Ayman as-Sayyed is a 19 year-old Palestinian who lives in Gaza. He was arrested last week by the Hamas police who picked him up on the streets because they were bothered by his long hair. So they decided to cut it for him.
Such practices are the result of a mentality based on monopolizing power, which leads to confiscating other people’s freedoms and imposing certain values and modes of behavior on them, according to Palestinian writer Majed Kayyali, who writes “This is how totalitarian systems – especially ideological ones – work, using means of direct and symbolic violence to impose their authority.”
These renewed violations have been occurring sporadically in the Gaza Strip since 2007, the year Hamas took over the Gaza Strip as a result of internal Palestinian divisions. Palestinian writer and activist Mustapha Ibrahim says “When Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections, many Hamas officials promptly reassured people that they would not harm public and private freedoms and would commit to implementing the law. However, things were different on the field.”
Zeinab al-Ghoneimi, a women’s rights activist and director of the Council for Women’s Legal Research and Counseling in Gaza, comments: “Hamas wants to Islamize society, which is already Islamic and conservative in Gaza. In reality, male and female students are already separated as of Grade 3 in most schools, except for two or three of them. The prevailing culture here is for women to cover their hair. So what do these decisions mean?”
What is being imposed here, she argues, is a “political rather than ‘religious’ version of Islam.” Hamas is seeking to forcefully consecrate its presence by relying on religion, and to portray itself as the warrantor of ethics and values. “On the one hand, they want to show that their decisions are being heeded; that they set moral criteria and spread virtue as though people were all devoid of any morals. On the other hand, they are issuing these laws to hamper the work of any new government seeking to initiate change in the future. Furthermore, these practices instill fear and allow them to demonstrate their strength to people and portray themselves as absolute rulers.”
When human rights organizations protest against such unconstitutional laws, Hamas recants its decisions, “but not before having caused a stir among the people and allowing the movement to interfere with the details pertaining to people’s lives,” according to Zeinab al-Ghoneimi. This is exactly the feeling young Ayman as-Sayyed sought to convey to AP when he said that he is scared of the future and does not feel safe, as he can be insulted and arrested at any time for no reason whatsoever.
Both Ibrahim and Ghoneimi asserted that even when these decisions are officially revoked by the cabinet, some still prevent female attorneys from entering courthouses or assault people on the streets. The Hamas cabinet declines any responsibility in these cases, claiming that these are individual transgressions with which it has nothing to do.
Hamas’ monopoly over power, its use of violence, its interference in the private lives of citizens and its exclusion of all organizations – even allied ones – from the Gaza Strip have led to an outcry against the movement, which is losing support among the youth, according to Majed Kayyali. “This was manifested in the festival celebrating the launch of the Fatah Movement in Gaza in January 2013, knowing that Fatah had been banned in the Gaza Strip for the past six years. [The festival drew] a massive crowd and this was surprising not only for Hamas, which controls the Strip, but also for Fatah, which is in a state of organizational disrepair and is riddled with domestic conflicts. In this sense, an approximately one million-strong crowd on the Gaza square and surrounding streets voiced the complaints of Gaza’s Palestinians against Hamas violations. [Their participation] had more to do with opposing Hamas [practices] than with supporting Fatah.”
Zeinab al-Ghoneimi describes the situation in Gaza as depressing. People are expecting “a national reconciliation to occur and end the current division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, rather than to be oppressed, intimidated, and insulted. Many university graduates are unemployed. Unemployment, self-imposed isolation, and the inability to move [freely] lead to problematic social behavior, the price of which is paid primarily by women. Hamas is not seeking to adopt policies that alleviate this situation. On the contrary, with every security tension or Israeli threat, criminals are released from prison and political detainees remain behind bars.”
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