TCS Daily

The Soprano-fication of Gaza

By Michael Rosen - June 15, 2007 12:00 AM

As of this writing, Hamas forces have overtaken the majority of the Gaza Strip, including several strongholds once controlled by Fatah, Hamas's bitter rival. Internecine Palestinian fighting has claimed hundreds of lives and displaced thousands of civilians. The government has been dissolved. The UN is considering sending peacekeeping troops to stanch the bloodletting.

Some observers have presented the struggle as an ideological war between Hamas's Islamism and Fatah's secular nationalism. But a more appropriate analogy is to the gangland mob drama The Sopranos, which concluded its eight-year run earlier this week.

This comparison isn't meant to be fatuous or to make light of a serious and tragic situation. But the similarities are too apt to ignore.


(1) A fight for power—and money:

The Hamas-Fatah battle centers on controlling people, guns, and resources. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Fatah—the political arm of the once-fiercely secular Palestine Liberation Organization—has gradually morphed into an twin of Hamas, as dedicated to Islamist ideology, if perhaps less explicitly so. Its military/terrorist wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, carries out suicide bombings in the name of Allah, not dialectical materialism.

So the fight between the groups relates less to ideological fervor than to pure power. To the victor go the spoils: in this case, the treasure trove of weapons supplied by the western powers (including Israel), the government ministries and their powers-of-the-purse, and the Gazan treasury and tax receipts. It's a clannish fight to the finish for limited resources among extended families.

This, too, formed the essence of the end-of-the-series struggle between Tony Soprano's New Jersey crew and New York's Phil Leotardo and company. Neither "family" espoused any particular theory of organized crime; instead, they were simply locked in a campaign for control over stolen power tools, illegal asbestos dumping sites, and the right to shake down local businesses.

(2) Personality clashes at the top, and limited control by the leaders once the war is set in motion:

Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas (technically the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority) and Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh (the PA's Prime Minister) and Khaled Meshaal (the Damascus-based leader of the entire Hamas organization) are, to say the least, not friends. They made nice for the cameras in Mecca a few months ago when the two factions signed a power-sharing agreement. But bad blood and mistrust have infected the relationship (or lack thereof) between Abbas and the Hamas chiefs.

But while personality conflicts fed the fire, the leaders could not suppress the blaze even as it began to consume Palestinian society. Earlier this week, both Abbas and Haniyeh pleaded for calm, but neither's call was heeded. Part of the problem is that Abbas is tucked away in the West Bank, terrified to enter Gaza. Meanwhile, Haniyeh is cloistered in a safe-house somewhere in the Strip, having survived several assassination attempts, while Meshaal hides out under Syrian protection.

So, too, did the spat between Tony and Phil turn personal. What began as a business dispute escalated when Tony's daughter was disrespected, followed by Phil's spurning his counterpart's peace offering. Then, when both bosses went to the mattresses, the violence began to spin out of control, despite their best wishes, in part because communication became impossible.

(3) Unrelenting brutality and collateral damage:

The fighting between the Palestinian factions has been marked by the kind of bestial cruelty the jihadists used to reserve for innocent Israelis. Several government and military officials have been tossed off twenty-story buildings to their deaths. Fox News's Mike Tobin reported that "a relative of a Hamas leader had his hands and legs bound and was shot at point blank range in the head." Upon conquering a security installation, Hamas fighters reportedly executed their Fatah counterparts in the street, in front of their families. A Hamas militant even killed two civilians marching in a peace demonstration.

This brutality had its cinematic parallel in the killing fields of greater New York. Tony's number two was gunned down in a toy train store in front of two screaming children—after the boss himself curb-stomped one of Phil's henchmen. Then, instead of offing Phil, Tony's mercenaries accidentally slaughtered his goomar and her Ukrainian father. And to top it all off, Phil met his violent demise in front of his wife and two infant grandchildren, who witnessed his head get crushed under his SUV.

(4) Collaboration with law enforcement:

Fatah and Abbas—the so-called "moderate" forces in the power struggle—have received rhetorical support and funding from Israel, the United States, Jordan, and Egypt. There have been unconfirmed reports that Fatah fighters have gotten secret military training from either the IDF or American special forces. After overrunning a Fatah security post, Hamas claimed to have found documents substantiating a link between elite Fatah units and the CIA.

Meanwhile, in North Jersey, Tony began slowly drifting toward collaboration with the FBI agents who used to torment him. The boss tried to "bank some good will" by furnishing intel on a few Arabs who used to drop by The Bing. While Tony's tips didn't seem to lead anywhere, he did manage to ingratiate himself with one of the agents, who later disclosed Phil Leotardo's whereabouts and exclaimed, upon learning of Phil's slaying, "we're gonna win this thing!"

(5) An ambiguous and unsatisfying ending:

The blogosphere has been atwitter with talk of how the finale of The Sopranos was wildly and painfully open-ended: was Tony killed? If not, would he survive fallout from the war? If so, would he escape indictment on gun charges and interstate fraud? If not, would he win his trial? Regardless, we were left feeling distinctly uneasy about the future of the Soprano family, writ small and large.

In Gaza, the denouement of the conflict is even more ambiguous and far more disturbing. The Palestinian proto-state will be politically split in half with Hamas in total control of Gaza and Fatah more or less commanding the West Bank. Hamas's ascendancy only seems to vindicate Iran's troubling efforts to augment its influence in the area. The prospects of peace are nearing their lowest ebb.

For Israel, bad news lies ahead. While the intramural Palestinian fighting has temporarily diminished attacks on the Jewish state, more missiles and suicide bombs are a near-certain outcome of Hamas's consolidation of power in the Strip. Politically, the rise of Islamism in Gaza will incinerate whatever shreds of moderation lingered in the area.

So as we Sopranos fans mourn the loss of our beloved show, we should also take the time to lament the much more serious loss of innocent life—and the dark future that the Palestinian civil war portends.

Michael M. Rosen, TCS Daily's Intellectual Property Columnist, is an attorney in San Diego.



Partition future
One of the problems of settling the issue of a palestinian state has been how the physically discontinuous portions of the state shall pass people and goods across Israel. Why not take the facts on the ground and run with them? Why not go for a 3 state solution?

Hamas gets what it has, Gaza. Fatah gets what it can keep, the West Bank. And if either becomes too toxic and threaten the general peace, let Egypt and/or Jordan step in to administer these territories under the aegis of the UN.

Partition future
This is a very insensitive comment by you, and perhaps you only want to humiliate those poor palestinians even more(if that's possible). YOu might remember that Gaza used to belong to Egypt, and they never made any attempt to help out the P re independance or anything else. Same goes for the JOrdanians when they occupied the West bank. The world only wants Isrealis to give territory to terrorists.

When it seemed clear that the Israelis would abandon Gaza, me and many others correctly predicted that they would wreck the place, first by ruining the buildings and greenhouses etc. that the israelis built and maintained, then by descending into fighting with each other. And all that really happened. The article says they're struggling for power and sure, why would they want to grow veggies like the Israelis did if they have a free meal ticket already, and why work when naive westerners send them money by the billions? Wait a minute, I was wrong above, the Israilis didn't completely abandon the place, they still give them electriciy and water, in spite of the fact that the Palestinian terrorist still keep rocketing them day after day. So instead of comparing to the Sopranos, maybe better compare to Alice in Wonderland.

People get the government they deserve.

Not quite
While true in a general sense, remember that to some degree the authorities over the Palestinians (they can hardly be called government) have been foisted on them through foreign assistance. Hamas and Yasser Arafat's PLO were more than anything else creations of outside powers (mostly Saudi Arabia as paymaster but all of the Arab nations to some degree) as political and military tools to destabilize Israel. The Palestinians have had appallingly bad leadership over the years, starting with that fascist sidekick the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to kick them down the road to refugee camps and statelessness.

That's what they get for hating the Jews?
Palestinians were willing to be led by the nose and play the victim.

Some got out and have led successful lives in other countries.

Those that stayed get what they deserve for abdicating their authority.

You can...
effectively write about the Palestinian stupidity without injecting a comparison to an idiotic HBO series. I guess this is what passes for writing on TCS lately...

Anyway, who would have thought that legitimizing a corrupt terrorist, the organization he created, allowing him to raise generations of his people to produce nothing but hate, and promoting a culture of victimization and hopelessness would have such consequences?

Fatah is a terrorist organization. Hamas is a terrorist organization. If Israel takes any of the blame for mad dogs tearing each other apart then they should take the blame for creating a wall that focused those hateful energies inward.

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