It is three weeks since his arrest, but Ismail Halou still has streaks of purple bruising on the soles of his feet. The 22-year-old was filling cars at his family’s petrol station in Gaza City at 5 p.m. on April 4 when a black jeep pulled into the forecourt and police stepped out to order him into the car. He was blindfolded and driven to the nearest police station.
“I could hear the screams of people being beaten in the rooms next to me,” he recalled. “Two men held my legs down and tied them together on a wooden board then they beat the soles of my feet with a plastic rod. They beat me for at least five minutes. I was crying and screaming with agony. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”
After the beating, officers set to work shaving off the one-inch fin of gelled hair that was the cause of his arrest.
“At no point did they tell me why they had arrested me,” Mr Halou said. “I found out from neighbours when I got home it was my haircut.” He could not walk for three days after his release.
Police in Gaza, the Palestinian coastal enclave run by the Islamist faction Hamas since 2007, have arrested at least 41 men on charges of immodesty this month, some because their haircuts were deemed culturally inappropriate, others because their trousers were either too low-slung or too fitted. Most were beaten, all of them had their heads forcibly shaven.