Sakset/Fra hofta

At BBC-journalisten Alan Johnston har vært borte i over tre uker er et dårlig tegn. For Johnston, for utlendinger i Gaza og for palestinerne. Og for myndighetene som ikke greier å gjøre noe. Alle vet hvilken storfamilie som har tatt ham.

Regjeringen er lammet, partene greier ikke samarbeide, og volden fortsetter. Den spiser seg inn i samfunnet som kreft og demoraliserer vanlige folk. Vold overtar stadig mer som språk.

It began three months ago with a kidnap, a beating and the theft of a white Mitsubishi saloon car. Now it came to this: Omar Yusuf Hadad, 77, a retired businessman, sat in an armchair in his flat in Gaza City and calmly admitted that his family had captured, questioned, beaten and killed one of their neighbours. Then, with impunity, they dumped his body in the street just outside their own apartment block as if to say there could be no question who to blame for his death.

«Yes, we kidnapped him and made our own investigation. He admitted his crime and so we shot him in the street, among the sewage, just 50 metres away from here,» he said. «This is how it is now: families are taking justice by themselves. I got my rights and now I feel relaxed.» And so it was that Omar Hadad oversaw the killing of his neighbour to avenge the murder 10 days earlier of his own son.

There is now a cycle of family feuds in Gaza, an endless toll of kidnap and murder fuelled by the political and factional violence that is still tearing this small strip of land apart.

A rare summit seven weeks ago in the Saudi city of Mecca was supposed to have stopped this infighting. That meeting brought together the leaders of the rival Palestinian movements Hamas and Fatah for an agreement to halt the slide towards civil war. However, accounts from Palestinians on the ground suggest the enmity continues and that a new and long-awaited coalition government formed earlier this month is struggling to rein in the violence.

Caught up in this continued lawlessness is Alan Johnston, the respected BBC Gaza correspondent, who was kidnapped three weeks ago and who, to the growing concern of his colleagues, is still being held hostage. Although a large criminal clan is suspected of being behind the kidnapping, it is still not clear precisely who holds Mr Johnston or what they want. There were more warnings last week that gunmen are hunting for other foreigners to kidnap. The failure of the new government to resolve what has now become the longest-running hostage case shows the scale of the crisis.

«I’m really worried about the situation. Since the establishment of the unity government on the ground nothing is changing,» said Sufian Abu Zaida, a former minister and senior Fatah leader from northern Gaza. Nothing would change, he said, until the major factions were disarmed, which itself was a huge task. Meanwhile, the infighting comes at huge cost. «We have a very good experience of self-destruction as Palestinians,» he said, «and I think the kidnapping of Alan Johnston is one of these ways of self-destruction.»

The story behind last Friday’s murder and the feud between the Nofals, a Fatah family, and the Hadads, a Hamas family, began in January. Those days saw the worst of the fighting between Fatah, the secular movement which has dominated Palestinian politics for decades, and Hamas, its Islamist rival which was elected into power last year.

Arafa Nofal, 34, was a recruit in the Preventative Security force, the large, Fatah-dominated security service. Early on the morning of January 29 he was kidnapped, robbed and beaten. Three days later he was released, bruised but alive. His kidnapping was only one in a series of tit-for-tat clashes between the rival groups. His money and mobile phone were stolen, along with his car, a Mitsubishi saloon that he had recently bought hoping to earn some extra money on the side as a private taxi driver. In an account of the kidnapping that he wrote earlier this month, Mr Nofal said there was no doubt the men who took him were members of the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas armed militia. «They beat me. They tied my hands and covered my eyes. I was held without food or water,» he wrote.

In the weeks that followed he looked for his car until on March 13 he saw it parked in Zeitoon, his local neighbourhood in Gaza City. He confronted the driver, who told him the car belonged to Hamas and the al-Qassam brigades. Quickly the confrontation descended into shouting and then, as more men from among Nofal’s friends and from Hamas arrived, there was shooting.

In the clash, Nofal’s brother Mahmoud, another Preventative Security recruit was shot nine times. He survived but is now seriously ill in hospital in Egypt. On the other side, one man was killed: Ala’a Hadad, 40, a member of the al-Qassam brigades who had taken Mr Nofal’s car. Ala’a was the son of the retired businessman Omar Hadad. He was shot dead by a single bullet that entered through his abdomen and exited through his lower back. His father still has his son’s walkie-talkie, which is cracked through by a bullet hole.

Family feuds drive new cycle of violence in Gaza