Friday, July 27, 2012

"We aren't safe anymore.  This is a conspiracy against our existence in the Holy Land."
 Among Gaza's 1.7-million Muslims, there remain fewer than 3,000 Palestinian Christians.  These are devout Christians living amongst devout Muslims.  These are Christians living their traditional way of life in an area of the world where Christianity had its birth; the crucible of the faith in the ancient Middle East.  In total it is estimated that 160,000 Christians inhabit the Holy Land.

There are 110,000 Palestinian Christians living within Israel.  The remainder live in the West Bank and Gaza, according to a Palestinian researcher.  It is mostly Greek Orthodox Christians living in Gaza.  And they live among, work among, attend academia among, ferociously devoted Muslims.  Who tend to look askance at the presence among them of Palestinians who choose not to be part of the world of Islam.

The Christian community provides private schools for their young.  Most Christian youth attend public high schools, and the only post-secondary institutions available to them are Muslim institutes of higher learning.  While there, they are faced continually with very visible aspects of the intrusion of Islamic traditions.  They are criticized for their Christian faith.  And they are outsiders in the social, religious sense of feeling pressure because of their difference.

Some Christians, when questioned by outsiders, claim there is no officially sanctioned effort to convert them to Islam, but individual Muslims exert pressure on them to convert, and surrender to Islam.  In the past eight years the resistance to this social, religious pressure can be determined in the fact that only ten Christians have succumbed to the pressure, leaving their faith to adopt Islam.

Knowing when they do that their families will be speechless with outrage, to the extent that they will mourn and deplore their abandonment of their traditional faith.  Christian families claim that they fled Gaza because of the Israeli incursion against Hamas in 2008-2009; others that the crumbling economy that resulted from the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas ejected Fatah and took control of Gaza caused them to leave.

The social pressure that results from being a tiny minority swimming against the sea of a relatively huge majority creates an uncomfortable atmosphere where Palestinian Christians feel themselves threatened.  "The [Christian] community is part of our people.  They have the full right to practise their faith", claims Bassem Naim, Hamas government minister, rejecting the fears of Gaza's Christian minority.

But several Christian institutions had been attacked by Muslim fanatics.  The local YMCA was torched.  When, as occurs rarely, two young people, a 24-year-old man, and a 32-year-old mother of three young girls, decided to convert to Islam, members of the community led by Gaza's Greek orthodox Archbishop Alexious asserted the two had been converted by forcible confinement.

"They kidnapped them ... they use even drugs", claimed the archbishop before dozens of agitated Christian protesters in front of the centuries-old Greek orthodox church of St. Porfirios in Gaza City.  The demonstrators ranted against Hamas, demanded the government restore the converts to their community, insisting their community was in peril.

Both converts stated forthrightly that they had willingly converted after long consideration.  "Nobody forced me.  Through my studies in the college and university, I came to love the religion...  I am very happy with this decision", said the mother of three girls, aged 12,9 and 7, interviewed on a pro-Hamas TV station.  Her husband has divorced her, claiming when she first began her studies she complained of constant harassment to convert to Islam.

"We lived together for years in Gaza:  The sound of church bells ringing used to mix with the call of prayers from the mosque.  I am thinking of leaving with my family", said a government worker who feared for his children's future.

Labels: , , ,

Follow @rheytah Tweet