Secular Palestinians Fear Social Changes Under Hamas

Many Palestinian Christians and secular Muslims are worried the ascendancy of Hamas could lead to major social and political restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza. The militant Islamist group won a sweeping majority of parliamentary seats in Palestinian elections last week.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Some Palestinians are worried that Hamas's victory in last week's elections may affect their secular lifestyles. In Gaza one of the newly elected Hamas legislators said she wants to introduce a bill that would compel women to cover their heads and dress modestly.

Another senior Hamas leader says he wants to see boys and girls separated in schools; and some Palestinian Christians worry that Hamas may ban the sale of alcohol.

NPR's Linda Gradstein has the story.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

At the Taybeh Factory, the West Bank's only brewery in a small village about a half hour drive from Ramallah, owner Nadim Khoury gives visitors a tour. He shows off newly printed posters with the slogan Taste the Revolution, Drink Palestinian.

Now, after the Hamas victory, Khoury is worried about a different kind of revolution. He says that Hamas has already enforced a ban on alcohol sales in the Gaza strip, and he fears a similar ban in the West Bank. Khoury says he hopes a new Hamas government will be wise enough to realize that tourists who come to the West Bank want to be able to drink beer.

Mr. NADIM KHOURY (Brewer): This is the Holy Land and we can't show much on tourism in the country; and I believe when the tourist comes here and spends the dollar for Taybeh beer they will help the economy of Palestine. They will help the workers who work in the brewery. They will help the taxes that was paid to the authority. This is, I believe, how the State of Palestine will be built.

GRADSTEIN: But just in case, Khoury has already begun developing plans for a non-alcoholic beer, which he jokingly calls Hamas Beer, and a new label already in production happens to be green, the Hamas color. At his restaurant in the nearby village of Jystna, 27-year old Samra Tabash worries that the Hamas win means his family business will be ruined.

For more than 40 years, the Tabashes have been selling food and alcohol here. Samra points to a table of two men, one drinking Ahrak and the other Scotch, and says their bill will be well over $100. He says that alcohol sales are what's keeping the restaurant a float.

Mr. SAMRA TABASH (Restaurateur): We make much money from just selling food. The idea is when the people want to enjoy time they come, drink alcohol, then when they drink alcohol they get drunk, and they ask for more food, and more food, and more food, and the receipt will be high.

GRADSTEIN: At a back table, Nader Sayed, a professor of Sociology at the Birzeit University, is enjoying a late lunch with his family. On the table is a bottle of Taybeh beer. Sayed says many secular Palestinians like him see the Hamas victory as a challenge to their lifestyle. He says there are determined to hold the line.

Mr. NADER SAYED (Birzeit University): We're doing a little more of the things that we're allowed now. We're going out more, we're drinking beer more with assuring our friends that we're going to be okay. You know, according to them they can show that we're okay, and before I think that at this point in time has given us a sense of unity.

GRADSTEIN: Sayed says that secularism is deeply ingrained in many West Bank Palestinians, and he believes Hamas will not try to make major changes.

Mr. SAYED: I truly feel that we will, in Ramallah at least, we will not have a lot to deal with in terms of the cultural issue, in terms of personal freedom. I think that Hamas will be much more worried about survival and trying to prove that they can be leaders.

GRADSTEIN: Buthina Canaan Khoury, a filmmaker, says she worries that Hamas might try to put restrictions on Palestinian women.

Ms. BUTHINA KHOURY (Filmmaker): It's a concern for all women, for Palestinian women. I don't want to see women really covered up, whether they're Christians, or Muslims, or whatever. Any forcement on the community is not something that would be welcomed by anybody I think.

GRADSTEIN: Linda Gradstein, NPR News.

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