Gaza's Christians keep low profile during Christmas after slaying of activistBut there will always be those who will find some way to blame Israel:
Gaza's tiny Christian community is keeping a low profile during Christmas this year, traumatized by the killing of a prominent activist after the Islamic Hamas group's takeover of the coastal territory.
Few Christmas trees are on display, churches are holding austere services and hundreds of Christians hope to travel to the West Bank to celebrate the holiday in Bethlehem. Many say they don't plan on returning to Gaza.
"We have a very sad Christmas," said Essam Farah, acting pastor of Gaza's Baptist Church, which has canceled its annual children's party because of the grim atmosphere.
About 3,000 Christians live in Gaza, an overwhelmingly conservative Muslim society of 1.5 million people. The two religions have generally had cordial relations over the years.
That relationship has been shaken since Hamas seized control of Gaza last June, and especially following the recent death of 32-year-old Rami Ayyad.
...No group claimed responsibility for the killing, and no one has openly accused Hamas of persecution. But Christians fear that the Hamas takeover, along with the lack of progress in finding Ayyad's killers, has emboldened Islamic extremists.
...At the Baptist Church on Sunday, just 10 people attended the regular weekly prayer service, down from an average of 70. There was no Christmas tree in sight.
...Manuel Musallem, head of Gaza's Roman Catholic church, said he alone knows of seven families that sold their properties and left the area, and 15 more are preparing to do the same.But in the end, there is no denying that in the end, terrorist tactics work:
Musallem blamed Israeli sanctions and excessive violence in Gaza for the flight.
Those who are staying are trying to limit the risks. Nazek Surri, a Roman Catholic, walked out from Sunday's service with a Muslim-style scarf covering her head.Those who blame Israel almost seem as if they have a monopoly on being the victim.
"We have to respect the atmosphere we are living in. We have to go with the trend," she said.
UPDATE: Powerline quotes from an article by Aaron Klein that gives some much-needed perspective in light of the claim that Israel's security fence is responsible for the depletion of the Christian population in Bethlehem:
Israel in 2002 built a fence in the area where northern Bethlehem interfaces with Jerusalem. A tiny segment of that barrier, facing a major Israeli roadway, is a concrete wall, which Israel says is meant to prevent gunmen from shooting at Israeli motorists.Technorati Tag: Gaza and Christians.
The fence was constructed after the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada, or terror war, launched in 2000 after late PLO Leader Yasser Arafat turned down an Israeli offer of a Palestinian state, returning to the Middle East to liberate Palestine with violence.
Scores of deadly suicide bombings and shooting attacks against Israelis were planned in Bethlehem and carried out by Bethlehem-area terrorists.
At one point during the period of just 30 days in 2002, at least 14 shootings were perpetuated by Bethlehem cells of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists, killing two Israelis and wounding six.
Many times Muslim gunmen in the Bethlehem area reportedly took positions in civilian homes in the hilltops of Christian Beit Jala, which straddles Bethlehem. Beit Jala afforded the terrorists a clear firing line at southern sections of Jerusalem and at a major Israeli highway down below, drawing Israeli military raids and the eventual building of the security barrier there.
Is this barrier causing Bethlehem's Christians to flee, as the mainstream media claim?
Simple demographic facts will answer this question. Israel built the barrier five years ago. But Bethlehem's Christian population started to drastically decline in 1995, the very year Arafat's Palestinian Authority took over the holy Christian city in line with the US-backed Oslo Accords.
Bethlehem consisted of upwards of 80 percent Christians when Israel was founded in 1948, but since Arafat got his grimy hands on it, the city's Christian population dove to its current 23-percent. And that statistic is considered generous since it includes the satellite towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Some estimates place Bethlehem's actual Christian population at as low as 12 percent, with hundreds of Christians emigrating per year.
As soon as he took over Bethlehem, Arafat unilaterally fired the city’s Christian politicians and replaced them with Muslim cronies. He appointed a Muslim governor, Muhammed Rashad A-Jabar and deposed of Bethlehem’s city council, which had nine Christians and two Muslims, reducing the number of Christians councilors to a 50-50 split.
Arafat then converted a Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity, the believed birthplace of Jesus, into his official Bethlehem residence.