From the Boston Globe, January 20, 2011.
For more than a year, a Palestinian couple belonging to an Islamic sect rejected by many mainstream Muslims endured insults from some of their neighbors and even death threats while struggling to maintain a quiet existence in this West Bank town.
As word spread about them, things got worse. A local Islamic court branded them apostates and dissolved their marriage. The couple, Mohammed and Samah Alawneh, now live in legal limbo.
Their plight demonstrates the tensions between a still largely conservative Palestinian society and a Western-backed government expected by the international community to ensure democratic freedoms.
The government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is dominated by secular elites and frequently cracks down on hard-line Muslims connected to its militant Islamic rival, Hamas. The seat of Abbas’ government, the vibrant West Bank city of Ramallah, is dotted with bars, liquor stores and night clubs frequented by secular Muslims, although consuming alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam.
At the same time, the Palestinian Authority — trying to build toward a state that would include the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip — has shown there are limits to its religious tolerance.