The Civil State: Tribal Rule and its Coffin

The tribal power went beyond its primary function related to social settlement of conflicts and disputes and crossed all the red lines, as some tribal meetings and statements have reached the point of threatening the state, including its official and civil institutions.

Written by: Hani Smirat

Despite the thousands of voices from social and political elites, academics, activists and human rights activists to uphold the flag of the civil state and weaken the power of the tribal committees, the Palestinian Authority and those behind it remain the decision-makers who are sailing upstream and following a dark path filled with contradiction. While the Palestinian Authority is trying to establish and build the rules of a civil state in its constitution, it does, with or without intent, support the rules of statehood and strengthen the tribal committee’s authority at the expense of the rule of law.

Recently, the Palestinian government called on the tribal elders, their families and the representatives of the families throughout the country to adopt a binding charter of honor that prohibits weddings and wakes until the end of the COVID-19 crisis. It is possible that many people may find this to be a legitimate call because it aims to protect citizens. However, this exclusive call is ostensibly a protection of the people, while in its interior, it is a demolition of the foundations of a civil state based on human rights, freedom and the rule of law. In this regard, we recall Ibn Khaldun’s saying: “If a tribe strengthens its authority, then the authority of the state is weakened, and if the authority of the state is weak, it weakens the authority of the tribe.” What can be understood in this exclusive and frank call to tribal elders, their men and family representatives is that there is a deterioration in the rule of law, an explicit deficiency of executive authority and a recession in the judicial system. In simpler terms, people are more likely to follow the decisions from the tribal committees than the decisions of the Palestinian government. This becomes nothing more than a declaration that the tribal committees are more fortunate than the rule of law when it comes to dealing with the people. This, in itself, should ring a bill in our minds about the future of the civil state because relying on the tribal dimension weakens the general loyalty to the state’s authority, as factionalism and tribalism is an illustration of polarization.

The Palestinian Government should have bet on its power to enforce the rule of law with the assistance of the community police and base its relationship with its citizens on the pillars of partnership and mutual trust as well as make its call general and inclusive to all spectrums of society without giving exclusive quotas to a movement, party, group or tribe. Despite my certainty about the up-normal effort that the PA is putting to build the civil state of Palestine under the occupation, the principles of a civil state cannot be compromised regardless of the political, economic or social circumstances. Building a civil state does not accept inconsistency, assumption or privacy.  Such justifications may undermine the whole concept of a civil state from the ground up.

Fear does not at all lie in the tribes’ role in combating the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather it lies in the certainty of the tribes that they are one of the most important tools of the state in promoting order and prohibition. There is also fear in the formation of a social base that worsens day after day, leading to the emergence of schizophrenic attitudes due to the clash of the two contradictory systems, the civil state system and the tribal system. Further, there is fear in the tribes’ feeling of superiority that they are the strongest and they have a word in people’s affairs.

Many specialists and human rights activists see this fear, as there are dozens of daily events and stories that convey the superiority of the tribal authority over the rule of law. However, the law today is one of the tools that serve tribal decisions, such as a reconciliation agreements, which are accredited in the courts in order to settle the existing disputes, and the “the tribal evacuation of the criminals’ families from their homes,” which is considered one of the most prominent collective punishments for the families of the perpetrators. Unfortunately, many of the tribal evacuations take place under the supervision of the Palestinian security services and with official sponsorship despite their violation of Article 11 of the Palestinian Law, as well as forced tribal compensation that are over-exaggerated without legal bases. For example, following a murder case, a clan reconciliation agreement was formulated between an apparatus of power and the family of the killed, who was killed by a member of this apparatus in the town of Al-Eizariya, and another similar case in the Hebron Governorate.

We are neither here to state events, as the list of tribal-men black-guarded the rule of law and the authority, nor to undermine reconciliation committees who really contributed to the settling of disputes, especially in the C areas. Although we, as specialists, have dozens of observations in the form of tribal settlements of conflict, we stand here before a real crisis in drawing the parameters of the civil state in light of the superiority of the tribal power, its empowerment of state functions and its absence of the principle of the rule of law. The tribal power went beyond its primary function related to social settlement of conflicts and disputes and crossed all the red lines, as some tribal meetings and statements have reached the point of threatening the state, including its official and civil institutions.

Today, we are in front of these scenes that portend the future and dream of a free civil state, for which thousands of martyrs and prisoners sacrificed. We can only stress the necessity of reviving our dream before we, together, carry the coffin of the civil state, and not to be the reason for falling into the tribal trap. It is also necessary for us to curb the insatiable and influence of the tribal system towards a free state governed by the law and the constitution, driven by knowledge, wisdom and justice and based on the true partnership of all citizens, rather than by norms, wealth and specific movements, sects or tribes.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.



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