this is good... the palestinians are getting pissed with both hamas and arafat... perhaps we could see some progress in the coming months if sharon is able to pull off his historic pull-out. http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?pt=xdA0AZieNC8j+cxnVd/5dA== GAZA CITY DISPATCH Strip Maul by Joshua Hammer Post date 09.17.04 | Issue date 09.27.04 E-mail this article ustafa Al Refeiri is tired of keeping silent. A 45-year-old farmer from the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, Al Refeiri once earned a good living cultivating 80 acres of bananas and citrus trees for wholesalers in Israel. But last summer, the Israeli Defense Forces invaded Beit Hanoun to stop Hamas militants from firing Qassam rockets into the neighboring Israeli town of Sderot. Twenty-one Palestinians died in the ensuing month of fighting, and dozens of houses and fields--including Al Refeiri's--were razed to the ground to deny the militants cover. In the past, Palestinians in Gaza were fearful of condemning Hamas, but, in the wake of the Beit Hanoun battle, such reticence has faded. "[Hamas] keeps throwing rockets, and we pay the price," Al Refeiri told me as we sat inside a canvas tent donated by the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross. Israeli bulldozers had demolished Al Refeiri's three-story house. "But how can we ask them to stop killing? We'll be seen as collaborators against the resistance." Al Refeiri's disenchantment with Hamas--a group whose suicide bombings and rocket attacks he once supported--reflects a larger shift across Gaza. For the first time, ordinary Palestinians have begun to turn away from the radical Islamic group, saying that the costs of their attacks in Israel have become too much for average Palestinians to bear. At the same time, Israel's targeted killings of Hamas leaders have driven the group's members underground, making those attacks increasingly difficult to carry out. The double suicide bombing of buses in Beersheba two weeks ago, in which 16 Israelis died, was the first successful bombing carried out by the group inside Israel in six months. (Israel fired missiles at a Hamas training camp in Gaza City in retaliation, killing 14 and injuring dozens.) Now, with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon planning to withdraw from Gaza by the end of next year, the inexperienced young men who control Hamas--the top leadership has been wiped out by Israel--are bitterly divided over how to respond. The growing popular discontent with Hamas has provided a window for other savvy players in Gaza. For the first time, reformers within Yasir Arafat's Fatah Party have begun openly criticizing the Palestinian leader, saying his failure to exercise control over his security forces has contributed to the "anarchy" in Gaza--a message that might help the reformers boost their own political power. Other young Palestinians from another Fatah wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, have focused on marginalizing Hamas, calling on the group to stop launching Qassams. And, most important, some of Arafat's closest aides have seized upon this rising discontent to mount an unprecedented challenge to their leader's power. he young militants in Fatah and Al Aqsa are led by people like 35-year-old Abu Ibrahim (a pseudonym), a Palestinian security officer who moonlights as a commander of Al Aqsa in Gaza City. Ibrahim says he has watched, dismayed, over the past four years of the intifada as Hamas continued what he saw as an increasingly pointless strategy. "We think that the firing of rockets into Israel is harmful for the Palestinians," the grizzled fighter told me as we sat in an outdoor café on a garbage-filled street in Gaza City. "We have a dispute with the Izzedin Al Qassam Brigades [the military wing of Hamas] because we don't believe the attacks are serving any purpose." Anger and frustration toward militant operations from ordinary Palestinians is spreading. In a widely reported incident in July, a Beit Hanoun family confronted guerrillas who were firing rockets near their home. Angry words were exchanged, and the gunmen opened fire on the family, killing a teenager. This incident led even members of the Fatah inner circle, who had tried to keep a peace with Hamas, to condemn Hamas's tactics. "I hear a lot of people saying 'We're fed up, we have no jobs, no factories, nothing but destruction and death,'" says Ibrahim Hamad, the mayor of Beit Hanoun and a 30-year veteran of Fatah who lived in exile with Arafat in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. "The uprising started as a popular movement, but it went bad when they started to use weapons." Facing this criticism, Hamas--or what's left of it--is groping for a strategy. Some moderates within Hamas, sensing fatigue with violence, argue that the group should pour its energy into politics. Hamas has agreed to participate in Palestinian general elections, now scheduled for the spring of 2005, and recent polls put the group's popularity at 30 percent. Palestinian Authority (P.A.) officials are trying to keep the pressure on Hamas to lay down its arms and join a new government. In a letter from his Israeli prison cell, militant leader Marwan Barghouti last month urged all groups to cease attacks against Israel if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdraws troops and settlers from Gaza and cedes control of its borders, coastline, and airspace. But other Hamas militants argue that the group must resist pressures to disarm and should exact revenge for the killings of its leaders--even at the risk of scuttling the Gaza pullout and provoking more retaliation by Israel. "There is confusion. There is no long-term strategy [in Hamas]," says the Palestinian journalist with close ties to the group. "The new leadership is young, inexperienced.... All the big leaders--[Ismail] Abu Shanab, Sheik [Ahmed] Yassin, [Abdel Aziz] Rantisi--have been killed [by Israel], and it's not easy to create a strong new generation." Men like Ibrahim don't only have a grudge with Hamas, though. They also want to clean up the graft-ridden Palestinian security forces, which are constantly squabbling with one another. In June 2004, Ibrahim and several of his Al Aqsa comrades sent an open letter to Arafat, demanding that he fire corrupt officials and institute sweeping reforms of the security forces in advance of the Gaza withdrawal. Arafat ignored the letter, he says, and Arafat's cronies within the Fatah Central Committee denounced it as an "American and Israeli plot." One month later, a band of Ibrahim's fighters took to the streets of Gaza City to express their displeasure at Arafat's appointment of his own cousin, Moussa Arafat, as Gaza's new security chief. There, they exchanged fire with P.A. forces and burned down a P.A. security base. Moussa Arafat "is a symbol of corruption," he says. "Appointing him was like waving a stick in front of our faces." All this at first benefited Arafat's main rival, Mohammed Dahlan, 43, former chief of preventive security in Gaza. After resigning his post following a dispute with Arafat, Dahlan this year launched a series of stinging critiques against his ex-boss, calling the P.A. a "corrupt, failing, and indecisive system of government." These critiques won over some former Arafat supporters, such as Ibrahim. Then, this summer, Gaza was convulsed by demonstrations and vigilante attacks against Arafat cronies. Many observers saw the violence as a carefully orchestrated campaign by Dahlan to send a message to Arafat that only Dahlan can keep Gaza from civil war after Israel leaves. "Gaza is a society of mafias--organized gangs that wield a lot of power," one Palestinian journalist in Gaza City told me. "Moussa Arafat has his gang.... But the most organized mafia of all is Dahlan's." Dahlan's moves against Arafat may have backfired, however. Ordinary Palestinians consider him tough and competent, but also ruthlessly ambitious and, too often, just as corrupt as Arafat. Though Arafat's popularity has declined sharply in recent months, he is still a revered symbol of Palestinian nationhood and resistance to Israel, while Dahlan is disparaged by some Palestinians as too chummy with both Israel and the United States. The violent summer demonstrations in Gaza sputtered out, Moussa Arafat kept his job, and Dahlan recently secretly turned to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to arrange a reconciliation meeting with Arafat. In a recent interview, Dahlan insisted, "I have no ambition to fill Arafat's shoes." And, with Sharon facing growing opposition and threats of violence from right-wing settlers, momentum is slowing inside Israel for a Gaza withdrawal. A scuttled pullout would leave the old guard led by Arafat firmly in control--and would do little for Mustafa Al Refeiri. Joshua Hammer is Newsweek's Jerusalem bureau chief and the author of A Season In Bethlehem: Unholy War in a Sacred Place, published by Free Press/Simon and Schuster.