Friday, April 21, 2006

Hamas forms new security branch

Something strange is happening in Gaza.

Municipality workers are actually working.

The streets seem a bit cleaner.

And for once, I actually saw a policeman arresting a criminal in a dramatic pick-up the other day, much to the chagrin of his gang, who stoned and shot at the police car (futilely), and the "oohs" and "aahs" of onlookers (including myself).

In Gaza, we have become accustomed to the rule of law-lessness. And people are sick of it-in fact 84% according to a recent poll, place internal security as their number priority.

This is not to say that gangs and armed gunmen somehow roam the streets as in some bad Western, as the mainstream media would make it seem. But for sure, it is brawn and bullets that win the day, and decide everything from family disputes to basic criminal proceedings.

Last week, there was a “reverse honor crime” or sorts. A man was found murdered in Gaza City after being accused of molesting a young girl (reverse, I say, because usually it works the other way around). The crime was immediately decried by local human rights organizations and people alike.

But when there is no one around to enforce the law-or rather, no one ABLE to enforce the law, other than verbal condemnations, there is little else that can be done. If the accused was jailed, his family would have inevitably intervened, hiring gunmen to break him out or taking it out against another member of his family. It’s a vicious cycle. Citizens don't feel accountable and law enforcers are impotent.

This is where Hamas’s power of moral suasion comes into play. I’ve seen it at work in areas such as Dair al-balah, which was spared the bloody clan disputes that areas of such as Khan Yunis and Beit Lahiya suffered when the Hamas-elected Municipality leader intervened.

Of course, they have no magic wand, but they seem very effective at what they do-and their networks and ability to “talk” to people as “one of the people” resonates well.

The bigger problem is what do you do when the law enforcers themselves are the ones breaking the law?

Last week 50 masked gunmen belonging to the preventive security forces blockaded off the main street between northern and southern Gaza demanding their wages, as they have been accustomed to doing over the past few years (though the mass media would have us assume otherwise, citing the incident as “the first sign” of frustration with the new government.)

They are the same old group that has always made trouble, whether for Mahmud Abbas or Ismail Haniya, and are effectively supported by Mohammad Dahalan, which he fondly refers to in his inner circles as “little army”. Hamas and others accuse them of being a “minority” stirring trouble to attempt and speed the downfall of the new government and “score political points”.

Many of them belong to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (AMB), Fateh’s rogue offshoot.

As I’ve mentioned before, this group poses one of the biggest security challenges to Hamas. They are loyal to Fateh but seemingly answerable to no one, and a contingent of them are supported by very strong figures who want nothing else but to see this new government fail.

So what is Hamas to do? For one, form their own security force.

Yesterday, the new Minister of the Interior, Saeed Siyam, held a press conference in Gaza’s Omari Mosque in the old city (an interesting choice-the oldest mosque in Gaza, and a place for the "masses"), in which he announced the formation of a new armed "operational force" headed by Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) leader Jamal Samhadana-a brawny, bearded fellow constantly surrounded by a posse of heavily armed body guards (whom I met once), and wanted by Israel for masterminding several of the highest-profile bombings of the intifada.

The all-volunteer Force would also consist of a police arm with thousands of members of armed groups such as the AMB, PRC, and Izz-i-deen al-Qassam brigades direcly subordinate to him. As if this isn’t confusing enough, this move was meant to counter Mahmud Abbas’s recent presidential order appointing Rashid Abu Shbak, former chief of preventive security in the Strip, as head of "Internal Security" which is a new entity that unites the interior ministry's security agencies and ensures they remain under Abbas’s rule.

Have I lost you yet?

The Israeli press was quick to condemn the move ala “wanted militant to head PA police”.

However, this is probably one of the smartest moves Hamas could make during this stage.

Why? For one, the Samhadana family is one of the most powerful clans of southern Gaza. By appointing one of their own (who also happens of course to be the leader of the PRC) as director general of the police forces in the Interior Ministry, and absorbing members of the PRC and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades-who account for two of the most volatile factions in Gaza, into the new force, Hamas is effectively ensuring their allegiance and making them "keepers of the Street" rather than "keepers of the clan". They all pledged to fight (the word was more like "crush") lawlessness and crime.

What about the money for wages? Well, simple. There ARE no wages. The new force is an all volunteer one, so the members are working for status and ideals rather that money (of course, at some point, there will be mouths to feed).

Of course, things could always backfire-and its not hard to see how, especially since Abbas does not recognize the new force, and factions have pledged to make a similar such force unsuccessfully in the past. But I think for the time being, it is a very interesting "think outside the box" move by Hamas, especially since it was official.

As usual, time will tell whether it will truly succeed in ensuring safety and security for Palestinian citizens or not.


Blogger Sophia said...

I understand why Palestinians have rallyed actually around Hamas. It is not only for Israeli-Palestinian issues but also for internal issues.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another really interesting post. I'd just read about the creation of this new volunteer force on the BBC UK website. Obviously the article was biased towards the Israeli opinion and un-helpful statements about this wanted militant not now being immune to assasination. Despite all of this I totally agree with you, this could, and hopefully will be a smart move on the part of Hamas.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree very much to you, Laila! Time will tell what they can do and how efficient they will be! If Abbas rejects them, he's got to come up with a better idea to establish law and order with instead ... only to reject is not very smart.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

an genius idea ,again Hamas proves their ability for leadership.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


That's pretty much what i guessed.

I hope the Israeli goverment isn't as much a bitch about this as the sensationalist press is.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ziad read and digest


8:20 PM  
Blogger Moses said...

Once is comment. Twice is spam.

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abbas has rejected the move claiming that in it is not legal.

I wonder if it was a Fatah controlled goverment .Would Abbas reject if they came up with the same idea??


11:55 PM  
Blogger Anne Rettenberg LCSW said...

This was so much more informative than the story today in the New York Times--have you ever applied to work for them as a free-lancer? They sure could use someone based in Gaza from what I can see.

12:16 AM  
Blogger moi said...

Laila, this seems like an interesting idea. You mentioned that it's a volunteer force, and that they would working for "status and ideals", but what Palestinian can afford to do that? Clearly there's a huge risk involved in being part of this, you're putting your life on the line, and most likely you're family is under the poverty line, so why would someone do this?
Is it meant to rein in individuals who have already been roaming the streets as free security forces? Is it like a more serious form of a "neighborhood watch"? Clearly Hamas woudln't introduce this idea if they didn't already know that they would have lots of people volunteering for it. It just seems odd to me that people would do it for free. But then again securing your neighborhood and family is definitley worth a lot.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Laila said...

Yasse: actually, he already did. Under Arafat's reign, a then PM Mahmud Abbas resigned in protest of ARafat's rejection of putting security under Abbas's control...funny how the tables turn!

Elizabeth: Its a media mafia here and changes are slim to none of working for any major news organizaiton. THey seldom take freelance article unless they are really different ideas that their own reporters aren't covering, and fit into their own skewed world vision.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Fatima said...

Very interesting explanation for this new step by Hamas, definitely more understandable than anything that I've seen on the news.

On a side note, I did not realize that the rule of lawlessness exists to such a degree in Palestine. It really strikes home, b/c that's the biggest problem I see with Iraq nowadays. Whoever steps forward with a gun, gets what he wants. And no one goes to the police, because they are in on the whole shabang.

Lack of security is one of the hardest tests a human can face.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moi, you ask how the volunteers are goung to feed their families.
Well, the Samhadana clan ("Hamoola" in Arabic) controls all the (arms and drugs mostly) smuggling from Egypt to Gaza streep, and doing extremely well out of it. So there is no need to worry about their families (as opposed to the average non-criminal Gazan family).
Oh, and by the wa,' Laila mentioned Samhadana's "masterminding" several bombings against Israelis. She forgot to mention his responsibility to the murder of three Americans who were on their way to deliver scholarships to Palestinian students. Also the murder of a young Israeli mother and her 5 daughters, aged 2-11, who were shot at point blank range in their car.
Not very nice, those Samhadanas.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I disagree with aou on almost every one of your words! how did you mange that? :)
The pilots do not TARGET those civilians, they go after bombers and Kassamers, and they try to hit only them, but when there are civilians near by' they unfortunately get hit too. But these civilians were not the target. The Palestinians Target Israeli civilians as such- the people who shot the litle girls in their car point blank SAW them. There was no soldier there- only the mother and her daughters.

As for the "discriminating wall"- who is it discrimanating against exactly? (expect maybe discriminating against bombers on their way to "work" in the heart of Israel?)

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and that was me...

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

58 years of occupation? Do you mean from 1948? that is- do you mean that all of Israel is occupied land? That there should be no Israel at all? If this is your opinion then there is nothing left to discuss, is there?

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not agree with Hamas's charter. I's declared aim. The reality of the day dictates a more realistic approach. .

Some say they will be more pragmatic and seek peace, others think the whole of Israel is far game until it is liberated. I hope for a two state solution but as trust between the two is nil and suicide bombers now legit in the goverments eyes, well, I do not know what to think.

But I do not think they should expect any western support to aid them apart from humanitarian aid. Hard as it may be, when you are a democratic country you also have to live with your own choices and your Charter, and they are adamant about their agenda.

Let's see how Hamas does in Gaza- what was there election motto - building with one hand and what...............

Alot of us are watching, I guess time will tell. Can they build a State? Peace? Security? Religious tolerance??

I wish for peace and prosperity in Gaza.


4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo Laila for not getting wrapped up in this game of us and them engaged by some of those leaving comments.

6:05 PM  
Blogger BHCh said...

Yep, very smart Hamas!

They are now looking to resurrect Hitler to head their racial tolerance society.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks leila

I fear Abbas is turning to another Arafat .

In others words According to the law it is not illegal.and Abbas knows about the law more than anybody,Was not that his major study.

Anyway Leila I am sure you have seen what is happening.

I hope that there in no civil war.
Enough is enough


8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orly, there's a lot left! The 58-years are since the foundation of the state and you have to admit, it was founded on Palestinian land ... but what I mean right now by "occupation" is what was occupied in 1967 - West Bank, Gaza and the Golan, which needs to be returned to Syria. THAT is what has to be taken care of - which means given back. Gaza is offically returned but inofficially people can't move and only barely survive there due to the heavy Israeli presence surrounding them. I know you will say "but they keep on shooting the Qassams ..." - ever thought of that they don't do that out of fun but as well out of only one reason - to pester Israel enough so they will stop the occupation! I am as well against those activities, very much even ... but they are the "Palestinian appachies" and the suicide bombers, the "Palestinian F-16s"! Those are their weapons to fight, they don't have anything else! Believe me, I am dead-against all that but Israel needs to understand that she can not occupy and oppress a people and at the same time expect to have peace, safety and quiet! The choice is stop the occupation and give the Palestinian population their rights - or go on the way you live now, with fear! It's up to you!
Were YOU in that situation - you'd raise hell as well! Don't say no ... to defend oneself is simply human, nothing else.

10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but they keep on shooting the Qassams ..." - ever thought of that they don't do that out of fun but as well out of only one reason - to pester Israel enough so they will stop the occupation!

Just to be fair, certain Palestinian groups consider "the occupation" to include Tel Aviv and until The PA shows it can deal with those groups Israel (sadly)probably will keep some kind of military presence in or near the territories.

I'm not saying that is the best course of action, just the one I think the average Israel supports... defending the Jewish state from attacks.

4:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


There is an ongoing argument in Israel between those who say that the Palestinians only want the 67 territories, and those who say that they want all the land "from the river the sea".
Many of us are watching and listening to you, (in Arabic too!) so it is important that you people are more precise when you talk about this point.
Another important point is about the refugees and whether they will settle for "return" to the Palestinian state (W.Bank+Gaza) or insist on entering the pre '67 Israel. We are arguing about that too, and hoping for clarification.

So if I were Laila I would try to clarify this point in my questions to the palestinian diaspora (see her posting from a few days ago). Because, as usual, the devil in the details.

And Lalia- keep up the good work!

9:04 AM  
Blogger Isaac Demme said...

Thanks for that post. As an outsider it can be very hard to understand events in Gaza without the help of someone who knows the internal political situations.

5:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the isaac demme guy----it's very interesting and insightful for ueveryone---even nonplaestinian arabs who think they might understand everything in a nutshell.
I also appreciate how your unbiased in your stories, so everyone can get a clear picture of what is going on, and sad as the events are---there's a certain hiliarity to the whole situation. In arabic they say: "the worse catastrophes are the ones that make you laugh."

10:27 PM  

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