A rebel in Gaza, behind the lines of the Arab Spring, by Asmaa al-Ghoul (pictured) and Selim Nassib is a short and easy-to-read book that should be read on the left.
For much of the British left Gaza exists only as an example of Israeli brutality; and Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, exists only as a group that fights Israeli bullying.
This book tells us about another aspect of the matter - what it is like to live as an opponent of Hamas, in Gaza, under a one-party religious state.
The people of Gaza are not just subjected to politics, they have their own voices. And Asmaa al-Ghoul, a secular feminist, has a voice which is important to listen to.
The effect of the text on the reader is rather like being talked at by Asmaa for several hours, without her taking a pause. While you read the book she is your gregarious, loud friend.
Al-Ghoul is a Muslim who was born in 1982 in Rafah refugee camp near the Gaza-Egypt border. She is a journalist and blogger and she is very brave and strong.
She starts her story, “The [Israeli] soldiers terrified me more than my uncles did, but I didn’t have to live with them all day, every day.” This is exactly to the point.
Her uncles had joined Hamas during the first intifada (Palestinian uprising), which began in December 1987. As a little girl the Israeli troops came through her bedroom when they raided her parents’ jerry-built refugee home looking for her uncles. Her uncles, on the other hand, hit her for being “opinionated” and “stroppy”.
Later, when Asmaa al-Ghoul became a journalist and spirited, eclectic dissident against Hamas rule, Hamas beat her, detained her and her friends. She became well-known after writing an Open Letter, “Is this the country we want, Uncle?”, after Hamas overthrew the corrupt Fatah (mainstream PLO faction) administration in 2007. She’d found out that an uncle, by now a commander in a Hamas paramilitary group, had been using the family home to interrogate and torture Fatah members.
In 2009 Asmaa was arrested by the religious police after walking on the beach, hair uncovered, with unrelated young men. Her friends were beaten up and forced to sign concocted statements.
In February 2011 Asmaa was attacked by Hamas state forces at a protest called in solidarity with the Egyptian democracy protesters. The next month she was arrested and tortured along with other women journalists who whilst covering a rally demanding Fatah-Hamas unity.
After their victory over Fatah, Hamas gradually introduced stricter religious rules.
Hamas imposed the hijab on women in courts and schools. It is rare, now, the see a woman in Gaza with her hair uncovered and many cover-up simply to avoid harassment.
Polygamy is increasing significantly although, of course, polyandry is illegal.
In 2009 Hamas banned women from dancing. Women have been prevented from taking part in sports events, mixed swimming and riding on the back of a moped. Typically the oppression of women has been extended beyond formal legal prohibitions by street violence against “immodest” women and threats from fringe Islamist groups.
Hamas also bans books, and under their rule half of the 3000 Christians have left Gaza.
Hamas also uses widespread violence against their political opponents, especially Fatah.
The book ends with notes about 3 August 2014, when nine members from Asmaa’s family were killed in an Israeli airstrike, in Rafah. None were Hamas members and there were three children among the dead. Amazingly this is not a diary of hate against the Israeli state, Gaza’s “crazy neighbour”.
Asmaa al-Ghoul knows all too well how violent and arbitrary Israel can be, and she knows about Hamas too. But Gaza is her home, a place where people laugh and have fun, too. She rejects the idea that her homeland includes her Grandma’s old home from which she fled in 1948; Rafah is her homeland.