In its latest attempt to try to impose a conservative Islamic way of life on Gaza, Hamas started this weekend to enforce a ban on smoking water pipes in public.Hamas are bad policy makers in the first place, but what else could you expect from a militant group?
A spokesman for the Hamas police, Ayman al-Batniji, said that the ban applied only to women and that it was in line with “the Palestinian people’s customs and traditions.”
But many cafe owners said they had been ordered to ban water pipes for both men and women.
Smoking large water pipes called shisha, usually with bowls of flavored tobacco, is a longstanding pastime here.
Plainclothes members of the Hamas security services have been inspecting cafes along the Gaza City beachfront, including men-only establishments like Al Shera Café, where men go to drink coffee, tea and soft drinks while playing cards.
Ahmed Yazji, manager of the Orient House Hotel in Gaza city, said the conflicting orders were confusing. Plainclothes policemen “come to check and still order us not to serve shisha to anybody,” he said, “though we hear the order has been amended to include only women.”
Hamas has a vague and bewildering record when it comes to such campaigns.
Last year, for example, the authorities issued similar verbal orders against women smoking water pipes, but the ban was not enforced.
There have also been orders for female lawyers to wear Islamic head scarves in courthouses, men not to work in hairdressing salons catering to women, and girls to wear long Islamic robes at schools, but these orders either have not been enforced or were quickly reversed.
Some have ascribed the confusion to disagreements within Hamas, as guardians of religious morality, some self-appointed, others within the government, have sought to impose their own views.
On Friday night, a bearded man in plainclothes with a pistol entered the Al Shera Café, and nodded his head in satisfaction that no shisha was being smoked.
The receptionist asked him how long the ban would stay in place.
“Until a different, new order is issued,” the man with the pistol replied.