1. Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007 incitement and attacks against Christian institutions and those identified as Western have increased, and have included churches, Christian and UN schools, the American International School, libraries, Internet cafes, etc. Recent incidents were the detonation of bombs in Gaza City near a school run by nuns and at the entrance to a fast-food restaurant.
2. There are approximately 3,500 Christians living in the Gaza Strip, mainly in the Zeitun, al-Daraj and Sheikh Radwan neighborhoods of Gaza City . Most of them are professionals or businessmen and their socio-economic status is higher than that of the other residents. The tiny Christian minority under the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip lives in daily fear and prefers to tone down its holidays and religious and cultural activities, while some of them even consider leaving the Gaza Strip.
3. Moreover, institutions identified as Christian or with Western culture have been attacked by radical Islamic elements, some of them affiliated with the global jihad which seek to prevent the influence of Western ideas and to enforce strict Islamic codes on the daily life of the Gaza Strip. The institutions also serve as a kind of punching bag to protest perceived slights to Islam, such as the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
A Christian family leaving the Gaza Strip to celebrate Christmas
(Al-Ayyam, December 25, 2007).
4. The attitude of the ruling Hamas administration toward the attacks on the Christian and Western institutions is ambivalent. On the one hand , Hamas strives to enforce an Islamic code on the lives of the Gaza Strip residents and to increase it's control over the infiltration of Western ideas.1 High-level Hamas activists incite the residents against Christianity and the West. 2
5. A result of that ambivalence is the way Hamas has tackled the attacks, appointed "investigation committees” and paid lip-service to expressing solidarity with the Christian community. On the practical level , however, Hamas has preferred not to confront radical Islamic elements in that regard. So far it is unknown whether the perpetrators of any of the attacks have been caught and tried. In our assessment, the lack of effective action by Hamas encourages the radical Islamic elements and enables the attacks to continue.
6. Abu Mazen's Palestinian Authority and its media have condemned the attacks. On June 20, 2007 Abu Mazen gave a speech accusing Hamas of vandalizing churches when they took over the Gaza Strip. After the May 16, 2008 attack on the school run by nuns, the Presidential Committee for Christian Affairs in the Gaza Strip issued a public condemnation stating that "the repeated attacks in on national institutions in the Gaza Strip [since the Hamas takeover], especially Christian [institutions], have become a source of concern for the [PA's] presidency and for the entire Palestinian people (Al-Quds, May 17, 2008).
Attacks against Christian and Western-identified institutions in the Gaza Strip
1. Attacks against Christian and Western institutions have risen since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. In recent months there were several such incidents, the latest of which were bombs which were blown up at the entrance of a fast-food restaurant in the center of Gaza City on May 18 and near a school run by nuns on May 16.
2. The school attacked was the Rahabat al-Wardia school. It has a student body of 500, 450 of whom are Muslims. There are 35 employees, 25 of whom are Muslims. The school was attacked because its students are exposed to Western culture, which is different from the ideology radical Islamic elements seek to enforce in the Gaza Strip. In another example, radical Islamic elements opposed to Western values and ideas have recently criticized the summer camps run by international institutions because they are coeducational and the participants absorb messages opposed to what they consider the values of Islam.
Pallbearers carrying the coffin of Rami Ayad, an employee of the Bible Society in the Gaza Strip, who was abducted from his home and shot to death (Al-Ayyam, October 8, 2007).
3. The following is a list of the more notable attacks against Christian and Western institutions in the Gaza Strip during the past year.
i) On May 18, 2008 , a large IED exploded at the entrance to a fast-food restaurant near Al-Quds Open University in the center of Gaza City . The restaurant was completely destroyed. According to the owner, it was the second time his establishment had been attacked (Ma'an News Agency, May 18). Hamas's reaction was unclear.
ii) On May 16, 2008 , an IED exploded in the Rahabat al-Wardia school run by nuns in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City . Hamas condemned the incident and a call was made to the police to bring the criminals to justice. The previous year, when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, the school was subjected to thefts and an arson attack.
iii) On April 3, 2008 , a monument in the Gaza Strip's foreign nationals' cemetery was blown up. Hamas promised to investigate.
iv) On February 15, 2008 , the "Army of Islam in the Land of Ribat,” a network headed by Mumtaz Dughmush, 3 broke into the YMCA library in Gaza City and set off a bomb which caused extensive damage. The Hamas police condemned the event, calling it "a criminal act” and promising to investigate. The Hamas security forces detained a number of Army of Islam operatives but released them shortly thereafter following a threat that force would be used to free them otherwise. A meeting was held after the event attended by senior Hamas figures met with senior Christian figures to express solidarity
v) On January 10, 2008 , the so-called "Army of the Believers -- the Al-Qaeda Organization in Palestine ,” attacked the International School in Beit Lahia twice.4 Vehicles were burned and equipment was stolen. According to a statement issued two days later, the school was accused of spreading polytheism and hatred for Islam. The PA led by Abu Mazen condemned the attacks. On February 17 an editorial in the London based Al-Quds al-Arabi called upon Hamas to uncover the identity of the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
vi) On December 31, 2007 , the so-called "Friends of the Sunnah Bayt al-Maqdis” issued a manifesto on the Pal-today Website, affiliated with the PIJ, threatening to attack anyone who participated in New Year's Eve celebrations. The Hamas response was unclear.
vii) On October 6, 2007 , elements linked to Hamas abducted Rami Khadr Ayad from his home and shot him to death; he was Christian who worked for the Holy Bible Society. The Hamas administration condemned the murder and opened an investigation whose results are so far unknown. Muslims in the Gaza Strip expressed their solidarity with the victim's family.
viii) On June 19, 2007 , during the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip Hamas operatives attacked and vandalized a monastery and church.5 On June 20 Abu Mazen spoke before the Palestinian Legislative Council and used strong language to describe Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip. He said, among other things, "Even the Christian churches did not escape [from Hamas]. They looted and burned a church in Gaza [City], one of the oldest churches in Palestine ...” 6
ix) On April 21, 2007 , elements linked to the global jihad attacked the American International School in Gaza City .
x) On April 15, 2007 , a group calling itself "The Swords of Truth in the Land of Ribat ” set off bombs in two Internet cafes and a store selling Christian books, causing damage.
The Christian community in the Gaza Strip
1. The Christian community in the Gaza Strip numbers about 3,500 of a total population of 1,400,000 Sunni Muslims. Most of them live in Gaza City in five neighborhoods: Zeitun, Al-Daraj, Sheikh Radwan, Rimal and Tel al-Hawa. The most prominent Christian families are the Tarazi, Khuri, Muslem, Ayad, Hakura, al-Siagh, Farah, al-Tawil, al-Saraf and Ghatas families.
2. The Christians have a representative in Hamas's Palestinian Legislative Council, Fuad Kamal Yaakub al-Tawil, who is supported by Hamas.
3. A small part of the Christian community lived in Gaza before 1948. They possessed houses, real-estate and businesses. Their socio-economic status was higher than that of other Gaza Strip inhabitants
4. Most of the Christians living there now came as refugees from the city of Ramle during Israel 's War of Independence. They bought land and houses but nevertheless the socio-economic status was lower than that of the original Christian residents. Some of them lived in the Shati refugee camp where they were given land by the Egyptian government on which they built houses and a church. Another wave of Christians arrived with the establishment of the PA in 1994, when PLO activists returned to the Gaza Strip.
The Christian educational system
5. There are five Christian schools in the Gaza Strip, four of them Catholic and one of them Orthodox Christian. Most of the students and staff are Muslim:
i) The Holy Family School : 700 students in 12 grades, 100 Christian and 600 Muslim.
ii) The Latin Patriarch School : 550 students from kindergarten through high school, 40 Christian and 510 Muslim.
iii) The Rahabat al-Wardia School : 500 students, from kindergarten through the ninth grade, 50 Christian and 450 Muslim.
iv) The Sisters of Love Kindergarten : 120 children, 5 Christian and 115 Muslim.
v) The Orthodox Christian School : 500 students from kindergarten through the ninth grade, 100 Christian and 400 Muslim.
Christian associations and societies
6. There are a number of Christian associations and societies operating in the Gaza Strip, most of them dealing with vocational training, education and humanitarian aid to all local residents:
i) The Middle East Church Council : provides medical and vocational training for Christians and Muslims. The Council operates a number of medical clinics. The Council receives support from churches around the world.
ii) The YMCA : provides educational services and organizes social activities and vocational training courses.
iii) The Episcopalian Church Society : operates the Al-Ahli hospital, a medical center with a large library.
iv) The Society of Christ : provides medical services and runs an infirmary.
v) The Papal Delegation Society : deals primarily with building Christian institutions.
vi) The Catholic Relief Service : provides agricultural aid
Pictures of the results of attacks
Ruins of an Internet café in the Gaza Strip bombed in April 2007 (Dunia al-Watan, April 22, 2007).
Damages to the American International School in Gaza City (Ma'an News Agency, April 6, 2008).
American School in Beit Lahia school bus torched
(Info-live Website, January 13, 2008).
1 For further information see our August 31, 2007 Bulletin entitled "Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, it has intensified its activities to impose an Islamic social code” .
2 Conspicuous was the the Friday sermon given by Sheikh Yunis al-Astal, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, broadcast by Al-Aqsa TV on April 11, 2008. He said that Islam would soon conquer Rome, "the capital of the Catholics, or Crusaders,” which would then become "an advanced post for Islamic conquests which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas and even Eastern Europe” (MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1885, April 14, 2008).
3 A terrorist organization affiliated with the global jihad, in effect a branch of Al-Qaeda in the Gaza Strip.
4 For further information see our January 14, 2008 Bulletin entitled "The "Army of the Believers—the Al-Qaeda Organization in Palestine ” has claimed responsibility for two attacks on the American International School in Gaza ” .
5 That was not the first time Hamas operatives attacked a church. There was a similar incident on September 23, 2006.
6 On June 20 a column by Yussef al-Qazaz appeared in the PA's organ, Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda entitled "Crime Comes to the Churches.” It described how Hamas operatives burned a church library and attacked a school run by nuns.