Rare insight into the chaos that is Gaza

The harsh realities of life under Hamas is revealed in a Financial Times article.

By Alex Brummer, November 27, 2008

A key reason for the poor perception of Israel in Britain is the way events in Gaza are reported. Israel is generally depicted as the nasty jailer responsible for what is often described as the "world's biggest prison".

Admittedly, Israel's tough policy towards Gaza does not help. It was only in the past week that Jerusalem relaxed a 19-day blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory to admit humanitarian assistance.

As a result of the dangers posed to Western journalists, symbolised by the long capture of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in 2007, we rarely receive a clear picture of life inside the Gaza strip. But a lengthy article in the FT Weekend Magazine, by the paper's Jerusalem correspondent, Tobias Buck, provided an insight into the current state of affairs, recounting how the Hamas government has systematically sought to destroy the region's ruling clans.

Buck described the historic role played by extended Gazan families - known as hamulas. Some have been around for centuries while others came to the area as refugees following the 1948 war. According to the FT man, the biggest of these clans boast thousands of family members and operate as closely knit units answering to their mukhtar - chieftain --- and a small group of elders.

Buck noted that much recent violence, loss of life and destruction stemmed from Hamas's suppression of the clans. Hamas glorifies martyrs who have laid down their lives in terrorist attacks on Israel. The clans, by contrast, honour those who have died at the hands of Hamas. It appears that the clans reached the peak of their powers in the mid-1990s when they hitched their fate to Yasser Arafat and the emergent Palestinian Authority.

Since Hamas gained power in the 2006 elections, it has been fighting a bloody war with the clans, which represented Fatah interests. Hamas has also targeted the press, NGOs, universities and the judiciary in retaliation for any criticism of Islamist rule.

Israel's strict embargo on economic activity has not helped and, as Buck pointed out, Egypt contributes to the isolation by sealing its border and using the Rafah crossing as a safety valve, opened only in extremis.

While many of the big families have crumbled under Hamas, revenge is in the air and Buck offered a colourful description of the clans' determination, despite having been stripped of their weapons, to fight back.

In interesting contrast to Buck's account, which exemplified the FT's usual clear, balanced analysis of events impacting on the core Israel-Palestinian relationship, the paper's commercial departments still pander to the Gulf dollar. A six-page supplement on Middle East banking and finance, published on Tuesday, left the impression that Ahmadinejad already had achieved his goals and Israel had been wiped off the regional map.

The intractability of Gaza is one of the early issues likely to face America's new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A leader in The Guardian observed that the five-month ceasefire in the territory has started to unravel, after an Israeli raid that killed six militants, and that tension between Fatah and Hamas is building.

The Guardian expressed apprehension about the possible return to power in Israel of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, a politician who "wants to retain large parts of the West Bank, rejects the return of refugees and the division of Jerusalem - the three issues on which current talks are based".

Writing leaders calling for sacrifices by peacemakers is a far more straightforward business than reporting on the tensions and violence in Gaza's back alleys.


Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's city editor

Last updated: 11:16am, November 27 2008