Monday, 4 March. 2024
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

Hamas is not as smart as it thinks. Just as a reconciliation deal is drawing nearer, which means general elections could be held very soon, it has begun to crack down socially on the people of Gaza, namely women. This week Al Aqsa University President Salam Al Agha said the university would impose an Islamic dress code for its female students as of the second semester. While Al Agha said the ‘jilbab’ was not a requirement and no one would be expelled for not wearing it, he did say that classes would be taught on “appropriate dress” and that the code would be implemented by ‘persuasion.’

This is not the first time the Hamas-run government and Gaza institutions have imposed oppressing social measures, especially on women. In 2010 women were banned from smoking water pipes in public in Gaza and in 2009 female lawyers were first required to don a headscarf and later ‘urged’ to dress modestly in court. Even men have been recently targeted for wearing loosely worn jeans that hang below the waist, saying this goes against Islamic culture and norms.

The university decision prompted condemnations from several Palestinian parties, including PLO members and PA ministries. Minister for Higher Education Ali Jarbawi said the decision was in violation with the Palestinian Basic Law and was therefore ‘null and void’ while PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said such “Taliban-like decisions” had no place in Palestinian society. Other ordinary citizens were simply appalled.

Such oppressive measures towards women in particular could harm Hamas at the polls, if nothing else. While Palestinian society is somewhat conservative and religious-based, the PLO and the PA have always clearly separated religion and state, abiding by a secular political and social mandate from day one. Most Palestinians have followed suit given the highly politicized nature of Palestinian society. The PLO’s factions have all espoused a separation of state and religion, a concept only seriously challenged with the advent of Hamas, the Palestine branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hence, Hamas, which gained a measureable amount of popularity after the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza, could quickly lose face with the people if it continues to impose such conditions on a society that prides itself on its personal freedoms. Hence, it is surprising that Hamas, in this case represented through Al Aqsa University, would stir the pot just as reconciliation is within reach. It would have made more sense if the Islamic movement imposed its strict codes of conduct after it had gained legitimate authority through elections than risk losing votes because of such unwanted dictates. Who knows – maybe Hamas’ leadership thought it could ride the wave of the rising power of political Islam in Arab countries involved in the Arab Spring, obviously disregarding the unrest such oppressive rule has had in Egypt, to say the least.

The fact remains that it is up to the people – the Palestinians –who have long struggled for political and social liberation and justice, not to allow Hamas a free hand to impose such oppressive measures as it pleases. It is particularly up to Palestine’s women to confront such gross violations of their freedom. How women dress does not and should never define the character of the society they live in and help to build, especially if this characterization is given by an authority known for its subjugation and oppression of women.

Palestinians have known oppression in just about every shape and form. The struggle against the deep-rooted patriarchal nature of society and the conservative norms that come along with Arab Palestinian culture and formal religion has been long and hard, with many miles still to go. This new form of oppression adopted and forced down the throats of the people of Gaza is a recently emerging trend, one which must be fought down and pushed out before it becomes the norm. Because we all know that once an idea is accepted and embraced by the majority, the battle becomes a hundred times harder.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.

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