Mistreatment and Allegations of Forced Conversions
The situation of the tiny Christian community of the Gaza Strip, which reportedly (AP) comprises 1,500 members residing amongst 1.5 million Muslims, is precarious at best. Living in a territory ruled by Hamas, a Muslim fundamentalist terrorist organization, Christians are being subjected to mistreatment, while reports of forced conversions to Islam continue to surface.
Ever since Hamas seized Gaza from the secular Fatah movement, Christian residents of the Strip have feared for their lives, appealing to the international community to protect them from attacks by Islamist extremists. One year after the Hamas 2006 takeover, Rami Khader Ayyad, the owner of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore, was kidnapped, brutally beaten and murdered. Christian schools, shops and a church have been firebombed and looted, while individual Christians have been harassed and robbed.
These acts and others have apparently led Christians to flee Gaza. AP reported (July 17) that since Hamas took over in 2006, the number of Christians in Gaza has decreased from 3,500 to 1,500. Those left feel threatened but prefer to keep silent about the way they are treated.
Following are a number of recent reports regarding forced conversions of Christians to Islam:
• Palestinian media reported that scores of Christians held a sit-down strike (16 July) at the Elrom Orthodox Church in Gaza City to protest the kidnapping of a young man and two young women, and the attempt to forcibly convert them to Islam.
• Bishop Alkesius, head of the Orthodox community in the Gaza Strip, claimed that Ramez Alamash, a 24-year-old Christian resident of Gaza, was kidnapped by Muslims on Saturday, 14 July. According to the bishop, the kidnappers are demanding that he convert to Islam. They are holding him in a refugee camp, either Almaghazi or Alborj. He added that the young man’s mother went to the police to submit a complaint, but nothing was done because the leader of that group of Muslims is Dr. Salem Salame, who represents Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council and is also the Chair of the Association of Religious Sages of Palestine in the Gaza Strip. The Bishop noted that the mother didn’t feel well and was taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza, where she had contact with the kidnappers, who brought her son to the hospital under heavy guard. However, they refused to let him return home.
The Bishop appealed to all the official entities in Gaza to put an end to the kidnapping of Christians by armed Islamic groups, who (according to the bishop) drug the Christians and demand that they convert.
• The Public Relations office of the Orthodox Church reported that on July 11 a woman and three girls were kidnapped from their home. The Church appealed to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Heniya. In its press release, the Church noted that the police refused to intervene in the Ramez kidnapping (above) because an Islamic religious figure (Salame) was involved. The Church concluded that no one is safe and that the law cannot protect Christians, and holds the Hamas government and senior officials responsible.