Daily Israel Report

Op-Ed: As the Islamic Curtain Descends

Shari'a Law is taking over Gaza and is being received with mixed feelings by Gazans. The Arabs of Judea and Samaria should take note.
Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 10:04 PM


In December, 2008, according to the London-based Arab daily Al Hayat, the Hamas parliament in Gaza voted in favor of a law allowing courts to mete out sentences in accordance with Shari’ a law. According to the bill, if approved, courts will be able to condemn offenders to a series of violent punitive measures that include whipping, severing hands, crucifixion and hanging. The bill reserves death sentences to people who negotiate with a foreign
Courts will be able to condemn offenders to a series of violent punitive measures that include whipping, severing hands, crucifixion and hanging.
government "against Palestinian interests" and engage in any activity that can "hurt Palestinian morale." According to the Al Hayat report, any Palestinian caught drinking or selling wine would suffer forty lashes at the whipping post if the bill passes. Convicted thieves would lose their right hand.

Whether such a law passes or not, the shadow of Shari’ a law is descending on Gaza. In November 2009, ISS (Israel's internal security service) issued a Report describing how Hamas has instituted Islamic law and thought in all areas of Gaza life since its violent takeover of the area. Should Israeli security forces withdraw from Judea and Samaria, it is a safe bet that the implementation of Shari’ a law now unfolding in Gaza will follow the same path.

The Report's main points include...

. the enforcement of a dress code for women on the street, in schools and
in the courts;

. the expulsion of female students from schools who do not wear a head
covering and wide dresses;

. instructions to judges not to hold sessions if female lawyers do not
appear in Islamic garb;

. a requirement on official Hamas TV (Al-Aqsa) that women announcers must
wear a veil, and that Islamic content must be featured in its TV programs;

. men not being allowed to swim in the ocean without a shirt;

. a prohibition against female mannequins being exhibited in shop windows;

. a prohibition against mixed-gender public ceremonies;

. a prohibition against men teaching in girls' schools. (Efforts are also
being made by Hamas to separate boys and girls in the UN-run schools);

. Fatah-identified teachers being replaced by Hamas members;

. Hamas police arresting immodestly clad women and enforcing gender
separation;

. unmarried couples being prohibited from appearing in public;

. married couples being required to produce a marriage certificate upon
demand;

. religious studies classes being added to schools, mosques and
prisons with the stipulation that prisoners who become more religious can have their sentences shortened;

. an across-the-board 1% public sector pay-cut imposed during the summer
months to pay for summer camps for reviewing the Koran;

. increased construction of mosques, madrasses and Islamic Shari’ a courts;

. the establishment of an Islamic National Bank and an Islamic insurance
company; and

. a new criminal code based on Shari’ a law. (In June 2009, the Legislative Council passed amendments to the criminal code for the purpose of "preventing immoral incidents in public.")

The imposition of strict Shari’ a law by Hamas comes as a direct result of significant challenges to its religious authority. At the Ibn-Tamiya mosque in the Gaza town of Rafah, Salafi preacher-physician Sheikh Abdel-Latif Moussa and his Jund Ansar Allah ("Warriors of the Companions of God") followers recently challenged Hamas's Islamic credentials claiming that it had not gone far enough in imposing Shari’ a law in Gaza and had joined a democratic political process thereby violating Islam.

The group proclaimed an Islamic "emirate" in Gaza, posted statements supportive of Osama bin Laden, hosted terrorist training videos on its website, and (according to Hamas) had acted against Israel without Hamas authorization. On August 19th, the group's challenge to Hamas's religious authority was ruthlessly crushed in a bloody confrontation, but the issues raised by the Salafist group continue to threaten the religious foundations upon which Hamas has established its rule.

The incident exposed deep religious contradictions within the Islamist movement in Gaza. Every missile not fired at Israel by Hamas has now become ammunition for the Salafists. Every effort made by Hamas to interfere with the actions of the Salafists in Gaza is deemed a betrayal of Islam. Any negotiations between Hamas and the Israelis  on opening Gaza's borders or facilitating prisoner exchanges exposes Hamas to Salafist condemnation.

Until now, Hamas's dilemma has centered on how to translate its religious rhetoric (Shari’ a law) into actual policies without alienating its religious and secular supporters. There is a vast difference between religious theory
There is a vast difference between religious theory and religious practice.
and religious practice. In Gaza, while opinion polls calling for the implementation of Shari’ a law tend to be popular, actual implementation of Shari’a law has not been so well-received.

In Jordan, after the Muslim Brotherhood did well in the 1989 election, the organization discovered very quickly that limiting the interaction between males and females in public places, especially at sporting events, was less than popular amongst the general population. Eventually, that law was overturned.

Hamas may find that Gazans will react much the same way to the imposition of strict Shari’ a law. It is possible that the more Shari’ a law is implemented in Gaza, the more divided that society will become. Hamas's traditional religious supporters who continue to demand greater implementation of Shari’ a law may well become alienated and seek more radical Salafist movements willing to apply the full force of Shari’ a throughout Palestinian society, while Hamas's more moderate supporters (that is, those who voted primarily against Fatah corruption rather than for Hamas) will favor Shari’ a theory over its actual implementation.

This was borne out by a recent poll undertaken by Stan Greenberg of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research. The poll suggests that  58% of Gazans disapprove of Hamas' performance (42% strongly disapprove) including its implementation of Shari’ a law. Greenberg attributes this loss of popularity to Hamas’s record in office. As every elected representative has discovered, campaigning is much different from governing. While Hamas won the 2006 Gaza election largely due to Fatah's corruption and Hamas's rejection of the peace process, Gazans are discovering that the reality of Hamas rule in implementing Shari’ a law is affecting their lives just as profoundly as the two above issues.

The recent Gaza War only served to underscore that realization. Hama's firing missiles at Israel's civilian population centers, together with its use of Palestinian civilians, schools, ambulances and mosques as shields have shown the downside of Hamas's approach to the "peace process." Constant war and destruction combined with a repressive religious Shari’a system that affects their everyday life is not the desired outcome for most Palestinians. There is a significant body of evidence showing that Hamas diverted UN relief aid and food supplies from general Palestinian society in favor of its supporters in the wake of the Gaza War, so the corruption argument has become a two-edged sword. 

Hamas requires Islamic legitimacy, and as such, it is vulnerable to claims from Salafist groups in Gaza that it is merely a secular organization waving an Islamic flag as opposed to a true Salafist organization seeking to impose a global Islamic caliphate. While Hamas jealously guards its political power, it now seems willing to bow to the pressures of these Salafists. What the Shabak Report indicates is that an Islamic mini-state in the full sense of that term is currently emerging in Gaza. For reasons of survival (or so it believes), Hamas has made its choice.