Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza:
"Islamic movement" kidnapped 5 Christians
and forced them to convert to Islam
One of the converts responds that he converted freely
and will return home soon to his family
by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik
There is controversy in Gaza following the conversion of five Christians to Islam. The Greek Orthodox Church accused an Islamic group of coercion:
"The Islamic movement uses a dirty and dark, fear-inspiring approach; it employs heavy pressure, it extorts and uses undignified means, such as chemical drugs for the purposes of control and sowing fear in the hearts of those kidnapped."
A day after these accusations were publicized, a Gaza-based human rights group denied there was coercion and one of the five thought to be kidnapped released a statement:
"I have declared my conversion to Islam out of free will... I will come home soon."
The following are the reports on the Orthodox Church's accusations followed by the denial:
Orthodox Church's accusations:
"The [Greek] Orthodox Church in Gaza yesterday accused an Islamic group of kidnapping five Christians in order to force them to convert to Islam.
In a press release published during a sit-down strike, held at the site of the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza, the church's information bureau said: 'A dangerous Islamic movement is trying to persuade Christian youth and women to convert to Islam, thereby destroying Christian families and the Christian presence in the Gaza Strip.' It did not mention the name of the movement.
The press release added: 'The Islamic movement uses a dirty and dark, fear-inspiring approach; it employs heavy pressure, it extorts and uses undignified means, such as chemical drugs for the purposes of control and sowing fear in the hearts of those kidnapped.'
The press release stated: 'Ramez Al-Amash (24) was kidnapped on Saturday, in addition to a woman and three girls who were kidnapped from their homes on Wednesday.'
Spokesman for the Hamas police, Ayman Al-Batniji, said: 'We in the police emphasize most firmly that there has been no case of kidnapping, and reject these accusations.'
He emphasized: 'The youngster converted to Islam of his own free will, and the police tried to defend him when he approached the police for help, since he had a problem with his relatives while he visited his mother in a hospital.' He added, 'We call upon our Christian brethren, for whom we have the utmost respect and who enjoy unparalleled treatment in Gaza - not to spoil these relations.'
The church's press release continued: 'We requested of the honorable Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, to stop this Islamic movement immediately, and we told him that they must immediately return the woman, her young daughters, and the young man to their families.'
The press release also criticized the manner in which the policemen in Gaza behaved when the father of the kidnapped young man went to bring his son back. Their response was that they were unable to help him in any way, since they are unable to intervene in the work of a Muslim religious scholar named Salam Salameh (Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament). The press release continued: 'This conduct on the part of the Palestinian police shows that there is no security for anyone, nor protection for anyone, and that the present law is not capable of defending us. Therefore we hand over this problem to the government and to all those responsible for security in this country.'
There are 3,500 Christians living in Gaza, out of a population of a million and a half."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 17, 2012]
"A senior official in the area of human rights (from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights based in Gaza) announced yesterday that his organization has met with five Christians that the Orthodox Church in the Gaza Strip has accused of being kidnapped by an Islamic organization. He stressed that 'they are not kidnapped' and that they converted to Islam 'out of free will'... Father of the youth Ramad Al-Amash told France Press: 'They want to force my son to convert to Islam. I want my son either as a Christian or as a Muslim because in any case, he's my son.' He added: 'All our lives, we were Christians and we will remain Christians. We won't leave here because this is our country. I demand of the Hamas government to bring me my son.'...
The young boy Ramad said on Tuesday in a statement to the press: 'I have declared my conversion to Islam out of free will and without any coercion. I converted five months ago, but I announced my conversion to Islam this past Saturday.' He turned to his family to calm them: 'I am not kidnapped. Don't worry about me. I will come home soon and I will be with you.'"
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 18, 2012]