last Supper, the birth of Jesus and his baptism in the river Jordan take on new meaning.

I am aware that 2,000 years ago these events took place nearby. All of a sudden this church feels indeed holy to me.

The sermon is partly in English, partly in Arabic. Father Musallem speaks with passion about the role of Christians here.

“We will not leave Gaza. We will stay here in Gaza. Here we were born, here we will die. We will not give up,'' he tells the congregation at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Zeitoun, a city near the centre of the Gaza Strip.

Though there are many Christian Palestinians scattered throughout the world, very few remain in Gaza.

At present they are less than 1 per cent of the population of the tiny, densely populated strip bordered by Egypt to the west and Israel to the east and south.

One source estimates that of the 3,000 Christians in Gaza, only about 200 are Roman Catholics, another 50 are Baptists and the majority are Orthodox.

Most Christians say they have strong relations with the Muslim majority.

Father Musallem asks not to refer to them as the Christian community. “We are all people of Palestine. We are suffering together. We will continue to suffer together. We protect each other.''

The Christian community has been dwindling over the decades. With no accurate statistics it is impossible to know exactly how many have gone or how many remain.

Mahalady Missak attends the Catholic Church. “All of them, the Armenian Christians, went to America about ten years ago. Most of the Christians that remain are Orthodox.

"There are less than 3,000 left here in Gaza. Earlier there were good relations, now I don't know what they think about Christians,'' she says of the ruling party, Hamas.

Abu Fouad, a photographer, says there have been no problems between the Christian and the Muslim communities.

“There's no difference for Christians before or after Hamas. There are no problems. They once kidnapped a Christian but these days there are no problems. ... Everyone is getting on with their life.

"If I respect you, you'll respect me and there'll be no problems. My neighbours — Muslim neighbours — love me, respect me.

"There are no problems. Some of them try to make trouble but not all. The issue of Muslims and Christians gives me a headache.''

He says life is more impersonal now that the population is bigger. “I've been here for more than 50 years. In the olden days it was better — Christians and Muslims used to mix a lot more.''

Most members of the Christian community were spared during the recent bombing by the Israelis. But not all.

Manerva Salama Saber lost her son Naseem Abu Salama Saber, 25. “Tell the world. Tell the world the truth about what happened.

The situation is dangerous. [The Israelis] have to start to value life. Because this is no life,'' she says.

“My son went to a shop to buy something. He came under a missile strike. He was taken to hospital, where he died.

"A missile also hit our home. The building was destroyed. I will be sad until the day I die, until the end of the world.''

Who does she hold responsible for her son's death? “I blame Israel. They bombed Gaza. They used tanks and aeroplanes.''

She says the world needs to recognise the plight of the Gazans. “We are the living dead here.''

The Rosary Sisters school was targeted during the Israeli incursion. The deputy director leads me to a room full of rubble.

Desks are tossed over, concrete chunks litter the floor and there is a huge hole on the wall.

“I don't know if the attack was carried out by an aeroplane or a tank,'' she says.

The government building next door might have been the target, she added. “Three bombs hit the other building. The fourth hit the school.''

It was the first day of airstrikes and the school was empty. “The children had left early and they were very afraid. They left their books and bags behind.''

In the old city of Gaza is the 4th-century Greek Orthodox Church of St Perfidious. Three members of the congregation show me around the church and the graveyard.

Like about half the Palestinians in Gaza, they are unemployed. So they have the time to talk.

“We live with Muslims. We eat with them, go to each other's weddings. I have worked at an institution with many Muslims. It was fine. Life was the same before Hamas as after.

"There are problems between Christians and Muslims in other parts of the world. Not here,'' says Joel Saba, who is showing me around. “There is no discrimination in jobs or in schools.''

He says all Palestinians are in the same boat. “Muslims can't find work just as much as Christians. This man has been unemployed for ten years,'' he points to his friend. “His sister left university in 2003 and she hasn't found a job.''

What about tensions between the two communities? “During the war, both Christians and Muslims took shelter together in the church. We brought them food and water,'' he says.

Saba admits Christians are leaving. “There were only seven Baptist families in Gaza. Now they have left,'' he says.

But they are leaving for economic reasons, he adds. “Some left for Canada and the United States. They're going for the money, like everybody else.''

Tawfiq Khader, who attends St Perfidious, also denies there is tension between communities.

However, his brother was kidnapped and killed in 2006 when remarks by Pope Benedict about Islam angered Muslims worldwide, Khader says. He himself was kidnapped and later released.

He says Christians in Gaza are “a shrinking community''. “In 10 to 15 years it will be very small. How can I raise my children in a war?'' he asks.

“It's better to raise them somewhere else. Maybe in 10 to 15 years there will be no Christians left here.''

Tolerance seems to be the message that most Christians in Gaza preach. They respect their neighbours and ask that their neighbours respect them. They believe all Palestinians have been persecuted by the Israelis.

“It is not easy now to tell a Christian or a Muslim to love the Israelis. It is impossible,'' says Father Musallem about the ongoing conflict.

“But we should do that in the future. We say to the Israelis at this time, it is not by hate, by war, by death, by destruction that you build peace – peace is built by peace.

"Because you intend to live among us be careful — when your house is of glass don't throw stones at the houses of others.''