Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules Gaza, is drawing criticism after an internal document was leaked in which it urges Islamic authorities to limit “interactions” by Muslims with Christmas.
A Hamas spokesman said the document, seen by some Gaza Christians saw as an insult to their faith, was an “administrative error.”
An administrative circular issued by Hamas’s Minister for Religious Affairs Abd al-Hadi Sa’id, the document proposes “preventing interaction with Christmas” through Islamic religious edicts and public campaigns in the media. It was leaked last weekend by the Palestinian news site Amad, a Cairo-based outlet affiliated with former Gaza security chief Mohammad Dahlan, and has been making waves ever since.
“This edict…threatens the social fabric and national unity,” Palestinian political analyst Omar Sha’aban wrote in a Facebook post.
Hamas, which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, has been the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip since 2007. The two-million-strong coastal enclave is overwhelmingly Muslim, but over 1,000 Christians live in the area as well.
Senior officials in the Palestinian Authority — longtime rivals of Hamas — quickly seized on the document to claim that Hamas was attempting to impose a ban on Christmas celebrations in Gaza.
“This decision batters the basis of our people’s unity, and the respect for different creeds and faiths, and freedom of worship and opinion,” said PA Civil Affairs Commission chief Hussein al-Sheikh in a tweet.
Hamas’s religious affairs ministry later released a statement saying Christians “have the right to hold their religious celebrations and they should not be either insulted or limited.”
Christmas celebrations are well-attended in the Gaza Strip in normal years, drawing Muslims and Christians alike.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has entered Gaza in full force in recent weeks. There are currently 10,202 active coronavirus infections in Gaza hospitals, and nearly 31% of coronavirus tests came back positive on Thursday. Hamas has declared a nightly curfew for the past two and a half weeks, banned large public gatherings, and announced that the weekends will see “total lockdown.”
Because of efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus. Christmas Day — like every Friday and Saturday for the past few weeks — is officially a lockdown day in the Gaza Strip.
But the administrative circular was released by the religious affairs ministry, not by the Gaza health ministry, and did not mention the pandemic.
Hamas international spokesperson Bassem Naim called the document “ambiguously worded” and “an administrative error.”
“Muslims and Christians are part of the same stolen homeland, and both possess the full rights and duties of citizenship,” Naim said, deeming the reaction to the matter disproportionate.