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Palestine's Lutheran community wary after Hamas victory

Making Islamic law a national standard would challenge Christian groups

Palestinian voters gave Hamas, a militant political movement, a mandate to organize the government and run the country following a January 27 election. The victorious group is known for sponsoring suicide bombings and rejecting the right of the state of Israel to exist. Its leaders may also try to require all citizens, including Christians, to follow strict Islamic practice.
The Rev. Mitri Raheb, who serves Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, admitted that Hamas’ absolute victory was “a shock for all” — the losing Fatah party, because it had held power since 1964; the winning Hamas group because they didn’t expect such a sweeping victory.
Raheb said he did not minimize “the threat and danger behind the ‘green revolution.’” Green is Hamas’ official color. “Neither do I dismiss the possibility of the society’s Islamization, or a potential clash between Hamas and Fatah,” he added.
The Lutheran clergyman said the change in leadership “means the end to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as we know it. A new political landscape has to emerge now. This brings with it endless possibilities.”
Said Raheb, “The people of Palestine have to get used to regularly call[ing] their representatives to accountability through this method of democratic elections.”
He said, “Palestinian Christians are called not to be afraid, neither to panic nor to withdraw from the public sphere.”
In a statement released following the election, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Ishmael Noko said, “Violent means are not compatible with democratic leadership and ethical legitimacy in the community of States, not only for Palestine but for all other States and peoples.” Noko said LWF calls upon Hamas to “transform itself in its policies and approaches concerning the State of Israel.”
Dr. Bernard Sabella, a resident of Jerusalem, won a seat in the Palestinian parliament on the opposition Fatah ticket. A Christian, he said, “All Palestinians without exception want an end to Israeli occupation and the sooner the better. The question of how to accomplish this has been debated again and again in various Palestinian factions and movements over the years. Now that Hamas has become the political majority movement, the debate is going to be on its agenda.”
Sabella said he was not alarmed at the political turn of events, but rather “cautiously optimistic.” He added, “We need lots of wisdom on both sides.”