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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Update on Palestinian Christians 

Gindy links to this article. Where are the Village People when you need them?

An attempt by Muslim clerics to close a YMCA branch office in the West Bank has exposed growing tensions between the Holy Land's dwindling Christian community and the new Palestinian Arab government led by Hamas.

Firebombs were recently thrown into the office of the YMCA in a Hamas stronghold, Qalqilya, forcing the group to move to new premises.

But why would the Muslim clerics target the YMCA? Apparently someone can decode acronyms:

YMCA stands for Young Men's Christian Association, but don't misinterpret this to mean that YMCAs are only for "young, Christian men." From its start more than 150 years ago, when George Williams founded the YMCA as a substitute Bible study and prayer for life on the streets, the YMCA was unusual because it crossed the rigid lines that separated all the different churches and social classes in England in those days. This openness was a trait that would lead YMCAs to recognize their strength is in the people they bring together -- Ys are for all people of all faiths, races, ages, abilities and incomes. YMCAs' financial assistance policies ensure that no one is turned away for reasons of inability to pay.

WorldNetDaily provides details in this April 2006 report:

The leadership of a West Bank Palestinian city now controlled by Hamas has warned a local Young Men's Christian Association to close its offices and leave town or face likely Muslim violence, WorldNetDaily has learned.

The move highlighted long-standing fears Hamas would use its win in last January's Palestinian parliamentary elections to impose an anti-Christian, anti-Jewish hard-line Islamist regime in the West Bank and Gaza.

"The face of the new Hamas government is coming to the forefront now that they finally took over and have a lot more confidence. They want to create a territory free of Christians and Jews," said a Christian leader associated with the YMCA in Qalqiliya, a West Bank town under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.

Yesterday, major Muslim organizations in Qalqiliya in conjunction with local mosques, the city's Mufti and municipal leaders, sent a letter to the interior minister of the Hamas-led PA accusing the YMCA of missionary activities and demanding the Palestinian government immediately shut down the Christian offices.

But the East Jerusalem YMCA has other concerns:

East Jerusalem YMCA calls on YWCA\YMCA partners, the olive tree sponsors and supporters of peace from all over the world to participate in the fight against injustice by joining their urgent campaign against the wall in the Beit Jala area.

The construction of the wall undermines the peace process in the region. In addition, East Jerusalem YMCA has a strong presence in the Beit Jala area and as such the wall will jeopardise the YMCA’s work in the region.

And one YMCA volunteer even contemplated running as a Hamas candidate:

"Hosam al-Taweel seems an unlikely candidate to run in the Palestinian parliamentary elections on behalf of the militant Islamic group Hamas. Al-Taweel, 40, is a Greek-Orthodox Christian living in the Gaza Strip who has volunteered at the local YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) for more than three decades.

"But he decided to join Hamas - a group that seeks to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state based on strict Sharia law - because he believes a Hamas government is in the best interests of the Palestinian people."

But Solomon notes:

According to this list of candidates [PDF], he ended up running as an "Independent" and Lynn B., who's knowledgable on these things, tells me it looks like he got in. What the final party affiliation means, I don't know. Maybe Hamas wouldn't have him, and he ended up as a Hamas-sympathetic Independent.

After the election, Hosam al-Taweel was quoted on the optimistic prospects for a diverse society:

But what if all this optimism proves to be ill-founded? What if, as a more radical Hamas leader recently proposed, the new government were to seek to impose Islamic law, or sharia?

One answer comes from Hosam al-Taweel, 42, an independent who was elected as one of the six Christians guaranteed seats in the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council.

He got the highest number of votes of the six, because he had the backing not only of Hamas itself but also of other nationalist groups.

"Hamas knows that Palestinian society contains many different shapes, ideas and political colors, and knows also that if it were to try to force the whole of society to act against their beliefs and against their will, it will lose in the long run," he said.

As Christians, "we are sharing the same problems, the same suffering from the (Israeli) occupation, the high rate of unemployment, the bad economic situation. We are living in a united society; there is no kind of division, or any kind of discrimination" by Muslims.

And he points to the Covenant of Omar, saying both Christians and Muslims see it as having the force of law, even after more than 13 centuries.

Today, the Palestinian Basic Law, or constitution, reflects that. It stipulates that "freedom of belief and performance of religious rituals are guaranteed (unless) they violate public order or public morals."

Taweel's uncle, Anton Shuhaiber, scornfully dismissed "foreigners always asking when they come here, 'will Christians be worse off under Hamas?'"

Shuhaiber is a 68-year-old doctor who studied in England.

He is also a member of the church council and the board of the local Young Men's Christian Association, which he says has "left its fingerprints" on Gazan society through the cross-community work it does.

He counted as friends Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdulaziz Rantissi, both assassinated by Israel, and points to a spot on his sofa where they used to sit.

"I am not afraid of Hamas, even of the Islamic religion," he said.

That was in March. Not sure how they feel today.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

You might also be interested in this site which seems to come up with things that others miss:
Excerpt from http://www.kerenmalki.org/About_Malki.htm:

Malka Chana Roth was born in Melbourne, Australia on November 27, 1985 (Kislev 14, 5746). She died at the age of fifteen in a senseless act of terrorist barbarism in the Sbarro restaurant, Jerusalem, on August 9, 2001 (Menachem Av 20, 5761).

Fourteen other innocent people, many of them children and teenagers, enjoying a meal on a summer's day in the center of the country's capital city, were murdered in the same barbaric attack. One of those was Malki's lifelong girl-friend Michal Raziel, aged 16.

Scores of people inside the restaurant and on the busy nearby streets were maimed and injured, often in ways that are too horrific to describe. Some are still receiving treatment today (2006). In one exceptionally painful case, a young mother remains comatose, nearly four years later.

And this:

When the Sbarro Israel management reconstructed their restaurant and re-opened it in Sep. 2001, thirty days after the terror attack, this is the advertisement they ran in all the local Jerusalem newspapers. The Roths felt this was a disgrace. No mention of why the restaurant needed to be rebuilt; no mention of the murders, or of the victims alive or dead, or of the pain of the families. The headline reads: "For you, the best!" The sub-heading: "The Jerusalem Sbarro branch which opens on 12 Sept. is the fanciest in the country, and you're invited to come along and get a 50% discount".
More about the varied events of 9 August 2001 can be found here.
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