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ICC Note:

This story relates the way Christians have reacted to the newly elected Hamas government, which advocates a violent fundamentalist brand of Islam.

The Jerusalem Post (02/23/06) – Palestinian educator Dr. Maria Khoury geared up for the winter chill with what was at the time a meaningless purchase: a black silk scarf with silver stripes to drape around her neck.

But now, on her daily excursions from the West Bank ‘s Taiba to nearby Ramallah, the scarf serves as a political symbol of the changing times.

“Since Hamas took over, I cover my head in Ramallah,” she says. “I don’t feel comfortable.”

In the largely cosmopolitan Ramallah, though they comprise some 10 percent of the population, Christians are becoming less and less visible.

The first time that Khoury ran into her local parish priest there with her head covered, he raised his eyebrows and laughed.

“I see more and more women covered up,” Khoury says, explaining that for now, it’s preferable to play it safe and assimilate on the street, even if she would never choose to cover her head otherwise.

“Years ago I even used to go in short sleeves,” she says. “You’d have to put a gun to my head to get me to wear short sleeves now.”

With fear of government-supported religious coercion on the rise since Hamas’s unexpected win in January’s Palestinian elections, Christians across the West Bank and Gaza Strip are keeping a low profile, with eyes wide open.

Though no changes on the ground have affected their rights as of yet, they are watching carefully and anxiously to see if an already precarious “church and state” separation in Palestinian government is about to disintegrate.

They have reason for concern: If Hamas follows on its founders’ path to fight Israel and install strict Islamic religious rule, Palestinian Christians stand to become a legally subjugated minority inside Palestinian society, while suffering further conflict with neighboring Israel .

A small minority, estimated to be between one to two percent of the total Palestinian population, Christians have long been in an awkward position, managing a balancing act of simultaneously being insiders and outsiders.

Local Christians see themselves as part of a single Palestinian people with Muslims – with a shared destiny, language and culture, a shared political goal to keeping their land in a safe, sovereign Palestinian state and shared suffering and anger.

On the other hand, they are an ever-shrinking minority, with separate religious beliefs and rituals, trying to fight for religious equality and oppose violence as a means of legitimate struggle, without isolating or alienating themselves from the larger Palestinian population. Intermarriage between Palestinian Christians and Muslims is a rare, sensitive and sometimes risky issue.

Further exaggerating the balancing act in recent years is an insecure relationship with western Evangelical Christians, who fervently support Israel , leaving indigenous Palestinian Christians on the other side of the security fence sometimes feeling neglected or like the enemy, despite a shared reverence for the Christian Gospels.

Amidst this already tenuous situation, Palestinian Christians are holding their breath, as a new Palestinian leadership determines their future.

While locals and analysts doubt Hamas will enforce a strict Shari’a religious law, the Christian community is proceeding with a “just in case” caution…[Go To Full Story]