Vol. 5, No. 6 10 October 2005
The Murder of Musa Arafat and the Battle for the Spoils of Gaza
Pinhas Inbari and Dan Diker
Israeli assessments have pointed to both Fatah and Hamas as responsible for the murder of Gen. Musa Arafat - security advisor to PA Chairman Mahmud Abbas and former head of Military Intelligence and the National Security forces in Gaza - on September 7, 2005. However, ongoing Palestinian investigations have led some senior officials to assign responsibility to Mohammed Dahlan, the PA Minister of Civil Affairs and former head of PA Preventive Security in Gaza.
Dahlan's Preventive Security force established local racketeering networks that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars monthly in protection money and from suppliers of gasoline and cigarettes. Dahlan was also accused of receiving kickbacks for issuing licenses and for charging illegal fees for VIP border crossings into Israel.
Beginning in 1997, taxes collected at the Karni cargo crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip were transferred to a new account controlled personally by Dahlan. Documents captured by the IDF show how Dahlan's Preventive Security force was involved in joint investments in the Gaza construction business, from cement production and gravel import to resort development.
An unprecedented competition among local Gaza warlords and crime families has broken out over control of Gaza real estate, as well as for hundreds of millions of dollars in international financial investment and aid earmarked for infrastructure development. According to Palestinian assessments, the market price of Gaza land adjacent to the evacuated Jewish settlements has risen from approximately $52,000 dollars per acre just six months ago to $300,000 per acre near the Gaza coast.
At present, all international investment activities in Gaza are subject to the ultimate control of local warlords and terror groups. The current instability in Gaza and the West Bank makes it virtually impossible for foreign investment and, to a degree, foreign aid to be managed transparently and distributed properly. The security problems in Gaza do not emanate from the Hamas-Fatah rivalry alone, but also from an internal crisis within Fatah that pits one Palestinian security organization against another.
Who Did It?
The gangland-style assassination of General Musa Arafat - security advisor to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas and former head of PA Military Intelligence and the PA's National Security forces in Gaza - on September 7, 2005, was another sign of the PA's inability to impose law and order in the Palestinian areas since Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In a pre-dawn raid, 100 heavily armed men from the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees opened fire on Musa Arafat's Gaza home. Following a fierce thirty-minute shootout, the attackers overcame Arafat's personal bodyguards, dragged him into the street, and shot him in the head.1 The Arafat attack was apparently not an isolated incident. On October 5, 2005, Fatah gunmen seriously wounded Bassam Azam, a senior PA Military Intelligence officer in Gaza and a close associate of Musa Arafat.
Musa Arafat's murder did not shock or even surprise most Palestinians, and failed to elicit concern from the Israeli government, security officials, or Western leaders.2 Musa, Yasser Arafat's cousin, was widely known to be highly corrupt and was a hated figure to many in the Palestinian Authority as well as among leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.3 Musa Arafat had also angered U.S. officials after admitting that he knew the identities of the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the murder of three American security officials in a 2003 Gaza attack, but "could not divulge their names while the conflict with Israel continued."4
Israeli assessments have pointed to both Fatah and Hamas as responsible for Arafat's murder.5 However, ongoing Palestinian investigations have led some senior officials to assign responsibility for the murder to Mohammed Dahlan, the PA Minister of Civil Affairs and former head of PA Preventive Security in Gaza.6 Dahlan, who is from Khan Yunis, had been involved in a number of earlier power struggles with Musa Arafat, Police Chief Razi Jibali, Interior Minister Nasser Yusuf, and other PA officials in the Gaza Strip.7
While the exact address for Arafat's murder is still a subject of debate in Palestinian circles, it served as a clear warning to Mahmud Abbas and Nasser Yusuf not to obstruct the efforts of local militias and Gaza warlords from dividing up the spoils after the Israeli withdrawal. To be sure, the assassination may be seen as an indicator of an ongoing political and economic battle among various Palestinian groups for control of Gaza, particularly the former Gush Katif settlement bloc. An unprecedented competition among local Gaza warlords and crime families has broken out over control of Gaza real estate, as well as for hundreds of millions of dollars in international financial investment and aid earmarked for infrastructure development. The resulting anarchy has further discredited the PA, which faces a growing challenge from the radical Islamic Hamas in the run-up to legislative elections scheduled for January 2006.8
In addition, the reigning state of lawlessness and anarchy in "post-disengagement Gaza" must be taken into account by international aid and investment groups that are seeking to help Mahmud Abbas in his efforts to rehabilitate Gaza.
Abbas has declared illegal independent attempts to purchase and register land in Gush Katif by private individuals. However, the lure of massive international investments and aid donations has raised the stakes for local militias, terror elements, and crime families. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for the dismantling of Fatah militias, which she called a threat to the PA's authority and its ability to carry out democratic reforms.9
Musa Arafat's assassination took place just prior to the Israeli Army's final withdrawal from Gaza on September 11, 2005. The Popular Resistance Committees that claimed responsibility are no more than a patchwork of operatives from Preventive Security, Hamas, Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, and local warlords, as well as the widely feared Dagmush and Abu Samhadna crime families. While former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Avi Dichter and certain Palestinian affairs analysts placed the blame squarely on Hamas,10 Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Israel Defense Ministry's Political and Strategic Desk, asserted that Fatah and Hamas coordinated the deadly assault on Arafat. However, other Palestinian assessments are more confident of Dahlan's specific involvement.11
Most Fatah websites also pointed to the Preventive Security forces, formerly headed by Dahlan, as responsible for Arafat's assassination,12 a charge later repeated by certain PA leaders and security officials.13 Indeed, Dahlan had been accused of backing an attempted assassination of Musa Arafat on October 12, 2004.14 The week before Arafat's murder, Dahlan suddenly left Gaza for emergency medical treatment in Jordan for a herniated disc, but the fact that his entire family accompanied him to Amman raised eyebrows among PA officials.15
Dahlan-Yusuf Rivalry Undermines Palestinian Security Reform
Dahlan's security and business interests have also collided with efforts by Interior Minister Nasser Yusuf, who was appointed by Abbas to unify and reform the Palestinian National Security forces while bringing calm to the Palestinian public and preventing terror attacks against Israel.
Dahlan, who had headed the local Fatah Hawks terror group in Khan Yunis, built the Palestinian Preventive Security force in Gaza from previously competing local militias after the Oslo agreement.16 Dahlan's Preventive Security force also established local racketeering networks that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars monthly in protection money and from suppliers of gasoline and cigarettes. Dahlan was also accused of receiving kickbacks for issuing licenses and for charging illegal fees for VIP border crossings into Israel.17
Dahlan is not usually at the top of the list in Western circles when PA corruption is discussed.18 Yet he purchased the luxurious estate of former Gaza mayor Rashad Shawwa for a reported $600,000.19 Moreover, beginning in 1997, taxes collected at the Karni cargo crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip were transferred to a new account controlled personally by Dahlan,20 following a pattern in which the various Palestinian security forces increasingly ran areas of PA territory as private fiefdoms. Sakher Habash, an old pro-Arafat Fatah ideologue, after making implicit references to Dahlan, in October 2004 called on the Palestinians to rise up against the "new major tribal leaders."21 Documents captured by the IDF in 2002 show how Dahlan's Preventive Security force was involved in joint investments in the Gaza construction business, from cement production and gravel import to resort development.22 According to the IDF, Dahlan and Sami Abu Samhadna are partners in a Gaza contracting firm that owns cement plants.23
At a May 2005 hearing before the Palestinian Legislative Council, Nasser Yusuf emphasized that "the direct contact of certain Palestinian security organizations with foreign intelligence services, that have also provided financial support, has undermined the Palestinian Interior Ministry and has weakened the official Palestinian security apparatuses." He added that "the ongoing foreign financial support for various Palestinian security organs has also torpedoed Palestinian reform efforts."24
The rivalry between Dahlan and Nasser Yusuf reached a peak in Ramallah on September 25, 2005, when Dahlan loyalists in the Palestinian Legislative Council filed a no-confidence motion to topple the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie. They planned to nominate Salam Fayyad for prime minister and Dahlan for interior minister.25
Who Owns Gush Katif?
Aside from the political tensions between the PA and Hamas, within Fatah, and among local Gaza warlords, there is an underlying and equally important economic struggle over Gaza. According to Palestinian assessments, the market price of Gaza land adjacent to the evacuated Jewish settlements has risen from approximately $52,000 dollars per acre just six months ago to $300,000 per acre near the Gaza coast.26 Hani al-Masri, an official in the PA Ministry of Information, noted that Dahlan would have "much to gain" by Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.27
The PA had announced that a special ministerial committee would decide how the PA would develop the areas evacuated by Israel: which land tracts would be approved for real estate development and which others for agricultural cultivation.28 However, on August 5, 2005, Qurei Abu Middein, director of the Palestinian land registry in Gaza, told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper that 80 percent of Gaza lands were being usurped by certain senior PA officials who, he feared, would also lead the land grab in Gush Katif.29
Moreover, on several occasions since January 2005, gun-toting militiamen representing "official and private Palestinian interests" raided the PA land registry office and stole blueprints and other details of the Gush Katif lands. In view of the break-ins and the flurry of land transactions in recent months, the Palestinian Authority has published notices warning the public to refrain from engaging in private land sales and purchases that would be considered null and void.30
International Investors and Warlords
At present, all international investment activities in Gaza are subject to the ultimate control of local warlords and terror groups. The current instability in Gaza and the West Bank makes it virtually impossible for foreign investment and, to a degree, foreign aid to be managed transparently and distributed properly. This fact creates further resentment among the Palestinian public.
It must be emphasized that the security problems in Gaza do not emanate from the Hamas-Fatah rivalry alone, but also from an internal crisis within Fatah that pits one Palestinian security organization against another. Many of the local warlords are intimately tied to PA corruption. International investment funds and aid groups, therefore, must show greater diligence in learning who their Palestinian business partners are and what practices are being employed to govern multimillion dollar international investments in PA-controlled areas.31
The lack of economic dividends and social benefits for most Palestinians, in turn, continues to fuel a groundswell of popular support for the radical Islamic Hamas, which identifies with the public and is now determined to offer Palestinians an alternative political horizon. This is not a future that bodes well for the peaceful, democratic Palestinian state that the international community envisions.
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1. David Rosenberg, "Musa Arafat, Former Gaza Security Chief, is Killed," Bloomberg, September 7, 2005.
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2. MKs Dr. Efraim Sneh and Dr Aryeh Eldad told Israel TV Channel One English News on September 8, 2005, that the murder of Arafat was a matter of "settling scores" and was an internal Palestinian matter. Eldad stressed that the PA can maintain peace and quiet when it wants to, and can commit acts of internal violence and terror against Israel when it chooses. Former Shin Bet Chief Avi Dichter also downplayed the importance of Arafat's murder at a speech at the Jerusalem-based Middle East Media Institute on September 8, 2005.
3. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Ganging Up on Abbas," Jerusalem Post, September 9, 2005.
4. "U.S. Blasts PA on Attack Probe," Jerusalem Post, September 23, 2004, as cited in Myths and Facts, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/myths/mf19.html#85b. In September 2004, Gen. Musa Arafat, the overall commander of the Palestinian Authority's National Security Forces in the Gaza Strip, said the PA security forces knew the identities of the perpetrators of the attack on the U.S. convoy; but he said the PA security forces couldn't act against the suspects while fighting with Israel continues. "We find Musa Arafat's statement, if he is correctly quoted by Reuters, to be totally unacceptable and outrageous," a State Department spokesman said in response. "The U.S. has consistently demanded that the PA take action to locate, apprehend, and bring to justice the killers of our three colleagues....The PA performance on this issue has been unacceptable to us. We have not seen the PA demonstrate the will, much less the capacity, to investigate this case seriously. If it is true that the PA knows the identities of the murderers, we expect immediate action to be taken to arrest, prosecute, and convict the killers."
5. Dichter, Middle East Media Research Institute, September 8, 2005. Dichter pointed to Hamas as responsible, while Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Israel Defense Ministry's Political and Strategic Desk, told Israel Radio on September 26, 2005, that Fatah and Hamas cooperated in the killing of Arafat.
6. Two high-ranking PA officials confirmed that Dahlan's personnel were very likely responsible for the assassination of Musa Arafat. Other Palestinian sources independently confirmed Dahlan's involvement to the authors in September 2005. Sources reported that Manhal Arafat, Musa's son, who was kidnapped in the same attack, identified the Akel family that is part of Hamas among his kidnappers. Manhal Arafat also told investigators that he identified operatives of Dahlan's Preventive Security forces among the kidnappers. The working assessment of Palestinian leaders was that, at a minimum, the Preventive Security forces that were stationed just meters from the attack did not take any preventive action. It was also confirmed that the Gaza-based Dagmush family is led by former Hamas members, but also includes members of Preventive Security who had clashed on a number of occasions with Musa Arafat's Military Intelligence.
7. See Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Halevi, "The Palestinian Rebellion in Fatah: Foreshadowing the Politics of the Post-Arafat Era," Jerusalem Issue Brief, August 2, 2004; http://www.jcpa.org/brief/brief3-30.htm. Dahlan was known in Palestinian circles as the "hidden" leader of the young Palestinian Guard that was interested in wresting power from Arafat's old guard that had come to Gaza from Tunis in 1993. Former Israeli intelligence analyst Halevi asserts, "The initial goals of the current 'rebellion' (led by Dahlan) were the removal of Razi Jaballi and Musa Arafat from their positions of power as commanders of the Palestinian police and the National Security forces in Gaza respectively. Dahlan's rivals were blamed for corruption." However, Halevi notes that these charges only reflect "deeper aspirations by the 'intriguers,'" meaning Dahlan and his supporters.
8. Khaled Abu Toameh and Dan Diker, "After Gaza, the Challenge of Building a Viable Democratic Society," Panorama (Italian) October 25, 2005. Hamas' soaring popularity was evidenced in the recent municipal elections in Gaza and the West Bank in which Hamas won between 35 and 45 percent of the popular vote. This perhaps surprising result is not the result of an ideological move to radicalism but stems directly from PA Chairman Abu Mazan's failure to bring about real changes ranging from democratic government and human rights to security and economic reforms. Abu Mazen has been too preoccupied with his own political and physical survival to tackle the pressing socio-economic problems associated with the state-building Bush and even European leaders are expecting of him. The Palestinian public is impatient with unfulfilled expectations, especially in the wake of their disillusion with Arafat and his corrupt twelve-year rule that failed to establish proper democratic institutions. Today, despite Abu Mazen's reform declarations, "Arafatism" has become institutionalized by many former and corrupt Arafat "insiders" who today hold senior government portfolios.
9. Interview with Time Magazine Board of Directors, September 19, 2005; http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2005/53630.htm
10. Dichter speech, September 8, 2005. On September 13, 2005, a senior Israeli Arab affairs analyst independently confirmed the Dichter assessment that the Gazan Dagmush family was ordered by the Hamas leadership to kill Musa Arafat.
11. Halevi, "The Palestinian Rebellion in Fatah": "Dahlan coalesced over the 1990s a strong coalition of loyal officers comprised from the Gaza Preventive Security Services, the Popular Resistance Committees - a terrorist militia headed by former PSS officers, the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades - a Fatah terror group, the Abu Rish militia in Rafah, and the Fatah leadership in the Gaza Strip." "According to PA security officials, Gen. Arafat has since been systematically inciting his followers in the Military Intelligence force against rival security....His arch-enemies included Muhammed Dahlan, the minister for civilian affairs, and Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak, commander of the Preventive Security Force." For background on the Musa Arafat-Dahlan rivalry, see Khaled Abu Toameh, "PA on High Alert Following Arafat Murder," Jerusalem Post, September 7, 2004.
12. See www.Palintefada.com/vb/showthread.php?t=20378 and www.Freepal.net/BlackList/lejan_da7lan.htm. The Popular Resistance Committee published three separate announcements the week following Arafat's execution. The Popular Resistance Committee website accepted, then denied, responsibility and instead blamed Dahlan for the murder. This is a testimony to the "patchwork" constitution of the committees that call themselves the "Brigades of Triumphant Salah a Din" led by Fatah operative and local warlord Jamal Abu Samhadna. Samhadna was snuck into Gaza in Yasser Arafat's limousine in May 1994 when Arafat returned to the Strip. A website loyal to Dahlan issued accusations against Tunis PLO leader Farouk Kaddoumi for the murder, but the rest of the Fatah websites blamed Dahlan directly.
13. According to senior Palestinian government sources who spoke to the authors on September 13, 2005.
14. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Fatah Leader: PA Forces and Private Fiefdoms," Jerusalem Post, October 20, 2004.
15. "Dahlan Being Treated in Jordan for Back Spasms, Says in Good Health," as reported by the Associated Press in Ha'aretz, September 5, 2005.
16. Dahlan's Preventive Security forces in Gaza received funding and training from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to combat terror in Gaza, particularly after 1996, and following Dahlan's appointment by Abbas to deal with security in 2003; http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/palestine/mohammed_dahlan.htm. According to senior Palestinian sources, the CIA even provided Dahlan with a bullet-proof, American-built SUV, which earned Dahlan the nickname "the CIA man of Gaza."
See also Danny Rubinstein, "Dahlan Was the Target in Gaza U.S. Convoy Attack," Ha'aretz, as quoted in Daily Alert, November 12, 2004: On October 15, 2003, three Americans guarding diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Israel, who went to Gaza to offer aid to Palestinians, were killed in a terrorist attack. The road where the attack took place is not used by the IDF. The people who set off the explosive charge knew exactly whom they were attacking. The Americans demanded a thorough investigation of the incident by the PA that would lead to a trial in which the guilty parties would be brought to justice. Yasser Arafat gave instructions to stop the investigation. Ranking PA officials believe the attack was aimed at Americans by people who intended to devalue the status of Mohammed Dahlan, the man considered to be closest to the Americans in the Gaza Strip. The Preventive Security Service, which Dahlan created and also led, received widespread assistance from the U.S., and Dahlan has maintained contact with American government agencies. The identity of the parties that would like to hurt Dahlan in the Gaza Strip is fairly well-known: the commanders of the other PA-affiliated defense forces, mainly General Mussa Arafat and General Ghazi Jabali, the former police commander. In the past year, the heads of these forces have fought an all-out war with Dahlan that has included shootings, murders, kidnappings, and the occupation of military headquarters and offices. The attack on the American convoy, then, was part of the violent struggle between the various organizations in Gaza.
17. Efraim Karsh, Arafat's War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest (New York: Grove Press, 2003), p. 249. An IDF analysis of PA corruption in 2003 concluded: "The Palestinian Security Apparatuses, with emphasis on the Preventive Security, continue their corrupt activities at the Karni and Rafah border terminals. They take bribes from Palestinian merchants and grant them priority in using these terminals." Preventive Security in Gaza was Dahlan's milita until 2002, and even afterward remained loyal to him. "Corruption and Exploitation of the Population in the Palestinian Authority," March 2003, Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies; http://www.intelligence.org.il/eng/corruption.htm.
18. See Bradley Burston, "A Who's Who of Corruption in Arafat's Palestine," Ha'aretz, July 28, 2004.
20. Ronen Bergman, The Authority Given (Tel Aviv: Yediot Ahronot, 2002), p. 120.
21. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Fatah Leader: PA Forces and Private Fiefdoms."
22. "Preventive Security Apparatus Transferring Large Sums of Money to Business Companies That It Has Financial Personal Investment," http://www.intelligence.org.il/eng/bu/capt/capt_g.doc, in "Captured Documents Reveal PA Corruption, Waste and the Employment of PA Funds for Encouraging and Financing Terrorism," Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (Israel), April 2003, http://www.intelligence.org.il/eng/bu/capt/capt.htm#table
24. Yusuf's comments to the PLC were reported in the Hamas weekly Falestine Al Muslama, August 2005. Palestinian sources told the authors that Yusuf's comments regarding the involvement of foreign intelligence services in Gaza was directed at Britain's MI6 intelligence agency.
25. Al Kuds Al Arabi, October 6, 2005.
26. Arnon Regular, "Gaza Lands," Ha'aretz, July 15, 2005. Local Gaza real estate prices had been calculated as rising from $13,000 per dunam to a high of $75,000 per dunam. There are approximately 4 dunams to an acre.
27. "Palestinian Turmoil over Gaza," Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2004.
28. Interview with PA Interior Minister and National Security Forces Commander General Nasser Youseff, Focus Magazine, May 14, 2005.
29. Al Hayat Al Jadida, August 5, 2005, Palestinian Chairman Mahmud Abbas said that private landholders would be compensated fairly by the PA for lands that the PA officially would decide to use for infrastructure, while lands that were privately owned before 1967 would be returned to their original owners, and not new private landowners who purchased land in recent unsanctioned land sales.
30. Regular, "Gaza Lands."
31. Despite the current risks of private investment initiatives for Gaza coming under the control of local warlords, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres explained to The Times of London on September 27, 2005: "Governments are heavy machines. They march very slowly. They follow norms, commitments, and diplomacy. It's not the car you want for a race." http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,251-1799194,00.html
Pinchas Inbari is a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians: Between Terror and Statehood.
Dan Diker is a senior policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and heads its Defensible Borders Initiative. He also serves as Knesset correspondent and analyst for the Israel Broadcasting Authority's English News.
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