Gaza City, Gaza Strip (AP) – Aff al-Nazar had found a way out of Gaza.
The 19-year-old won a scholarship to study communications in Turkey, acquired all the necessary travel documents and even paid $500 to skip the long lines at the Rafa crossing with Egypt.
But she was turned back when she reached the border on September 21 – not by Israel or Egypt, which have imposed a 14-year blockade on the Gaza Strip – but because of a male guardianship law enacted by the Islamist terrorist group Hamas, which controls the region. reigns.
“I honestly broke down,” she said, describing the moment border officials took her luggage off the bus. “My eyes started watering, I could not even stand. They had to get me a chair… I thought my dream was being robbed.”
Travel in and out of Gaza, a coastal region that is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, has been severely restricted since 2007, when Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces. Israel, which has fought four wars with HamasAs recently as May, the blockade is needed to prevent terrorists from re-activating. Critics see it as a form of collective punishment.
Hamas has repeatedly called for the lifting of the blockade. But in February, an Islamic court run by Hamas issued a notice stating that single women were allowed to travel out of the region from a male “guardian” – a husband, relative, or even a son – should be allowed to do.
Following a backlash led by human rights groups, Hamas officials amended the decision to drop the requirement. Instead, it said a male relative could petition the court to prevent a woman from traveling if it caused “absolute harm”. Women cannot stop men from traveling.
Hamas has taken only sporadic steps to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, on the already conservative Gaza, and even then it usually faces criticism. It does not share the extreme ideology of more radical factions such as the Islamic State group.
But the amended law remained in effect.
Al-Najr’s father filed a petition, and the court barred him from traveling so that he could consider it. She lives with her mother, who is separated from her father, and says she cut off all contact with him in May. He could not be reached for comment.
Hamas officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group that deeply criticizes the blockade, called on Hamas to lift its sanctions.
“Hamas authorities should lift the travel ban on Aff al-Nazar and withdraw their notice to the Supreme Judicial Council, so that women in Gaza can travel without discrimination.”
After returning to the border, al-Nazar appealed to several local human rights groups, but said they were reluctant to assist him for fear of reprisal from Hamas. Eventually, she filed a petition against the ban.
Her father failed to appear at the first hearing, forcing it to be adjourned. Before adjourning, the judge asked her why she was going abroad and suggested that she could easily study at one of Gaza’s universities.
Al-Nazar, who speaks fluent English and teaches the language, aspires to become a journalist. She says a multi-cultural country like Turkey offers opportunities that do not exist in Gaza, which is largely cut off from the outside world.
The hearing was adjourned for the second time as his father’s lawyer was ill. It was adjourned for the third time on Wednesday as his new lawyer said he needed time to study the matter.
The validity of the scholarship was extended until the end of the year, but if Al-Nazar does not make it to Turkey, she will lose it.
But she is not giving up.
“I realized that no one would help me, but I realized that I have to be stronger now to fight for my rights,” she said. “Instead of crying in my room and humiliating myself, I decided to fight. I decided to fight for the first time in my life.”