Esther from Islam in Europe was kind enough to translate an article from the Belgian press about all the various Islamic rules being enforced in Gaza and the reporter came to the astonishing conclusion that Gaza is not an Islamic state somehow.
© MOHAMMED SABER
Gaza hasn’t become an Islamic republicSaturday, Dec 19, 2009Guus Valk, NRC Handelsblad
A year after the war with Israel, Hamas has the power in the Gaza Strip firmly in hand. But the Palestinian fundamental movement hasn’t made an Islamic emirate from the area. “It’s a complicated picture”.
Five Hamas soldiers, recognizable by their darker uniform, sit in a row in front of a sentry box with a barrier, about a kilometer from the northern border-crossing with Israel, Erez. Here and there they stop taxis with foreign visitors, every day a handful of diplomats, volunteers and journalists. In the guardhouse several suras from the Koran hang on an A4.
A soldier finds a bottle of beer in the trunk of a foreign traveler. He shows it to the other border soldiers. They confer and go inside. The bottle is registered on a form. Then they open outside a hole above a deep pit, where they throw it. They traveler looks with surprise on how the men get big stones in a routine manner, and pelt the bottle with them. Once they’re finished, they smile and wish him a good trip.
“We must be consistent,” says Fawzy Barhoom, spokesperson and Hamas leader, in his office in Gaza City. Portraits of Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh look down on his desk. “Drinking alcohol is Haram. It’s not available in the Gaza Strip. We can’t impose that on our own people without also asking it of foreigners. We are a moderate Islamic party. But we take care of upholding several important Islamic values, that is our duty.”
For two and a half years Hamas has had the power in the isolated Gaza Strip firmly in hand. Though Israel a year ago tried to overthrow the Hamas government in a three week long war, the movement wasn’t forced to its knees.
On the contrary, you would say as you drive around the center of Gaza City. Countless building lie in ruins or are damaged, but the Hamas police is visible everywhere. Agents guard intersections, hotels and government buildings. Police departments have been built up again with corrugated iron, clay or whatever else is available. Green Hamas flags decorate the streets of Gaza City. “Order and authority are our most important priorities,” says Barhoom.
‘Hamastan’ – so Israeli ministers like to call the Gaza Strip since the takeover by Hamas. A strict Islamic enclave, ruled by the religious fanatics. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, spoke in October of ‘the emirate of darkness’ which rules the Gaza Strip.
Gaza hasn’t become an Islamic republic. Sharia, the Islamic law, hasn’t been introduced. Parties with live music are allowed, so it appears in the renovated bar Orient House, on the coast. While Hamas agents keep watch outside, hundreds of exuberant men and women clap inside deep into the night with a band playing stirring Arabic music.
Women study and are often politically active. On the other hand, drinking alcohol and homosexuality are strictly forbidden. Since recently motorcycle riding isn’t allowed any more. Capital punishment for drug traders has been introduced.
“The picture after two and a half years is complicated. It’s exaggerated, not to say laughable, to compare Gaza with an Islamic emirate,” says Mkhaimer Abu Sada, profession of political sciences at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. This university is the more or less secular counterpart of the Islamic University and has strong support from sympathizers of Al-Fatah, Hamas’ rival. Abu SAda is impartial and mediates between both parties.
According to Abu Sada, life for the residents of Gaza hasn’t really changed since Hamas is ruling on its own. “It is safer on the streets, the anarchy of fighting-groups battling each other has disappeared.” But, he says, there are incidents. “The problem is more that there’s no opposition, that Hamas can do what it wants.”
Education, says Abu Sada, is a good example of that. This summer girls who weren’t dressed modestly enough, in headscarf and dress, were expelled from several schools. Hamas denied that it was responsible for this rule.
Abu Sada: “Nobody know if that’s true, but Hamas is responsible for something else. Recently the ministry of education has been trying to separate men and women in school. The ministry wants that boys will only be taught by male teachers, and girls only by women. There have also been incidents in the legal field. Suddenly women lawyers have to wear a headscarf and gloves. After protests by women that was quickly retracted.”
During the afternoon Cafe Mazaj (‘mood’) is full of visitors. Mazaj, with a Western looking interior and countless flavors of coffee and tea, is popular among the rich elite of Gaza City. The visitors are young, highly educated. Without exception the women have makeup, some don’t wear a headscarf. The men and women sit separately. In the women’s section there’s loud laughter.
“There’s nothing to do in Gaza,” says Maram Abed, a 20-year old IT student from Al-Azhar University. She often sits with her girlfriends in Mazaj, one of the few coffee-bars in Gaza. “There are two, three places where I can go if I want to have fun. I never go alone, and never with a boy. Out of the question. Alcohol, dancing or seeing a movie are also not allowed. I would like to, but this is Gaza.”
Wala’a, her study partner, nods. But, she says immediately, “It’s not because of Hamas. It’s because this is a small area.” Maram: “Everybody knows each other. And people here have time to gossip. You quickly cause a scandal.”
Wala’a: “Before Hamas was it wasn’t much better”.
Maram laughs. “Why do you think people marry so young? Then they finally have a legitimate reason to party.”
Ban on motorcycling
The ‘Turkish model’, Hamas leader Fawzy Barhoom calls the policy of his party in the Gaza Strip. “We want to propagate Islamic values, sometimes also in daily life. But only because this wish comes from the people themselves. The Gaza Strip is conservative, you should know. And the main thing is this: we are a Palestinian liberation movement. We want to throw off us the yoke of the Israeli occupation. We are not out to establish an Islamic republic, neither do we want to force our religion on Jews of Christians at any cost.”
The ban on motorcycling for women has, according to Barhoom, nothing to do with Islam. “Scientific research shows that women on motorcycles cause accidents more often. Women can drive cars.”
Political analysts in Gaza say that Hamas is under more and more pressure of Salafist movements – Sunni fanatics – in the Gaza Strip, who think the path of the movement is too moderate. Those movements are suppressed with a tough hand. Leaders are killed, and Salafist supporters disappear in prison for ‘rehabilitation programs’.
But Hamas admits that support for these groups is increasing. Mkhaimer Abu Sada thinks that it is trying to win over the conservative part of the people. “Therefore they come up with Islamic-clothed laws or regulations. That happens more often, and it often has the character of symbolism-politics.”