The freedom to praise Christ

Life for Christians in Gaza is tough, not least from Hamas and Israeli bombardment:

To be a Christian in Gaza these days requires discretion. When I approached a group of Christians lunching in a beachside hotel — they were identifiable because the women did not wear Islamic headscarves — they insisted that Hamas is tolerant of their faith. But one man grabbed my sleeve and pulled me aside. “We can’t talk openly. Hamas leave us alone. But there are many [Gazans] who are more fanatical, and they hate us,” he said.

The young Christian says that in 2007 the manager of a Christian bookstore in Gaza was shot dead. Early last year, he adds, armed gunmen stormed the local YMCA and tossed a bomb into the library, destroying thousands of books. Hamas condemned both attacks but never made any arrests. The head of a Christian relief organization was also asked by Hamas to leave Gaza after accusations that his staff were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. One Catholic nun from Slovenia brushed aside these worries. “We practice our faith, but we do it quietly,” she says. “And people here respect us.”

But Hamas, according to this Time report, is the least of their concerns:

Throughout the Holy Land, an exodus of Christians is taking place. The official Israeli line is that the Christians inside the Palestinian territories are leaving because the Islamists are harassing them. But Christians deny this. Instead, they blame the Israeli “security fence” enclosing Bethlehem and its nearby hilltop Christian villages which blocks the free movement of Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, inside the West Bank. Still, it is nowhere near as restrictive as the closure around Gaza.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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