Hamas's New Order Exacts Toll On Gazans

A woman sits outside a closed store during a strike called by Fatah in Gaza, where Hamas has imposed a harsh version of Islamic law and used force to bolster its isolated administration.
A woman sits outside a closed store during a strike called by Fatah in Gaza, where Hamas has imposed a harsh version of Islamic law and used force to bolster its isolated administration. (By Hatem Moussa -- Associated Press)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 17, 2007

GAZA CITY -- For years, the seaside Flower of the Cities resort was that rare place in the Gaza Strip where the dress code did not rule out bikinis. Now, with some of its cinder-block cabanas turned into prayer rooms, the beach club shows how Hamas is consolidating its hold here three months after seizing power.

Bushy beards and black head-to-toe cloaks for women have become common at the club, which the armed Islamic movement torched in June after routing the secular Fatah party on the streets. The facility has been rebranded the al-Aqsa Resort, with a new logo featuring the revered mosque complex in Jerusalem next to a beach umbrella. Hamas followers collect the $2.50 entrance fee.

Like the party it supported, the bikini crowd has disappeared, leaving the trash-flecked beach and murky swimming pool to Bassem al-Khodori and a half-dozen other Hamas supporters, who now have jobs at the resort.

"Before," said Khodori, 32, a cafeteria worker, "only the others were allowed."

Facing money shortages, a shrinking private sector and growing political resistance, Hamas leaders are increasingly imposing harsh interpretations of Islamic law and using brute force to bolster their isolated administration, which remains illegitimate in the view of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and his U.S.-backed government in the West Bank.

Reconciliation between the two largest Palestinian parties -- now running parallel governments in what had been envisioned as the two territories of a Palestinian state with a single government -- appears as distant as when Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led power-sharing government after the fighting in June.

Many of Gaza's almost 1.5 million residents, who celebrated Israel's withdrawal two years ago only to fall into civil war soon after, have seen their lives improve in some ways and suffer in others as the result of the political split within the Palestinian Authority and Hamas's brand of rule here.

While Hamas has imposed order on Gaza's lawless streets, gunmen from its Executive Force, a 5,000-member paramilitary unit, have employed repressive tactics against Fatah supporters and local journalists.

International aid is again funding Palestinian government salaries, helping revive parts of Gaza's economy. But the closure of the cargo crossings from Israel for all but emergency aid is depriving Gaza's small manufacturers of raw materials. An estimated 85 percent of the territory's manufacturing sector has been shut down since June and more than 35,000 workers have been laid off, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

"We blame Hamas, the reason for all of this," said Hamdi Badr, 49, who two months ago shut down the clothing factory his family has owned since 1969. "But we don't really know what to do."

The steel shutters of storefront factories along Badr's street are closed, and the only sign of life is dogs sniffing through pyramids of trash. Abbas's government in the West Bank has cut off municipal funds that Gaza once used for garbage collection.

Badr flipped on fluorescent lights over rows of empty sewing machines, ceiling fans suddenly stirring the musty air. He employed 50 people when he closed his doors, and earned $4,000 a month. Now the people and profits are gone.

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