Inside Gaza: The Challenge of Clans and Families

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 21-Dec-07 | Source: International Crisis Group

Masked Hamas militants patrol in Gaza City

Gaza/Jerusalem/Brussels, 20 December 2007: As Hamas seeks to consolidate its rule and restore stability to Gaza, it must deal with powerful clans and families with which it has been at loggerheads since its June 2007 seizure of power.

Inside Gaza: The Challenge of Clans and Families,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the role of Gaza’s traditional alternative power centres and how Hamas has responded during the past six months. Influential families, along with political movements and militias, filled the void left by the Palestinian Authority’s collapse over recent years. They are now one of the most significant obstacles for Hamas, and although they probably lack the unity or motivation to form an effective opposition, this could change should popular dissatisfaction in Gaza grow. There are as yet inconclusive indications that Hamas understands this and is moderating its approach.

“Clans and families provide sustenance, protection, power and patronage and have shown the capacity to resist central authority whenever cornered and seek revenge when nursing grievances”, says Nicolas Pelham, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst in Jerusalem.

Six months after its takeover, Hamas wants to show it can govern and restore order despite Israel’s siege and continued conflict with the Ramallah-based government. The role of clans and families is essential in this, as their growing influence has both prevented Gaza’s total collapse and fuelled its mounting disorder. Some powerful families have furthered their own interests, forming militias and turning their leaders into warlords, establishing near autonomous zones with informal justice and welfare systems.

After a period of tremendous chaos, Hamas dramatically reduced Gaza’s internal turmoil. While the Islamists have cracked down on the most unruly clans and those most strongly affiliated with their Fatah rivals, they risk blowback by pushing core constituencies to the sidelines. As the struggle for diminishing resources intensifies, powerful clans and families could emerge as magnets for dissent, which on repeated occasions has turned violent.

Hamas retains strong support in Gaza but its popularity has diminished due to the dire economic situation and often brutal methods which have alienated important segments of the population. There are signs, early and insufficient, that it recognises this and has begun to acknowledge that families, with manpower, loyalty and arms, are there to stay.

“Ultimately, effective governance and a resolution of the crisis in Gaza necessitate political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and territorial unity with the West Bank, as well as a ceasefire with Israel and an end to its siege”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “In the meantime, Hamas could help preserve order and improve prospects for stability by taking steps to cease brutal measures, broaden participation in its rule and reach a workable arrangement with Gaza’s families”.

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Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) 32 (0) 2 541 1635
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The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.