US Army sparks a fashion craze in militant Gaza
Wearing a green Hamas headband, waving a Hamas flag, swinging a Kalashnikov and chanting for Israel’s demise, Bassem Shorah looks to be a prototypical Palestinian militant.
His olive green shirt, however, tells a different story. It’s a spot-on replica of those worn by soldiers in the United States Army, replete with combat patches and unit designations.
Though he’s a committed Islamic activist in a movement that denounces the United States for supporting Israel and occupying Iraq, Shorah proudly sports what has become the latest trend in Palestinian street wear: US military apparel.
“This is the new fashion in the market,” says Shorah.
“It’s a show of force, because the US army is powerful.
It’s a symbol of strength and of our refusal to put down arms.”
The US army knock-offs are part of a broader trend here. After six years of an uprising against Israel and with Gaza heading once again for confrontation with the Israeli army, militancy has become a dominant theme in Palestinian culture.
Particularly now, as Gaza’s 1,4-million inhabitants sit up each night waiting anxiously for an Israeli invasion aimed at rescuing a captured soldier, air strikes and tank shells are woven into the fabric of daily life.
The masked, fatigue-clad militants who roam Gaza’s streets in the name of resistance to the Jewish state are lionised by Palestinian youth.
On their television sets these young people see images of US soldiers in Iraq, and they view them as the ultimate symbol of military might.
“People look in the streets and they see gunmen, they watch TV and see the US army, and they say, ‘I want to be a militant, too. I want that shirt,’” says Omar Bilbaysi, who owns three clothing shops in downtown Rafah.
“The word ‘US army’ doesn’t matter,” he adds. “What matters is that they’re wearing military clothes.”
Across Gaza, retailers say demand for military wear, US army and otherwise, is booming.
Nearly every clothing store in Gaza is well-stocked with the sort of fashions one would expect to find at an army surplus store: camouflage shirts and pants and black paramilitary vests with pockets for ammo cartridges and hand grenades.
“The culture in Gaza now is very militant,” says Ayman Jarbua, another clothing retailer here. “The youth admire the militants who are fighting in the resistance and they want to dress like them.”
The trend is not limited to clothing. At barber shops across the West Bank and Gaza young Palestinians are demanding what’s known as a “marine,” meaning a high and tight crew cut, the kind that is mandatory for US marines.
Similarly, Abu Sim, a rank and file gunman in the Popular Resistance Committees’ armed wing, has wrapped the barrel of his Kalashnikov with desert camouflage padding, another nod to US military fashion.
“I saw a US marine sniper on TV doing the same thing,” he says. “It’s natural to copy the US military because they are powerful and so are we.”
Still others, unable to read the English words emblazoned across their chest, don US army garb without a clue.
“I just bought it because I like the way it looks, but I’ll burn it now as soon as I go home,” says Ibrahim Abu Zarif (20) when told during a pro-Hamas rally that the patch on his left breast pocket says US army.
In the 1990s, when peace with Israel seemed imminent, Palestinian youths looked elsewhere for role models. They emulated pop singers such as Iraqi legend Kazem Saher. Like the dapper vocalist, stylish young Palestinians once preferred dark suits with wide collared shirts unbuttoned at the top.
“Then, it wasn’t the time of intifada,” says Wasim al-Fagawy, a thoughtful 21-year-old law student at al-Azhar University as he watches a Hamas rally rumble down a back street in southern Gaza.
“Now, times have changed and militancy is in the air everywhere.”
Even women’s and baby clothing stores stock generous racks of camouflage.
“It’s normal in a land that knows only wars to find people attracted to this style,” says Abu al-Hassan, a customer in Jarbua’s store.
Hassan says he is a Hamas loyalist who hangs propaganda posters for the organisation in his free time. Today, however, he’s shopping for his wife: pink camouflage pants with a US air force logo on the front pocket.
At Baby City, a children’s apparel shop owned by Bilbaysi, a poster of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin hangs on the door while the display window lures shoppers with tyke-sized fatigues, a US army patch across the front.
“The people love their little kids to be dressed in military clothes,” says Bilbaysi. “They want to teach the children and prepare them so they will be ready for the battle that lies ahead when they grow up.” - AFP