Hamas was founded in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Mahmoud Zahhar with the aim of destroying the state of Israel, all the while establishing the creation of an Islamic state throughout the region. Despite the fact that it is commonly viewed as a terrorist organization by many countries around the world, Hamas exists as a political party that has been governing the Gaza strip since 2006, after winning a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority elections against Fatah.
As a result of this democratic election process Hamas now has a legitimate mandate to govern as they see fit. This initially resulted in an escalation of violence with Israel, including rocket attacks fired into Israeli territory. Human Rights Watch explains that these rocket attacks deliberately targeted innocent civilians. There have also been suicide bombings in the region which have been attributed to Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades. These are just some of many human rights abuses which Hamas has been criticized and accused of.
Other criticisms have been reserved for the ways in which the Hamas administration governs its own citizens. Their rules are based on imposing a strict Islamic code which must be adhered to. As with any religious extremists, they actually twist the real meaning of their religion to suit their own agenda. This religious extremism has resulted in infringements of personal rights and freedoms throughout certain sections of society within Gaza.
An example of Hamas’ widespread condemnation is seen in the treatment of female citizens. The extreme governing of women ranges from being forced into compulsory wearing of the hijab, to more shocking policies such as the enforced removal of a widowed mother from her children; a son when he reaches nine years of age and a daughter at age eleven. Since its original inception, this law has been reconstructed, now allowing a woman to keep her children under the condition that she does not remarry. Whilst this might be an improvement, it still represents a government that forces their will upon its citizens. This is based on their strict adherence to Islamic Sharia law, under which women are treated differently to men. The insistence of a dress code for women is just one example of this.
Along with its strict religious conservatism, Hamas even went to the extent of ordering men to cover up on beaches. This measure was part of Hamas’ “virtue campaign,” which included instructing their citizens on what kind of music they could play as well as banning the act dancing altogether. The Religious Affairs Ministry was established to oversee this program of censorship.
It is quite apparent that there is no separation between religion and government in Gaza. As a result, Hamas’ strict and religious extremism has resulted in a reduction of liberties for many people, including secularists. However, while the examples given previously are frustrating for those involved, there are certain human rights abuses which are far more serious in Gaza. For one, homosexuality is illegal under Sharia law. In 2005, Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, the senior leader of Hamas, described gay people as being “a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”
As can be expected after reading such a statement, gay people have no equality under Hamas’ government. In fact they have no rights at all, as their relationships are not even recognized. There is no allowance for them in law, for example in terms of adoption, and there exist no anti-discrimination laws in place to protect them. More over, it is their government alone which seeks to discriminate against them. The punishment for homosexuality in Gaza is severe, with men potentially having to spend ten years in jail as a result of their sexuality.
Hamas has had to install a large security and police presence in Gaza in order to enforce their strict moral code. This has understandably resulted in a climate of fear amongst the population. These forces essentially have a free reign to stamp out any behavior which they deem to violate this code. Descriptions of arrests, detentions, and torture have emerged from Gaza, despite the fact that the media have been banned from reporting on such issues.
The Western world has a duty to monitor activity in Gaza to ensure that the human rights abuses already witnessed are not allowed to continue.