Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christians in Gaza

This is about comparison and disagreement using articles filled with pathos. I actually thanked the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA for linking to the article, Gaza Christians long for days before Hamas cancelled Christmas, until I discovered that they linked to it because they believed it was about Palestinians not being able to go to Bethlehem during Christmas. It is partly, but mostly it is about how hard it is to be a Christian in Gaza. The author, Phoebe Greenwood, writes:

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.
Greenwood adds, “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.”

The persecution of Christians in Gaza is something that is not widely known in the West. In an article Christianity Today published in 2007 the story is told of Rami Ayyad’s, death. The article is “Christian Bookstore Manager Martyred in Gaza City”.The author writes:
At 6:25 a.m. Sunday October 7, Ayyad's body was found near the bookshop. "Signs of bullets and knife stabs could be clearly seen on his body," the Bible Society release said. Unconfirmed reports added that his head had been severely injured.

Another earlier story was written in 2005 and is about the ministry of Evangelical Christians in Gaza. It is filled with hopes that have undoubtedly been dashed. The article is “Love in the Land of Enmity.” The author of that story writes:
The context in which Christians inside Gaza do ministry is daunting. Gaza is 98 percent Sunni Muslim. Since the September 2000 start of the Al Aksa intifada, some 3,300 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis have died in political violence. Hamas, which is behind many suicide bombings, is based here and has an extensive social-service network, including Gaza's only free kindergarten. Most Gazans live on less than $2 a day in one of the world's most densely populated hotspots.

To deter terrorism and the weapons trade, Israel has destroyed the runway at Yasser Arafat International Airport, blocked construction of a seaport, and in recent months has kept borders under stringent control. Nonetheless, Palestinian terrorists routinely launch lethal rockets from Gaza into southern Israel or at Israeli settlements inside Gaza.

No one in Gaza is far from the conflict. Gaza Baptist's roof has been damaged four times by Israeli mortars. In modern Hebrew, the curse "go to hell" (lekh léazazel) is nearly identical to "go to Gaza" (lekh léaza). The play on words is not lost on anyone.

Despite these conditions, Massad's return six years ago ushered in growth with a core group of lay volunteers at Gaza Baptist, including Magdy Anwar and his wife, Rima, from the Bible Society. One church member told me, "Something special began happening. God invited Gaza to know him."
The author goes on to write of God's work in Gaza--but when the articles reach to 2008 there is the great loss, 'My Heart Is in Gaza'. The author begins:
Gaza Baptist Church used to draw hundreds of Palestinian worshipers to its two Sunday services. But on a recent Sunday in January, less than 10 people risked attending the only evangelical church in the 25-mile coastal strip.

Palestinian evangelicals, a group of hundreds living among 1.5 million Muslims, have been fleeing the Gaza Strip for the West Bank in response to increased violence and threats from Islamic extremists. In October, Rami Ayyad, the 29-year-old manager of Gaza's only Christian bookstore, was kidnapped and murdered. Then on February 15, a group of 14 masked gunmen forcibly entered the ymca offices and set off a bomb in the library, burning thousands of books.
I have added all of this because of another article I saw at Veterans Today by an author that the IPMN sometimes uses.

The article, “Is Hamas Really a Mean-Minded Christmas Scrooge?” by Stuart Littlewood is an attempt to belittle Greenwood’s article. Littlewood, who is an anti-Semite, quotes Fr Manuel Mussallam in Gaza in 2007 and Archbishop Theodosius Hanna and Mussallam in 2010. Hanna states in the 2007 article, “The problem in Palestine has nothing to do with religion – it is not a religious issue. It is not a conflict of Christians, Muslims and Jewish people. It is a conflict between those who are the holders of a rightful cause and those who took away that right by military might [meaning Israel].”

But there is a problem with religion which in many ways has nothing to do with the conflict between the leaders of Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian Territories. As Jeremy Weber writes in the article, “My heart is in Gaza”:
Severe economic hardship has been accompanied by increased threats from extremists since Hamas installed Shari'ah law in Gaza. Massad said his church members fear gathering in groups. Many believers no longer wear crosses, and some women now cover their heads in public as Muslim women do.
We do not hear about this from our PCUSA organizations, but we should. While we pray for peace between Israel and the Palestinians we should be praying for strength, comfort and open doors for the Christians of Gaza. We should pray for God’s work to be done in the whole area. We should pray that God will open the hearts of many Muslims and Jews to acknowledge Jesus as redeemer and Lord in that war torn area.

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