In the End, It's about Family; Feuding Palestinian Clans Could Torpedo a Ceasefire

By Peraino, Kevin | Newsweek International, February 26, 2007 | Go to article overview

In the End, It's about Family; Feuding Palestinian Clans Could Torpedo a Ceasefire


Peraino, Kevin, Newsweek International


Byline: Kevin Peraino

The Doqmosh family stronghold is a world unto itself in Gaza City's Sabra neighborhood. The road leading in is blocked off with the burned-out hulk of a minibus. Dumpsters filled with sand plug other entryways, warning away unwanted visitors. The streets around the compound are eerily deserted. At first, that seems like a good sign, considering the gun battles that have been raging over the past several months. But just inside, up a crumbling flight of concrete stairs, Tamam Doqmosh is plotting her revenge.

Late last year her son Mahmoud was murdered. She grips a framed photo of his corpse, punctured with dozens of tiny red pinpricks like mosquito bites. "Sixty-three bullets," she calmly explains. But when talk turns to the recent ceasefire brokered between Palestinian factions in Mecca, her equanimity fades. "We're not part of this deal!" she cries. "After they killed our son?" She blames 18 members of the Islamist group Hamas for the shooting. "First we'll kill the leader," she says. "Then we'll kill the other 17."

That might seem like the empty threat of a heartbroken mother. After all, Palestinian leaders hoped that the low-grade civil war that has killed about 100 Gazans and wounded 300 more since the beginning of the year was coming to an end. At an emergency summit meeting in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, two weeks ago, Hamas and Fatah agreed to share power in a new "unity government," and the Islamists pledged to "respect" past peace deals with Israel. But similar accords have collapsed in the past. Already politicians are squabbling over the thorny issues of who will control Gaza's security forces and key cabinet ministries in any new government.

Even if the two parties manage to agree, the emotionally charged family rivalries could torpedo the deal. In tight-knit Gaza, feuds between the territory's roughly 100 large clans are something of a local sport, even in times of relative peace. Taxi drivers keep the tallies like box scores. Some of the large households line up behind Fatah; others, Hamas. But family ties often trump party affiliation. And because they are intensely personal, the clan wars are even harder to control than sectarian infighting. "You can give orders to a faction," says a senior Palestinian intelligence officer, who didn't want to be identified because of the secretive nature of his work. …

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