First Published: 2007-09-18

 
Women police: new face of order in Gaza
 

Wearing headscarves, face clean of make-up, Palestinian women join Hamas paramilitaries.

 

Middle East Online

Aqal: 'I interrogate men as well as women'

GAZA CITY - Susan Aqal is a tightly veiled Palestinian mother who has a baby boy. But she has abandoned traditional domestic life to interrogate suspected drug addicts, thieves and murderers in the volatile Gaza Strip.

A university graduate who worked as a lawyer for various organisations, she leapt at the chance to fulfill her dream of becoming a police officer after the democratically elected Islamist movement Hamas seized the territory in June.

"This is my field. This is what I studied. I wanted a job in security and used to work in other organisations, but when I got the chance I didn't hesitate to join the police force," says the 28-year-old wife of a Hamas paramilitary officer.

Shrouded in a loose-fitting black coat, wearing a purple headscarf and white cotton underpiece designed to hide all of her hair, and with her face clean of make-up, Aqal is one of 50 women working with Hamas paramilitaries in Gaza City.

While most are secretaries, she is one of 10 policewomen based at the Saraya prison in a nascent force set up by Hamas last month as "proof" of its progressive thinking.

"I know that this job needs a strong personality and someone who is courageous. I'm not scared. I just feel that the guilty need to be punished," she says, reeling off a list of crimes she interrogates suspects for -- murder, drugs, theft and moral vice.

"We're treated very well within our brotherhood. I work here in the compound and deal with criminals directly. I interrogate men as well as women. At the moment I'm assisting our officers because we haven't finished our training yet," she says.

Amin Nawfal, a commander in the self-styled "man's police" -- the Executive Force that supervises the women -- says they will eventually be given firearms training, take part in arrest operations and be fully integrated.

"Females can't be touched by a man, therefore we need women police. That's proof we are a lawful country and not an Islamic state. It doesn't violate Sharia law either," Nawfal says.

Women work as police across the Muslim world, including Iran, where women clad in black chadors are taught how to use guns, rappel down buildings, chase cars and disable bombs.

"Having women in security jobs shows how democratic we are and that we have equality between men and women," says Nawfal, dressed in military fatigues and sitting at an enormous desk, Hamas television flickering in the background.

"My mother looks after my baby and my husband is a lawyer and in the force, so he is totally supportive," Aqal says.

"All the women in my family are working, so they encourage me. This is no problem in our community and we don't face any discrimination," she adds.

At the moment, she earns 300 dollars (216 euros) a month working from 8:00 am until 3:00 pm six days a week, but after a six-month trial period she expects to nearly double her salary.

She proudly shows off her large office -- standard issue for women recruits -- complete with a desk, computer and mobile phone. Her only complaint is the lack of uniform.

"The women's force is asking for a uniform to differentiate them from the other women working in administration. I'm wearing what I normally wear at the moment but we would like it to be dark blue or black, patterned the same as the men's."



"In time there will be a women's uniform in keeping with Islamic sharia, so it won't be a shirt or a T-shirt. It'll be the same as she's wearing," says Nawfal, gesturing in Aqal's direction.

"We hope it will be the same colour and look as the men's uniform."

For the moment, Nawfal recognises that women's recruitment is a controversial issue, and that few outside Hamas are even aware of it.

Nawfal says some people are scared to join, worried about losing salaries paid by the Western-backed government in the West Bank should they cast their lot in with Hamas after the takeover.

"There are women police?" asks Talat Abdo, an award-winning hairdresser with dyed locks. His salon is deserted, a casualty of the economic meltdown that followed the formation of the first Hamas-led government in 2006.

"I thought they were religious. They control the Gaza Strip without anything, so why do they need women? I don't think they do. We're already a conservative community and not a lot of women break the law," he says.

Abdo says business over the past 18 months has never been worse in the 35 years he has owned a salon.

"Now it's about 25-30 women a week. During the good days of Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) and the Palestinian Authority, there was a lot of work. The shop was crowded and people had to book before they came."

Not any more, he says, before going back to watching an Egyptian film.

 

Assad, Russia press intense Aleppo assault

Saudi king unveils austerity drive

Clinton, Trump clash in fiery first presidential debate

Morocco finally adopts Amazigh as official language

Saudi petition seeks 'full' rights for women

Russia tries to strongarm US with Aleppo assault

Jordan vows crackdown on online incitement

Iran's Ahmadinejad says will not run for president

Boris Johnson dismisses Erdogan goat poem as 'trivia'

Turkey dismisses 87 spy agency staff over failed coup

Egypt recovers sunken boat, more bodies

Israel's Peres 'fighting for his life'

Bombings kill at least seventeen in Baghdad

Netanyahu chooses diplomacy in US election

Iran sets conditions for joining terror finance taskforce

Who is the destroyer of Timbuktu shrines?

Assad, Russia opt for 'total war' in Syria

Israel to charge Lieberman party officials in graft probe

Egypt detains owner of capsized migrant vessel

Countless bombings in Baghdad’s Karrada since 2003 US-led invasion

Moroccan gets death threat messages over cartoon posted by killed Jordanian

Israel prosecutor general denies going easy on PM

Iran frees Iranian-Canadian academic

Supplies dwindle, strikes intensify in Syria's Aleppo

Rebels, civilians quit Homs under deal with regime

Oman court closes national newspaper, jails three journalists

Israel-US consortium signs $10 billion gas deal with Jordan

Closure of Palestinian pages sparks Facebook censorship fears

Morocco’s main secular party takes on ruling Islamists

British FM on key visit to Turkey

Ten Turkish soldiers killed in PKK attacks

Jordanians protest over writer's murder

Moniz says Washington has met its side of Iran nuclear deal

Coalition prefers final Yemen settlement to 'short' truce

Deutsche Welle sues Turkey over confiscated interview

Palestinians condemn Trump vow on Jerusalem

Iran conservatives advise Ahmadinejad to stay out of election

Moscow slams 'unacceptable' UN statements on Syria

Yemeni forces kill suspected Qaeda chief

Bulgaria court error delays trial over Hezbollah bombing

Oil prices rise modestly ahead of OPEC meeting

Qatari official banned from AFC vote

Trump says he'll recognize Jerusalem as Israel's 'undivided' capital

US, Russia split on Syria’s Aleppo carnage

Death toll from Egypt migrant shipwreck jumps to 168