On April 8th 2013 an article by Jon Donnison entitled “Hamas ‘force men to cut long hair'” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website.
In his report Donnison states that:
“The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says several young men have been arrested for wearing their hair too long or with too much hair gel.
Officials from Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, denied this.”
He later adds:
“The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza has denied its police are involved and says Islamic student groups are responsible.
Witnesses to the arrests dispute this.”
No source is provided for that alleged denial.
The AP news agency – which appears to be the source of the story in much of the English language media and is also the source of the photograph used to illustrate Donnison’s report – carries interviews with some of the young men involved and, contrary to Donnison, indicates clear Hamas-run police involvement in the crack-down.
“Hamas officials played down the campaign – a stance adopted in the past that allows the group to distance itself from a controversial crackdown while at the same time instilling fear in those it targeted.
Ziad al-Zaza, the deputy prime minister of Gaza, said the head-shaving “was a very limited, isolated behavior of the police and is not going to continue.”
“Police spokesman Ayman al-Batinji confirmed some young people had been compelled to get their hair cut, in a move he said was related to inappropriate behaviour on the streets.”
Donnison rounds off his report by writing:
“Critics of Hamas accuse it of increasingly imposing laws that reflect a conservative interpretation of Islam.
In the past Hamas has banned women from smoking shisha pipes and outlawed men from cutting women’s hair. But both laws have never been fully enforced.
Some believe Hamas introduces such legislation to appeal to conservative elements in Gaza who consider the government to be too moderate.”
We have already come across the euphemistic phrase “conservative elements” being used in the past by the BBC to describe Salafists. Readers are not informed of the identities of the tenuous “some” who, according to Donnison, “believe” that Hamas panders to the Salafists and no evidence is provided for that assertion. Neither is this the first time in which Donnison has presented Hamas as having an agenda dictated to it by Salafists and excused Hamas of its actions on that basis, despite the fact that Hamas is the ruling element in the Gaza Strip.
Donnison’s all too obvious attempt to absolve Hamas of responsibility for this latest bout of curtailment of basic personal freedoms in the Gaza Strip once again raises serious questions regarding his ability to report on the subject of that organisation and its actions impartially.