On Patrol in Shijaiyah, the toughest neighborhood in Gaza City, Lieut. Naim Ashraf Mushtaha, 31, an officer of the Hamas Executive Force, spots a man in civilian clothes carrying an M-16 assault rifle and walking through the street suqs in broad daylight. His officers quickly encircle the suspect and demand that he identify himself and turn over the weapon. The man turns out to be a member of one of the neighborhood's most powerful clans, and he refuses to give up his gun. "What's my name, boys?" he shouts to the gathering crowd of curious onlookers. "Mohassi Abbas!" they shout back. "See, everyone knows who I am," says the gunman. "I don't care who you are," says Mushtaha calmly, without raising his voice or his weapon. "No one is above the law."
The rule of law has returned to Gaza. Just two months ago, this beachfront slice of sand dunes and concrete jungles, home to about 1.5 million Palestinians, was one of the most dangerous places on earth. In June, after a few days of internecine warfare, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, took control of Gaza from its rival, Fatah. Since then, Gaza has been under siege. Almost all shipments except for basic humanitarian supplies are barred from entering, and almost nothing comes out. The blockade is part of an Israeli and American strategy to isolate Hamas in the hope that Palestinians will turn away from its Islamist leaders, who have never recognized Israel, and toward Fatah, which is willing to restart the peace process. So far, the plan isn't working. With a free hand to govern as it pleases, Hamas is building popular support and military capability that may well outlast the international blockade.