by Khaled Abu Toameh
"We only hear voices telling us not make too much noise. Today it is happening in the Gaza Strip, tomorrow it will take place in Bethlehem. In a few months, there will be no Christians left in Palestine." — Christian man, Gaza City
Are Palestinian Christians living in the Gaza Strip being kidnapped by Muslims who force them to convert to Islam?
This is a story that is considered taboo among many Palestinians, who prefer to lay all the blame only on Israel.
According to the Greek Orthodox Church in the Gaza Strip, at least five Christians have been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam in recent weeks.
If anyone has good reason to fear for his life it is Archbishop Alexios, head of the Greek Church in the Gaza Strip, who is spearheading the protests against persecution of Christians and forced conversions.
In the past few days the archbishop has come under sharp criticism from many Palestinians and the Hamas government for daring to speak out about the plight of his community.
Islamic groups and human rights activists in the Gaza Strip claimed that the Christians converted to Islam of their own free will.
They even released a videotape of a young Christian man, Ramez al-Amash, 24, in which he declared that he had voluntarily abandoned his faith in favor of Islam.
The church blamed an unidentified terror group of being behind the forced conversions and called on the international community to intervene to save the Christians.
Church leaders also accused a prominent Hamas man of being behind the kidnapping and forced conversion of a Christian woman, Huda Abu Daoud, and her three daughters. Shortly after she disappeared, the woman sent a message to her husband's mobile phone informing him that she and her daughters had converted to Islam.
In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.
The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.
Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help.
But according to Christian families, the world does not seem to care about their plight. "We only hear voices telling us to stay where we are and to stop making too much noise," said a Christian man living in Gaza City. "If they continue to turn a blind eye to our tragedy, in a few months there will be no Christians left in Palestine. Today it's happening in the Gaza Strip, tomorrow it will take place in Bethlehem."
The public protest by the Christians in the Gaza Strip is a first step in the right direction. This is a move that could finally draw the attention of the international community, including Church leaders across the US, to the real problems and dangers facing Palestinian Christians.
Radical Islam, and not checkpoints or a security fence, remains the main threat to defenseless Christians not only in the Palestinians territories, but in the entire Middle East as well.Khaled Abu Toameh
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