The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Watching ‘Friends’ in Gaza: Why is that a Culture Clash?

The New York Times yesterday had a long, kind of strange article that was (I guess) about cultural life in Gaza. It had two main points. The first, which gives the article its title "Watching 'Friends' in Gaza: A Culture Clash" is that people in Gaza, despite being--I'm not sure exactly, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, under a Hamas government?--are into Western pop culture. The first half of the article elaborates on this false clash despite the fact that the very first quote in the story actually lays it to rest. 

Do Gazans living under Hamas buy much Western music or many Western movies? Mr. Kihail [the owner of a video store] looked baffled, and maybe even a little annoyed, by the question.

“Of course,” he said.

The article ends up discussing, in its second half, Hamas' alleged censorship of cultural life in Gaza. This is more interesting to me, although I don't necessarily trust the Times' coverage entirely. For example, the article states that:
[..] Gallery Mina, a Ministry of Culture art space that for years hosted poetry readings, films and Western-style art exhibitions, was among hundreds of organizations recently raided by Hamas, with the excuse of flushing out Fatah links; now Mina has been turned into a home for Hamas-approved events.

This is a bit vague and makes me wish the author had given a few examples of the difference between "Western style art exhibitions" and "Hamas-approved events."

The piece goes on: 
The Culture and Free Thought Association, a nonprofit organization in Khan Yunis, a town in southern Gaza, with a theater, a summer camp and a variety of arts programs, was looted not long ago by Hamas security forces who held the woman in charge at gunpoint and later went to her home. Leaders of Hamas in Khan Yunis apologized afterward, claiming, like Mr. Taha, that the raiders were renegades.

It’s noteworthy that the places raided by Hamas aren’t book stalls selling sex manuals or cafes showing sitcoms, but cultural centers promoting art that aspires to be more than an opiate for the people, implying an organized attack. “Hamas wants to create an impression in Gaza that they are not controlling individual life or suppressing cultural freedom, and they want that message to reach outside,” said Jamal Al Rozzi, director of the Palestinian Theater Association in Gaza, whose office was also attacked. “But at the same time, everything is under its control. Hamas doesn’t officially tell us that we can’t do anything, but you can be taken away to prison and beaten for 30 days and no one will even know where the hell you are.”

The article takes (disturbing) anecdotal evidence and suggests an "organized attack" against high-brow culture. I'd be curious to here from people who know more about the situation in Palestine than I do as to whether this is true.