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ICC Note:

A Catholic school established under the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1856 has only experienced its first persecution now under the rule of Hamas in the West Bank .

AsiaNews (04/07/06) – Burned school rooms, church window panes destroyed, bible study halls set on fire and Catholic youth threatened by Muslims: thus runs a list of escalating violent attacks against Christians in Ramallah since Hamas won the election.

The parish priest, Fr Ibrahim Hijazin, 55 years, reported the violence to AsiaNews. Fr Ibrahim has been the parish priest in Ramallah for nine years and for 13 he has been running the Al Ahliyya school that educates poor Christian and Muslim children. The college was set up in 1856, in the time of the Ottoman Empire , and it had never been the target of violence before.

Once upon a time, Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian presidency, was considered to a Christian city with at least 40-50,000 Christians. Now at least 30,000 have emigrated to America and countries in the Gulf. Now, as a result of the emigration, out of an overall population of around 40,000 people, Christians number around 10,000, sub-divided into Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Melkites and Catholics, who are around 2,000.

The parish priest said the thugs were people coming from outside who were determined to discredit the government of Hamas and its capacity to maintain law and order.

“On 10 February, while I was in Jericho for a meeting of the Legion of Mary, with the patriarch of Jerusalem , a youth called to warn me that a classroom had been burned,” Fr Ibrahim said. “When I arrived, I found the remains of two Molotov cocktails, thrown at the windows that had the glass panes broken. We called the police and they started an inquiry but we have not any result.”

Once again, “on 5 March, a Sunday, after Mass, one of my parishioners came to let me know there had been another fire started in the basketball ground of the school. All the equipment was destroyed and the hall was completely ruined. Then too we called the police, but they have not yet managed to find out who was behind it. This time, however, around two dozen people from Hamas came. They proposed putting Hamas men to guard the building and the church, even inside, but I declined the offer, accepting only to have one guard outside.”

“All these incidents took place at night. Once, when Cardinal Theodore Mc Carrick of Washington was here with the patriarch, we made the matter known to the President Abu Mazen, and he also promised to rectify the situation. But so far, we have seen no results at all. We continue to face problems even with the community: our youth meeting in the evening for activities are often threatened and beaten by Muslim youth, who come and force their way into the parish building. We have reported this too to the police.”

The parish priest does not think anyone has anything against him: “I am very well known because the school welcomes Christian and Muslim youth, very poor ones, and there is a beautiful friendship among them. Before the Intifada, we also had Judaism courses and Israeli youth used to participate.”

As for who could be behind the incidents, “we think they are coming from outside Ramallah. Suspicion is falling on Palestinians who are against the Hamas government and who want to ignite inter-faith conflict” to discredit them. The parish priest swore there were never any problems with Hamas.

Other Christian communities have also been targeted. On 20 March, the Lutheran Church had all its windows and panes of glass broken. The headquarters of the Protestant bible association of Birzeit “Living stones” was burned down. On the doors, someone had written: “Oh Prophet of God, [we are] at your service!”