The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip is threatening to shutter five Christian schools for allowing boys and girls to study in the same classroom, according to reports.
Christian leaders in the Gaza Strip blew the whistle on Hamas’ threats earlier this week after the ruling terror group signaled that it would enact a ban on mixed-gender classrooms.
This would force the closure of at least two Catholic and three other Christian schools in Gaza, the director general of Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine and Israel told the Catholic News Service (CNS) on Wednesday.
"It is a concern that in education things are getting more conservative," director general Father Faysal Hijazin told CNS, referring to Hamas’s ongoing attempts to turn the Gaza Strip into an extremist Islamic enclave. "It reflects the whole society. This is of concern to both Christians and moderate Muslims. It is not easy to be there."
Hijazin said that Hamas’ move to enact the gender ban would force the economically constrained school to close.
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Executive Director David Brog said Hamas's order is one piece in an ongoing anti-Christian campaign in Gaza.
"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 told the Free Beacon. "This is exactly why Arab Christians who are surviving the church burnings and bombings are fleeing the region in droves."
"The time is long past due for people of conscience around the world stand up and demand an end to these persecution," Brog said.
Muslim and Christian students studying in the schools operated by the Latin Patriarchate schools have regular contact, as opposed to the Hamas-run schools.
"This will be a big problem," Hijazin was quoted as saying by CNS. "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."
Hijazin said he would petition Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the issue.
Middle East experts say Hamas’ efforts to separate boys and girls, in accordance with an extremist interpretation of Islamic law, reflects the terror group’s radical roots.
"Since taking over Gaza by force in 2007, the Islamist government has arguably gone through a process of Talibanization," said Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury Department who now serves as vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
"Such measures may not resonate with the Palestinian population," Schanzer said. "But ‘Hamastan’ is not a democracy."
Hamas first ordered the gender segregation in April, after the territory’s parliament passed a measure dictating that boys and girls be taught separately in both public and private schools, Al Jazeera reported at the time. Boys and girls in fourth grade or above in the Gaza Strip will now be separated in the classroom and be taught by teachers of the same sex.
The law also forbids the "receipt of gifts or aid aimed at normalizing (relations) with the Zionist occupation," Al Jazeera reported.