'Wear a Veil or we will Behead You,' Radicals Tell TV Women
All 15 women presenters reported for work at the official Palestine Television station in Gaza yesterday, in defiance of death threats by a radical Islamic group that is believed to have links with al-Qa'ida. The Righteous Swords of Islam warned that it would strike the women with "an iron fist and swords" for refusing to wear a veil on camera.
"It is disgraceful that the women working for the official Palestinian media are competing with each other to display their charms," it said in a leaflet distributed in Gaza at the weekend. "We will destroy their homes. We will blow up their work places. We have a lot of information about their addresses and we are following their movements."
The fringe group threatened to "slaughter" the women for corrupting Palestinian morals. "The management and workers at Palestine TV should know," it warned, "that we are much closer to them than they think. If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people."
About half the women TV journalists wear the traditional hijab head covering, but all show their faces and wear makeup. They mounted a vigil yesterday outside the Gaza City office of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, demanding protection and respect.
Lana Shaheen, who heads the station's English-language programmes, told The Independent: "Of course we are afraid. Previously this group threatened Internet cafes and video shops, then burned them. We will protect ourselves."
She insisted the women would continue working. "We will not change... our lives. We've worked through Israeli bombardments and attacks, just like the men. It's a national obligation."
Mohammed al-Dahoudi, the director-general of Palestine TV, said they were taking the threats seriously. "In the current security chaos, everything can happen in Gaza. There is incitement from some groups against television. We will continue to work as usual, but we will take precautions. We have to be careful."
He recalled previous attacks by Muslim radicals on local offices of the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV; another station, Voice of the Workers; and Palestine TV's own branch in Khan Yunis. In recent weeks, militants campaigning against Western influence have also vandalised an American school and a Christian bookshop. Bassam Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, accused the radicals of behaving like the Taliban in Afghanistan. "Gaza has become Hamasistan. They are trying to drag Palestinian society back to the dark ages."
As the prospect of peace recedes and poverty spreads, Palestinians have become more traditional. Bars and cinemas have closed. Many educated, middle-class women now cover their heads, but hardly anyone, even in the villages, wears the niqab veil.
* Despite a sharp decline in the number of rocket attacks from Gaza, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, vowed yesterday to continue military operations in Gaza and the West Bank. Four Israeli soldiers were wounded yesterday when Palestinian fighters fired mortars at the Erez passenger crossing between Gaza and Israel. Earlier, troops shot dead a Fatah gunman in the West bank town of Jenin.