Christians face forced conversion in Gaza

Reports out of the Gaza Strip indicate several Arab Christians have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam.

Palestinians show picture of convert in Gaza 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
Palestinians show picture of convert in Gaza 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
The small Christian community in Gaza is living in fear not because of Israeli security measures, but because of radical Islamists. In the latest episode of Muslim intimidation and abuse, recent reports out of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip indicate several Arab Christians have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam.
The Christian population in Gaza has dwindled today to somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 believers, who live among an estimated 1.7 million Muslims in a crowded strip of land governed by the militant Islamic faction Hamas.
Their desperate plight has hit the headlines before.
In June 2007, the Gaza Baptist Church was literally caught in the middle of the factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah when Fatah police seized the church for “security” purposes and placed snipers on its roof.
In October 2007, the Palestinian Bible Society bookstore was bombed twice and its Christian manager, Rami Ayyad, was murdered in the street. Hamas authorities have yet to search for and prosecute his assailants.
Thus, Gaza’s tiny Christian flock is in danger of evaporating through emigration and forced conversions.
Under Hamas rule, Christians in Gaza have been oppressed and increasingly pressured to become Muslims.
“If things remain like this, there’ll be no Christians left in Gaza,” said Huda Al-Amash, mother of Ramez, 25, who was recently abducted and forced to convert to Islam.
According to sources in the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza, Ramez Al- Amash was one of five from their congregation forced to convert in July.
Ramez was kidnapped from his home and prevented from familial contact.
An Islamic group released a video of Ramez declaring he had voluntarily become a Muslim.
This led to a public protest where Christians stood in the square of the ancient Church of Saint Porphyrius and angrily chanted, “Bring back Ramez!” He was united with his family the next day.
Hiba Abu Daoud and her three daughters simply disappeared one day in July. Her husband later received a mobile phone message informing him that she and her daughters had converted to Islam.
The wife and daughters soon appeared in a video, posted on a pro-Hamas website, wearing full Muslim dress. They stated: “We are living with a [Muslim] family. They bring us all we need. They teach us how to pray and everything. I love you all, I hope no one feels upset with me. It was my decision which I made months ago.”
Her husband noted that at the university she experienced intense pressure from her Muslim co-workers to convert. Family members insisted she was acting under duress.
Gazan Christians blame the Hamasaffiliated Palestine Scholars Association and its chairman Salem Salama for the abductions and forced conversions of Ramez, Hiba and her daughters.
Salama responded that Christians do not face pressure to convert and that only 11 Christians have visited him to announce their conversion to Islam in the past five months.
“No one is forced to change his religion. This is the instruction of our holy book [the Quran],” Salama insisted.
Hamas also rejected the notion that anyone was being forced to convert, claiming they turned to Islam of their own free will.
Archbishop Alexios, head of the Greek Church in Gaza, is demanding the end of forced conversions and calling on the international community to intervene.
Despite the threat of reprisal attacks, his congregants were brave enough to stage the rare public protest in July against the recent abductions and the general persecution of Christians.
Gathered in front of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Perfidious in Gaza City, protesters rang a church bell and chanted, “With our spirit, with our blood we will sacrifice ourselves for you, Jesus.”