The Teacher's Bookshop
The Teacher's Bookshop was a Christian bookstore in the Gaza Strip that was in operation between 1998 and 2007. Located in the centre of Gaza City, it was Gaza's only Christian bookshop, catering to the needs of Gaza's tiny Christian minority. In addition to selling books, the store also ran educational services and an internet café.
The election of the Islamist party Hamas in January 2006 led to growing chaos and lawlessness in Gaza, as Hamas and the opposition Fatah party fought each other for control. Islamic extremists, emboldened by the breakdown of law and order, threatened the life of the Christian bookstore's manager, Rami Ayyad, and the store was twice bombed, the second time doing substantial damage.
In October 2007, Ayyad was kidnapped and murdered by unknown assailants. Hamas condemned the attack and pledged to protect the remaining Christian community, but in the wake of Ayyad's murder the bookstore ceased operations.
The Teacher's Bookshop was established in 1998 by the Palestinian Bible Society, an arm of the Gaza Baptist Church. The Church is the only Protestant Church in Gaza, most of Gaza's small community of Christians being Greek Orthodox. At the time of the Bookshop's establishment, about 3,000 Christians were Gaza residents, a tiny minority in comparison with the approximately 1.5 million Muslims living there. Relations between the Muslim and Christian communities have historically been cordial.
Management of the store was placed in the hands of Rami Ayyad, a devout Christian and community leader, known for his charitable activities. In addition to selling Bibles and other Christian publications, the bookstore also offered computer classes and ran an internet café.
Intimidation and attacks
In a surprise result in January 2006, the Islamist Party Hamas won the Palestinian general election. The security situation in Gaza soon deteriorated amid skirmishing between Hamas militias and forces loyal to the previous Fatah administration, and Islamic extremists began to take advantage of the growing chaos and lawlessness.
On the night of February 3, 2006, two small pipe bombs destroyed the doors of The Teacher's Bookshop. Soon after store employees received a note demanding that the bookshop close permanently. Many Gazans, however, gathered to show their support, through a pro-bookshop rally. The store reopened five weeks later. Gazan authorities were unable to determine who behind the attack.
On April 15, 2007, the store was bombed a second time. The bombing took place as part of a string of attacks that targeted internet cafes and music stores the same day. No overt threats had been made against the store since the first bombing fourteen months prior. Prior to the bombing masked gunmen abducted and beat the store's night guard, demanding keys to the shop. The guard was reported to be in stable condition, and no other injuries were reported.
As no group claimed responsibility for the attacks, the attackers remained unidentified. Media speculated that a small group of Islamic extremists, targeting internet cafés for their access to pornography, and other businesses deemed to have a corrupting influence, may have carried out the attacks. Later events (see below) suggest that the Christian bookstore may have been targeted out of suspicion that its staff were engaging in evangelism.
Murder of store manager
Following the second bookstore bombing, the store's manager, Rami Ayyad, began receiving death threats. On Saturday, October 6, 2007, as Ayyad was locking up the bookstore at about 4:30 pm, he was abducted by unidentified assailants. The following day, he was found dead. According to witnesses and security officials, Ayyad had been driven a few blocks from the store by his abductors, then publicly beaten with clubs and rifle butts by three gunmen who accused him of trying to spread Christianity, before being shot.
Hamas condemned the killing as a "murderous crime", adding that "Muslim and Christian relations are very strong and will not be affected by such crimes committed by criminal elements." Hamas officials made visits to Christian community, and its spokesman promised to bring those responsible to justice. No group claimed responsibility for the murder. Sheik Abu Saqer, leader of an Islamist group known as Jihadia Salafiya, a group suspected of masterminding the April bookstore bombing, denied any involvement in Ayyad's killing, but accused Gaza's Christian leadership of "proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims with funding from American evangelicals." Saqer demanded that the governing authority in Gaza, Hamas, "work to impose an Islamic rule or it will lose the authority it has and the will of the people."
As the first religiously motivated killing of a Palestinian Christian in memory, Ayyad's murder sent shock waves through Gaza's Christian community. The Christian bookstore was closed, and Ayyad's widow and 3 children moved to the West Bank. In the three years since Ayyad's death, the growing Islamization of Gaza, along with a tough Israeli blockade and rising chaos and lawlessness, have placed increasing pressure on Gaza's Christians, and the Christian community there has dwindled from 3,000 to barely more than 1,000.
- "After murder, Gaza’s Christians keep low profile", msnbc.com, 2007-12-23.
- "Gaza's Christian bookseller killed", The Independent, 2007-10-08.
- "'I know how to make you a Muslim'", Haaretz, 2007-11-01.
- "Tested by fire; Gaza’s sturdy but small Christian population confronts Islamic militancy and the Israeli blockade," Mindy Belz, May 8, 2010, World Magazine.
- "Christian Bookstore Manager Martyred in Gaza City", Christianity Today, 2007-10-08.
- "Palestinian Bible Society building bombed in latest Gaza incident", Associated Baptist Press, 2007-04-20.
- "Bombed Gaza Christian Bookstore Vows to Re-Open", The Christian Post, 2007-04-17.
- "Christian Bookstore Owner Was Tortured Before His Death", The New York Sun, 2007-10-11.
- "Palestinian Christian activist killed in Gaza", Kuwait Times, 2007-10-08.
- "After murder, Gaza’s Christians keep low profile". Associated Press (MSNBC). 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2010-09-20.