May 17, 2007

When Does the Gaza Conflict Become a Civil War?

This sure sounds like one to me:

Gaza City was shuttered on Wednesday as gunmen took over rooftops and top-floor apartments. Most everyone else huddled fearfully indoors on the fourth day of factional Palestinian fighting that is drawing in the Israeli military.

At least 19 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday more than 40 have been killed over the past four days in fighting between Fatah and Hamas as their unity government fractures and rage rises on both sides.

"We want this to end, because what's happening endangers not just the unity government, but the Palestinian nation and cause," said Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator and an aide to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas attacked symbols of Fatah power in Gaza, including the home of the chief security commander. He was not there, but six bodyguards were killed.

The Los Angeles Times report is equally dire:

Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah wage battles in the streets of the Gaza Strip. Three truces have come and gone. In four days, at least 40 people have been killed, including 14 on Wednesday, as an increasingly violent struggle threatens to bring down what had been touted as a Palestinian "unity" government.

When their new political power-sharing coalition was unveiled in March, amid smiles and congratulations, leaders of Fatah and Hamas pledged to put an end to their fighting. But the ferocious violence shredding the Gaza Strip this week has made a mockery of the agreement. Rank-and-file members of the two factions are once again battling for supremacy on the streets, as ordinary residents, worn down by years of economic and social chaos, remain trapped in their homes.

Are Palestinians in a civil war?

Wikipedia defines a "civil war" as:

A civil war is a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight against each other for the control of political power.

Some civil wars are categorized as revolutions when major societal restructuring is a possible outcome of the conflict. An insurgency, whether successful or not, is likely to be classified as a civil war by some historians if, and only if, organized armies fight conventional battles. Other historians state the criterion for a civil war is that there must be prolonged violence between organized factions or defined regions of a country (conventionally fought or not).

The definition provided by Wikipedia is interesting when applied to the quite different conflicts in Iraq and Gaza.

The conflict in Iraq is routinely referred to as a civil war by politicians and journalists, even though doing so relies on the debated insurgency definition above. Clearly, the Iraqi conflict, while certainly involving an insurgency and intertwined sectarian conflicts, have never seen the widespread use of organized armies fighting conventional battles. Most of the sectarian violence is typically composed of guerillas (Sunni or Shia) attacking primarily civilian targets with mortar fire, IEDs and bombs, along with kidnappings, murders, and ambushes.

Calling the Iraqi sectarian conflict a civil war thus relies upon a debated definition.

The conflict in Gaza, however, seems too far more closely fit the agreed upon definition of a civil war. Fatah and Hamas are well organized, typically wear something of a uniform (if not consistently), fight small scale but typically intense conventional battles, and clearly fight for political power as their primary goal, and usually against recognized targets such as enemy units, commanders, and positions.

Shouldn't the Palestinian "factional fighting" thus easily earn the definition of a "civil war?"

If politicians and the media can used a debated definition to declare that Iraq is in a civil war, then they should certainly consider the near letter-perfect and undisputed definition of a "civil war" to describe the battle between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza.

The Palestinians in Gaza seem to be clearly involved in a bloody civil war. I'm curious as to why politicians and the media won't provide the proper definition for this conflict that it so clearly deserves.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 17, 2007 08:45 AM

I would call it a Gang Turf War instead of a civil war. A civil war implies that there is some sort of civilized government involved.

Posted by: 1sttofight at May 17, 2007 09:03 AM

So, if I am understanding you correctly, Palestinians are violently occupying Palestinian land. Maybe the Palestinians should give that land back to the Palestinians for peace? After all, the Palestinians were there first

Posted by: mekan at May 17, 2007 12:20 PM

Finally, the Israelis are getting some positive results from their initial strategy of providing support for Hamas to provide a counterbalance to the PLO. Sparking a civil war amongst your enemies is really a fine place to be strategically. Of course, the Israelis problem is, as always, that they cannot help but retaliate to provocation. All it does is remind the Palis who they are supposed to be fighting.

Never interrupt your enemy when they are busy tearing themselves apart from the inside.

Posted by: Shochu John at May 17, 2007 12:27 PM

Nope, thats a civil war alright. Both Fatah and Hamas have political arms that have representatives in whats left of the Palastinian government. So's the situation in Iraq. Happy? I'm not.
All three of the previous posters seem to think this is a good thing. Has it occured to any of you that these are real people who are dying or that it isn't just the young men fighting each other that are getting killed? When did you all decide to exclude Palistinians from the rest of the human race? Oh yeah, 1948 wasn't it? When your grandfathers decided to kill them or drive them out of their homes because "God gave us this land", but forgot to tell the people who were living there?

Posted by: iaintbacchus at May 17, 2007 05:49 PM

'"Gang Turf War"? Surely you jest. Ain't nobody here but us peace loving Pawestinians'

I excerpted and linked at Maybe if we'd just pull our troops out ... .

Posted by: Bill Faith at May 17, 2007 06:33 PM

When did you all decide to exclude Palistinians from the rest of the human race?

When have Palistinians ever been human?

Posted by: 1sttofight at May 17, 2007 09:52 PM