Hamas bans Muslims from attending Christmas celebrations in Gaza

FIDA dubs Hamas decision departure from values ​​of tolerance, brotherhood that have always prevailed among Palestinians, Christians, Muslims

Palestinian women wearing face veil, niqab, make Santa-themed Christmas toys in the northern Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian women wearing face veil, niqab, make Santa-themed Christmas toys in the northern Gaza Strip
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas has decided to “limit interaction” with Christmas celebrations in the Gaza Strip, drawing sharp criticism from many Palestinians, especially Christians living in the Gaza Strip.
The restriction, which is not connected to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, was included in an internal document issued on December 15 by Dr. Walid Owaidah, Director-General of the General Authority of Preaching and Guidance in the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Wakf and Religious Affairs.
The document, addressed to Dr. Abdel Hadi al-Agha, Deputy Minister of the Wakf and Religious Affairs, is titled: “The Activities of the General Authority of Preaching and Guidance to Limit Interaction with Christmas.”
Hamas defended the decision and claimed that it applies only to Muslims who attend non-Muslim celebrations.
The document recommends a series of measures to “limit interaction” with Christmas celebrations in the Gaza Strip. The measures include, among other things, issuing a fatwa (Islamic ruling) and waging an online campaign about the need to impose restrictions on the celebrations. In addition, the document recommends that Muslim preachers and media outlets participate in the campaign.
The number of Christians in the Gaza Strip has significantly dropped in the past decade. In 2009, there was an estimated 3,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip. Today, there are less than 1,000 still living in the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave.  
Several Palestinians condemned the Hamas move as “racist” and said it was a sign of the Islamist movement’s ongoing crackdown on Palestinian Christians.
“This is a dangerous document by Hamas,” said Ramallah-based human rights activist Shaheen Fahmi. “This is a crime and those responsible should be held accountable.”
Political activist Mohammad Abdel Salam said that the Hamas decision was not different from those taken by ISIS and the Taliban. “These folks don’t recognize the Christians as natives of the land,” he added.
Mohammed Abu Jayyab, a journalist from the Gaza Strip, said that he was hoping to see Hamas devise a plan “to curb officials’ corruption and encroachment on people’s rights” instead of targeting Christians. “Every year, we affirm that we are incapable of bringing about positive change,” Abu Jayyab wrote on his Facebook page. “We continue to adhere to all failed plans and policies.”
The Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA), a secular PLO group, expressed outrage over the Hamas decision, dubbing it “a blatant departure from the values ​​of tolerance and brotherhood that have always prevailed among the Palestinian people, Christians and Muslims alike.”
The group said that the decision was “a clear violation of both the [Palestinian] Declaration of Independence and the Palestinian Basic Law, which stipulate reject Intolerance and emphasize the right of all to freely practice their religious rites.”
It further warned of the danger of such moves, saying that they “pose a threat to the Palestinian civil peace, provoke abhorrent sectarian strife, and serve only the enemies of our people, especially the Israeli occupier.”
The Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, another PLO political group, condemned the policies and measures of the Hamas movement that target public freedoms and rights guaranteed by Palestinian law.
“The most important characteristic of Palestinian society is tolerance and coexistence among all components of the Palestinian people,” the group said in a statement. “The Hamas decision is an assault on freedoms and a serious violation of the rights of an integral part of our Palestinian people.”
The group pointed out that Hamas’s decision was not related to efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. “This confirms beyond a reasonable doubt that the decision stems from a narrow sectarian vision,” it added, warning Hamas of the dangers of its policies “that spread the poison of division among Palestinians.”
The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Wakf and Religious Affairs on Saturday evening issued a “clarification” regarding the controversial decision . “Our policy is based on tolerance in Islam, which sanctioned freedom of worship,” the ministry said. “The Christians in Palestine in general, and in the Gaza Strip in particular, are partners in the homeland, the cause and the struggle, and we represent with them the highest values ​​of human coexistence and have strategic relations with them. The [Hamas] government secures their religious rituals and protects their churches and places of celebration.”
According to the ministry, the document concerning the Christmas celebrations was directed to Muslims who participate in religious events of non-Muslims and has nothing to do with Christians holding their celebrations.