Palestinian Christians take a 'wait and see' approach to Hamas win

Following their initial shock, many Palestinian Christians are taking a "wait and see" approach to the last Wednesday's Hamas election victory, although some young Christians have expressed concern about the future.

"I was shocked," said Rami Giacaman, 19, a Catholic student at Bethlehem University whose family owns a souvenir shop on Manger Square in Bethlehem, West Bank. "I didn't imagine that Hamas would win. I am just a little bit concerned about things changing that may hurt us."

Catholic News Service reports that Suheir, 24, a Catholic owner of a high-end women's clothing boutique in the Bethlehem area, who preferred not to have her last name used or the exact location of her store revealed, said she hopes Hamas will not venture into the social sphere of Palestinian life. She said she is concerned that the new ruling party could try to implement dress and social codes based on Islamic law.

"I will never cover myself; it is simply impossible for me to do that. If they (impose) such rules for girls, we won't accept that," said Suheir.

Although she said the results were not as she had hoped, she noted that the elections had been conducted democratically, resulting in the Hamas parliamentary victory over the secular Fatah Party.

The election results were the main topic of conversation at a recent gathering where the majority of guests were Christian, said a middle-aged Bethlehem Catholic professional, who requested anonymity.

"I think people are now realizing that first of all it was not a vote for an Islamic party but it is a vote to punish the Palestinian Authority," he said, adding that even Hamas realised that.

Hamas, a militant Islamic group, is responsible for countless suicide bombings in Israel. It is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and many European nations, all of whom have expressed their refusal to deal with Hamas until it disavows its violent tactics and accepts the existence of Israel.

Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh, who is Catholic, vehemently rejected the rumor that has been going around since the beginning of the election campaign that a Hamas win would mean the implementation of a tax on non-Muslims.

Hamas is not interested in interfering in people's "normal social life," Batarseh said, especially not in the Bethlehem area known to have a "special character." He also didn't think the Hamas win would affect tourism to the city.

Bernard Sabella, a Catholic who is a newly elected Fatah parliament member, said having Hamas in the political system would actually be a way of transforming the group into a formal political party that will have to provide the stability, quality education, better medical care and other social reforms people will expect.

"There is a high responsibility now on Hamas to deliver," said Sabella. "I am not alarmed and the majority of Christians are not alarmed, though of course there will be some voices (expressing concern). We have to wait and see what happens."

Palestinian Christians take a 'wait and see' approach to Hamas win (Catholic News Service 30/1/06)

Official says Hamas victory worries Holy Land Christians (CathNews 30/1/06)

1 Feb 2006