Gaza: Hamas tightens, then backs off, Islamic social strictures
Hamas appears to be trying to boost its Islamic credentials at home through restrictions on women's dress and men walking with women who are not family.
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According to the Hamas charter, communitywide adherence to strict Islamic principles and armed resistance to Israeli occupation will grant Palestinians victory in the fight to regain their land.Skip to next paragraph
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A 'reccomendation,' and armed patrols
While no one has been tried or imprisoned for "un-Islamic" behavior, many locals say they have adjusted their behavior so as to avoid trouble. This summer, for example, saw a spate of reports of young men being detained and warned by policemen about their "immoral behavior" after being caught with women who were not relatives. Hamas-appointed chief justice Abdel Rauf al-Halabi, who sparked the female lawyer furor, says the government is simply drawing from the territory's already Islamic character. "Palestinians in Gaza are already Muslim; they do not need Islamization," says Mr. Halabi. "I simply reminded them of a law ... that requires [female] lawyers to cover their heads and to dress in accordance with the professional nature of their positions."
According to Khalil Abu Shammala, director of the Gaza-based Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights, that law – passed during the British Mandate – is no longer valid. Mr. Shammala also says that despite government use of soft terms like "reminder" and "recommendation" regarding dress and behavior, armed patrols leave little room for interpretation.
"Everyone knows Hamas has the power," Shammala says. "And power doesn't recommend – it imposes. With the tools we know the Hamas government uses to control Gaza, if you receive a 'recommendation' from them, you won't take it as a piece of advice. It is an order."
Hamas is notorious for its heavy-handed and sometimes brutal security. While it ended Gaza's rampant crime and clan battles, it maintains its hold with a harsh mix of checkpoints, arrests, and patrols.
But successfully straddling international and domestic demands may reap Hamas a number of benefits, says Gaza-based political analyst Talal Okal. "The international community wants political solutions from Hamas, that's what is important to them," says Mr. Okal. "They want Hamas to recognize Israel and to renounce violence."
"If Hamas does this," Okal continues, "it will be so huge, the international community will likely let slide any social measures they implement at home. And Hamas knows this."•