The Palestinian Authority (PA) has launched a crackdown on people eating in public during the Muslim fast month of Ramadan, reports Palestinian Media Watch (PMW). Although Hamas-run Gaza is typically seen as a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism, the PA-controlled West Bank is at the center of this harsh enforcement of Sharia law.
The cleric in charge of the PA's Supreme Court of Sharia Law recently declared that the government should enact legislation prohibiting eating in public during Ramadan.
"Our streets are Islamic," Sheikh Yusuf Ida'is said. "Any person caught committing this sin in public during Ramadan has to be imprisoned until the end of Ramadan, as an example to others" and in deference to Muslims' feelings. He also said that the legislation should apply to non-Muslims and those incapable of fasting, a severe restriction on Christians in the West Bank, who represent about 10 percent of the population.
According to PA official newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida, six people have been arrested since Ramadan started July 19. A court in Jericho, a formerly liberal town that even hosted casinos for Israelis, sentenced one man to a month in prison for breaking the fast publicly.
The crackdown and the call by a major official raise questions about the PA's commitment to religious freedom, despite promises by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas appointed the sheikh to his position in January.