Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement, is attracting growing for its political opposition to peace talks with Israel. Jeffrey Lee reports on the broader repercussions of its grassroots campaign to further the cause of Islam.
ISRAEL'S DEPORTATION of Palestinians involved in the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, has focussed attention on the growth of fundamentalist Islam in Palestine. Hamas' popularity is largely based on its espousal of militant opposition to occupation, but this is not the only reason for what is often referred to as the "Islamic Awakening" in Palestine. Islam has been winning hearts and minds by its activism and example in all areas of society.
Take the sulha, or reconciliation. These occasions, in which criminal and civil disputes are resolved, reveal Islam to be the cement of Palestinian society. The Prophet and Quran are quoted constantly by leading citizens as they go through the ritual of accusation, apology, restitution and forgiveness.
"The Israelis have taken our land, our legal system. We have no-one to turn to. All we have left is our religion and our dignity. Islam brings the people together and allows us to sink our differences."
This is the view of Musa, a member of the "Islamic Bloc" in the West Bank refugee camp of Shufat. He arranges the Sulhas. These have been so successful that there is a growing demand for the Islamic bloc to organise them in surrounding villages. Musa's story also reflects the general trend away from secular nationalism. A former Fatah activist, he found Islam in prison.
This drift is clear in Daheisheh camp too. Long a stronghold of the Palestinian Left, it now boasts a smart new mosque with a growing congregation. A new kindergarten is being built by a group of bearded young men. Islamic volunteers like these are an increasingly common sight across the Occupied Territories. Their T-shirts carry the Hamas slogan, "Islam is the solution", and a romanticised portrait of Saladin, the Islamic conqueror of Jerusalem. Are they members of Hamas? They smile and carry on working.
In Gaza, Islam is active in all areas of life. Education, theatre, football, everything has been organised and given an Islamic flavour. Soccer teams for instance wear modest clothing (no shorts) and pray at half-time. Of course, the Islamists are also guardians of public morals. Girls who go out "inappropriately" dressed run the risk of assault or worse. At the same time, the moral police are not outside the...