Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"Civil" Wars

In a fascinating feature in today's NYTimes, Ethan Bronner succeeds in capturing the incredibly complex interplay of law and war, courts and gun battles, in the three-way civil war we usually abbreviate as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

On the Palestinian side, the intermittent armed violence between Hamas and Fatah factions takes place on top of complex clan alliances.

Any fight here has its origins in earlier violence, so where to begin is problematic. Nonetheless, these particular events began at dawn on Saturday when Hamas forces, which have ruled Gaza for the past year, surrounded the home of the sprawling, well-armed and once powerful Hilles clan, whose chief had been associated with Fatah.

In part, Hamas was looking for the perpetrators of a bombing a week earlier that killed five of its men and a girl, but more broadly it was taking the next step in the consolidation of its power and rule over 1.5 million Palestinians in the coastal Gaza Strip.

On the Israeli side, desire to aid Fatah against Hamas overlays complex legal battles between advocates of greater protection for human rights and advocates of a stronger security state.

So Israel sent about three dozen men back and said the others were on their way. As soon as the men stepped into Gaza, Hamas arrested them. Since human rights groups have recently reported on torture in Gaza, alarms were raised. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel sent an urgent appeal to the Supreme Court demanding that Israel stop returning the men to Gaza.

On Monday morning, the Israeli military announced that it would not send them all to Gaza and that it had persuaded Mr. Abbas to allow many of them into the West Bank. So the civil rights group backed off, replaced by two right-wing activists who petitioned the court to stop the transfer of dangerous men across Israel.


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