TRIBUTES were paid this week to Rami Ayyad, the Palestinian Christian bookseller murdered in Gaza last Saturday.
Mr Ayyad, who was 31, was kidnapped by an unknown group as he closed the doors of the Bible Society bookshop in Gaza City at the end of the day. His body was found early on Sunday morning with signs of bullet and knife wounds, said a statement from Middle East Concern (MEC). A police escort was present at his funeral on Sunday afternoon.
Mr Ayyad was a well-known figure in Gaza, and managed the only Christian bookshop in the city. Six months ago the shop was bombed, causing significant damage.
The MEC statement said that Mr Ayyad and other staff were reported to have received threats from radical Muslims in the past few months, accusing them of conducting missionary activities.
Dr Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham and president of the Bible Society for England and Wales, said: “I want to express my great sadness at the death of Rami Ayyad in Gaza City. I am aware of the constant witness borne by those like Rami working in hostile and dangerous conditions every day. The work of the Society in Gaza, and other places of conflict, is in my prayers.”
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, said: “My heart goes out to Rami’s widow and family, and all those who are working for peace, which all people of faith hope and pray for. He is a genuine martyr.”
James Catford, the chief executive of the British and Foreign Bible Society said on Monday: “The staff at the Palestinian Bible Society, work against a constant backdrop of violence and conflict. They face the threat of attack daily. But they are dedicated to demonstrating the Bible’s life-changing message to the Palestinian people.”
He said that Mr Ayyad’s death was a tragedy, and that sympathy and prayers were with the family.
Mr Ayyad’s wife, Paulina, is pregnant with the couple’s third child.
Mr Catford will visit the area later this month with personal messages of support.
Labib Madanat, the chief executive of the Palestinian Bible Society, said: “Rami was the most gentle member of the team, the ever-smiling one. He was the face of our Bible shop, always receiving visitors and serving them as Jesus would.”
As well as running the Gaza bookshop, the society also runs a university-based community centre, providing materials to mothers in refugee camps so that they can make and sell crafts, and performs Bible-based puppet shows to schoolchildren in the region.
The Bible Society said this week that Palestinian colleagues are currently in talks to try to bring Mr Ayyad’s pregnant widow and two young children out of Gaza City to the West Bank.