January 7, 2019


Hamas has a positive legacy with Christians but it faces a serious test (Dr Adnan Abu Amer, January 7, 2019, Middle East Monitor)

Hamas has a positive legacy of good relations with Palestinian Christians. The head of the movement's Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, and a delegation of senior officials visited the Latin Monastery in Gaza City recently to wish Palestinian Christians compliments of the season. He stressed the strong relationship between Muslim and Christian Palestinians, as one nation belonging to one country and with one cause. There is, stressed Haniyeh, a deep historical relationship between them.

When a presenter on Hamas-controlled Aqsa TV used the term "Christian community" in reference to dealing with Palestinian Christians as a minority, the movement believed that this emphasised a non-existent issue. Attempts to create difficulties for Hamas were contrived, as the term carries no negative connotations.

It is estimated that there are 1,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip, out of a total population of two million. Seventy per cent of them are Greek Orthodox; the rest are Roman Catholics.

The official position of Hamas on Christians can be read from the point of view that, since its foundation in the 1980s, its relationship with Palestinian Christians distinguishes only between "those who lived with us, who have what we have and receive what we receive, and those who participate in Western attacks against us." The movement's founding charter, written in 1988, stated that Hamas "adheres to the permissibility of Islam with regards to followers of other religions. It is not hostile towards them, except those who fight it. According to Islam, followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism coexist in security and safety."

In the political document issued in mid-2017, Hamas asserted that, "The Palestinian people, with all their religious and cultural components, are one and believe that Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance. Palestine was and will remain a model of coexistence and tolerance and Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, including all of its Muslim and Christian sanctities."

In addition, Hamas has always included Christian holidays and religious events in its statements and activities, and officials have participated when possible. When strikes were called which coincided with a Christian celebration, then the strikes were switched to another date. This happened on several occasions during the First and Second Intifadas. Moreover, the movement has made sure to include Christians in Palestinian political life, maintained open relations with religious leaders, and had them on their side in national matters. The position taken by Palestinian Roman Catholic priest Father Manuel Musallam, for example, indicates the strong relationship that he has with Hamas.

"Hamas deals with its Christian brothers as a major component of the nation and an active player in the struggle against the occupation," explained the former head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khalid Meshaal. "It does not differentiate between Muslims and Christians in these matters, as we are partners in our homeland and everyone has rights and responsibilities."

When pro-Hamas candidates stood on the Change and Reform electoral list in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, they called for "respect for the rights of all on the basis of citizenship, and to maintain the Palestinian Muslim and Christian Awqaf [religious endowments], alongside justice and equality of opportunity for all citizens in recruitment, employment and promotion."

In practical terms, Hamas does not formulate its position on Christians and even Jews based on their respective views and beliefs, but on their stance on what the Palestinian people are exposed to. This stems from the reaction to aggression, not religious beliefs, which has paved the way throughout the long history of Palestine to good relations between Muslims and Christians across Palestine in general, and the Gaza Strip in particular.

Posted by at January 7, 2019 4:00 AM