By Yadin Elam
In an article published in Time magazine late last month, Finance Minister Yair Lapid explained why he supported Israel’s decision to suspend talks with the Palestinian Authority. One of the reasons Lapid lists is the character of the Hamas regime which rules Gaza.
Hamas “rules over Gaza in a reign of Islamic terror that has resulted in the murder of hundreds of Christians just because they are Christians, the oppression of women, and the public hanging of homosexuals from electricity poles,” wrote Lapid.
The claim that Hamas is responsible for the murder of hundreds of Christians surprised me. I follow what is happening in the Gaza Strip and I did not remember a report on the murder of hundreds of Christians, whether because they are Christians or for any other reason. At first I thought there was a mistake in the Hebrew translation I read on Haaretz’s Hebrew website, but when I read the English original, I saw that was precisely what Lapid had written.
True, Lapid has already been accused a number of times in the past for not being precise. But these cases were mostly things he posted on Facebook, and I assumed he and his staff conducted a thorough examination of the facts before sending the article to be published in a respected international magazine like Time.
That is why I started checking the basis of the claim. I found numerous reports about the difficulties facing the Christian community in the Gaza Strip since Hamas took power there, and data showing the number of Christians in the Gaza Strip has fallen from some 3,000 people in 2007 to 1,400 in 2011 as a result of emigration, whether to the West Bank or elsewhere. But I found mention of only one Palestinian Christian who was killed in the Gaza Strip: Rami Ayyad, who owned the only Christian bookstore in the Gaza Strip, was accused of missionary activity, and was viciously murdered in October 2007.
Other than references to this case, I could not find any source indicating that Christians were being killed in Gaza, and certainly not that hundreds were being murdered.
Since at this stage I still assumed that Lapid’s claims had a factual basis, I posted the following message on his Facebook page on April 29, two days after his article was published: “Minister Lapid hello, you wrote in an article in Time magazine that Hamas rule in Gaza ‘resulted in the murder of hundreds of Christians just because they are Christians.’ I tried to find proof for the claim that hundreds of Christians were murdered in Gaza since Hamas took power and I did not succeed. Could you please refer me to the source you based [this claim] on?”
Even though my question was posted at 9:12 P.M., not even six minutes passed before Uri, a staff member for the Yesh Atid party headed by Lapid, answered me: “Hi Yadin, I am attaching an article on the matter, you are definitely invited to search for more articles on the issue.”
The article that Uri referred me to was that of Israeli journalist Enrique Zimmerman, which was broadcast on January 29, 2010, on Channel 2’s “Ulpan Shishi,” which at the time was hosted by none other than Yair Lapid. In fact, it was Lapid who introduced Zimmerman’s story. But what the report actually said was that the Muslims in the Gaza Strip were trying to conduct “ethnic cleansing” by encouraging the Christians to leave. The only case of murder mentioned in the story was that of Rami Ayyad. At the end of the report, Lapid told the viewers that Hamas denounced attacking Christians and claimed the attackers were religious fanatics.
I sat down and wrote to Uri: “The story from 2012 that you attached does speak of the difficult lives of Christians in Gaza, but it only mentions the murder of one man. So the question of what is the proof for the claim that ‘hundreds of Christians’ were murdered in Gaza still remains, and I would be happy to receive an answer to it.” In response, Uri quoted to me the headline of the report: “Christian schools, public and cultural institutions are burnt and blown up, and Christian public figures are being murdered.”
“The headline already says that Christian public ‘figures’ are being murdered,” Uri wrote. “Simple logic means this is more than one person, and therefore, in the story they gave the example of one person.”
To my great regret, this answer failed to make it clear how Lapid could have concluded from the story that “hundreds of Christians” were murdered in Gaza, and so I continued to question: “And you still have not brought a single bit of proof — and when hundreds of people are murdered there is a lot of proof — for the claim that hundreds of Christians have been murdered in Gaza since Hamas took power. After all, Minister Lapid based himself on sources and did not invent this claim, so why it is so hard to produce one piece of evidence?”
But neither Lapid nor anyone else on his behalf has bothered to answer this simple question. Could it be that Lapid invented the claim of hundreds of Christians murdered in the Gaza Strip?
Let us take a brief detour. On October 28, 2009, Berlanty Azzam, a Christian student who was nearing the end of her studies at Bethlehem University, was expelled from the West Bank because her official address was in the Gaza Strip. During that period I served as the head of the legal department of Gisha, a legal advocacy group for freedom of movement, which, along with Azzam, petitioned the High Court of Justice to allow her to return to the West Bank to finish her degree.
On December 12, slightly more than a month before Zimmerman’s report on “Ulpan Shishi,” the High Court denied the petition. Several briefs on both sides were filed during the hearing, but not one of them said a word about any danger Azzam might face as a Christian living in Gaza.
I call on Lapid to reveal to Time magazine’s readers, to the readers of Haaretz and to the rest of the citizens of Israel — whom he represents — the basis of his claim that “hundreds of Christians” were murdered in Gaza. I have no doubt that if Lapid discovers there was a mistake in his article, he will not hesitate to correct it.