TEL AVIV – Hamas police in Gaza have banned New Year’s parties in restaurants and hotels throughout the Strip.
“The interior ministry and police department did not give permits to any restaurants, hotels or halls for end-of-year parties” after numerous requests were made, police spokesman Ayman al-Batinji told AFP. This is the first time Hamas has banned New Year’s celebrations since it took over Gaza in 2007.
Human rights campaigners and other disgruntled Gazans slammed the ban as an affront on civil liberties.
Mustafa Ibrahim, a Gaza-based human rights campaigner, told Breitbart Jerusalem, “Hamas surprises us every day anew and insists on adding, on the last day of the year, another item to its long list of human rights violations.”
“Hamas continues its assault on the population of Gaza and tries to dictate to us, in the name of religion, its political agenda,” he said.
“Hamas continues its campaign to quell human rights and civil liberties while masquerading internationally as a moderate Islamic movement,” Ibrahim added. “In truth, Hamas is trying to outperform more radical organizations, to keep its people satisfied.”
Ibrahim, a member of the Independent Association for Human Rights in Gaza, says the policy is unreasonable, since the celebrations are normally marginal and low-key. “One would think that the authorities have to deal with tens of thousands of people wanting to celebrate the New Year, which is a civilian, rather than religious, issue,” he says. “It’s as if Hamas is saying that the Gazans are no longer part of the world or part of humanity, marking the end of one year and the beginning of another.”
Hamada Arif, a restauranteur from the central Gaza district of Rimal, said that he was preparing for a big party, including activities for kids, “but then they told us we couldn’t have it. The interesting thing is that the wardens said that we can do it any other night, just not tonight.”
Arif told Breitbart Jerusalem that the last-minute ban would inflict great losses on restaurants and hotels that have received hundreds of bookings and prepared accordingly. “That,” he said, “would be in addition to the frustration of these people who wanted to celebrate the start of a new year.”
Many restaurants and hotels in the Strip, however, featured Christmas decorations. Many Gazans, not only the Strip’s 1,800 Christians, rushed to buy Santa Claus costumes.
The new directive does not apply to the Christian population, but one member of the community told Breitbart Jerusalem that they keep the profile of the celebrations deliberately low, so as not to raise the ire of radical Islamists.
Ahmad T., a resident of the Gaza district of Nasar, told Breitbart Jerusalem that he planned on welcoming the New Year at the seashore Museum Hotel, but the owners said the party is cancelled.
“They told us we could have dinner instead, with silent music in the background,” he said.
Last week, Israel allowed more than 500 Gaza Christians to leave the Strip and attend Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem.