BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AFP) – The shrinking Christian population of Bethlehem is struggling to conceal its fears for the future after the victory for Islamists of Hamas in the Palestinian general election….
Shortly after their election, some newly-elected Hamas deputies evoked the idea of introducing some aspect of Sharia law, including a general edict for women to wear a veil and for a separation of boys and girls at school.
Although the movement’s leadership rapidly distanced themselves from the idea, some Christians — who now account for only around three percent of the Palestinian population — still fear that is the ultimate goal of the Islamists.
One woman, who gave her name as Rula, was less worried about being forced to wear a veil but was nevertheless depressed about the prospects for the future.
“They will oblige maybe the Muslim women, but not us,” she said….
Since their election victory, Hamas’ leaders have been bending over backwards to asssure Christians that they have no reason to be fearful.
But the likes of Walid Andonia, wearing a cross as as he sunned himself near the church with a bunch of friends, was far from convinced.
“Sure, now Hamas says nice things, but five years from now, I don’t know. They’re not saying everything they want to do,” said the stone mason.
“A lot of Bethlehem Christians are leaving and going abroad. They are selling their houses and their land to Muslim and leaving.
“I would go in a minute if I could. We’re like in a cage, here. We hate our life, even if we love our country.
“Those who say they are not afraid of Hamas are lying to you. Give visas to America or Europe, and you’ll see how fast Bethlehem Christians are going to leave.”
“I tell you, my Muslim friends are as worried as I am. They drink more alcohol than us. They don’t want their women to wear the veil… But they will have to.”
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas’s traditional stronghold, shops have long stopped selling alcohol while the United Nations social club, the last outlet to serve wine and spirits, was trashed on New Year’s Eve.
That kind of influence has yet to be felt in Bethlehem where a range of whiskies were on sale at the Jacaman supermarket.
“For the time being, they didn’t say a word about alcohol. Believe me, they have bigger things to worry about. They are in big politics, now, which should keep them busy for a while,” said the store owner George Jacaman.
For a while.