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Islam cements the bonds of resistance.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement, is attracting growing for its political opposition to peace talks with Israel. Jeffrey Lee reports on the broader repercussions of its grassroots campaign to further the cause of Islam.

ISRAEL'S DEPORTATION of Palestinians involved in the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, has focussed attention on the growth of fundamentalist Islam in Palestine. Hamas' popularity is largely based on its espousal of militant opposition to occupation, but this is not the only reason for what is often referred to as the "Islamic Awakening" in Palestine. Islam has been winning hearts and minds by its activism and example in all areas of society.

Take the sulha, or reconciliation. These occasions, in which criminal and civil disputes are resolved, reveal Islam to be the cement of Palestinian society. The Prophet and Quran are quoted constantly by leading citizens as they go through the ritual of accusation, apology, restitution and forgiveness.

"The Israelis have taken our land, our legal system. We have no-one to turn to. All we have left is our religion and our dignity. Islam brings the people together and allows us to sink our differences."

This is the view of Musa, a member of the "Islamic Bloc" in the West Bank refugee camp of Shufat. He arranges the Sulhas. These have been so successful that there is a growing demand for the Islamic bloc to organise them in surrounding villages. Musa's story also reflects the general trend away from secular nationalism. A former Fatah activist, he found Islam in prison.

This drift is clear in Daheisheh camp too. Long a stronghold of the Palestinian Left, it now boasts a smart new mosque with a growing congregation. A new kindergarten is being built by a group of bearded young men. Islamic volunteers like these are an increasingly common sight across the Occupied Territories. Their T-shirts carry the Hamas slogan, "Islam is the solution", and a romanticised portrait of Saladin, the Islamic conqueror of Jerusalem. Are they members of Hamas? They smile and carry on working.

In Gaza, Islam is active in all areas of life. Education, theatre, football, everything has been organised and given an Islamic flavour. Soccer teams for instance wear modest clothing (no shorts) and pray at half-time. Of course, the Islamists are also guardians of public morals. Girls who go out "inappropriately" dressed run the risk of assault or worse. At the same time, the moral police are not outside the strictures of the community.

On one occasion in Gaza, a local journalist with sound nationalist credentials complained after his sister was pelted with tomatoes and called a prostitute by Hamas youths as she walked, head uncovered, through the market. The local Hamas boss had the boys lined up in the street and given a public dressing down.

"We are immunising society against drugs, fornication and other immoralities," explains Dr Al Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza. "It is part of the jihad. We also work in other ways. Who is to help the families of the arrested, of the deported? We try to do it by using zakat |alms~ from the mosques."

Another manifestation of the Islamic awakening in towns and refugees camps throughout Palestine are the Tablighis, the missionaries. Moving from house to house, they epitomise the peaceful spread of Islam. Part of a worldwide organisation that abhors publicity, the Tablighis give sermons that are quite unlike the fiery rhetoric heard in Gaza mosques. They never mention politics, but concentrate on a pacifist and penitential Islam.

"We are having great success," says Abdul Karim, a tall, red-bearded Tablighi. "There is an Islamic awakening all over. When people see us travelling for miles to preach to them with no money or belongings, they are encouraged to see what is going on."

Traditionally apolitical Sufi Islam is also playing its part, addressing itself to contemporary social needs such as drug addiction. At the shrine of Nabi Musa in the Judaean desert, a Sufi group has started a scheme of detoxification and rehabilitation. "The place is holy and it helps people to change," says Ahmed, one of the volunteers who run the place. "We don't have any involvement with Hamas or those groups. But still the Israelis harass us. They class all Muslims as terrorists, because they are afraid of Islam."

The Israelis are feeling the Islamic tide within Israel too. In Jaffa, for instance,it was the plans of Shimon Peres' brother to convert the beautiful seaside mosque of Hassan Bey into a night club/casino that enraged the community enough to form a council. The mosque was saved, and the council has since fought for the interests of Jaffa's Muslims in many areas.

"A few years ago only 10 or 12 old guys would turn up to pray," recalls Said Sattal, the softly-spoken imam of the Hassan Bey mosque. "Now you see lots of young men. And girls too. When the situation gets so bad, man turns to religion. There he finds dignity, humanity, spiritual strength."

Elsewhere in Israel, fundamentalists are democratically taking over town councils. In the northern town of Umm al Faham, a spectacular new mosque has arisen, its gold dome recalling that of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock. Roads, parks, schools and a new clinic (charging nominal fees) have been built. The council has even worked better with the Israelis, getting money for a new old people's home for instance.

No doubt the work of the Islamic movement owes as much to funding from overseas as to the dedication of the activists on the ground. Nevertheless, the practical achievements of this new spiritual force are clear and contrast favourably with the poverty of secularism. As an elderly woman in Umm al Faham puts it, pointing at the clinic and the mosque towering above, "The Muslims have achieved more in three years than those Communists did in 30 years." Who would you vote for?
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Title Annotation:Hamas Islamic resistance movement
Author:Lee, Jeffrey
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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