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Long the glue of Gaza, clans say Hamas is undermining tribal justice

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“This is a matter of the very deeply entrenched customs of Palestinian society,” says the director of the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights in Gaza, Khalil Abu Shammala. “Any takeover or molding of this [tribal] system will most certainly affect the core of social relations in Gaza, especially when we take into consideration Hamas’s increasing Islamization of the law."

Gaza’s tribal code is a blend of pre-Islamic Bedouin traditions and customs dating back to the era of the Philistines, that are interwoven with, but not anchored in, some Islamic principles. With guidelines and punishments for everything from clashes between families and personal injury claims to disputes over land and even murder, the code can provide powerful social glue in the absence of a functioning state, analysts say.

Clan adjudication methods, often carried out in the homes of clan leaders over tea, are consensual between parties, and regularly end in the accused paying some sort of monetary compensation to the victim or the victim’s family.

Because formal courts under the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority were tarnished by accusations of corruption, the mukhtars became virtually the only functioning judiciary in Gaza during the “days of chaos.”

“Like all institutions, the judicial system was affected greatly by the Israeli occupation” beginning after the Six-Day War of 1967, says Gaza-based lawyer Samer Mousa. Many Palestinians in Gaza viewed Israeli courts as biased, he adds. “The occupation strengthened the mukhtars,” Mr. Mousa continues, “who became rooted very deeply in society as judicial mediators when the Palestinian Authority took over [in 1993].”

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