Attack on 80-Year-Old Christian Escalates Fears in Gaza

A recent attack on an 80-year-old Christian woman in Gaza City raised fear among Gaza's Christian community not only of subsequent assaults, but also the fate of long-held peaceful relations with their Muslim neighbors.

Claire Farah Tarazi was the latest victim of anti-Christian attacks in Gaza since Hamas took control of the area in June, reported The Jerusalem Post this past week. Tarazi's house was invaded by a masked man who, during the course of the robbery, beat her hands with a club and also hit her head with a tool causing her to bleed.

"As soon as I opened the door, he pushed me inside and shouted: 'Where is the money, you infidel?' I shouted back: I'm not an infidel - I'm a proud Palestinian Arab," Tarazi recalled to the Post.

The assailant locked her in her bedroom as he searched for money, but Tarazi was able to escape through another bedroom door and went to a neighbor for help.

Tarazi's relatives pointed out that she was attacked because of her faith.

"The fact that the attacker called her an infidel speaks for itself," a relative, who was not identified, told the Post. "He clearly knew that this was a Christian woman living alone. He would not have dared to do the same thing to a Muslim woman."

Christian leaders in Gaza have called on Hamas officials to make greater efforts to protect Christians in light of the instability and lawlessness in Gaza following its takeover, according to the Post.

Masked gunmen who torched and looted the Rosary Sisters School and the Latin Church in June "used rocket-propelled grenades to storm the main entrances of the school and church," recalled a priest in Gaza.

"Then they destroyed almost everything inside, including the cross, the Holy Book, computers and other equipment," said Father Manuel Musalem.

"Those who did these awful things have no respect for Christian-Muslim relations," he said.

There was relative peace, even if sometimes uneasy, between Gaza's 1.4 million Muslims and 3,000 Christians.

Previously, Christians were respected citizens and considered part of Gaza's elite as they ran schools, hospitals and businesses. The late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, assigned Christians to top positions in the government and the Fatah movement.

Even after the Gaza takeover, the Hamas-led coalition government consisted of a prominent Gaza Christian, Hussam al-Tawil. Moreover, Hamas forces had protected Gaza's Greek Orthodox Church from angry Muslims after Pope Benedict XVI's comment on Islam.

Yet Muslim-Christian relations are unraveling as attacks against Christians continue despite Hamas' promises to protect the community.

Gaza is in a constant state of instability with frequent threats of military invasion and rocket exchanges with Israel are coupled with international pressure, mostly from Western nations, who consider Hamas a terrorist group.

Since June, Israel has sealed off its border with Gaza, allowing only basic humanitarian goods to enter. As a result, many of the 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip see themselves as living in the largest open-air prison in the world.

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