To accuse Hamas of marketing fundamentalism and extremism in the Gaza Strip is false and inaccurate. There is no “Talibanization” of Gaza. Such a claim is based on Israeli propaganda and the deliberately distorted accounts of those in Gaza who are politically and ideologically opposed to the government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. It is true that some individuals in the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs have acted in an overzealous or misguided manner driven by their own concern to preserve what they see as the culture of the community; but their actions were not done on the basis of any governmental decision or a ministerial policy. In fact on a number of occasions the government directly intervened to reverse their misguided actions.
Palestinian society is inherently a conservative society, where the values that govern people’s lives are mostly pure Islamic. The proper way to correct the kind of public behavior that can threaten those values is to address them through the existing educational frameworks of the family and the mosque.
Unfortunately, the combination of the Israeli misinformation campaign and the misguided actions of a few overzealous individuals who see themselves as the guardians of public morality provides the Western media with the kind of stories that feed the common stereotypes they have of Islamists. Hamas is portrayed as being a fundamentalist and extremist movement that intends to launch an Islamic emirate in the Gaza Strip!
The campaign of defamation began immediately after the bloody events that took place in June 2007 which were presented as a Hamas military takeover of the Gaza Strip. Since then, the allegations and accusations have intensified with terms such as “Hamastan” and “Emirate of Darkness” being used by some of the media to vilify the efforts of the Haniyeh government to provide security and essential services for the people of Gaza. Again, the overzealous actions of some members of the police and security services were used to support claims that the government had implemented the Islamic sharia and punishments.
It is true that some in Gaza would want to see the full implementation of Islamic law despite the fact that the politically and socially conservative way of life in Gaza largely respects the sharia principles.
Many of the journalists and dignitaries, who have come to visit Gaza in order to experience and evaluate the situation, have asked Prime Minister Haniyeh the same question — namely, “is it Hamas’ intention to establish an Islamic state in the Gaza Strip?” His answer always has been clear: “There can be no Palestinian state without Gaza and we’re not seeking, therefore, to establish a separate entity in the Gaza enclave or any kind of emirate nor empire here.”
The prime minister says: “The government in Gaza is an elected government and is committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracy, pluralism, respect of women and their freedom, protection of public rights and non-interference in private life. On the basis of the protection of human rights of Palestinians we do not seek to cause damage to their dignity. Our government works in exceptional circumstances; and, in case of any irregularities or mistakes, we address them directly. With regard to an Islamic state, it is difficult to determine the identity of the state prior to its establishment, as the identity of the state is linked to two things. First, it is linked to the liberation of the land and the establishment of a political entity. Second, it is linked to giving the people the right to choose and decide. We are true Islamists, but we will respect the choice of our people. If the people choose the state to be Islamic that is what we will implement, and if not, we understand and respect that too.”
Dr. Ahmed Yousef is the Deputy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Former Senior Political Adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza.