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ICC Note: One more note on Christmas in the Holy Land.

Christians in Gaza keep Christmas celebrations quiet

Reporter: Matt Brown
West Bank/Gaza/Islam (for the full story go to Australian Broadcasting Corp) Like millions of fellow believers, the tiny community of Christians in Gaza celebrated Christmas, but it was extremely low key, as many now fear for their lives following the recent murder of a prominent activist in the conservative Muslim territory.
SCOTT BEVAN: Relations between the two faiths have generally been cordial for centuries, but many Christians now fear for their lives after the recent murder of a prominent activist.
This report from Middle East correspondent, Matt Brown.
MATT BROWN: It’s a small, tight-knit community in one of the world’s most intense hot spots. 3000 Christians live amongst 1.5 million Muslims, and the two groups usually get along well.
FATHER ARCHEMANDRITE ARTEMIOUS, GAZA GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH: We don’t talk about friendship, we talk about brothership. Both of them are Palestinians but with different religions. Same blood, same nationality.
MATT BROWN: But lately, dark forces have been shadowing the Christians of the Gaza strip. The worshipers have been rocked by a murder.
FATHER ARCHEMANDRITE ARTEMIOUS: Afraid, very sad, they have a lot of questions.
MATT BROWN: Anisa Ayyad’s son, Rami, has been killed. He was a prominent and vocal advocate for his faith. Ramzi Ayyad believes his brother was killed by a radical Muslim.
RAMZI AYAD, BROTHER (translated): Rami was well known in the Christian society as a very strong believer. He spent most of his time in the Church praying and teaching others, so he stood out.
MATT BROWN: In the lead up to the murder, Christians were targeted in a string of escalating attacks. And Christians and Muslims alike have been alarmed.
FATHER ARCHEMANDRITE ARTEMIOUS: For Christians, after what happened to Rami, so they are afraid to be here because they see bombing, then they see shooting, then they see hitting and then they see killing. What is the next one?
MATT BROWN: His family are Greek Orthodox Christians, but Rami Ayyad was a member of the Baptist Church, the only Evangelical Church in the Gaza strip.
When Rami Ayyad was confronted by Islamic radicals, he was warned to convert to Islam or face the judgment of God.
PASTOR HANNA MASSAD, GAZA BAPTIST CHURCH: He told us he would never give up his faith, even if it will cost him his life.
MATT BROWN: The tension was mounting. Then, finally, Rami Ayyad was stalked, kidnapped and killed.
PASTOR HANNA MASSAD: We believe it’s because of his faith. They, the militant group who didn’t like Christian and they tried to put pressure on him and when he continued to hold to his faith, they killed him.
MATT BROWN: The Islamist militant group, Hamas, seized control of Gaza in June and the eyes of the world have been upon them ever since. Hamas is more moderate than groups like al-Qaeda or the Taliban and it promised to safeguard the Christian minority. So it was alarmed at the message the execution of such a well known Christian could send.
MATT BROWN: Many Christians say there’s a growing intolerant Islamist sentiment in Gaza, one Hamas has failed to quash. Church leaders complain that Hamas hasn’t done enough to counter anti Christian incitement in the prayer rooms of Gaza’s mosques.
FATHER ARCHEMANDRITE ARTEMIOUS: Its message, they have to stop it. Because they bond together, they live together, they went together into this school. Today, this changed, and it has to be back as it was before – together.
MATT BROWN: Hamas counters it’s doing all it can to keep an eye on the radical fringe and keep the Christians secure.
AHMAD YUSSUF: In all communities there are radicals actually, but those people actually not the driving force in their community. Those people are minors and few numbers here and there. Nobody listening to him, actually.
MATT BROWN: But the radicals have spread a new climate of fear and they’ve weakened the truly ancient foundations of this community.