‘Wear a veil or we will behead you,’ radicals tell TV women

All 15 women presenters reported for work at the official Palestine Television station in Gaza yesterday, in defiance of death threats by a radical Islamic group that is believed to have links with al-Qa’ida. The Righteous Swords of Islam warned that it would strike the women with “an iron fist and swords” for refusing to wear a veil on camera.

“It is disgraceful that the women working for the official Palestinian media are competing with each other to display their charms,” it said in a leaflet distributed in Gaza at the weekend. “We will destroy their homes. We will blow up their work places. We have a lot of information about their addresses and we are following their movements…If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people.”

About half the women TV journalists wear the traditional hijab head covering, but all show their faces and wear makeup. They mounted a vigil yesterday outside the Gaza City office of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, demanding protection and respect.

Bassam Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, accused the radicals of behaving like the Taliban in Afghanistan. “Gaza has become Hamasistan. They are trying to drag Palestinian society back to the dark ages.”

As the prospect of peace recedes and poverty spreads, Palestinians have become more traditional. Bars and cinemas have closed. Many educated, middle-class women now cover their heads, but hardly anyone, even in the villages, wears the niqab veil.

Jim Jatras has described the formula at work:

Typically these begin as what are represented as “national liberation movements,” the desire of a group of people described in national or ethnic terms (e.g. Albanian “Kosovars”, Palestinians), to have their own independent national state. But at some point — either after achieving that goal (Afghanistan, Pakistan) or in the process of the “national liberation” struggle ( “Palestine,” “Kosovo,” Iraq) — the movement shifts to a primarily Islamic jihad orientation, in which the national element is downplayed and the jihad element is emphasized. This transition coincides with the marginalization or elimination of the non-Muslim social elements (Christian Arabs, Albanian Catholics, etc.), [as well as moderates] some of whom may have been militant supporters of the first, national phase but who will have no future in the Islamic new order.

So, Pals, how does it feel to be a formula? And, are you feeling more liberated today?