“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

Bethlehem Christians fear for future under Hamas

The shrinking Christian population of Bethlehem is struggling to conceal its fears for the future after the victory for Islamists of Hamas in the Palestinian general election.

The shrinking Christian population of Bethlehem is struggling to conceal its fears for the future after the victory for Islamists of Hamas in the Palestinian general election.

The blue skies of a perfect Sunday morning in the birthplace of Jesus Christ failed to lift the gloom among the congregation attending mass at the Church of the Nativity in the centre of the     West Bank’s “little town” which now has many representatives from the radical Islamist group in parliament as Christians.

Franciscan father Amjad Sabbara was putting on a brave face as he greeted the congregation at the doors of the church which was the scene of an infamous 38-day Israeli army siege in April 2002.

“It’s the result of the democratic process. There is nothing to worry about. We’re waiting to see their projects,” he told AFP.

“We have relations with Hamas: They tell us that they are going to respect all the religions.

“In Bethlehem, we are a good number, half of the population. We have a special status: the Christ is born here. I’m sure they are going to respect that.”

Shortly after their election, some newly-elected Hamas deputies evoked the idea of introducing some aspect of Sharia law, including a general edict for women to wear a veil and for a separation of boys and girls at school.

Although the movement’s leadership rapidly distanced themselves from the idea, some Christians — who now account for only around three percent of the Palestinian population — still fear that is the ultimate goal of the Islamists.

One woman, who gave her name as Rula, was less worried about being forced to wear a veil but was nevertheless depressed about the prospects for the future.

“They will oblige maybe the Muslim women, but not us,” she said.

“What worries me more is that they are far away from what the Israeli people think. Fatah (the former ruling party) was closer.

“I don’t think they can reach a peace agreement with Israel. And life for us is going to be more difficult. But we get used to it.”

The leaders of the 12 different Christian churches represented in the holy land issued a joint statement last Wednesday, saying they were ready to cooperate with a Palestinian government headed by Hamas.

“We pray for all those who will govern in this difficult period, and we extend our cooperation to them for the public good and the national Palestinian aspirations together with the cause of justice and peace,” the church leaders said in a statement.

Since their election victory, Hamas’ leaders have been bending over backwards to asssure Christians that they have no reason to be fearful.

But the likes of Walid Andonia, wearing a cross as as he sunned himself near the church with a bunch of friends, was far from convinced.

“Sure, now Hamas says nice things, but five years from now, I don’t know. They’re not saying everything they want to do,” said the stone mason.

“A lot of Bethlehem Christians are leaving and going abroad. They are selling their houses and their land to Muslim and leaving.

“I would go in a minute if I could. We’re like in a cage, here. We hate our life, even if we love our country.

“Those who say they are not afraid of Hamas are lying to you. Give visas to America or Europe, and you’ll see how fast Bethlehem Christians are going to leave.”

“I tell you, my Muslim friends are as worried as I am. They drink more alcohol than us. They don’t want their women to wear the veil… But they will have to.”

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas’s traditional stronghold, shops have long stopped selling alcohol while the United Nations social club, the last outlet to serve wine and spirits, was trashed on New Year’s Eve.

That kind of influence has yet to be felt in Bethlehem where a range of whiskies were on sale at the Jacaman supermarket.

“For the time being, they didn’t say a word about alcohol. Believe me, they have bigger things to worry about. They are in big politics, now, which should keep them busy for a while,” said the store owner George Jacaman.

2006-02-07T00:00:00+00:00 February 7th, 2006|Categories: News|