A Hookah bar in Ramallah with a only male cusotmers. Published on Flickr by Bruno L’Hoste on April 8, 2009.

Leaders of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip announced a ban on July 18 forbidding women from smoking hookahs (water-pipes) in public places, deeming the practice "immodest".

Hamas has controlled the small Palestinian territory under Israeli embargo since June 2007, but began implementing stricter rules in public places since the second Intifada, in 2000. Alcohol consumption was strictly forbidden, many movie theatres were shut down. The water-pipe ban, however, has sparked a ripple of discontent among the population: hookah-smoking is a deeply engrained practice in Palestinian tradition.

"It’s yet another example of discrimination against women"

Asma Shaker is a Gaza-based journalist.

I’m not personally a hookah fan and I don’t smoke, but I find this law unfair and discriminating against women. This is not the first time that Hamas has cracked down on women’s rights. In Gaza, we’re regularly faced with arbitrary security checks wherever we go. If a boy and girl walk around together, they’re systematically stopped and questioned on the nature of their relationship. I know young couples who have found themselves arrested and held at a police station until their parents came down to prove that they were engaged. As a journalist, I know that even filming anything with a simple amateur camera is regulated – you need a special authorisation. In short, this there is no logical reason behind this legislation, except to oppress women even more. "

"The ban only concerns a small minority of ‘liberated' women"

Hakeep Bashir is a student in the Gaza strip.

This law is actually five months old, and initially concerned everyone in Gaza, both men and women. But the public backlash – in particular by foreigners living in Gaza who didn’t see why this decision should apply top them – that the Hamas government backed down and decided to enforce a women-only ban.

Of course the law restricts women’s freedom. In the summer, sitting with a water-pipe by the sea is one of the rare pleasures afforded to Gaza citizens. But very few women smoked hookahs in public anyways. Most women were too poor to afford sitting at a café terrace anyway. I don’t think the majority of women in Gaza feel directly concerned by this decision – it mainly affects a handful of "liberated" or foreign women who will no longer be able to smoke hookahs with men. "