For much of the world, 69-year-old Greta Berlin, spokesperson and co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, is a hero. Berlin recently gained international attention for orchestrating the Gaza aid flotilla, calling Israel “a terrorist state” in interviews and articles.
Along with other leading members of her movement, mostly retired and well-to-do California-based women, Berlin has spewed anti-Israel hate rhetoric while simultaneously campaigning for the Palestinian cause.
According to The Guardian, Greta’s colleagues are from the generation who protested in the 1960s as part of the anti-Vietnam movement. The four leading activists, who led communications and legal activities during the flotilla operation, were grey-haired grandmothers and pensioners aged between 65 and 85.
Back in August 2007, two months after Hamas’s bloody military takeover of Gaza where Hamas killed off its political Fatah opponents, Berlin stated on Radio Free Europe (Aug. 13, 2007) that:
The world is busy starving the Palestinians of Gaza into submission, simply because they exercised their human right to vote democratically for the party they wanted in power. I find it obscene that, just because the US, Israel, the EU don’t like the party’s goals, they are suddenly called “terrorists.”
It is ironic that these self-professed humanitarians, with Greta Berlin in the lead, choose to side with and support Hamas, the radical Islamic terrorist organization that seeks to drastically limit the rights of Gazan women and eradicate any form of liberalism in the Gaza Strip.
Since coming into power, Hamas has implemented strict religious decrees, in compliance with the Sharia Islamic law, into public life in the Gaza Strip. Last summer, Gaza’s top judge ordered female lawyers to wear Muslim headscarves, to ensure that women dress in accordance Islamic law, which requires women to cover up in public and wear loose-fitting garments that show only their hands and faces.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights issued a statement describing the new dress code for female lawyers a “ dangerous violation of personal freedoms and women’s rights.”
Gazan female lawyer Sbubhiya Juma responded that the law was “dangerous” and “ taking away our personal freedoms.”
Since Hamas’s rise to power, modesty patrols scour Gaza beaches to ensure that both women and men are properly covered, admonishing and even arresting women who are not swimming in full-length robes. An increasing number of public schools are enforcing headscarves and cloaks as uniforms upon girls, sending girls attired in jeans back home.
From musical concerts to hair salons, Hamas has stamped its interpretation of Islamic Sharia law into every imaginable aspect of everyday life. Three months ago, in March 2010, Hamas banned men from working in women’s beauty parlors and hair salons, which have been the target of explosions and other attacks since Hamas took over three years ago. Anyone breaking the new salon law, according to Hamas, will be arrested and tried.
In April, Hamas sent police to break up the first major hip-hop concert in Gaza. A Hamas policeman cited that the dancing routines were “immoral.” Hamas forbids men and women from publicly dancing together and Hamas militants carrying Ak-47s have been reported to stop such dancing venues in the past.
Under the Hamas regime, groups of radical Islamic Salafis, or fundamentalist Muslims, associated with al-Qaeda and more extreme than Hamas ideologically, have been growing at an alarming rate. In May, masked gunmen stormed a UN summer camp for children after fundamentalist Muslims accused the UNRWA organization of “teaching schoolgirls fitness, dancing and immorality.” Such Salafi groups have targeted internet cafes, burned down institutions associated with Christianity, and have attacked foreign schools and wedding parties in Hamas‘s controlled Gaza Strip.
Hamas legislator and preacher, Yunis Al-Astal, noted that it wasn’t a coincidence that youth were the targets of these strict Islamic laws. “We are working on young people, the next generation to be more correctly Islamic,” Al-Astal has stated. Al-Astal was among those individuals banned from the UK’s Home Office for hate incitement in 2009.
Indeed, if this is the kind of “free” Gaza that Greta Berlin and those other liberal-minded Californian counterparts have in mind, one must question what is the real agenda of the Free Gaza Movement. As 21-year old Jihad Rostom told BBC news in March 2010, “Hamas wants to force themselves onto the people. They want the people to submit to them, this is their cover. They destroyed the reputation of Islam, by saying we’re doing this because it is religion. This is how they won the elections.”
Another Gazan resident, Lama Hourani who campaigns for the rights of working women in Gaza also told BBC, that the way Hamas presents Islam, “the liberties of a woman are always subject to the consent of a male relative. They don’t look at men and women as equal.”
In her media campaigns to generate support for her Gaza narrative, Berlin (who also works as a media and presentations coach) fervently portrays Israel as “starving and humiliating“ Palestinians. One must question the rationality and objective behind Greta Berlin’s media campaigns. Does she truly support the children and women of Gaza or are they being used as an excuse to vent out her hatred against the existence of a Jewish state of Israel?
Berlin has said nothing about the treatment of Palestinian women under the Hamas regime in Gaza. There is no freedom of political expression or gender equality under radical Islamic Hamas and the extremist Salafi groups that want to control Gaza.
The political freedoms that Greta Berlin enjoys living in the USA as an American woman and the political freedoms enjoyed by women living in Israel – Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike – are almost non-existent for the women of Gaza and many other Muslim countries. This is a fact of life in Gaza that has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with Hamas’s interpretation and implementation of Sharia law.
It is shameful that women of Western and liberal mindsets do nothing to support the rights of Muslim women in countries where political freedoms are allotted only to the men who support the political parties in power.
Anav Silverman, a native of Maine, writes from Jerusalem, Israel where she is an instructor at Hebrew University’s Secondary School of Education. She also works as an international correspondent at Sderot Media Center: www.SderotMedia.org.il
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