Hamas starts the ‘Islamisation’ of Gaza

Date published: 14th August 2009

Source: El País (translated from Spanish into English by 3.071 Km)


The population rejects the plan of the fundamentalists to impose a strict Islamic morality – female lawyers will have to use the ‘hijab’ in court.

A group of young people enter a store and advise the owner to remove the dummy from the window. Underwear for all to see -sometimes suggestive lingerie-  is a long-outdated indecency. As it is that men walk along the beach of Gaza with their uncovered chest.

The police has also requested documentation to couples walking down the street to check whether they were married, although the measure was quickly cancelled after some angry reactions and protests by several NGOs in the Palestinian territory. Guns have fallen silent over the past six months, but Hamas and its government are working in other fields. They now encourage or attempt to impose certain behaviors that are appropriate to Islamic law and morality.

“The campaign is in accordance to our religion and traditions. We have seen some dangers for our youth and our role is to warn our people about these things,” said Taleb Abu Shaar, Minister of Religious Affairs. Although Abu Shaar ensures that no one is forced to do something they dislike, the campaign has met with a rejection greater than expected. And not only among the laity.

Many streets of Gaza are full of posters that encourage, for example, not smoking. It would be very, very strange to see a leader of Hamas cigarette in hand. “Those who do this are not always civil servants, but they are members of Hamas. The posters call for maintaining a decent performance,” said Maru, who lives in the neighboring refugee camp of Jabalia, and is sympathetic to the fundamentalist movement.

The Islamist government and its judicial bodies have decreed that from September the 1st all female lawyers must go to court with the hijab. There are thousands of women working in companies, ministries, hospitals or schools. Of course, driving. Gaza is not Saudi Arabia. The authorities claim that they only seek to apply a law in force since 1930, which regulated the mode of dress of lawyers and judges. It is perhaps the most relevant of a number of measures that cause discomfort in the laity, but also among many of the religious people of the Strip. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights based in Gaza, has criticized the blatant illegality of the initiative.

“Of course, the laity do not like this to happen. But many people who sympathize with Hamas, either. Not that fervently oppose the measures, but they think the Government could focus on more important matters,” Maruan explained. Institutions operate at half gas: Sixteen departments were razed during the war launched by Israel last December. The Palestinian Authority, bitter rival of Hamas, pays from Ramallah the payroll of their former employees with the only condition that they do not work for the islamist government, which has forced the government of Ismail Haniya in Gaza to recruit inexperienced staff. Complaints are heard. “Yes, they might be polite, but they are incompetent,” Maruan adds.

The slow process of Islamisation of the Palestinian society started decades ago. Because religious practices are by no means unique to Gaza. In many cities in West Bank -ever ruled in the past 15 years by a secular-nationalist government- you can not buy a can of beer in a store. Walking by a Muslim woman in Hebron or Nablus who does not cover her head is an equally complicated task. And Ramadan is scrupulously respected in public spaces. Hamas will not be the one to slow down this trend.  “I,” says the director of an NGO in Gaza, “I tried my 16 years old daughter not to wear the hijab. No way. She uses it because she wants to. All her friends wear it.”

As it regards to many other hot topics, Hamas is not monolithic. Several leaders called for further implementation of the controversial decisions. Others preferred to stop. A member of Hamas recognised recently in this newspaper: “Society is not yet ready to implement Islamic laws.” In three years of almost complete dominance of the Strip there were few decisions that led Hamas to further Islamicise the Strip’s society, which has raised harsh accusations from Al Qaeda against the Palestinian Islamist party.

It is difficult to know whether this warm way launched by Hamas  will reduce its sympathies. It may lose from one side what gains from the other. “Old style entrepreneurs are always satisfied to bring a few bags from Israel. The Israeli blockade has left them without any goods. But the blockade is creating a new business network that thrives on the tunnels of Rafah, an industry that  the fundamentalist movement controls,” says the head of the mentioned NGO in Gaza.

Hamas is building its own economic structure, having restored the judiciary and police. “I don’t really think it is losing popular support, although the  discomfort of many people with certain decisions is undeniable,” he concludes.

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