Gaza's Tiny Christian Community Threatened With Violence
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
February 22, 2006
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Extremists are threatening to blow up the Palestinian Bible Society in the Gaza Strip if the people who work there do not close up shop and abandon their ministry by the end of February, a Christian source told Cybercast News Service.
The threat appears to be the work of Islamic extremists who are determined to drive Christians out of the area. Arab Christians are taking the threat very seriously, said a Palestinian Bible Society information officer who asked not to be named.
There are only about 1,500 Christians living among an estimated 1.2 million Palestinian Muslims in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Bible society has been in operation there since 1999. Eleven local Palestinians staff the center, which includes a Christian bookstore that sells Bibles. Scriptures are displayed on large billboards, and at the front of the store is a sign that says: "God's Word is Life for All." Above the shop are computer rooms, multi-purpose halls and a library that is open to the entire community.
The trouble started three weeks ago, the source said, when a pipe bomb exploded around 11:00 one night outside the Bible Society, which is located in Gaza's city center. There were no injuries.
Two weeks later, an unknown group left threatening pamphlets at the front door of the Bible Society warning that the building would be blown up if the premises were not vacated by February 28.
The pamphlets threatened the landlord for dealing with "infidels."
According to the request of Palestinian Authority security officials, when the situation worsened several days ago, forcing the Bible Society staff locked the doors while they continued working inside.
But then came a threatening phone call, warning them that locking the doors wasn't enough - that they should take the threat seriously or risk harm to themselves and their children.
"We are waiting for a miracle," said the Palestinian Bible Society information officer. "The Bible Society is committed to the continuation of its ministry and service to the Palestinian people, and God will see us through this crisis."
The situation is so sensitive that the staff at the Palestinian Bible Society was not allowed to be interviewed, the officer said.
Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip previously have denied any hostility between them. Privately, though, some Christians admit that they have been persecuted or discriminated against.
The Bible Society was threatened last July alongside the public library of the local Baptist Church, said the information officer.
The current threat against the Bible Society (there was one last July) comes amid growing chaos in the Gaza Strip and the controversy involving published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.
European aid organizations and diplomats were pulled out of the Gaza Strip when violence relating to the cartoons first erupted there.
"It's purely a case of Christian persecution. I think the cartoons played a big role in this," said the Bible Society's information officer. "Last week a Molotov cocktail was thrown at [a] church in Ramallah," he said.
According to the source, Hamas has offered to protect the Christians in Gaza; but with the current government not yet established, the situation is very chaotic, he said.
The Palestinian Bible Society is part of the world fellowship of the United Bible Societies, whose mission is to make the Bible available, in different languages and in different formats, to as many people as possible.
The Palestinian Bible Society program in Gaza includes extensive involvement in various community services. Several non-Christian groups in Gaza have expressed dismay over the threats and expressed their solidarity with the Christians.
The neighbors, too, have tried to convince the Bible Society not to close down, said the officer.
"It really breaks our heart that some groups are against the whole idea. We ask Christians worldwide to pray, not only for us, but also for those who are trying to hurt us, as Christ commands us to do."
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Don't forget those in far-away places who experience persecution for their faith.