By Enzo Greco
Gaza’s Hamas government denies claims that a Christian Orthodox man had been forced to convert to Islam, saying he had willingly changed religion.
Can a tiny enclave of 1,500 Christians (there were 3,500 in 2006) stir up tension amid 1.7 million Gazan Muslims, as declared by Health minister Bassem Naim, a Hamas leader in Gaza? Are the accusations of forced conversions in the Gaza Strip “pure baseless fabrications of the Orthodox Christian Church which contain no truth”?
The controversy between the Hamas Government and the Orthodox Church in the Gaza Strip started when a statement issued by the latter explicitly accused an unnamed Islamist organization of “kidnapping” 24-year-old Ramez al-Amash, along with a woman and three girls, forcing him to convert to Islam and preventing him from seeing his family.
Gaza police say that the young man is staying with a Muslim religious official at his request, because he fears retribution from his family for converting.
“The young man insisted that he converted to Islam without pressure on him to do so, and that he attended the meeting (with his family) without the presence of armed men before, during or after it,” Hamas Health Minister Bassem Naim said in a statement.
According to Gaza’s Archbishop Alexious, the young man’s parents filed a police complaint, but the police ignored it after learning that the mastermind behind the alleged kidnappers was a senior cleric identified with the ruling Hamas.
Forced conversions are unheard of in Gaza, but the tiny Christian community feels that crimes against them have not been properly investigated and more often than not violence goes unreported.
“If things remain like this, there will be no Christians left in Gaza,” Huda Amash, the mother of Ramez al-Amash, told AP. “Today, it’s Ramez. Who will be next?”
“Such accusations lack credibility and push an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence towards tension, which does not serve the Palestinian people”, Hamas Health Minister Bassem Naim remarked.
The controversy is far from over.