Gaza Christians Face Hamas Threats

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JERUSALEM, Israel - The tiny Palestinian Christian community in the Gaza Strip remains under intense persecution, according to a Canadian human rights group.

There are some 3,500 Christians in Gaza among the 1.4 million Muslims.

Majed El Shafie, president of One Free World International, says some Christians are forced to cooperate with the terrorist group Hamas that rules Gaza in order to protect their families.

"The Christians in the Palestinian Authority areas [are] facing persecutions. Their homes, their churches they get attacked almost every day," El Shafie explained.

He added that after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip two years ago, Hamas dug up Christian graves and burned the bodies because they felt the remains defiled the land.

Click play for more of Majed El Shafie's to CBN News about the persecution of Gaza's Christians.

Shortly after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007, El Shafie said his group received reports of two kinds of violations.

"The first one that Hamas was torturing the members of Fatah in Gaza," El Shafie told CBN News.

"The second one [was] that Hamas was going to the graveyards of the Christians, digging up the dead body of the Christians, throwing them and burning them and saying 'you cannot bury your dead bodies here because its our land, it's a holy land.

"By burying your Christian families here you are desecrating the land.' And we received this [information] about five graves in Gaza," El Shafie said.

El Shafie said his group had also received reports about Christian families "being forced to cooperate with Hamas or their children or their wives will get raped or will get persecuted." So they were forced to cooperate with Hamas to protect their families, he said.

An estimated 3,500 Christians live amidst some 1.4 million Muslims in the Gaza Strip. The tiny Christian community had hoped for some protection from Hamas when it came to power.

But Christian and Western targets have come under repeated attacks in the last few years allegedly from Islamic fundamentalist groups. Two years ago a Palestinian Christian, who worked for the Bible Society, was kidnapped and murdered, reportedly for refusing to convert to Islam.

According to El Shafie, the situation of Christians in the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority is in control is better. The PA wants support from the West so the leaders try to portray themselves as a "democratic country," he said.

But El Shafie pointed to Bethlehem, the city of Jesus birth, where there has been a steady exodus of the Christian community for decades.

Bethlehem has become a "tourist zone" for the PA, he said. "Basically they don't want the Christians there but they want the Christian tourists to come and to take their money."

El Shafie is well acquainted with persecution. Raised in a prominent Egyptian Muslim family, El Shafie became a Christian at 18 years old. He was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death for his faith. He escaped and fled to Israel where he was helped by international organizations to immigrate to Canada.

He says the future of Christians in the Muslim world is up to the Christians in the West.

"From the beginning of the Holocaust until all the way to Darfur all of this did not happen just because the people are doing evil. It's because the people who sit around did not do something to stop it," said El Shafie.

He said Christians should pray every day for the persecuted church as well as take action by going to their congressmen or parliamentarians to raise the issue. In many cases Western countries are giving aid to countries that persecute Christian minorities. Westerners should demand that their governments connect international aid to improving human rights, he said. 

Despite the persecution, El Shafie said that Christians are still victorious.

"The persecuted Christians [are] dying but they [are] still smiling. They are in a very deep dark night but they still have the candle of the Lord the candle of hope. Our enemy have very strong weapon. Our enemy has [a] very strong army but we have the Lord Almighty.

"Count on it. Count on it. We will fight unto the end in Jesus name and always remember, they can always kill the dreamer but no one can kill the dream," he said.

*Originally published December 16, 2009

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Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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