Christian Schools in Gaza Threatened with Closure by Hamas Law Mandating Gender Segregation

A female Palestinian teacher speaks to a class of girls at a school in Gaza City on April 2. (Getty Images)

Five Christian schools in Gaza will have to shut down if the Hamas leadership implements a new education law forcing gender-segregation of classrooms.

The director general of Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine and Israel told Britain’s Catholic Herald that two co-educational Catholic and three other Christian schools will most likely have to close because they don’t have the money to build separate facilities for boys and girls to comply with the new law.

“This will be a big problem. We hope they will not go through with it, but if they do, we will be in big trouble. We don’t have the space and we don’t have the money to divide our schools,” Fr. Faysal Hijazin said.

Under the new law, boys and girls over the age of 9 will have to learn in separate classrooms, while men will not be allowed to teach girls. This means that in addition to massive construction costs, the Christian schools would have to foot the bill to double their teaching staff along gender lines.

“We will never accept this even if we have to close the schools,” Hijazin said, adding that Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal hoped to speak with Hamas’ Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniya to voice the Catholic Church’s concerns. The Latin Patriarch is the highest ranking official of the Vatican in the Holy Land.

Hijazin pointed out that though the new law does not single out the Christian schools, Christian schools are the only schools in Gaza that are co-ed.

“It is a concern that in education things are getting more conservative,” he said. “It reflects the whole society. This is of concern to both Christians and moderate Muslims. It is not easy to be there,” he said.

Christians United for Israel Executive Director David Brog told the Washington Free Beacon that the new law is just the latest example of the Hamas-led anti-Christian “persecution.”

“This assault on Christian schools is yet another in the almost daily litany of attacks against the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East,” Brog said.

“This is exactly why Arab Christians who are surviving the church burnings and bombings are fleeing the region in droves,” he said.

Brog added, “The time is long past due for people of conscience around the world stand up” in order to demand an end to this kind of “persecution.”

The Atlantic last month spoke with the principal of a Christian school in Gaza who said, “If we enforce the new law, it will harm the values we believe in and that we try to share with our students. We teach our kids to live together in peace and to respect each other, no matter what religion or gender they are.” The principal asked not to be named due to tensions with the Hamas government.

Palestinian school girls and boys walk in front of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency elementary school in Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, on April 2. Gaza’s Hamas-controlled parliament has passed a law requiring separate classes for boys and girls in public and private schools from the fourth grade. Currently, boys and girls are separated in grade seven in public schools, but private schools can set their own rules (AP)

Some affluent Muslim families choose to send their children to Christian schools because of their high academic level. The principal told the Atlantic, “Hamas has already started to attack our center by threatening our employees and by trying to convince the Gaza Muslim inhabitants to not send their kids to our Christian school — even though it’s one of the best in the Strip. They can impose the mixed-gender ban anywhere but I won’t submit this school, and its principles, to their segregationist will.”

Hazem Balousha, a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza, wrote in Al-Monitor in April, “The new law has raised fears among NGOs and the Palestinian community in the Gaza Strip as it comes in the context of a series of measures, campaigns and laws designed to Islamize Palestinian society and impose restrictions on women through the imposition of hijab and gender segregation in all institutions.”

The legitimacy of the new law is being questioned, as some of the politicians who voted were out of town or in prison and had to rely on proxies to cast their vote, according to the Atlantic.

“Any law to be enacted in Gaza or the West Bank should go through the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and be signed by the Palestinian president. But, because the education law was only ratified by the Hamas bloc within the PLC, with no regard for the necessary quorum, it’s technically illegitimate,” the Atlantic reported.