Among the Rafah residents demonstrating Sunday against the appointment of Mousa Arafat as head of the General Security forces in Gaza was Y., whose son and two brothers work for Military Intelligence, Mousa Arafat's command.
There were about 50 armed men in the area, all members of Fatah and mostly members of the Preventive Security force. Alongside them marched the unarmed demonstrators, including Y., and plenty of curious onlookers.
Quite a few families have sons in several security forces, and the idea of the various forces battling one another means that brother might fight brother. It is that risk that might help calm down the tensions in Gaza.
The crisis is very different from the ongoing crisis between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Although those clashes did deteriorate into shooting, there was a clear address to put an end to the fighting: the Hamas leadership, whom the Hamas rank and file obey.
But when the fighters are all from Fatah, they say in Gaza, there are too many addresses, because Fatah always has a few "movements" - political and military. That's what raises the fear of fighting.
There have been gunfights between various Fatah "movements," but this was the first time that the argument was directly about a clear decision by Yasser Arafat, when one side opposed it while the other was in favor. Arafat is broadening the scope of authority of Mousa Arafat, a rival of Mohammed Dahlan, at a time when Dahlan was deepening his political support through Fatah elections in Gaza.
Mousa Arafat has a bad reputation in Gaza, so bad that some call him Moshe. But most of the public regards the current clash as a power struggle inside Fatah ahead of the IDF's withdrawal from Gaza. A hundred poor families could have been fed for a month with the cost of the bullets fired over the past three days, said a businessman close to Fatah. In Beit Hanoun, residents called the Liberty radio station and complained that everyone had forgotten the Israeli occupation.
The Dahlan faction in Fatah, portraying itself as reformist, claims to be attentive to the public mood. But they were the ones who allowed their gunmen to fire wildly, losing points among the public.
When the gunmen began firing into the Military Intelligence headquarters, Mousa Arafat's men were the ones who showed restraint, only shooting back and responding with Molotov cocktails. Only when the armed men brought in a bulldozer that started gnawing at the wall did the Military Intelligence men begin firing back directly.
When Mousa Arafat's men went out into the streets yesterday morning demonstrating support for him, a demonstration by "Civic Society" - NGOs, human rights groups, PA officials, intellectuals, and others - was planning to take to the streets to protest against the use of arms and at the same time demand reforms. In other words, to criticize Arafat. But when they encountered Mousa Arafat's men, firing their weapons in the air, the Civic Society people dispersed in a panic.
Mousa Arafat only needs Yasser Arafat's support. Dahlan, on the other hand, needs popular support. Maybe that is what is making him demand that his supporters show restraint now, even if Mousa remains in the new job for some time. But even if there is calm, it will be temporary. Ultimately, almost everyone agrees, the problem is Yasser Arafat's methods of government. And he's not showing signs of changing.
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