Palestinians in Gaza are reporting that over the past few days, young men sporting long or spiky-styled hair have been pulled off the street by police who then forcibly shave their heads. Hamas authorities are also targeting men wearing low-waist pants, accusing them of wearing “indecent” attire and in some cases beating them.
The Associated Press characterizes the religious crackdown as “one of the most aggressive phases of the campaign so far,” that is, the campaign to impose a strict Islamic lifestyle on all of Gaza’s population which began in 2007 when Hamas seized control of the Strip.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reports that since Thursday, Palestinian police have apprehended young men from various parts of Gaza, taking them into custody, then cutting their hair while in detention. Some were mocked and beaten.
“The detainees were forced to sign a statement declaring they would not grow long hair or have a strange hairstyle, or wear ‘low-waisted trousers’ again,” PCHR says.
The AP found that the sweeps rounded up more than two dozen young men. It provided these firsthand accounts:
[19-year-old Ayman] Al-Sayed said he had just finished his work in Gaza City and was waiting at an intersection for a shared taxi when a police jeep approached. Al-Sayed said he was thrown into the jeep with more than 10 others already squeezed into the back of the vehicle. He said policemen cursed them on the way to the police station. There, the detainees were lined up, and a policeman began shaving their heads. He shaved two lines, from front to back and from one ear to the other, telling the young men they could finish the job at a neighborhood barber shop.
Those who resisted were beaten, al-Sayed said. He said he asked the policeman to finish the job of shaving so he wouldn’t have to step outside with a partially shaved head.
A young man came into the police station, saying he was looking for his cousin, said al-Sayed. One of the officers grabbed the young man, who had his hair in gel-styled spikes, and shaved his head as well.
Seventeen-year-old high school student Tareq Naqib said he was grabbed outside his home and whisked into a jeep where four other young men were already inside. He told the AP that police insulted the youths in the jeep, warning them Gaza is Islamic.
“They said, ‘we want you to respect our tradition…They made a cross on our heads and asked us to leave and finish the shaving at a barber shop.”
Another Gaza teen told the AP he saw police beat three young men on the backs of their knees for wearing tight, low-rise pants.
Al-Sayed said, “I am scared. They just take you from the street without reason. I don’t know what they are going to do next.”
Hamas is sending mixed signals regarding the significance of the campaign. Deputy Prime Minister Ziad al-Zaza tells the AP the head-shaving “was a very limited, isolated behavior of the police and is not going to continue.”
But Hamas Spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein is calling the crackdown on skinny jeans part of “an organized campaign to restore Islamic traditions and laws,” as quoted by the Times of Israel.
The PCHR is calling on Gaza’s Attorney General to investigate the attacks and “arbitrary detention.”
Whether the campaign will be limited in scope or not, the forced shavings are yet another example of Hamas’ imposition of Islamic rule in Gaza. Earlier in the year, Hamas banned tight and low-rise pants. It is allowing women to appear in public only with their heads covered in scarves and is prohibiting women from smoking.
Last year, Hamas officially declared its intentions to promote “Islamic virtue.” At the time, it also said it would prohibit clothing stores from displaying lingerie or short skirts in their windows.
And just last month, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) canceled its much-anticipated Gaza marathon, because Hamas would not let women run in the race.