Targeting Gaza’s Christian Community

By Ahmed Yousef

The bombing of the YMCA library in Gaza is the latest in a series of attacks on Christian or Western institutions since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2006. The perpetrators of this latest crime have yet to be identified.

Whoever is responsible we can be sure that their prime motive is to undermine the credibility of the Hamas government. These actions are designed not only to project an image of lawlessness that tarnishes the government’s achievements in creating a sense of law and order in Gaza but also to question its commitment to protect the rights of all our citizens regardless of their religious beliefs.

Muslims and Christians in Gaza have always enjoyed a good neighborly relationship. A good example of this is the fact that over 80% of the pupils at local Christian run school are Muslims. We have suffered together for the past sixty years. As Palestinians, We are united in our resistance to Israeli occupation.

Since last June, Hamas and Christian leaders have met on several occasions to express their solidarity. Given our united history, it seems clear that the perpetrators of these despicable crimes are driven more by political motives than religious conviction. Their intention can only be to create an atmosphere of distrust and to destabilize the brotherly relationship that we have enjoyed over the centuries.

Reactions to the attack on the library confirm this opinion. Issa Saba, the secretary general of the YMCA in Gaza, dismissed the claim that this was a religiously motivated crime. He linked it with other criminal acts intended to create a state of insecurity and chaos. He called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Many prominent members of the Muslim Scholars’ Association, declared the attack to be unacceptable, and an obvious attempt to undermine the historical ties between Muslims and Christians in Palestine.

Christians account for 2.5% of the total population of Palestine. They mount to a significantly higher percentage if one considers Palestinian Christians in diaspora.

Three thousand six hundred live in Gaza where they run five schools, a hospital and medical centre. There are four active Christian associations, a large library and rehabilitation centre. They are active in distributing charitable aid to the poor regardless of their religious affiliation. In addition, they organize their own social community activities. Since coming to power, Hamas has respected their independence and has never attempted to interfere with their activities.

Visiting Christian delegations have always been received and welcomed by the Prime Minister, Ismael Hanniya, as a mark of solidarity and respect.

Hamas remains committed to maintaining those good relationships. We unequivocally condemn acts of violence against Christians and are determined that the perpetrators be brought to justice. We will not allow them to undermine the fabric of our society.

It is clear to us that those responsible for destroying a building that was used by all Palestinians wanted to demonize Hamas in the eyes of the outside world by depicting the movement as an intolerant strain of Islam. They will not succeed in their attempts to create such divisions. Hamas will remain steadfast to our traditional values and continue to protect the rights of all Palestinians regardless of their beliefs.

(Photo: Palestinian Christian children stand outside the Latin Church in Gaza City; Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

– Dr. Ahmed Yousef is the senior political adviser to the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Gaza. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com

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