GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh announced Oct. 17 on a talk show on the official Palestine TV channel that President Mahmoud Abbas approved women enlisting in the Palestinian Authority (PA) security services in the Gaza Strip, with the aim to restructure these services.
This step, the first of its kind since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, is part of the PA government's plan to economically empower the Gaza Strip in the wake of the reconciliation agreement signed by Hamas and Fatah on Oct. 12 under the auspices of Egypt.
The reconciliation agreement is expected to end all of the repercussions of the decadelong internal split and give the PA control over the enclave.
During the talk show, Sheikh said, “The key to empowerment is security. We want only one security. We want to build a unified Palestinian security ideology under the leadership of the PA.”
Maj. Gen. Serhan Dweikat, a member of the Fatah Advisory Council, told Al-Monitor, “The decision to allow Gazans to enlist in the [PA] security services will also include Gazan women, because of the Palestinian society need for female soldiers to deal with women-related civil issues.”
He explained that the newly enrolled female staff would mainly work in the Policewomen Department with the Ministry of the Interior tasked with participating in raids of houses in search for illegal substances such as drugs and ensuring the security of women’s detention centers and prisons.
“The number of women to be enlisted is not yet determined. This depends on the need to ensure a good security level and will be decided by the government in the coming period,” he said.
Dweikat explained that women wishing to enlist in the security services in Gaza must be 18-25 years old and will be subject to technical standards in terms of their height, weight, fitness and endurance.
He pointed out that enlistment is open to all citizens, regardless of their political partisan affiliation. “The important issue here is that they should become subordinated to the security establishment affiliated with the PA and adhere to its policies,” he added.
By the end of September, the population of Gaza stood at around 2.5 million people, 51% male and 49% female, with 290,000 people between the ages of 18 and 25, according to Oct. 2 statements to Sawt al-Aqsa radio station by Ahmed al-Helmi, the director general of the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
On Oct. 25, Majed al-Helo, the head of the PA’s Retirement Authority, announced on Voice of Palestine radio the early retirement of 7,000 PA security personnel in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Helo said this step is part of the plan to “reform the [Palestinian] security agencies and improve their performance.”
Meanwhile, Dweikat noted that forced early retirement and allowing enlistment to security services are two simultaneous measures aimed to revitalize the security services in Gaza.
Mouin Rajab, an economics professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The enlistment of women to security services would reduce the levels of poverty and unemployment in the Gazan society, especially since each female soldier will support her family, amid a dire economic reality.”
Statistics published March 7 — on the eve of International Women’s Day — by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics indicated that “the unemployment rate among women participating in the labor force was 44.7%, compared to 22.2% for males. The unemployment rate among women with 13 school years and above is standing at 50.6% of women in this group.”
Rajab pointed out that enlistment is an acceptable option for Gazan women, in light of their low chances of finding a job, noting that “women need job opportunities to achieve many of their goals, such as ensuring stable living conditions, being able to support their family and increasing their chances of marriage. The prevalence of marriage for women engaged in the labor market has been increasing,” he said.
In this context, Manal Hussain, 22, described the step as an opportunity to find a job that would guarantee her a monthly salary to help her to support her family. She told Al-Monitor, “My family's poor financial situation and my sick father's inability to work almost got us begging in the streets. The decision to allow the enlistment of women is an opportunity not to be missed to overcome my financial troubles.”
University student Ahlam Atti, 20, told Al-Monitor, “Being enlisted in security services would confer a prestigious social standing. I dream of becoming an officer. I may drop out of university and get enlisted. The chances of finding a job after graduation are very low.”
Hamas believes the decision to allow Gazans to enlist in the PA security services does not impede Palestinian reconciliation. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Al-Monitor, “The PA government is efficiently taking over the administration of Gaza, and we will continue to provide facilities for this end. I do not think there is anything that will hinder this process so far.”
Asked whether the enlistment in Gaza threatens the fate of the 15,000 military staff members appointed by Hamas after taking over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Qassem said this has yet to be settled. He added, “It was agreed, within the scope of the reconciliation agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo, to hold a meeting in Gaza between the leaders of the security services in the West Bank with their counterparts in the Gaza Strip to develop a vision to deal with the security services issue in the enclave.”
Rouhi Mashtah, a member of Hamas’ political bureau who is based in Cairo, told the Palestinian local news agency Safa Oct. 12, “The military staff issue is controversial,” pointing out that the fate and future of the current staff in Gaza will be determined before Feb. 1, 2018 — as agreed upon in the reconciliation agreement.
For women in Gaza, the opportunity to enlist in the PA security services is a glimmer of hope for a new and stable life. This seems to be their chance at attaining a more efficient role and valuable contribution to their family and society after years of marginalization, poverty and scarce employment opportunities.