"There are people in the Hamas political leadership who understand very well the importance of public opinion," says Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank known for pro-Israeli stances. "They recognize that there are liberal elements of their non-Muslim support base – and Hamas would like to keep this support. But at the same, they are political Islamists."
Gaza's 1.5 million population is largely Muslim and conservative. But the enclave is also home to leftists, secular Fatah supporters, Christians, and even Muslims who oppose the institutionalization or imposition of Islam.
According to the Hamas charter, communitywide adherence to strict Islamic principles and armed resistance to Israeli occupation will grant Palestinians victory in the fight to regain their land.
A 'reccomendation,' and armed patrols
While no one has been tried or imprisoned for "un-Islamic" behavior, many locals say they have adjusted their behavior so as to avoid trouble. This summer, for example, saw a spate of reports of young men being detained and warned by policemen about their "immoral behavior" after being caught with women who were not relatives. Hamas-appointed chief justice Abdel Rauf al-Halabi, who sparked the female lawyer furor, says the government is simply drawing from the territory's already Islamic character. "Palestinians in Gaza are already Muslim; they do not need Islamization," says Mr. Halabi. "I simply reminded them of a law ... that requires [female] lawyers to cover their heads and to dress in accordance with the professional nature of their positions."