by Emad Drimly, Osama Radi
GAZA, July 17 (Xinhua) -- The decision of the Hamas deposed government, which rules the Gaza Strip, not to allow women to smoke the hookah, or shisha in public places, has on Saturday reignited the debates on whether the Islamic movement is gradually seeking to impose Islamic values and restrict liberties.
Gaza owners of restaurants, cafes and hotels in the poor costal enclave told Xinhua that members of Hamas interior security informed them on Saturday that women and teens, who visit these places, are not allowed to smoke the hookah there.
Salah Abu Hasira, chief of Gaza Corporation of Hotels and Restaurants confirmed to Xinhua the Hamas security order, adding that "members of the interior security obliged the owners of restaurants and coffee shops to sign on the written order not to allow women and teens to smoke hookah."
"Such a sudden security order would economically harm the restaurants and public restaurants," said Abu Hasira, adding that he applied to the interior ministry and human rights groups "to annul the order and exclude the hotels and restaurants that mainly depend on the internal tourism."
Abu Hasira revealed that the deposed government of Hamas had earlier informed them that the order in the beginning included men, women and teens. However, he said on Saturday, he was informed that only women and teens won't be allowed to smoke the hookah in public places.
During the summer, dozens of cafeterias, coffee shops and restaurants open along the beachside of the Gaza Strip, where thousands of Gaza Strip populations usually go at night or on weekends for swimming, cheering and smoking the hookah.
Many of Gaza Strip men smoke the hookah, while around 40 percent of them are unemployed. According to United Nations estimation, around 80 percent of the 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip live on international aid and donations. However, Gaza women who smoke the hookah come from liberal clans.
Khalil Abu Shamallah, chief of the Gaza-based al-Damir rights group slammed the decision of Hamas government to prevent women from smoking in public places, adding "We are concerned that this is a beginning of depriving the populations from their rights and their personal liberties."
"We warn that the issue is linked to Hamas government's wish to Islamize the community of the Gaza Strip," Abu Shamallah told Xinhua. "I believe that smoking the Shisha is part of the public liberties and it is not the right of Hamas government to ban it."
Meanwhile, Taher Nouno, spokesman of Hamas government told Xinhua that the decision doesn't include men and women, adding " the government had only ordered to ban women and teens from smoking the hookah," adding that he rejects using these measures " to criticize the government performance."
"The government made the decision in order to restore the religious rules and traditions of the conservative Palestinian society, which doesn't allow for women and teens to smoke the shisha in public places," said Nouno, who denied that the decision "is linked to Islamizing the society of Gaza."
Hamas had seized control of the Gaza Strip by force in June 2007. However, prohibiting women from smoking the hookah in Gaza is not the first Hamas measure, where its security prevents any violation of the Islamic sharia.
Three months ago, Hamas government imposed unreasonable taxes on cigarettes and tobacco, which are smuggled from Egypt to the Gaza Strip through smuggling tunnels under the borderline between the enclave and Egypt.
Palestinian economists said that Hamas decision to impose taxes stems from a financial crisis that the movement suffers due to the embargo imposed on it by the international community. Hamas still challenges the world and rejects to recognize the state of Israel and the peace process.
Special Report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts