Sunday, January 20, 2008

Undercover cops?

Drug raid, Gaza. 30 policemen rush in, accompanied by 4 figures cloaked in niqabs (full veil with eye slits) and jihabs (long robe). With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas paying judges, prosecutors and police to stay home since Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza strip, women have been called to do their religious duty and join the police force. Rather a paradox, since working closely with men and working nights can be religious no-nos. Still, 60 women have joined the force, where they assure gender-sensitive tasks in drug and prostitution cases, for example. While, being a policewoman counts as jihad, a holy mission, Rania, the leader of the women’s force, worries that should she leave the force and return to teaching in mosques, her time as a policewoman may be frowned upon by her students. Most of the policewomen wear full veils, but because running in a jihab is diffcult, there is talk of allowing them to wear pants under a jihab with side slits. During a drug raid, these women are essential not house, such as the bedroom, are off limits to male officers. And though they may lack training for such raids, more than 2/3 of them have studied law at Al Azhar University. One wonders where the paradox of female-empowering religious duty will lead. Rania has been working on the case of a young single woman who was photographed while engaged in sex. Prostitution hasn’t been established, but Rania believes that in any case, the woman “put herself in a compromising position that…could harm the Palestinian cause.” She not only reported the incident to the woman’s family, but showed them the pictures, though she knows that such women often wind up dead, killed by their male relatives to protect the family’s honor. Others are forced to marry the men who slept with them or raped them. But this fact has led to another paradox during this time of criminal justice penury: with Gaza’s courts barely functioning, the police are jailing women to protect them from family justice. For example, 15-year-old Yosra was raped and impregnated by her 22-year-old cousin. Her brother tossed the newborn out, no one knows where; Yosra’s father wanted to marry her to the cousin but the cousin’s father objected. End result? Yosra and 4 female relatives accused of not having informed the head of the family promptly were jailed for protection.

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