IN GAZA, IT'S NOT A DAY AT THE BEACH
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday July 29, 2009
The young people of Gaza are no different than young people anywhere. They just live under a different set of rules.
Gaza has been under Hamas rule ever since June 2007, when Fatah, the Palestinian ruling party, was booted out in a brutal coup. In several subsequent massacres, Hamas has continued killing off Fatah members living in Gaza.
Summertime in Gaza presents it own unique form of torture. On a normal day the temperatures reach 105 - 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The only reprieve from the sweltering heat in dusty, over crowded Gaza is the beach and the water spouts. Everyone, religious Muslims and secular Muslims, flock to the Gaza beaches in the early evening searching for cool Mediterranean breezes and wet, refreshing waves.
That behavior is about to change. Hamas has begun a religious coercion ritual and initiated a "campaign of virtue." Hamas wants the people of Gaza to live Muslim style lives. One of the most obvious ways of judging that lifestyle is through outward dress and appearance and one of the most obvious places to determine whether or not that behavior is religiously observed is on the beach.
I travel often. I speak at colleges and universities around the country. I lecture to varied communities throughout North America. Periodically, self-described Hamas supporters attend my campus lectures.
The first time this happened I was thrown off balance - but just for a quick second. Then it became clear to me, it made sense. It was not that these students were actively pro-Hamas, they were vehemently anti-Israel.
Most of my potential hecklers have no idea what Hamas really stands for, no knowledge of Hamas' principles or ideology. All they know is that Hamas preaches the ruination and total destruction of Israel, and for them, that is enough. Once I figured it out, it became easy for me to talk to these students and to address them directly. I know what Hamas stands for. And I know that Hamas is very oppressive towards other Palestinians.
I also know that Hamas is first and foremost an extremist religious movement. Only after that is Hamas a terrorist movement. Internal Palestinian politics trump external issues every time. And this is the prefect case scenario.
Hamas wants people to dress modestly and will without hesitation arrest those who violate the law. Hamas' understanding of their position of political authority is directly linked to Iran. In this case, the fact that Iran's religious authority is Shiite and Hamas' religious authority is Sunni makes no difference. Hamas wants to exert that same power and control over their people as Iranian religious leadership exerts over theirs.
Iran has a set of modesty laws that also kick into high gear in the summer, the time when people shed their clothing and with them their political and religious inhibitions. In Iran people are arrested for violating the code and their families are hauled off to jail. In Gaza the virtue police have limited their actions to intimidation, public beatings and humiliations.
Hamas has already demanded that female lawyers wear scarves in court. They have demanded that female mannequins be totally covered. Now they demand that all women be covered up on the beach. Single men and women are forbidden to cohort on the beach.
For good measure Hamas is also demanding that on the beach, men wear shirts. A lifeguard was told by plainclothes security to dress more Islamic and instructed to wear a shirt and have knee length pants. A young man on the beach was emphatically told to remove his rings and his bracelet because they were Western and under Hamas, all Western styles and influences are shunned.
Gaza is gearing up for a culture clash. These are issues that arise annually, but much more so this year as Hamas police patrol the beaches and enforce the new, stricter rules. As the heat builds and the beach becomes more of a magnet, tensions and tempers overheat. Anyone who knows young people knows that today's youth march to a very different cadence than do adults and that rules are meant to be broken.
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