Hamas wants to move Gaza in the wrong direction

Everyone knows the greatest threat isn’t Israel but women bearing their dangerous hair, wrists and feet!

It began with a rash of unusually assertive police patrols. Armed Hamas officers stopped men from sitting shirtless on the beach, broke up groups of unmarried men and women, and ordered shopkeepers not to display lingerie on mannequins in their windows.

Then came an effort to force female lawyers to abide by a more conservative dress code, and intense pressure on parents to dress their daughters more conservatively for the new school term. Last week police began enforcing a new decree banning women from riding on motorbikes.

For the first time since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections nearly four years ago, the group is trying to Islamise Gazan society. In public, Hamas leaders say they are merely encouraging a social moral code, and insist they are not trying to imitate the religious police who operate in some other rigid Islamic countries. But to many it feels like a new wave of enforcement in what is already a devoutly Muslim society.

Asmaa al-Ghoul, a writer and former journalist, was one of the first to run up against the new campaign. She spent an evening with a mixed group of friends in a beachside cafe in late June. After dark, she and another female friend went swimming wearing long trousers and T-shirts. Moments after leaving the water they found themselves confronted by a group of increasingly aggressive Hamas police officers. “Where is your father? Your husband?” one officer asked her. Ghoul, 27, was told her behaviour had not been respectable. Five of her male friends were beaten and detained for several hours.

“I believe our society is secular, but some Islamic parties want to change the idea of this society to make it religious,” she said. She does not wear a headscarf, a choice that is increasingly rare for women in Gaza and generally confined only to those living in the wealthier areas of Gaza City. She routinely suffers taunts from other Palestinians as she walks from her home to her favourite coffee shops. “We’re just afraid to be ourselves in the street,” she said. “Hamas uses Islam in the mosque to try and control people’s hearts.”