Starting in September 2013, schools in the Gaza Strip will join many of their Middle Eastern neighbors by requiring that boys and girls work separately in schools after age nine. The policy comes as part of new regulations imposed by Hamas, the Islamist governing party that has controlled Gaza since 2007.
Some proponents of the new law, such as the education ministry’s legal adviser Waleed Mezher, say that it coincides with traditionalist Palestinian values. Others who are against the new restrictions, however, argue that Hamas worked alone in legislating the policy. The party is using its own agenda to “impose its values on Gaza residents,” said to Zeinab Al-Ghoneimi, a women’s right activist in Gaza to the Huffington Post.
“Instead of hiding behind traditions, why don’t they say clearly they are Islamists and they want to Islamise the community,” Al-Ghoneimi said.
And while the education ministry’s legal advisor denies trying to enforce Islam but rather argues that Hamas is “[honoring] the traditions and culture of the society,” it appears that, in this case, they are one in the same.
Unfortunately, Hamas decided to pass this law without consulting any of the other Palestinian representatives. With all the laws imposed by Hamas since they took power in ’07, Palestinian society is being “[taken] back to ancient times when there was no respect for women’s rights and women were eliminated from public life,” said the Center for Women’s Legal Research and Consulting, the only legal aid group for women in Gaza, according to Yahoo! News.
Regardless of differences between Western and Middle Eastern cultures, no country in the 21st century should have laws that segregate women from men. Beyond segregation in schools, women are forced to cover up in long robes and headscarves, are forbidden from smoking water pipes publically, cannot ride on the back of motorcycles and cannot get their hair done by male stylists — all blurring the lines between church and state.
Back in the 1600s, when theocracy became a huge problem, rebels such as Roger Williams demanded a separation of church and state. How different is this modern-day scenario, in which Hamas is creating laws based off of Islamic ideals? Not only is Gaza pushing itself back decades by revoking women’s rights, but it is also setting itself back decades by maintaining its own form of theocracy.
These new laws are to be enforced not only in public schools, but private schools as well, including the Christian private schools in Gaza. Saying it’s best for a Christian private school to follow traditional Islamic customs is an example of religious persecution, and the increasingly Islamatized Gaza state is only setting itself back socially with such policies.
Ignoring the fact that Hamas is becoming increasingly violent, the fact the group is they are gaining more control and removing the rights of more Palestinians shows that a push toward Palestinian sovereignty, an end to the tensions with Israel and better relations with the rest of the world are far from imminent.
Soon, people are going to find it more and more difficult to live peacefully with this forceful government. When a government continually fails to represent what the majority stands for, then it is impossible to say that they are doing what’s best for the community.
Though Hamas believes that its decision reflects that of the people, its push towards dictatorship says otherwise.
Morgan Greenwald is a freshman majoring in neuroscience.