The United Nations Relief and Works Agency announced this morning, regretfully, that an annual marathon conducted in the Gaza Strip to raise money for U.N. children’s summer camps would have to be cancelled. The statement issued by the organization linked the decision to a Hamas prohibition on the participation of women:
UNRWA regrets to announce that it has cancelled the third Gaza marathon which was to be held on 10 April. This follows the decision by the authorities in Gaza not to allow women to participate… UNRWA is disappointed with this decision, and sincerely regrets the inconvenience this may cause to those who planned to participate in the marathon.
The decision by UNRWA to formally link Hamas to the cancellation will be read as an rare expression of frustration with the Iran-backed Islamist organization. Critics have previously blasted UNRWA officials for going out of their way to avoid blaming Hamas for socio-economic problems in the Gaza Strip. More fundamentally UNRWA has traditionally – and quietly – deferred to Hamas on social issues:
Palestinians employed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency… elected candidates affiliated with the terror group Hamas to 25 out of 27 seats on a union board that represents ten thousand UNRWA workers. The development brings fresh criticism to the much-maligned U.N. agency, which… has been accused by members of Congress of having ties to regional terror groups that engage in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities. “For the moment, Hamas and UNRWA seem to have an agreement that UNRWA may continue to function in Gaza so long as it does not engage in actions that significantly contradict Hamas’ world view,” one former senior UNRWA official, talking on the condition of anonymity, told Fox News.
Over the years the Hamas regime has instituted a number of policies that limited the rights of women in the Gaza Strip. A decision last month to impose a dress code on female university students was sufficiently controversial that the story was picked up by U.S. education blogs. Male hairdressers have been forced out of work for styling women’s hair. The organization was even forced into a rare public apology last summer after Hamas police officers beat female activists demonstrating in favor of reconciliation between the organization and its Palestinian rival Fatah.
The motive behind banning female runners from the Gaza Marathon, however, may not have had as much to do with the modesty of adults as with Hamas’s desire to enforce gender segregation among children. The BBC World Service interviewed French-Algerian journalist Nabila Ramdani, who ascribed the decision to Hamas’s displeasure that funds raised by the runners were going to co-educational U.N. summer camps for children:
[Photo: UK in Israel / Flickr]