The odds are
stacked against Valentine's Day in Hamas-ruled Gaza: The
holiday is considered haram, or forbidden by Islam,
most residents don't have money for frills, and the
requisite red roses are grown only beyond a closed
border with Israel.
Yet even Gazans
managed to mark Eid el Hob, or the Feast of Love,
with a few splashes of red Thursday. Flower shops in Gaza
City's better neighborhoods, displaying rows of
flower-filled buckets and heart-shaped decorations,
sold homegrown carnations to women in Islamic head scarves
and dutiful husbands.
looked the other way despite the religious taboo, reflecting
the Islamic militants' policy of not going against popular
consensus when it comes to social norms.
Across the Arab
world, attitudes toward Valentine's Day are a gauge for
the level of fundamentalism. Devout Muslims believe that
only Muslim holidays should be observed, opposing
Valentine's Day as a Western celebration of romantic
love that corrupts Muslim youth.
The holiday is
outlawed in Saudi Arabia, where religious police enforce
the ban, and conservative lawmakers in Kuwait said Wednesday
they want to see Valentine's Day suppressed because it
dilutes the nation's Arab and Muslim identity.
In Bahrain, which
is more open than Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, flower shops
imported about 150,000 roses in one week, or 20,000 more
than last year, according to the Web site of the Al
Arabiya television station. In Cairo, small cruise
boats on the Nile were decorated with red ribbons and hearts
made of flashing red bulbs.
conservative Muslim city-state with a modern outlook and a
pro-Western attitude, has been taken over by a Valentine
craze in recent days. Malls, cafes, and even offices
were decorated with giant hearts. Five-course dinners
and romantic getaways were sold out, and spas offered
was introduced to Gaza about a decade ago by Palestinian
exiles returning from more cosmopolitan places such as
Beirut and Tunis, following interim peace deals with
Israel. The Internet and Arab satellite TV helped
spread the idea, mostly among the young, educated, and
Yet in Gaza, the
holiday of love remains a relatively modest affair, in
part because few Gazans can afford to spend on extras, such
as candy and flowers. At a flower shop in Gaza City's
Rimal neighborhood, 24-year-old Mohammed al-Wakid
bought a rainbow-colored bouquet of carnations for his
wife for $1.30. That's a steal, even for Gaza, mainly
because the territory is flooded with carnations that
had been grown for export to Europe.
After the Hamas
takeover, Israel and Egypt closed Gaza's borders, banning
trade, and only a fraction of the millions of carnations
grown in Gaza this season were sold to Europe under a
limited arrangement with Israel. On Thursday, Gaza
flower growers dumped carnations at the Sufa crossing
with Israel in protest.
policeman who's stayed off the job since the Hamas takeover,
said he began buying flowers for Valentine's Day four years
ago, when he was engaged. Since then, his wife has
come to expect the gesture, he said.
Across the street
at the Rose Flower Shop, two young women, one dressed
in a black Islamic robe and head scarf, bought a bouquet of
roses, a rare sight in Gaza. The shop had managed to
bring in 500 roses from Israel, using Gaza medical
patients treated in the Jewish state as ''mules,'' and
had about 50 roses left.
Sussi, 30, said he hadn't received any complaints about
his business. ''They didn't tell us anything, whether from
the government or anyone else, that it is
haram,'' he said.
But at a third
flower shop, a TV crew earned angry glares from
salespeople, and shoppers adamantly refused to be
interviewed on camera. Asked why the reluctance, one
salesman said his customers didn't want to be filmed
doing something haram.
spokesman Islam Shahwan said Valentine's Day might go
against Gaza's traditions, but Hamas is not trying to
replace civil with Islamic law. ''We are by nature a
religious people and hate and reject all strange
things,'' he said. ''(But) we don't kill adulterers or gays
or cut off the hands of thieves.'' (Karin Laub, AP)