A week of missiles was supposed to change the focus of interest in the Middle East from Homs to Gaza, from Syria to Israel, from Asad to Netanyahu. This was the plan of Iran and its few followers in Gaza. But it didn’t succeed, and for the usual reason: the sociological factors of the Middle East.
In my words from this distinguished stage, I have emphasized again and again the dominance of tribalism within Middle Eastern culture, and the important role played by traditional frameworks of relationship – such as ethnic, tribal, religious, sectarian – in private as well as in communal life. I downplay the influence of foreign ideologies that have been imported from Europe, from communism to democracy, and from nationalism to liberalism, which have all failed in the effort to formulate a culture of public domain in the Middle East. Dictatorship is the practical expression of the failure of these ideologies.
What remains is only the person, together with his family, extended family, clan and tribe. This is the only thing which is real, alive and kicking, that functions as it always has, and the only framework that is capable of bestowing on an individual identity, a sense of belonging, a livelihood, and physical defense and security.
One of the foundation stones of tribal culture is the antagonism between the tribe and the modern state, a state which was imposed upon the tribe by foreign colonialism and its local derivatives. States have always tried to impose themselves upon the individual and upon the tribe; including their symbols, values, laws and leaders, and have tried to substitute these in the hearts of the people instead of those of the tribe, and its symbols, values, leaders and laws. In Arab societies that have undergone dissolution and turned into more individualistic societies – Egypt and Tunisia for example – the state has succeeded to settle in the hearts of the people, and uproot the loyalty to the tribe. In tribal societies, in most of the other Arab states, the state is forced to yield part of its sovereignty and to accept the existence and limited authority of the tribe. In order not to confront the tribe, the state compromises and comes to an understanding with the tribe, in an effort to placate its members.
The Gaza Strip is no different from the rest of the Arab world, so tribal culture is alive and kicking in the Gaza Strip too. Ever since the Hamas movement took control of Gaza trip in 2007, it has transformed itself from a gang of jihadists into a ruling organization which has a state, government, advisory council, legal system, police, military and economic bodies. Thus, Hamas has turned into a standard Arab state, which is attempting to impose its agenda upon the tribes and the clans that live in the Strip. The State of Hamas serves the interests of the group that leads it, and therefore it is in constant conflict with the tribes and the clans and must reach agreements with them.
The minor movements – Islamic Jihad, the PRC (Popular Resistance Committees), the Salah-a-Din Division, the Army of the Nation, the Army of Islam and others – function like tribes, challenging the authority of the state, which is in the hands of Hamas. Today, these groups are doing to Hamas what Hamas did to the PLO twenty years ago when the PLO was in power. The widespread corruption among the top echelons of Hamas strengthen the influence of the small organizations that oppose Hamas. What encourages these organizations is the fact that Hamas has “hung up the gloves” and is trying to reach a calm with Israel. Hamas has not become a Zionist organization, and has not changed its covenant or its sole goal: to eliminate Israel and bring an end to the “occupation” of Jaffa and Acre, not only Hebron and Nablus. However, in the present historic phase it is suspending its battle against Israel in order to establish a state which, when the time comes, will be the basis from which the war of the destruction of Israel will be waged. The small organizations do not accept this suspension of jihad and call Hamas derogatory names such as “The Israeli Border Guard” and the “South Lebanese Army”.
From a practical point of view, Hamas is capable of eliminating the organizations, just as it dealt with the Army of Islam, of the Dughmush clan in August of 2008, and as it eliminated Sheikh Abd Al-Latif Moussa’s Islamic Emirate of Jerusalem in cold blood in August of 2009 in a mosque in Rafah, murdering him, his wives and children and 24 followers. As of today, in the year 2012, Hamas refrains from imposing itself on the small organizations by force of arms so that it will not become the “Israeli Border Guard”in the eyes of Gazans, and prefers to come to an agreement with them; to compromise with them and to calm them down.
This is the reason that Hamas functioned during the last round of rockets as a moderating and calming force, not because they have turned into Zionists, but because they have become a state, and the state must, in one way or another, impose its agenda on the bodies that consider it an illegitimate organization because it has suspended active jihad against Israel.
Iran, which would like Gaza to be a constant battlefront, no longer supports Hamas, and has transferred its support to organizations that undermine the hegemony of Hamas in Gaza. Right now, when the world is focused on the slaughter of citizens in Homs, Syria, and voices in favor of military intervention are beginning to be heard, Iran is encouraging its underling organizations to stoke the fire in Gaza. The assassination of Kaisi, commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, was just the excuse to ignite the Gazan arena.
The determination of the IDF, the great operational success of the Iron Dome, the success of the IDF in eliminating missile launching groups and the fact that not many citizens of Gaza were injured, allowed Hamas to stay on the sidelines, without becoming involved in the fighting, and to bring the organizations to a calm, at least until next time.
The organizations are licking their wounds, drawing operational conclusions, cursing Hamas and waiting for the next opportunity to undermine the authority of the state, just as any tribe in the Middle East does. The State of Hamas must find its way between the hammer (the accusation that it has become a collaborator with Israel) and the anvil (its desire to build a standard Arab state, with a reasonable life for the people of Gaza and luxury for the corrupt upper echelons of Hamas).
Israel need not tamper with the Gazan social structure or try to re-engineer the tribal map and its interests. The State of Hamas – with all its problems of terrorism and jihadism – serves the interests of Israel, because it breaks the Palestinian dream into pieces, and also proves to Israelis who are captivated by the dream of peace, that what’s happening now in Gaza may happen again, but in a larger, more dangerous version, in Judea and Samaria, if Israel transfers control of that area to Middle Eastern culture. Many of the Israeli cities of the center are within range of the mortars, the kassams and the missiles that might be launched from the hills of Judea and Samaria. Therefore, Israel must find a solution that will free us from the majority of the Arab population in Judea and Samaria but allow us to remain in the rural areas. The eight-state solution, which is based on the tribes living in the Arab cities in Judea and Samaria is the only solution that is based on the extant social framework of the Middle East, and will provide Israel with security. Not absolute peace, because there is no such thing in the Middle East, but relative peace, that will need some maintenance from time to time.
In the Middle East, only the invincible can have peace because only if a group is strong, will the other groups leave it be.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper and in the blog ‘Middle East and Terrorism’.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally.