Hamas Adds Restrictions on Schools and Israelis
By FARES AKRAM
Published: April 1, 2013
GAZA — Hamas, the Islamic group that rules this Palestinian territory, has issued a new education law enforcing a more rigid separation of sexes in schools and prohibiting any relations with Israelis, in line with its strictly religious and nationalist ideology, officials said Monday.
Critics here view the law, which mandates separate classes for boys and girls from the age of 9 and bars men from working at girls’ schools, as the latest move by Hamas to impose a more Islamic lifestyle on the people of Gaza. Hamas has already made efforts to impose Islamic dress on schoolgirls, among other things.
Yousef Al-Sherafi, a Hamas lawmaker and a member of the education committee, said in an interview, “This law is a safety valve for our national principles.”
Mr. Sherafi said, “One male staffer among 20 female teachers in a girls’ school would not allow our sisters to feel comfortable.”
According to a copy of the 18-page law, it is intended to build the nationalist character of the students and prepare them to be “committed to the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic culture.” It says the law is meant to encourage pupils “to get to know Palestine with its historic borders, its history and its connection with its milieus.” It is set to go into effect at the start of the new school year in September.
In reality, given the conservative nature of Gaza society, boys and girls over the age of 9 are already separated in most government schools and schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The new separation rules are mostly expected to affect about a dozen private and Christian schools.
The law maintains the freedom of Christian schools to teach non-Muslim students subjects related to their religion.
But it stipulates that any educational institution that receives aid meant to encourage or promote normalization of ties with Israel will face punishment: a 10-year prison term for an individual perpetrator and a fine of 20,000 Jordanian dinar (about $28,200) for any institution involved in organizing exchange programs or activities that include Israelis.
That rule is also unlikely to affect most institutions here. Since Israel restricts the movement of Palestinians in and out of Gaza as part of its policy of isolating the Hamas government, hardly any schools or organizations are involved in such activities.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections and after months of bloody factional fighting here between Hamas and Fatah, the secularist party headed by Mahmoud Abbas. The influence of Mr. Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is now limited to the West Bank.
The Palestinian Parliament, which is split between the two Palestinian territories, has been paralyzed for six years, but Hamas legislators in Gaza have continued to hold sessions, passing bills and resolutions that apply only in the coastal enclave.
In a separate development, Hamas has assigned Khaled Meshal, 56, to a third term as chief of its political bureau, a Hamas official in Gaza said Monday. The decision was made at the group’s Shura Council meeting in Cairo, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because it had not yet been announced.