The revolutionary matriarch of Hamas
Mariam Farhat, a newly elected Palestinian legislator, advocates an Islamist vision.
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It is difficult to tell how actively Farhat and others pushing for a more Islamist agenda will work in the face of the stalemate with Israel and the potential for worsening economic conditions. Some Palestinian analysts warn that Hamas must be mindful of the core issues that got them elected.Skip to next paragraph
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"People voted for Hamas not for their beliefs and not for their attitudes toward peace and Israel. They voted for Hamas because they are tired of Fatah and their corruption," says Nabil Kukali, the head of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, in Beit Sahour in the West Bank.
"No one said they voted in order to have an Islamic curriculum or to change Palestinian society to make it based on Islamic principles," he says. "Most Palestinians are waiting to see what Hamas will do on our economic issues, what they will do over recognition with Israel, so I don't know how they could raise these other kinds of issues at this time."
With external issues at a standstill, it is the internal issues that Farhat is most willing to talk about. Hamas's prime minister-elect, Ismail Haniya, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas have been meeting in Gaza in recent days in an effort to come to some agreement on a political agenda, but Hamas's viewpoint has remained steadfast. It wants a continuation of the armed struggle and the possibility of reaching a tactical truce - but never peace - with Israel.
Privately, some Palestinians view Farhat, also known as Umm Nidal (mother of Nidal, her oldest son) warily. Giving one son "to the cause" is considered exemplary; some might say giving three borders on extreme. Two, active in the military wing of Hamas, were killed by the Israelis. Nidal burst into a Jewish settlement in 2003 and shot dead five people before being shot himself.
Farhat kissed him goodbye and endorsed his martyrdom-to-be in a Hamas video he made before the suicidal mission. She was later quoted saying that she wished she had "100 sons to sacrifice."
Farhat stands by her statements, but says that she cries for her children every day. She decided to go into politics for their sake.
"I cannot deny that as a mother I am suffering from the loss of my children, but there are priorities," she explains, as one of her surviving sons sets out tea and baklava on a lace-covered table. "We are occupied, so who should fight the occupiers? If there were other ways of regaining our rights, we would follow them. What we learned from the Zionist enemy is that the only way is resistance."
To be sure, not everybody here is equally convinced.
Eyad Serraj, the head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Center and an expert in children's health here, says that an abundance of religion is already taught in schools; he learned the Koran from the age of 6. But with a Palestinian pedigree such as hers, he says, Farhat is somewhat unassailable: For a Palestinian to criticize her would be like attacking Mom and apple pie.
"She is a symbol because her sons were martyred and martyrs are so glorified here," says Dr. Serraj.
"People are so willing to die for this, and then these people become untouchable and much like a taboo. I think we can bring her down to earth by having her in parliament," he says.