Hamas-Led Government 'Last Hope' for Gaza Christians

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - After the international community largely ignored their plight, the last hope for Gaza Christians to continue their work would be the establishment of a sympathetic Hamas-led government, a source here said.

The Palestinian Bible Society in Gaza was forced to close down completely this month after extremists threatened to blow up the building if the Christians did not abandon their ministry by the end of February.

The threat was believed to be the work of Islamic extremists inflamed over the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in various western newspapers. The cartoons produced Muslim rioting around the world - the Gaza Strip included.

In recent weeks, a pipe bomb exploded in front of the Palestinian Bible Society, threatening pamphlets were left at the front door, and the group received a threatening phone call.

The Palestinian Bible Society in Gaza was staffed entirely by local Arab Christians, who continued working at the center behind closed doors even after the deadline to shut down had passed.

But when Palestinian Authority security forces were unable to provide security for the group and could not find the culprits behind the threat, they encouraged the group to leave the premises, said a Palestinian Bible Society information officer, who asked not to be named.

"We are waiting for the new (Hamas) government to be established," said the officer. "It's the only chance we have at this [point]."

Hamas earlier offered to protect the Christians.

In the past, both Palestinian Muslims and Christians have expressed their ability to live side-by-side without conflict. Privately, however, some Christians admitted they were persecuted or discriminated against.

According to the information officer, the Bible Society was disappointed at the lack of support it received after contacting Western governments and foreign organizations. It seems that no one had any power to influence in the situation, he said.

The Bible Society members and their families have gone on an extended break until they see what happens under a Hamas-led government.

"They are hoping to be able to open again and to resume their work," said the officer.

The Palestinian Bible Society is part of the world fellowship of the United Bible Society, whose mission is to make the Bible available, in different languages and in different formats, to as many people as possible.

In what appears to be an unrelated incident, another Palestinian Bible Society property - a student center in the West Bank town of Birzeit -- was recently torched.

Fire damaged the center three months ago. And three weeks ago, the main windows of the center were smashed and Molotov cocktails were thrown inside, doing additional damage, said the information officer.

Graffiti scrawled on the outside of the building said, "Leave our land and get out of here," "Following in your footsteps Prophet Mohammed" and "Allah is greater."

The student center is staffed entirely by local Palestinians. The windows of the center were smashed again last week.

Although it is still not clear who is behind the attacks, they are likely to increase inter-religious tensions.

"We know that what has happened will not only affect the center but also increase tensions between Christians and Muslims living in this place," said the officer.

Established in 2000, the student center provides a place for Christian and Muslim students from the nearby Birzeit University to study, socialize and use the Internet. Birzeit University, not far from the West Bank town of Ramallah, has a student body of some 6,600 students.

As in Gaza, the P.A. police have been unable to stop the violence directed at Bible Society property. Muslim neighbors in both Gaza and the West Bank have expressed their dismay over the attack on the facility.

The sheikh of a nearby mosque expressed his shock at the attack on the student center in Birzeit and refused to believe it was the work of Muslim extremists. He promised to condemn the act during Friday prayers, said the officer.

See Earlier Story:
Gaza's Tiny Christian Community Threatened With Violence (Feb. 22, 2006)