Christian life in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 26 October 2007 08:22
Consider visiting Tabula Gaza, an English language blog from a resident of the Gaza Strip. This morning they carry this report from French 24 about the death of Rami Ayyad, manager of the Gaza Strip's only Christian bookstore.

Rami was a man of great courage and faith.

"Palestinian Christians number around 75,000 but there are only 2,500 -- most of them Greek Orthodox -- living in the Gaza Strip among nearly 1.5 million Muslims, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics." (Note: there are only about 200 Catholics in the Gaza Strip)

"Gaza has no history of tensions between the two communities and Christians say they are bound to their Muslim neighbours by shared suffering.

But fears peaked on October 6 when Ayyad was kidnapped, tortured and shot dead, his body dumped in a field outside Gaza City. No one has claimed responsibility for the murder.

Ayyad ran a bookshop affiliated with the United Bible Societies, a worldwide organisation that tries to help people "receive the Word of God and see the true light in Jesus Christ", according to its website.

The shop -- the only Christian bookstore in Gaza -- was firebombed in April, and Ayyad's family members said he was threatened several times.

"Three months before Rami was killed a man came into the office," Ayyad's mother told AFP. "He said to Rami, 'What do think about converting to Islam?'"

"Rami said, 'If you convert to Christianity, I'll become a Muslim.' Then the man said, 'I know how to make you a Muslim'. It was a threat."

The Hamas-run government has vowed to find and punish Ayyad's killers, and senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar and former prime minister Ismail Haniya attended his wake, along with several of the family's Muslim neighbours.

But many Christians, frightened of the new extremist groups and desperate to escape the worsening economic situation in the Gaza Strip, are seeking to emigrate, sparking fears for the future of the community."

Tabula Gaza also has a link to this amazing interactive map of the West Bank. Here you can see the extremely complicated reality: the many barriers, restricted roads, Israeli settlements, areas controlled by Palestinians and by Israelis. Imagine trying to live life there.

Even when I was there 20 years ago, the landscape was beginning to change in a way that was unrecognizable to those who had lived there for decades. I learned quickly within my first 24 hours on the West Bank.

I was being driven by a Anglican sister from Ramallah to an Arab village a few miles away that she had know well for many years. But as she neared where the road to the village should have been, she couldn't find it. A road constructed for an Isreali settlement blotted out the familiar landmarks. Somehow we ended up on the Isreali road heading to the Jewish settlement and I begin to hear her say strange things under her breath as she tried to turn around within sight of the settlement. It went like this:

"Don't shoot. We are just turning around. Don't shoot. We are just turning around."

It took a few moments for the reality of our situation to dawn upon my pampered American brain. What on earth was she talking about? Who gets shot at for making a simple three point turn about on a road with no traffic on it?

Unless, of course, you are in a car with a tell-tell Palestinian license plate 400 yards from the entrance to the Jewish settlement. It was, shall we say, a wake-up call.

Ramallah was a 20 minute drive, via a jammed Arab taxi complete with beaded hangings and Arabic music, from the old city of Jerusalem. That drive is not possible today.