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Hamas Resistance ... Against Israel's "Culture of Nudity"

Two years after it snatched control of Gaza in a showdown with Palestinian Authority (PA) forces, the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas is believed to be taking veiled measures to Islamize the besieged Strip. "There is an undeclared bid to introduce the Islamic code into the Strip by pushing women to wear the veil, be it by intimidation or persuasion, under the cover of a virtue campaign," Syrian analyst Mohammed Ali al-Atassi said in Beirut's daily AN NAHAR in a takeout on August 5.

Hamas denied claims of seeking to Islamize the Strip. Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zahri said the group's campaign is aimed at preserving the Palestinians' conservative culture and traditions. Retorting to Israeli accusations that Hamas is placing restrictions on private and personal freedoms, Abu Zahri said the Palestinians are also protecting their culture against Israel's "culture of nudity."

The campaign which is aimed at giving "good counseling" and "combating corruption and immorality" was launched in June by the Ministry of Religious Endowment in the Hamas de facto government of dismissed Prime Minister Ismail Hanieh under the title of "Yes to Virtue." Atassi noted that the campaign covered the four corners of the embattled Strip, which is still suffering from the dire consequences of the last destructive Israeli aggression in December and January that left thousands of Palestinians homeless and displaced.

At a time when the inhabitants of the Strip are lacking basic services, including water and electricity, and dealing with scarcity of food and other necessary commodities, "the Hamas government found no other pressing and urgent matter than combating certain so-called manifestations of poor morality and unethical behavior," the writer noted sarcastically. He explained that immoral appearances in Hamas' view comprise mixed parties or gatherings, unmonitored internet cafes, mingling of genders in universities and "liberal" public behavior.


Hundreds of thousands of posters were produced as part of the campaign urging girls and women to wear the headdress and conservative attire, and calling on men to wear reserved clothing on the beach and cover their chests. The posters, which were plastered in every corner, in the streets, schools, universities and shops also urged combating bad habits and behavior such as smoking, drug abuse, visiting pornographic websites and even watching so-called "malignant television channels which corrupt families and future generations."

According to political analyst Naji Sharab, the campaign indicates that Hamas is aiming in the long term to have an Islamist rule in Gaza. "Hamas is a religious party that is based on religion, so its starts out by implementing small, gradual and calculated measures, which have a bigger goal which is the Islamization of the Strip," Sharab said in AN NAHAR last July. Hamas has reportedly arrested un-chaperoned young women on the Gaza beach for being in the company of men even though they were conservatively dressed.

Atassi noted that no less than 95 percent of females in Gaza wear the Islamic headdress, but Hamas is not happy with that because "its own version of the hijab" includes the long and large robe that covers the shapes of the body. In the campaign posters, veiled women were depicted as "disguised Satan" because they wore pants instead of the gown. Underneath the drawing a sentence read: "The latest fashion of hijab ... 100 percent designed by Satan." Another sentence read: "The proper hijab is your way to paradise."


But the "funniest and equally dramatic matter," according to Atassi, was the "phobia that possessed" certain Hamas officials regarding the "dummies" used to display women's clothing in window shops. He quoted Sheikh Youssef Farhat, a representative of the Ministry of Religious Endowment, as saying that as part of the virtue campaign, the ministry will be checking the ways shops which sell women's clothing are displaying their merchandise. "The aim is to enlighten shop owners and draw their attention to certain unethical manifestations such as displaying non-conservative clothes and women's underwear, and using naked dummies in their windows," Farhat was quoted as saying.

"The mockery over the plastic dummies reached a pathetic stage when the Ministry of Religious Endowment gave shop owners two alternatives, "to either remove the dolls or decapitate them," Atassi said. He quoted Abdullah Jarbooa, a ministry official as explaining that the display of naked dummies "contradicted the values and virtues of our conservative Muslim community." "The owners of shops have to discard these dummies or just remove their heads to deprive them of their soul in line with the teaching of our Prophet," Jarbooa added.

Atassi described Hamas' attitude as "tragic" and "pitiful," noting that while Hamas leaders are "busy and overwhelmed with debating the existence or not of a soul in the dummies," Israel escalates its settlements expansion and appropriation of Palestinian land and continues to fuel inter-Palestinian divisions.

Meanwhile, Hamas' Higher Judicial Council also decided in July to force female lawyers to wear a headdress in court, a decision that drew criticism from women and human rights groups. Justice Minister in Hamas government Mohammed Faraj al-Ghul argued that the decision was not aimed at imposing the "hijab" on female lawyers, especially since the great majority do wear the headdress, "but to have them all appear in court in the same attire." Atassi scoffed at Ghul's justification saying that his imagination was "so fertile" to the point of comparing the headdress for female lawyers to the mandatory white wig that British lawyers have to wear when they appear in court. The decision was rescinded two months later.

Hamas' "Islamizing measures" were sneered at by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who professed that a cultural struggle is ongoing in the region between the fundamentalist and progressive trends. Netanyahu claimed that the "countdown" for Hamas downfall has started and that the militant group would be toppled by the Palestinians who no longer support Hamas' oppressive measures.

For Hamas, the measures are aimed at "preserving morals and promoting virtue" in opposition to Israel's "culture of nudity." Atassi argued that liberation and democratization movements in the Arab world in the last century went hand-in-hand with ensuring public and personal freedoms, especially women's liberation. "What is happening in Gaza nowadays is not merely a matter of women's attire, but touches on larger issues related to social and personal freedoms--respect for the freedoms of minorities and for the freedoms of the individual," the writer argued. "It is most pathetic that such issues take priority over resistance against the siege and the enemy, or worse, that the siege is being used as a pretext to impose restrictions on social and personal freedoms," the writer added, referring to the strict embargo Israel has imposed on Gaza since 2006, which it tightened in 2007.
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Publication:The Weekly Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Oct 3, 2009
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