Youssef Siam is head of preventative security in Gaza. A Fateh man, he hangs a picture of Arafat and Abu Mazen in his office, though he admits near the end of our interview, “I don’t even support the government.”
One of Siam’s responsibilities is to stop the illegal smuggling of weapons through the tunnels, passing under Gaza’s border with Egypt. But he admits he’s powerless against them. He mentions Alan Johnston, he knows who holds him, he says. But no one will mention the name of the Doghmosh clan, the infamous criminal family all but known to be holding the journalist in exchange for money, land and the release of a female prisoner in British custody. The Palestinian Authority knows exactly who holds him, but the clan is so powerful even the government can’t push them around.
“How can I provide security for the country when I can’t even provide security for myself,” Siam tells us. He has the features and build of a tough, but now powerless, man.
“I could step outside my house, and [he holds up his hands in the shape of a machine gun]. I spent ten years in prison for Palestine, before these gunmen were even born.”
I offer that maybe Israel is still to blame for the infighting here. The long arm of the occupation still controls Gaza’s borders and economy, even after the “official” occupation has ended.
“What occupation?” He asks in disbelief. “You think these people are fighting the Israelis? I’ll tell you what they’re fighting for,” and he points at the picture of Abu Mazen hanging on his wall.
“They’re fighting for ‘the chair’”, he uses a curios Arabic phrase, ‘the chair.’ It means the seat of power, but the insignificance of the word in Arabic does more to illustrate the futility of this fighting.
“what are they fighting over,” asked a shop owner last week at the height of the street clashes, “the garbage in the streets?” He was right. There’s little to command here, even if you do own the chair.