Attacks on Freedom of Speech Continue in Gaza

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Article Summary
Although Hamas’ leadership denies that it has a policy of cracking down on freedoms in Gaza, some practices by police indicate otherwise.

Of course it's a problem that Fatah and Hamas, the two poles of Palestinian politics, harass and arrest each other’s supporters. Of course, it's a problem how Fatah and Hamas view intellectuals, academics, writers and journalists. But it's a major sin for anyone to start arresting people based on their opinion. Arresting members of the political opposition is categorically rejected and condemned.

Recently, Professor Ibrahim Abrash was summoned by Hamas’ internal security services. He did not show up, so he was arrested. Abrash is a political science professor at al-Azhar University and a former minister in Salam Fayyad’s government. A few months after his appointment, he resigned to protest against the weak powers he was given and he returned to Gaza. He is one of Gaza’s most prominent academics. He is active in public issues, writes for the newspapers, and appears on local, Arab and international satellite TV channels.

Abrash is a writer with a political and objective vision. He does not use sarcasm, insults or accusations when making an argument. He is not part of any party’s political structure nor follows a partisan line. He criticizes whatever he thinks goes against Palestinian national or social interests.

We have learned that he was summoned by Hamas’ internal security services for an article he wrote where he criticized Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who visited Gaza. Qardawi’s positions were controversial, even among Islamists, and Abrash was not the only one to criticize them. Moreover, writers and opinion leaders have never stopped criticizing President Mahmoud Abbas and his approach to the negotiations, the Palestinian division, the anti-freedom practices. So why does criticizing a religious leader justify what happened to Abrash?

When it was learned Thursday [May 23] that Abrash was summoned, many activists, politicians, intellectuals and defenders of freedom of speech issued a statement denouncing the act. The statement was signed by dozens of political leaders, writers, intellectuals and even some Hamas members.

It was thought that this elite’s opinion would be respected and that their statement would be enough to secure Abrash’s release, but what happened disappointed everyone.

We know that Abrash will eventually be released and we know that he will not change his views and positions and that he will continue to play the role he has always played, but what happened cannot pass without a response.

After the limited campaign by some police officers in Gaza to crack down on youth with low-hanging pants and exotic haircuts, state media spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein issued a statement denying that the crackdown was a government decision and called it an “individual” decision. But what the president of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal, said to Al-Monitor — and was published by Sama on May 14 — was significant. He said, “The truth is that most of what has been covered in the media recently, including reports and information on this topic, is nothing more than overstepping on the part of some individuals. It hasn't reached the level of being a government policy or an organizational decision from Hamas. I have been personally following these cases and working to address them and prevent them from recurring. It has been confirmed to me that they are individual actions, not a stated policy. The movement's leadership firmly believes it should not impose religiosity or behavioral matters on people. Personal freedom is a right for all guaranteed to all, whether religious, social, political or press freedom. Thus, I see no reason to inflate some small events here and there. Keep in mind that Palestinian society in general, and the people of the Gaza Strip in particular, are naturally religious, and religiosity is based on choice and not coercion.”

So somebody must review his position. Either Meshaal is the president of the Hamas Political Bureau or those who arrested Abrash are the ones who actually run the show. If the harsh treatment of Abrash was intended to be a message, then the response should be to resist this behavior by all peaceful and democratic means, which should govern internal relations in all circumstances.

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Found in: palestinian youth, palestinian, islamization, hamas, gaza
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