The terrorist group Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip for almost a year now. After the elections, supporters hoped Hamas would root out the Palestinian Authority's corruption and bring a cleaner, Islamic-style government.
But the reality is that life there is more brutal than many had suspected. During a recent demonstration, the government's so-called "Executive Force" took control by killing seven people and wounding 90. More than 100 were arrested, most of them from the rival Fatah party headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas leaders blame Israel's siege of Gaza for this behavior because their police officers are blocked by Israel from going to neighboring countries for training. They also say Palestinian television incites people to kill each other.
Hurting Their Own
Still, the old, the young, and even women are punished for being guilty in the eyes of Hamas. Some are arrested for their political views, some for misconduct.
Raji Sourani, the head of the Human Rights Palestinian Center in Gaza City, says some atrocities are committed in the name of Hamas.
"A lot of people are arrested insulted, humiliated and tortured. Some of them were released and some are still in jail," he said. "Hamas should be punishing the people who were responsible for the killings of two people under torture."
Even some Hamas political leaders such as Younes al-Astal admit the problem.
"It is not a secret to say that more than 500 policemen were punished in the last six months for wrongdoings," al-Astal said.
Islamist Indoctrination in Prison
Hamas's central goal is to destroy Israel. But another goal is to educate Gazans and others in the ways of Islam as they perceive it.
A trip to the main prison reveals some of the Islamist tools Hamas employs with the captives inside Gaza.
A poster there promoting the Executive Force says, "Our hands are white and clean" - a suggestion that Hamas is more pure and uncorrupted than the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.
The prison cells hold a number of women and girls. Hamas officials have charged the women with a variety of crimes, from adultery to prostitution to robbery.
The female supervisor considers herself part of the Hamas Islamic prison outreach.
"They came to us as animals," she said. "And after teaching them the religion of Islam, they will leave as different people."
One Hamas jail worker said, "I do correction and orientation for prisoners; we teach them how to pray and how to repent in order to leave this place purified from their sins."
Prisoners must pray five times per day with their heads covered.
"We pray with them in the morning," the jail worker said. "We will have a 'Ring of Faith' as a group. We will read to them easy and small scriptures to be memorized because they know nothing about the religion. We will pray for them and ask Allah to forgive them, with the hope that they will be forgiven because of their grave sins."
Hamas will also reward the people who memorize part of the Koran.
"If they will memorize part of the Koran, we will reduce their imprisonment time, and if someone is able to memorize the whole Koran, we will release him or her right away," al-Astal claims.
In addition, Hamas is allowing some conjugal visits, unheard of in the Middle East.
"Legal lovemaking between married couples is allowed," al-Astal said. "If the husband is guilty, his wife is not supposed to be punished."
Still, among some Gazans, including one woman who lost her son because of Hamas, even the dreaded Israeli "occupation," which ended in August 2005, was more merciful than what they have now.
The Hamas regime may become an issue in the U.S. presidential election contest. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, visited Israel this week.
He told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas and the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon want to destroy everything that Israel and the United States hold dear.
"If Hamas and Hezbollah succeed here, they are going to succeed everywhere, not only in the Middle East, but everywhere," he said.
"They are dedicated to the extinction of everything that the US, Israel and the West believe and stand for. So America does have an interest in what happens here, far above and beyond our alliance with the State of Israel," he said.
Referring to the call from some in Europe and Israel for Israel to negotiate with Hamas, McCain said, "Someone is going to have to answer the question for me of how you are going to negotiate with an organization that is dedicated to your extinction."
Hamas' charter states explicitly that the organization's goal is to destroy Israel.