Gaza police, or fashion police?
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After outlawing bicycles and hookahs, Gaza police are now looking to ban men from wearing low-cut jeans and having long hair. For local youths, many of whom already see Gaza as an open-air prison, these new restrictions are the last straw.
Screen grab from a video (see below) in which a Gaza youth recounts having his head shaved by the police.
After outlawing bicycles and hookahs, Gaza police are now looking to ban men from wearing low-cut jeans and having long hair. For local youths, some of whom already see Gaza as an open-air prison, these new restrictions are the last straw.
The police launched the controversial campaign in early April. Young Gazans gave been arrested – including minors – in public spaces, and then brought to the police station where they cut their hair before releasing them.
The local police have been reluctant to qualify this wave of arrests as an official campaign. Rather, the police have been justifying their actions by pointing to the many complaints it receives against young men who sport a look deemed to be too effeminate or immodest. Many of these complaints come from the administrators of girls’ schools in Gaza. During a televised debate, the spokesman for the Gazan police, Aymen Al Batinji, even claimed that “boys who adopt this style are typically also those who harass girls or sell drugs”.
Hamas, however, has condemned this initiative. Moussa Abou Marzouk, one of the leaders of the movement, has expressed his surprised that the police, “which ought to serve the population”, has been behaving so aggressively against Gaza’s young men.
Meanwhile, the Al Mizan Center for Human Rights in Gaza says it has received over 40 complaints from young men whose heads were forcibly shaved, many of whom say they were also beaten and harassed by the police. The organisation has denounced the police campaign as one that infringes on civil rights, and intends to bring these complaints to a judge.
“Their propaganda is working, because some people now believe all long-haired youths are thugs”
Mohamed Sobh, 24, had his head shaved by the police.
Two weeks ago, a friend and I were coming home from a wedding. It was a little past 10 p.m. when we saw a police jeep approach us. The policemen stopped us, searched us, and asked us questions about our appearance — especially me, because I have a buzz cut in the back of my head but had let my hair grow out a bit in front. I didn’t do it for any particular reason; I dress normally and don’t belong to any specific group or subculture. I tried to explain that it was just a hairstyle, like any other. They asked us to get in their car.
At the police station, they took out an electric razor. They didn’t completely shave my hair off, just part of it. I found this to be insulting, as if they wanted to humiliate me by marking me. They then released us, and threatened to beat us up if this ever happened again.
“We have no entertainment here and we can’t go anywhere. The police are trying to take away what little freedom we have left”
I went to the Al Mizan Center for Human Rights to file a complaint. I then completely shaved my head. Until my hair grows back, I am not leaving my house. If people see me like this, they’ll understand that I was stopped and shaved by the police, but they won’t think it was just because of my appearance but because I did something worse. The police’s propaganda works, because some people now believe all long-haired youths are thugs.
Over the last few days, things seem to be calming down: I think that the media attention to this matter and the public outcry that followed led the police to put a brake on their campaign. But I won’t forget what happened to me quite so quickly. We have no means of entertainment here in Gaza and we can’t go anywhere. One of the only freedoms left to us is our choice of fashion and hairstyles. But even for such trivial matters, the police are abusing their power and trying to take that away from us.
A young describes how he was stopped by policemen who made fun of his haircut and insulted him before taking him to the police station to shave his hair off.
A Gaza school administrator examines a student's haircut, then slaps him.