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The Holy Land's Christian Targets By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 22, 2008

Showcasing the vulnerability of Gaza’s tiny Christian community, a dozen or more gunmen, some of them masked, blew up the library of the YMCA in Gaza City last week, while holding the YMCA’s security guards at gunpoint. The Gaza YMCA, which welcomes both Christian and Muslim youngsters, was someplace where men and women were free to interact together, offending many radical Islamists. Possibly the gunmen, who attacked shortly after midnight, were also reacting to the re-publication in Denmark of the famous Muhammad cartoons. A second bomb left by the gunmen in the YMCA’s office failed to detonate.

Reportedly, the YMCA’s security guards were asked why they work for “infidels.” The facility includes a school, an athletic center, a wedding hall, and the destroyed library, where all 8,000 or more books were incinerated. The YMCA has been in Gaza for 55 years.


A Catholic priest told Ecumenical News International (ENI) that the local, Hamas-controlled media had been inveighing against the Danish cartoons since their reappearance. When you are in a very conservative Muslim society you can't…[easily] live an open life, said Rev Manuel Musallam.  ENI is the official news service of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), which is not normally very interested in reporting the crimes of radical Islam.

But most of Gaza’s 3,500 Christians are Greek Orthodox, a church that prominently belongs to the WCC. The Eastern Orthodox communions sometimes persuade the WCC to give at least some careful attention to the plight of Christian minorities in Islamic-controlled, Middle East societies.

Naturally, the Fatah party accused its Hamas rivals of complicity in the attack on the YMCA. And naturally, Hamas denied any involvement. Others faulted al-Qaeda supporters, who have proudly claimed responsibility to previous attacks on Gaza Christian targets. Their professed goal is to purge Gaza of all Christians. On the same day as the bombing, thousands of Palestinians in a Gaza refugee camp marched against the endlessly offensive Danish cartoons re-publication.  

Understandably, the YMCA’s director was jittery about laying blame against any specific Islamists. We are living in an insecure situation for several years [with the] Israeli attacks and the internal problems, Issa Sabbah told ENI. The situation is complicated. He minimized religion as a reason for the attack: We need to take care, but we can't stop working. We are Arab Palestinian people. We are afraid of the general atmosphere but not because of religion issues.

Sabbah professed to the Associated Press that Christian-Muslim relations in Gaza are strong and that the local police, who are of course Hamas-controlled, were patrolling the YMCA premises and have promised a thorough investigation. The YMCA director can’t be faulted for such public optimism. 

Probably more accurately representing the fears of Gaza Christians was a teenager ENI quoted. Everybody is scared, she said, preferring not to be named in print. But still we went to the YMCA. There weren't a lot of people there. We don't have any other place to go. She told ENI that the YMCA had been refuge from boredom and tension for young people.Now we can't relax [even there] but what can we do? she wondered. There is a lot more anti-Christian feeling now.

Last month, the American International School in Gaza was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade, destroying an art hall. Two pro-al Qaeda groups eagerly claimed public credit. Polytheists and enemies of Islam are pursuing each day their work to destroy our youths, who are falling by the dozens into the swamps of vice and moral decadence, declared the Army of Believers-al-Qaeda in Palestine. That is why we must re-establish the truth and warn everyone who might try to corrupt our youths or try to open such places of corruption. The other group, called Warriors of Jerusalem, said it was trying to wipe out the last symbol of U.S. presence in the Gaza Strip.

By far, the most troubling terrorist assault for Gaza’s Christians was the October 2007 murder of a Palestinian Bible Society worker who ran a Christian bookshop that had been attacked earlier last year. Thirty year old Rami Ayyad’s body was found stabbed and shot after he had been kidnapped. Ayyad and his wife, who was pregnant, had two little children. Ayyad had received earlier death threats and had been urged to convert to Islam. The Hamas Interior Ministry denounced his murder as a
grave crime,” but there have been no arrests.

As Christians we know where he's at, Gaza Baptist Church Pastor Hanna Massad told Cybercast News Service (CNS). He's in a better place [with God]. But  he said, It's painful for us. The pastor implied that most of Gaza’s remaining Christians would like to leave but cannot.  Since the Hamas putsch in 2006, both Egypt and Israel have closed their borders with Gaza. The Christians in Gaza are in tremendous fear for their lives, an anonymous Christian told CNS. This is ethnic cleansing at its worst.”

Gaza’s Christian community is miniscule, and the crimes against it may seem minimal compared to other more barbarous situations. But the drive by some Islamists  to cleanse Gaza of its long-standing and benign Christian presence surely symbolizes the ferocity of jihadist rage.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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