Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic group that controls Gaza, announced a ban late last week that prohibits women from smoking water pipes (hookah) in public. Spokesman for Hamas’ interior Ministry Ihab al-Hussein told the Telegraph, “The police have decided to ban women from smoking narghile (water pipes) in open, public places because it is against our customs, traditions and social norm.” According to the Associated Press conservatives also believe that smoking the pipe looks sexually inappropriate, makes women appear “crass” and reflects negatively on the territory’s image. Plainclothes police have been inspecting cafes to enforce the law.
Many in Gaza are frustrated with the new ban. Haya Ahmed, an accountant who has been smoking for ten years said, “This is silly. We are not smoking in the streets but in restaurants, where only a few people can enter.” Narrow interpretation of Islamic law by Hamas has also led to women being banned from riding motor bikes in Gaza. Government spokesman Taher Nouno defended the ban, saying “The government made the decision in order to restore the religious rules and traditions of the conservative Palestinian society, which doesn’t allow for women and teens to smoke the shisha in public places.”
Khalil Abu Shamallah, leader of al-Damir for Human Rights, said, “We are concerned that this is [the] beginning of depriving the populations from their rights and their personal liberties,” reported Xinhua.