There's something deeply resonant, even symbolic, in the fact that this past Friday a library was destroyed just across the border.
12 gunmen launched an assault, yet another in a long series of attacks on Christian figures and institutions, on the YMCA library in Gaza City. The ever-reliable Palestinian-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the library was completely destroyed "in response to the re-publication of cartoons 'ridiculing' the Prophet Muhammad in a number of Danish newspapers last week." All 8,000 books were destroyed. A BBC report says the gunmen asked the guards why they worked for "infidels".
If you haven't noticed, several jihadist groups in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have previously claimed responsibility for earlier attacks on Christian figures and institutions, and murders of prominent Christians, over the past two years. The BBC quotes them saying "they would continue their attacks until all 3,000 Christians had left the Gaza Strip." Clear enough?
This is pretty alarming stuff. Not the bombing - we fully expect barbarism from the jihadists. But the stunning silence from the leaders of the Christian world.
It's not as if the writing isn't already on the wall: the manager of Gaza's only Christian bookstore was kidnapped, stabbed and gunshot to death four months ago in central Gaza City. The World Alliance of YMCAs condemned the Gaza bombing. And that just about exhausts the list of official Christian voices of outrage.
Stan Goodenough of the Christian news-service JNewswire based here in Jerusalem, describing the process as Moslem ethnic cleansing, puts it pretty pungently: "For Gaza's Muslims, ridding themselves of any active Christian presence would be cherry on top after successfully forcing Israel to remove every single Jew from Gaza in 2005."
The voluble Archbishop of Canterbury, no stranger to public pronouncements on the role of Islam, has been absolutely mum. This, in stark contrast to his recent expressions of deep understanding of Moslem values, as quoted in The Times, that since "certain conditions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law... it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system." As well as comparing Muslims in Britain to the Good Samaritans, praising the Muslim ritual of praying five times a day, asserting that terrorists “can have serious moral goals” and arguing that the 9/11 terrorists should not be called evil. (Hard to stomach, but it's all here.)
Christian Aid condemned Friday's Gaza bombing, right? Nope, they're fully engaged blaming everything on Israel. In fact, nearly every mainline or progressive Protestant church in the U.S. has condemned Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past few years (as this thoughtful CAMERA study by Dexter Van Zile points out)... while maintaining a puzzling silence about the role of the Arabs and the Muslims in perpetuating this ongoing war against Israel and the Jews.
But from over here, close to the action, there's not that much room for confusion. There's an Arabic taunt the jihadists use: "Abel es-sabbat jibel-ahad"; After Saturday comes Sunday. This is fairly easy to understand in the context (Jews keep the Sabbath on Saturday). The results are manifest to those who care to look. Arafat redistricted Bethlehem in 1996, redrawing its municipal boundaries to include Moslem villages nearby and reducing the then-80 percent Christian population to a minority. The result is that today no more than 20% of Bethlehem's population is Christian, and according to the Jerusalem Post, Palestinian Christians are today no more than 1.5% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip population, down from at least 15% a half century ago. Archbishop Williams knows this... but he understands it differently. Two Xmases ago, he visited Bethlehem and wrote about its shrinking Christian numbers. But he knew why, and didn't hesitate to share the insight: "the tragic conditions created by the 'security fence' that almost chokes the shrinking town". The terror attacks that brought Israel to take security measures, and that took the life of our daughter, were not even mentioned in passing.
Not a great time to be admiring the state of religious leadership. In 1821, Heinrich Heine wrote: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen." Or "Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people." Can we expect courageous religious leadership when that happens?