The last time I saw Rami, we were at the beach near Gaza City. A group of us were in the water and I was trying to force Rami underwater. Rami was a big man, weighing at least twice what I do. Needless to say, I did not manage to get him to budge. When he in turn came after me, all I could do to protect myself from suffocating under him was flee. Eventually I was able to sneak up on him under water, pull his legs out from under him, and escape again.
There are around 3,000 Christians living in Gaza today. Rami was the office director of the Teacher's Bookstore, a Christian bookstore in downtown Gaza City. The store sells Christian books and offers computer and language lessons, which are attended by Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip. When I would visit the place, Rami was always there on his swivel chair cracking jokes. Few people entered that did not already know him. Gaza can be a place of sadness, and Rami always reminded me much more of the mentality of Egyptians - laughing and joking no matter how depressing life becomes.
On Saturday afternoon, Rami closed his shop as he always did at 4:30 p.m. He had told his brother that three days earlier he had sensed he was being followed home after work, but had not made much of it. Two hours after closing up, he called his wife and told her with much uncertainty that he hoped to be home in two hours and not to worry. He was not able to say where he was or why he was there. Rami never came home. Friends and family searched for him until late into the night. At 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, his body was found beaten, a bullet through his head, another through his chest. His wallet, ID, and watch were gone.
No one has made any statements, no group has taken responsibility. This is the first time in Gaza's recent history that a Christian has been kidnapped and killed. Sadly, such incidents do occur in revenge killings - usually of political nature - but never with religious causes. In Gaza, Muslims and Christians live and die side by side, sharing every element of the Israeli occupation - a reality for as long as most Gazans alive today can remember. Rami had no political or factional involvement, nor was his family implicated in any feuds. Rami's boss was quoted in The Independent saying, "We don't know who was behind the killing or why. Was it for money, or was it because he was selling Bibles?"
Gaza is a place overrun with violence. Readers of this blog have followed the complexities of the makeup of Gaza's social and political makeup, I will not repeat again what I have so often said before. Violence here has deep roots in injustice and occupation, but beyond this, every individual, every political grouping, and every community makes the choice of projecting their experience outward and returning violence for violence. In Gaza, victims of bloodshed often themselves become shedders of blood.
Rami experienced the harshness of occupation, the limitation of curfews, Israeli military incursions, civilian targeted sonic booms, restrictions on travel beyond the 365 square kilometer confines of the Gaza Strip, and the strife of civil war. Rami chose to respond to violence with laughter, love, and peace. The strength to live such a life is what I hope for Rami's killers. It is what I hope for every Palestinian living and born into the living hell of Gaza today.
Philip Rizk is an Egyptian-German Christian who lived and worked in Gaza from 2005-2007. He blogs at: tabulagaza.com