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Public Uproar Rolls Back Decision of Religious Sharia Court in Gaza
Young women and men protest in front of the Supreme Sharia Court Council in central Gaza on Feb. 16, 2021. (Hazem Albaz/The Media Line)

Public Uproar Rolls Back Decision of Religious Sharia Court in Gaza

The Palestinian Authority's Supreme Judge Department finally rules that it is the only authority that can decide the matter

A ruling restricting the freedom of movement and travel of adult men and women issued on Sunday by the Supreme Sharia Court Council in Gaza triggered public outrage among youth and rights activists. But following protests in front of the court and online, the decision “will be reconsidered,” the head of the council announced on Tuesday.

According to the third and fourth provisions of the edict, a man could be prevented from traveling by his father or grandfather if his travel would cause “grave harm,” and a woman is not allowed to travel unless she has the permission of her male guardian, usually her father, though possibly her son or another male relative.

The ruling has been described by rights advocates as “illegal and issued by a non-competent authority.”

“This decision is not within the council’s power at all,” Jameel Sarhan, deputy director general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Gaza, told The Media Line.

Sarhan added that “it is not permissible for any authority to restrict rights and freedoms, most notably of movement, of anyone who is over 18, except in accordance with legal justifications that represent a better interest for that person.”

He said that there are no acceptable legal justifications in the current decision, “thus, we call on the supreme court to rescind it.”

It is not permissible for any authority to restrict rights and freedoms, most notably of movement, of anyone who is over 18, except in accordance with legal justifications that represent a better interest for that person

On Tuesday, Hassan al-Jojo, head of Gaza’s Supreme Judicial Council, said in a dialogue session that the ruling came after many complaints about “girls who left their families and traveled without the permission of their guardians.” He added that the decision is “totally legal and has been issued according to the law.”

However, a harsh response from the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank-based Supreme Judge Department refuted that claim, saying that the Gaza Sharia court did not have the jurisdiction to issue such an edict.

“Palestine’s Supreme Judge Department is the only authority that can decide in this matter and in other civil statuses … thus, Palestinian citizens are not bound by the statement [of Gaza’s Sharia Court Council], and judges of the Sharia courts must not consider it in their judgments,” a statement issued by the department said.

In an attempt to reverse the measure, a number of rights activists and youth protested on Tuesday in front of the Supreme Sharia Council’s gate in central Gaza.

The organizer of the protest, lawyer and rights activist Fatima Ashour, said she was disappointed in the action by the court. “We are heading for an election period, so we were expecting the creation of an atmosphere for more of women’s participation, but instead we are dealing now with a decision that will bring us back to the Dark Ages,” she said.

Gaza’s Sharia Court Council “is not authorized to issue this ruling which blatantly and directly contradicts the Palestinian Basic Law and impinges upon the basic right of movement,” she told The Media Line.

Another protester, Ali Abdelbaqi, 25, told The Media Line that “today we are here, men and women, to reject this ruling which violates Palestinian law and steals freedom of movement for both genders. We will continue to express our refusal peacefully via this protest until the decision is canceled.”

We are dealing now with a decision that will bring us back to the Dark Ages

The decision has resonated strongly on social media, too.

Hussam Abusetta posted on his Facebook page that “preventing youth and women from traveling … under the pretext of the public interest, is unacceptable and must be reversed for its violation of the Palestinian Basic Law and because it constitutes a new entry point for family problems that harms the social fabric, as well as being an unjustified restriction of the freedom to travel for men and women.”

Aziz H. Almasri also posted on his Facebook page: “Regressive and backward, no better words to describe the decision of Hamas’ supreme court council in Gaza. In the 21st century we are going back instead of advancing and developing.”

All that pressure on the supreme judicial council worked.

On Tuesday evening, al-Jojo announced that “the decision to restrict travel for women and youth will be reconsidered.”

 

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