Funeral for Palestinian Christian Murdered in Gaza

Nazareth-based website Come and See has a collection of photographs and a You Tube link chronicling the funeral of Rami Ayyad, the 30-year-old Palestinian Christian activist who was murdered – almost certainly by Islamists – at the weekend in Gaza. Ayyad worked for Gaza’s Bible Society bookshop, which was bombed back in April. The shop opened in 1999, and according to a 2000 Bible Society report, it was a welcome presence:

The Bible Society Bookshop which opened here almost a year ago has been warmly welcomed by the people of Gaza, reports the Bible Society in the West Bank (BSWB).

…Almost as soon as it opened, the bookshop received an invitation from the Ministry of Culture to take part in book exhibitions in Gaza and Ramallah and to be part of the Palestinian section at other bookfairs in the Arab world.

…the people of Gaza feel that they have been forgotten by the outside world. But many local Christians feel that the opening of the Bible Society bookshop marks a turning point for Gaza. George, a member of the Baptist church in Gaza City, describes the bookshop as a “testament of love to our people.”

A report by Arieh Cohen at Asia News has details of reactions to the killing:

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, immediately issued a statement calling the killing “a desperate attempt to sabotage the good social relations in Palestinian society and the friendly relations between Christian and Muslims”.

Hamas authorities, who manage security in Gaza, have promised to punish “without pity” the authors of the crime who, “compromise the security and stability of our people”.

In Gaza there are around 3,200 Christians – Greek Orthodox, Catholic and protestant – compared to a Muslim population of circa 1.5 million. Relations between the two communities, by and large are calm, united by the same ethnic roots. The rising Islamic fundamentalism in Gaza and in the Palestinian world is however creating increasing incidents between the two. During the Hamas takeover, vandals ransacked a Catholic convent and an adjacent Rosary Sisters school, breakingcrosses and smashing the face of a ceramic Jesus. No one claimed responsibility, and Hamas vehemently denied involvement.

Back in June, Christian Today carried a report that was cautiously hopeful about the future of Christians under Hamas:

Open Doors, an international ministry working with persecuted Christian, said although it fears a worsening of living conditions for Gaza inhabitants, it does not think Christians will be attacked by the Islamic fundamentalist group.

…However, Janssen noted that he hopes the conversations between Hamas leaders and Open Doors founder Brother Andrew “will bear some fruit.”

Brother Andrew had built a relationship spanning over a decade with Hamas leaders. In December 1992, over a thousand Hamas leaders were deported from Israel and left on the side of a mountain in Lebanon. Brother Andrew had flew in and visited the Hamas camp in a humanitarian way and gave Bibles and his book “God’s Smuggler” to them, who in turn invited Brother Andrew into their tent for a meal.

This was all very well – but given that Brother Andrew also hopes to convert the militants, one wonders how effective his advocacy for Palestinian Christians could be (I blogged on Open Doors just a few days ago). In August, things were looking more dodgy, when Sana al-Sayegh, a Christian woman academic, converted to Islam. Fatah alleged that she had been forcibly converted after being kidnapped, and the murky business has never been resolved. The conservative Cybercast News Service noted that:

According to a report in Middle East Newsline last week, Hamas is moving fast against non-Muslims in the area. Fatah officials who spoke to the news service on condition of anonymity said Hamas is pressing leaders of the 2,000-member Christian community to either convert to Islam or emigrate.

(I wasn’t able to track down the Middle East Newsline report to confirm this)

However, Fatah’s complaint against Hamas might carry more weight if it wasn’t trying to outdo the Islamists with a new Morality Police enforcing compliance with Ramadan.


Meanwhile, the murder of Ayyad is also an occasion for ghoulish point-scoring by certain supporters of Israel who couldn’t have given a toss about Gazan Christians when they were living under direct Israeli occupation. Step forward, Melanie Phillips:

…the Islamist religious terror being perpetrated in Gaza is also going virtually unremarked by the British media. I don’t recall reading this in the mainstream press:

Phillips goes on to quote a short report which cites an AP report on the tragedy. The AP report can be seen on various sites, including that of…The Guardian. But this kind of willful distortion of the facts is Phillips’ stock-in-trade – another example was noted at Pickled Politics yesterday. I find it very difficult to see how anyone who values good sense or intellectual integrity would take her seriously.