I’ve written before about talking to Palestinian Christians in Israel back in the year 2000, and hearing them tell me they hated the Israelis, but they were absolutely terrified of Palestinian Islamists. As bad as the Israelis were for Palestinians, they told me, if Hamas takes over, it will be much worse.
There hasn’t been a Christmas tree in Gaza City’s main square since Hamas pushed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in 2007 and Christmas is no longer a public holiday.
Imad Jelda is an Orthodox Christian who runs a youth training centre in Gaza City. With unemployment hovering at 23%, he has seen young Christian men leave to study and work abroad in their droves. “People here do not celebrate Christmas anymore because they are nervous,” Jelda said. “The youth in particular have a fear inside themselves.”
Karam Qubrsi, 23, and his younger brother Peter, 21, are the eldest sons in one of Gaza’s 55 remaining Catholic families. Both wear prominent wooden crucifixes. “Jesus tells me, ‘if you can’t carry my cross, you don’t belong to me,'” Peter explained. It’s a demonstration of faith that has caused him some trouble.
He describes being stopped in the street by a Hamas official who told him to remove the cross. “I told him it’s not his business and that I wouldn’t,” Peter said. After being threatened with arrest he was eventually let go, but the incident scared him.
The brightly decorated tree in the Qubrsis’ living room sits at odds with the sombre mood. Their sisters Rani, 29, and Mai, 27, left Gaza in 2007 when the 30-year-old manager of Gaza’s Bible Society bookstore, where their husbands worked, was shot dead, having been accused by radical elements of proselytising. They now live in Bethlehem.
This, I fear, is what’s coming to Arab Christians in Syria. It’s what’s coming to Coptic Christians in Egypt. Remember, Christian, as you celebrate the birth of Jesus in peace and security tonight, that there are many of your brothers and sisters in the Muslim world who cannot do so, in fear for their lives.