Published: 10:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 25 July 2012
Beleaguered Christians in Gaza protest over conversions
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Holy Land
A protest over fears that five Christians had been kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam has highlighted the plight of the Christian community under Islamist rule in the Gaza Strip.
The protest took place in Gaza city
Dozens of Christians staged a demonstration in Gaza on Monday 16 July over the conversion of Ramez al-Amash (24) and Heba Abu Dawud (32), along with her three daughters.
The local church said that a group of armed Islamists kidnapped the Christians and forced them to convert to Islam. In a statement, the church said:
The dangerous Islamist movement is trying to convince Christian men and women to convert to Islam, destroying Christian families and the Christian presence in the Gaza Strip.
The Islamist movement uses dark and dirty methods, sowing fear and using intense pressure, blackmail, and dishonest means including using chemical substances to control and terrify those who have been kidnapped.
The leader of the church said that Ramez was abducted on Saturday 14 July after being heavily pressured to convert to Islam and had been prevented from seeing his family. He said that Ramez’s parents had reported the matter to the police but they had done nothing after discovering that the orchestrator was a senior cleric linked with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Heba and her three children were said to have been abducted the previous Wednesday.
Ramez’s mother, Huda al-Amash, said:
If things remain like this, there’ll be no Christians left in Gaza. Today it’s Ramez. Then who, and who will be next?
The church’s claims have been denied by Gaza police and the government. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said that Ramez, Heba and her three daughters had not been kidnapped and had willingly embraced Islam.
There has been no word from either of the two adults concerned.
The case has highlighted the plight of the Gaza Strip’s tiny Christian community, which has been increasingly marginalised and harassed since Hamas came to power. Their daily lives are extremely difficult, and several Christian stores and schools have been vandalised by Muslim extremists. While Hamas has said that it is committed to protecting the Christian minority, crimes against Christians go largely unpunished and are under-reported.
The Christian population has shrunk from an estimated 3,500 to 1,500 in recent years, and there are fears that it could disappear altogether.