In general, I thought of myself as someone who harbored few delusions about Hamas. Unlike an alarmingly large contingent of self-proclaimed leftists, I’ve never been willing or able to ignore the Islamic fascism that is the lifeblood of the group’s ideology, and that makes ridiculous any notion of it as a “resistance”. I confess, however, that I used to suspect there to be a degree of exaggeration and/or Zionist propaganda in the stories I would read about its moral policing.
Not so anymore. After meeting last weekend in Jordan with a group of Palestinian journalists that included three arrivals from Gaza, I was appalled to discover the reality is worse than I had dared imagine. Without me even mentioning the subject, they would almost tremble with rage as they described the party’s thuggery, palpably relieved at the opportunity to unload an intolerable weight off their chests.
By their account, Hamas’ rule combines the fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia with the iron fist of Saddam Hussein. Unveiled women are harassed by policemen, regardless of their faith. Even the veiled ones are banned fromarguileh cafes, as are the songs of Fayrouz and Umm Kulthoum. The menhave to wear tops while swimming in the sea, and unmarried couples holding hands on the beach are confronted. Nor can men and women together dance the dabka, that staple of Palestinian and Levantine identity. There is, obviously, no alcohol. Thousands of Christians have fled since the 2007 coup, and public Christian ceremonies are now illegal. “They are building an Afghanistan, step by step,” as Omar put it.
Also banned are unapproved political demonstrations of any kind, as refugees from the Bureij camp found out just last week. Public criticism of the party is unthinkable - merely “Liking” a dissenting view on Facebook can lead to a knock on the door. To be a democracy and/or human rights activist is to risk severe beatings, as the likes of Asma al-Ghul, the 15 Marchmovement and Gaza Youth Break Out can tell you from experience.
As for press freedom, one anecdote from Ahmad gives you an idea. Happening upon a man being thrashed by Hamas forces, Ahmad managed to take a photo but failed to get away unseen. After himself enduring a minute or two of truncheons and boots while refusing to hand over his camera, he felt the tip of a rifle barrel against his kneecap, and heard a voice count “1…” Suffice to say, he never got to see that photo. “Kneecapping”, apparently, is becoming a common method of settling disputes.
All this, of course, inflicted on a people already immiserated by Israeli bombs and blockades. To be sure, Israel is and will always be the ultimate enemy for Ahmad and the others, some of whom lost close family inOperation Cast Lead. But to take what pitiful liberty is left by Israel and strangle it further is entirely Hamas’ own achievement. How “leftist”! How “revolutionary”!
“Omar” and “Ahmad” are, of course, pseudonyms.