The holy month of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar came in loud and clear in our Ramallah area. For the first time in the last twenty-five years I was shocked to hear that you could receive a ticket or be sent to jail if you are found eating before 5pm in public, never mind in the streets, most restaurants were given strict orders not to serve food. This was completely shocking to me since I was under the impression we were working for a free Palestine, a democratic Palestine; a Palestine that could be modern and secular to encompass all faiths and ethnic groups. But to do so, we must struggle with the fanatics on all sides.
The unspeakable and shocking violence that happens during holy days is incomprehensible. I am happily sitting at the printing shop trying to get the new copy of "Coloring with Christina", a little coloring book version based on the original Christina Goes to the Holy Land helping promote our Christian presence in the Holy Land. Something to keep myself productive as I have failed to bring big money or any money to the International Academy of Art Palestine project which I have been working for the last year.
Shocked to see what is coming off the printing press is the photo of the recent tragic death announcement of 30-year-old Rami Ayyad in Gaza, a son, a husband, a father of two preschool sons and minority Christian worker in Gaza for the Bible Society. Kidnapped at 4 pm on Saturday, October 6, 2007 at his Bible Society office called "The Teacher Book Shop" he was returned dead early Sunday morning with a bullet to his head and shoulder, four knife wounds, and a deep slash to his forehead with what might have been a heavy duty wooden object which apparently tortured Rami prior to his death.
Rami being the secretary for the Bible Society worked on promoting the OPCY (Operation Palestine Children and Youth) programs in Gaza in addition to other Bible Society work for women, children, youth and relief work.
Imad from the Bible Society office in Jerusalem said the whole staff was in complete shock since there are nine people working for the Bible Society in Gaza and they will like to keep their presence and witness since they are the only Christian Palestinian organization working with marginalized groups in Gaza. He recently talked to Rami's wife to express sympathy as she is four months pregnant and was emotionally moved to hear her say that if the baby is a boy she will name him "Rami." No one has taken responsibility for the torture and death of Rami Ayyad. It was a brutal and atrocious killing. Nine-day memorial services will be held this Friday and surely our prayers and deepest sympathy is expressed to this innocent and young humanitarian worker.
It is during these moments that especially we must remember our Christian values and traditions reflected in Matthew 5:43-44 "You have heard that it has been said, thou shall love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you."
Not personally knowing Rami but knowing the loving caring work of the Bible Society by personal experience and knowing the witness for Christ that staff members live, I can only say that Rami is a martyr for Christ in my eyes. All of the members of the Bible Society that have generously given their time over the years to do excellent programming in Taybeh for our children express Christ's love and peace for humanity. When over fifty organization were contacted for emergency help in Taybeh for fourteen burned homes, the Bible Society was one of the few in matching donors to help all fourteen families in relief efforts for their tragic loss. We are outraged by this tragic action in Gaza targeted at a Bible Society employee and call upon all loving human beings of all religious groups to condemn such killings and foster understanding and reconciliation of Christian organizations in fanatic environments.
I find hope in small things and the only thing that can encourage me at the moment that I can have a future as a Christian woman living in Palestine is the beautiful large photograph that I saw of the Holy Nativity Church in Abu Mazen's office, the president of Palestine, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas on the day I was honored to meet him last month. When I saw this wall size photo along side the Islamic holy site, I was encouraged that Palestine means Christians and Muslims peacefully living together and co-existing for a better future than the recent bloodshed that has lasted over seven years now under Israeli reoccupation of the Palestinian Territories.
I can only find comfort in Psalm 34:14-15 "Depart from evil and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry." Thus may the Lord hear and save His people.
Dr. Khoury is the chairperson of the Taybeh Orthodox Housing Project which has started to build twelve homes for Orthodox Christian families in Taybeh-Ramallah to help maintain the Christian presence in the Holy Land with the help of the Boston Greek Orthodox Metropolis.
She was born in the US, but moved to Taybeh (biblical Ephraim) after marrying David Khoury, an Orthodox Christian Palestinian.
Maria Khoury is author of Witness in the Holy Land and the children's book, "Christina's True Heroes" about seven women saints.