by Shelley Neese
On 14 June 2007, masked gunmen torched and looted the Rosary Sisters School and Latin Church in Gaza City. After bombing the entrance with grenades, the gunmen destroyed every Holy Relic they could find, crushing a statue of the Virgin Mary, burning Bibles, and destroying all Crosses and pictures of Jesus. They stole equipment, copy machines, and the church’s computers before setting the buildings ablaze. Father Manual Musalam, leader of the Latin community, estimated damages at more than $500,000. After five days of bloody infighting Hamas declared victory over its Fatah rivals, announcing on Palestinian Television the “end of secularism and heresy in the Gaza Strip.”
Just a few days after the establishment of “Hamastan,” over 130 clerics and academics representing the World Council of Churches (WCC) convened in Amman, Jordan. The meeting was held while 110 Palestinians lay dead, Fatah licked its wounds, and smoke hovered over Gaza’s Latin Church. Given the timing, one would expect a council representing Christendom to condemn the litany of human rights abuses in Gaza; deride the establishment of the world’s first Islamic terrorist state; and defend the rights of Gaza’s Christians from unprovoked attacks. Instead, the WCC pointed the finger at Israel and said nothing about the attack on the church and school.
The Geneva-based WCC is the world’s largest church organization. It claims to represent 348 Protestant Churches and 550 million Christians. WCC aspires to break down denominational boundaries and bring together a global community of non-Catholic churches united by one faith. Critics of the council say it has fallen far short of that goal, accusing the WCC’s leftist-dominated leadership of having an anti-Semitic impulse. Indeed, the WCC almost always frames Israel as the aggressor when violence flares in the Middle East. Its Palestinian bias became glaringly obvious last summer when the council accused Israel of starting the war with Hezbollah. This summer the WCC bordered on delusional as it grasped for grounds to hold Israel responsible for the Hamas coup.
In response to the horrific images from Gaza of Palestinians throwing fellow Palestinians off roofs and executing each other in front of wives and children, the WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia said, “The worst thing that can happen is Palestinians killing Palestinians. But one can understand their situation after years of being caged and suffering.” The WCC put out a statement demanding an end not to Hamas’s Islamic rule in Gaza but to Israel’s “occupation” of Judea and Samaria. They made no mention of the attack on the Gaza Church and expressed no sympathy to the plight of Gaza’s besieged Christians. Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and an ardent Palestinian nationalist, excused Hamas for its actions. Speaking from the WCC conference, Sabbah said, “Time does not work for peace. It works for extremism. The more time we give to (Israeli) occupation, the more time we give to extremism and terrorism.” The council’s knee-jerk reaction to blame the crisis in Gaza on Israeli “occupation” seemed misplaced since Israel evacuated Gaza two years ago.
The WCC has mastered the art of flipping reality so that every Palestinian problem can be attributed to the “occupation.” Therefore, it was no surprise when the WCC leaders in Amman launched a new global advocacy initiative called the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum. According to the WCC statement, the initiative calls on “all churches to work seriously for putting an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands.” They will “catalyze and coordinate new and existing church advocacy for peace, aimed at ending the illegal occupation in accordance with UN resolutions.” Putting all its energy into this end-the-occupation campaign, the WCC had no time to discuss the safety and protection of Gaza’s Christians under the new Hamas overlords.
If the WCC won’t highlight the plight of Gaza’s Christians, a Christian for whom the WCC does not speak will. What happened in Gaza on June 14 brought the suffering of Gaza’s Christians to the forefront, but it was not an isolated incident.
The Christian community in the Gaza Strip numbers about 3,000—including Catholic, Orthodox, and a small number of Baptist Christians. Out of a population of more than 1.4 million in Gaza, Christians make up less than 1 percent. Since Hamas’ landslide victory at the polls in January 2006, Gaza’s Christians have endured Hamas’ increasingly Taliban-style rule. Over 50 attacks have occurred on Internet cafes, barber shops, music stores, pharmacies, and other “symbols of immorality.” Last April an Islamic extremist group bombed the Gaza Bible Society, a bookstore run by evangelicals, leaving a threatening note for the landlord not to deal with “infidels.” In May, gunmen attacked a U.N. run school because girls and boys had a combined sports day. One person was killed. The same group threatened to cut the throats of female news anchors on Palestinian Television if they did not cover their heads. Last year in reaction to the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI about Islam, a group calling itself the Huda Army Organization threatened to target all Christians living in the Gaza Strip until the Pope apologized.
Now that Hamas has taken over Gaza, many Christians fear that Hamas will impose hard-line Sharia Law. Everything that offends Islam will be destroyed and every non-Muslim harassed. Christians of Muslim background especially fear that they will be targeted. Sheik Abu Saqer, an Islamic leader in Gaza, hardly allayed these fears. In an interview with World Net Daily, Abu Saqer said: “I expect our Christian neighbors to understand the new Hamas rule means real changes. They must be ready for Islamic rule if they want to live in peace in Gaza.” Abu Saqer accused Gaza Christians of “proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims with funding from American evangelicals.” He then added a warning, “This missionary activity is endangering the entire Christian community in Gaza.”
For Gaza’s tiny population of Christians, believers must speak out. Christians should not follow the WCC example. They must publicly condemn the suffering of their brothers and sisters under Islamic onslaught. Believers in Christ cannot be silent when churches and Christian schools are attacked. Hamas needs to understand that not all Christians will sit idly by in the face of Christian persecution. Above all, Christians of the world need to be in prayer for the safe-keeping of believers in Gaza as they seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. Pray for the preservation of the Church as a source of encouragement and light in Gaza’s darkness.
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” (Colossians 4:2-3)