June 18, 2007
More on Gaza: Catholic church and school damaged
Christians remain at risk inside Gaza, not to mention the other 1 milion plus Gazans, due to renewed violence between Hamas and Fatah. The situation is being likened to a 'civil war.'
Until recently, it was not clear if militants were targeting Christians or churches. But the Jerusalem Post is reporting that a Roman Catholic church was desecrated and a Catholic school damaged late last week. A Catholic priest is calling for better protection for Gaza's Christians, who number about 3-7,000 people.
Jerusalem Post has updated their story on the church attack with a report that Hamas has condemned the attack and placed the blame on a local criminal gang.
Christianity Today has heard more from an Egyptian-German Christian leader still inside Gaza. He has been living in Gaza since 2004 for Christian mission and ministry.
Here is his personal account:
On Friday people in the Gaza Strip awoke to a new reality.
Over the previous few days Hamas, an Islamic party had routed the opposition Fatah forces, a secular-nationalist movement, and Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip.
What led to these sudden events?
In February 2006, Hamas was voted into power in democratic elections that were largely imposed by the U.S. and its policy of democratic reform in the Middle East, yet the unexpected outcome seemed to have thrown a monkey wrench in the U.S.’s reform plans.
By March of this year the U.S. and Western countries still had not recognized the Palestinian unity government containing both Fatah and Hamas representatives. An economic embargo stifled not only the government but it also collectively punished the entire people. This economic stranglehold was felt especially in the Gaza Strip, which is enclosed from all sides.
Israel, in one form or another, controls all its borders.
Trade was brought to a slow trickle, after what the World Bank reported to be an economic decline greater than America’s experience during the Great Depression.
Soon Hamas became fed up with not being recognized and being economically crippled despite having come to power through a fair democratic process. Furthermore, with U.S. funding entering Gaza to strengthen Fatah, the election loser, Hamas got impatient and decided to take control of the territory.
The ensuing military takeover of the Gaza Strip that took 80 lives, was bloody and dreadful for many. It took only five days before all opposition headquarters were taken and control was fully in Hamas’ hands.
After the fighting ended I made a trip to the Gaza Baptist Church building with my hosts and the pastor. Minimal damage had been done to the building structure and some equipment, including a laptop used for Sunday worship had been stolen from the building.
A clampdown on lawlessness, which has been widespread in recent months, is one of the few positive prospects of the new political reality in Gaza. With the world not recognizing the Hamas government, the former political power, Fatah, stayed in control in many areas of government. The result had been two parallel government structures in Gaza, one democratically elected by the people, the other voted out by the people and yet only the latter was accepted and recognized by world leaders.
During the past two years I have lived here I have found that it is this meddling of outside powers in Palestinian affairs that has over and over again caused so much suffering for a people so desperately seeking to live a normal life in peace.
Generally people are very concerned about what the near future holds. Despite the Hamas amnesty of Fatah activists, many of them remain scared and are staying home or are in hiding.
By Saturday the streets were relatively back to normal until reports started to spread that Israel was closing the borders and people started scrambling for their basic needs, bread, sugar, flour, and gas. Cars are moving about, people are walking the streets, talking and laughing.
Along the walls of the main hospital in town [Gaza City] I saw old men sitting in the shade playing backgammon. The combination of the normalcy of life and fear of the unknown of the future makes for a strange atmosphere.