RAMALLAH, April 21 (JMCC) - The several thousand Christians in Gaza say that they seek to acclimatize under increasingly conservative Islamic norms, reports al-Akhbar
, but some women tell of difficulties.
Henna, a lady in her 70s, agrees that only by coming to church do Gaza Christians get any sense that it is now a holiday, but says that everyday life is “normal” as far as they are concerned. “There is no difference between us and the Muslims,” she says, her hands continuing to weave the palm fronds without interruption. “If you want to live, you need to acclimatize.”
Do Christian women experience any harassment for not wearing the hijab? She smiles slightly before replying. “Hamas as a government does not tell us to cover our heads or anything like that, but if you mean from someone on the street who might want to interfere and mouth off, then perhaps, yes. But from Hamas as a government, no.”
“We’re all the same under occupation. Israel prevents Christians just as much as Muslims from going to Jerusalem,” says pediatrician Nabil al-Sayegh.
But what about home-grown injustices?
He replies, with evident “patriotic” embarrassment, that there is a measure of discrimination. He says, “For example, as a doctor working at al-Shifa hospital, I was banned three years ago from attending births, because I am a Christian.”
When asked if this is because he is a Christian, or because he is a man, he affirms it has to do with his religion.
This begs the question of how Christian students are treated at universities. One young woman, Nevine, says that when she was a student she refused to go to the Islamic University because she did not want to wear the jelbab and headscarf. “That is about my personal freedom, but ‘they’ believe that the university is subject to Islamic sharia so all must wear the hijab. So I went to study at al-Quds Open University instead, because there is no pressure there on how you dress.”
But her Christian friend was forced to don the hijab to study at the Islamic University, because the course she wanted was not offered elsewhere in Gaza. Her parents did not want her to travel abroad to study and Israeli restrictions prevented her from attending a West Bank university.
Nevine says she also knows a Christian coroner who was barred from conducting post-mortems on Muslim women, on the grounds that non-Muslims are not allowed to see them uncovered.