A new law for schoolchildren in Gaza, passed down on Monday by the Hamas-run Ministry of Education in the Gaza Strip, stipulates that no men can teach at girls’ schools and boys and girls must be taught separately after age 9.
The laws will go into effect at the beginning of the next school year in September and will apply universally to all schools in Gaza, including private, Christian and U.N.-backed schools.
Supporters of the law say they are not trying to “make people Muslims.” Waleed Mezher, a legal advisor for the Education Ministry, told Reuters. “We are doing what serves our people and their culture.”
"This law is a safety valve for our national principles," Yousef Al-Sherafi, a member of Hamas and Education Ministry official, told the New York Times. “One male staffer among 20 female teachers in a girls’ school would not allow our sisters to feel comfortable.”
The law’s opponents say that this is just another symptom of Hamas trying to turn Gaza into a strict Islamist state.
"To say that the old law did not respect the community's traditions and that [Hamas] wanted to reform people now is an insult to the community," Zeinab Al-Ghoneimi, a Gaza activist for women's rights, told Palestinian radio. "Instead of hiding behind traditions, why don't they say clearly they are Islamists and they want to Islamize the community?"
In fact, the BBC reported, most Gaza schoolchildren are already separated by gender in practice. This law codifies this standard, but the Independent pointed out that Hamas “does have a record of not enforcing pronouncements” such as this.
Critics of Hamas have claimed this is yet another move on Hamas’ part to establish its own state in Gaza, further separating itself from the ruling Fatah party in the West Bank. The two parties violently split during a brief war in 2006, when Hamas took power in Gaza. Overtures of reconciliation have been widely reported since the return of Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal at the end of last year, but the increasing Islamist tendencies of Hamas have stalled any such attempts.
The 18-page law, as translated by the Times, says it is meant to “build the nationalist character of the students and prepare them to be committed to the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic culture.” In addition, while Christian schools will still be allowed to teach their practices, any schools that promote the normalizing of ties with Israel will face a 10-year prison sentence and more than $28,000 in fines.
In related news, Hamas’ Shura Council reelected Meshaal to a third term as their political leader on Monday. Meshaal has served as the head of Hamas’ political wing since 1996.