Steven Teplitsky

Three state solution – The families

Gaza Without the PA or Hamas – The Day After – The Families

In February 2008, Prof. Dror Ze’evi published an article in Middle East Brief. The title of the article was “Clans and Militias in Palestinian Politics.” In the following post I would like to paraphrase Prof. Ze’evi’s findings and relate it to the current situation.

There is “a seldom observed reality of Palestinian political life: Clans, which share many attributes with tribal structures but have developed along a different path, and are a major factor in local politics and in many ways define the boundaries of what is politically possible.”

In the Palestinian territories, clans (locally called hamulas, sing. pronounced hamoola) have become a focus of political activity and major hubs of local power. Members of Hamas or Fatah invariably belong to their own clans.

What is a clan or family?

Theoretically, a clan, or family,  like a tribe, is a group of people who claim common ancestry through their fathers’ male line and thus share the same family name. In Palestinian society, when a woman marries she formally joins her husband’s family, knowing that her progeny will be counted among his kin and not hers. These children, along with their first and second cousins, will constitute the backbone of the father’s clan. In the Gaza Strip, where actual survival is often on the line – some of the clans have become paramilitary groups, patrolling their quarters and sometimes taking part in raids against their perceived enemies.

In 1948, Palestinian society was shattered by war and dispersion, but despite uprooting and relocation the clan structure survived. Palestinian society was in economic and political disarray, and once more the clan structure was best suited to provide assistance and welfare to the entire population.

The power and influence of the clans was fluid and dynamic. In the 1980s, in an effort to save money, the Israeli military began to rely more on local authorities for administrative roles and for human intelligence. Furthermore, as the Israeli economy grew, the clans were used to recruit laborers to work in Israel. In an effort to control his Fatah organization, Arafat worked to de-centralize his political organization and gave more autonomy to local groups, i.e. clans. Both the Hillis clan and the Dughmush family transformed themselves into militias or mercenaries and were called on by the rival Fatah and Hamas from time to time to do their fighting.

“In the very difficult current situation in the Territories, clans function primarily as welfare institutions. A successful family functioning in this role will own a lucrative business venture or control some other resource. The Abu Samhadna clan in Rafah, for instance, controls most of the underground tunnels operation smuggling guns, tobacco, and people from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Families in other regions own a group of stores, a gas station, or agricultural land or are in charge of a municipal department.”

Another attribute of flourishing families is their ability to solve the many daily problems of their members. Clans are also mediating bodies in a society that has little law enforcement capability and few social welfare institutions.

“Strong clans offer protection from harassment and attacks. Offenders will think twice before attacking a house or robbing a store that belongs to a powerful clan. Clan protection also provides a kind of insurance against abuse by government officials and by members of other clans, from bribery and extortion to outright confiscation of property and livelihood.”

In order for a clan to have effective control, it is in their best interest to align themselves with the power brokers. A clan may have some family members in Hamas and others in Fatah and they may even have some clan members with close ties to the Israeli authorities.

“Every Hamas or Fatah member is first and foremost a member of his or her family. When the organization acts in a manner that contradicts the interests of the clan, in most cases the individual will side with the family rather than with the organization.”

Professor Dror Ze’Evi wrote his analysis fifteen years before the October 7th massacre. He concluded that if the Palestinan Authority wanted to succeed in establishing a fully functioning government then they would have to share some governmental power with the “families.”

When the “day after” finally comes and Israel totally destroys Hamas and refuses to allow the PA to return to Gaza without a significant reformation, then maybe it should be the “families” that should become the political leaders of Gaza.

However, what comes to mind when I write the word “families” is “famiglia.” Would we be replacing Hamas, an organization that wants to completely destroy Israel and murder the Jewish people, with a mafia-type organization, or an “oligarchy” like in Russia?

So long as they are completely and totally de-militarized and governed as a “protectorate,” I am good with that.

Clans play a significant role in the daily lives of the Gazans and the West Bank population. This is a topic that I will explore in greater detail in the coming weeks.

Once again, the topic of “Clans” was suggested to me by Rabbi Dr. Michael Baris

About the Author
Graduated from Brandeis University in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies in 1978 before completion of PhD (ABD) in "Relationship of US to Pre 1948 Yishuv". Active in Toronto Jewish community while pursuing business career. Made Aliyah in 2020. Last person to be admitted into Israel before Covid shutdown. Favorite movie quotes are "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" and "You can't handle the truth!" and "Whaddya think, I'm dumb or something?"