Avi Melamed ~ Inside The Middle East
January 23, 2012
by Avi Melamed
From its inception in the 1980s, Hamas has portrayed itself as a movement deeply rooted in Islamic principles and dedicated to the teachings of the Quran. Concentrating its attention on building a power base in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has proclaimed as its primary purpose the development of programs intended to improve the lives of the Palestinian people.
In January 2006 Palestinians voters registered their support for Hamas’ stated goals by electing a majority of the organization’s slate of candidates to the Palestinian parliament, thereby constituting a strong opposition to the block of delegates representing the views of the Palestinian Authority.
Eighteen months later, in June 2007, Hamas mounted a bloody coup that wrested control of The Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority – hundreds of Palestinians were killed and thousands injured.
Since its assumption of power Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip through heavily armed forces including police, security services and especially the Hamas military wing, the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades (the group largely responsible for launching rocket attacks into Israel). In total some 20,000 armed militia rule Gaza in the name of Hamas with an iron fist.
The history of Hamas and its vow to destroy Israel is well known and has been covered extensively in the world media.
Conversely the story I relate in this article focuses on a subject that has received little notice in the West – the origin of the enormous financial resources that Hamas has accrued from its control of Gaza and what this amassing of funds reveals about Hamas’s proclaimed devotion to improving the lives of the Palestinian people.
Gaza’s population currently numbers approximately 1.5 million people, about a third of whom reside in Gaza City, in the northern portion of the Strip. Another half million occupy the eight refugee camps located in the central and southern zones. The rest live in Dir Albalch, the southern cities of Khan Yunes and Rafah, or in a variety of scattered agricultural communities.
In whatever setting their lives take place, the vast majority of these Gaza Palestinians exist at a third-world level that western standards would rate as abysmal. And in the four years since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, most of its inhabitants have seen no improvement in their living conditions. Instead, the quality of their lives has markedly deteriorated.
By contrast, the leadership of Hamas has, during this same period, grown wealthy and enjoys a lifestyle that first-world ratings would describe as lavish. An article published in Al Ahram, Egypt’s most widely circulated newspaper, on July 18, 2010, confirms this reality. The author, Ashraf Abu Al-Houl, is a widely respected veteran journalist who frequently reports on Gaza. In his essay, “In Actual Terms Gaza Is Not Under Siege”, he says the following:
The Gaza Strip enjoys a sense of absolute prosperity. It is manifested by the luxurious touristic sites along the beaches of the Gaza Strip. I was amazed to see the commodities and luxurious items in the stores. The prices in the Gaza Strip are cheaper than the prices in Egypt. The fancy resorts and houses reflect a prosperity that only a few groups enjoy in the Gaza Strip – mostly owners of tunnels…A few months ago there was only one fancy resort called Zahrat Almadai’in. Now every day a new fancy resort is opened. The most recent ones are the Crazy Water, Aqua Park, and Al-Bustan Boutique Hotel. Most of these places are owned by senior Hamas people.”
“What is going on here?” you ask. “How can such luxury exist in a society that is portrayed to the world as deprived and impoverished? Where does the money come from?”
Mr. Al-Houl tells us: The money that fuels these projects built by Hamas and enriches the organization’s top members, and their friends and family, is the product of “tunnels.”
He is referring to an elaborate network of approximately 600 illegal subterranean passages that link the Gaza Strip to the Sinai Peninsula. This underground labyrinth facilitates the smuggling of fuel, cars, narcotics, weapons, terrorists, and prostitutes from Egypt into Gaza.
Nor is this a clandestine operation. Hamas has destroyed honest businessmen in turn for smugglers who have complete control of Gaza resources and Hamas controls the entire enterprise, from granting permits authorizing the digging of tunnels to levying taxes and fees on existing and newly constructed passages. The administrative means to these ends is a ministry called the Tunnel Authority that was created specifically to oversee everything associated with the construction, maintenance, and monitoring of these linkages and the traffic that moves through them.
The Tunnel Authority maintains an informative website (The Tunnels Authority), from which I have taken the following:
“The Hamas government monitors the tunnels and charges a tax from the tunnel owners like any other commercial income source.”
According to its Web site, the Tunnels industry employs 25,000 people and generates annual revenues in excess of $650,000,000.
The cost of digging a tunnel is USD $50,000 – $100,000.
However, the website does not shine any light on other aspects of the ways things work, such as the documented cases that reveal that officials of Hamas often turn out to be the owners of or to have close ties to the construction firms that are awarded permits for building tunnels.
For information on the lucrative nature of Hamas’s “underground” business, we must turn to two special reports published in England. In its October 22, 2008 issue, the Guardian printed an article entitled “Hamas exploits boom in Gaza smuggling tunnels” which it followed up three days later with an article published by the Independent entitled “My descent into Gaza’s smuggling underworld“.
These reports include the following information:
According to an estimate from an economic analyst based in Gaza, the smuggling economy constitutes 40 percent of the total economic activity in the Strip, and per month, that volume comes to USD $40,000,000.
Net monthly income from one tunnel is USD $30,000 to $50,000.
There is a brisk market for active tunnels, selling price is $150,000.
The Hamas government charges a tunnel owner a registration fee of $50,000 for a new tunnel and $15,000 for an active tunnel, plus an annual fee the amount of which the article did not specify. In return, the government provides electricity, a service it uses to justify the taxes it levies on all tunnel owners. According to Mr. Adel Abdurraham, a Palestinian journalist writing in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on January 25, 2010 in an article entitled, “Gaza is Sinking” Hamas leaders and their families also benefit substantially not only from the construction and buying and selling of tunnels but also from the smuggling that flows through them:
The tunnels are a chicken that lays golden eggs for the leaders of Hamas . . . the influential people in Hamas’s leadership have become king of the tunnels.”
Another article published in the same publication in April of that year written by Mr. Nader Alkuseir entitled “The Land Owning Mafia and the Nouveau Riche in The Gaza Strip Cause Price of Land to Sky-Rocket” said, “The wealthiest groups in the Gaza Strip are those who have made a fortune from the tunnels . . . these people have no moral restrictions whatsoever . . . they use their wealth to buy land in the Gaza Strip thus causing the price of land to go up.”
Although Al-Hayat Al-Jadida is the official daily newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, which sharply opposed Hamas in 2010, there is little reason to question the credibility of these articles. Moreover, Hamas has never contested any of the charges leveled against its leadership with regard to the monies its members have acquired from the tunnels.
The picture is very clear. Hamas, intent on one thing – staying in power – has built a self-serving kingdom of crime through corruption and cartel-style business practices to ensure that they maintain control over resources, and therefore total control, over the Gaza Strip.
Whereas the current Hamas government in the Gaza Strip takes no action against corruption and theft, the Egyptians are not as generous. In September 2010, an Egyptian daily newspaper Al Masri Al Youm, in an article entitled “Gold Traders Arrested on Suspicion of helping Haniyeh’s Guards Smuggle Gold into Gaza”, announced that the Egyptian authorities had issued an arrest warrant for twelve gold dealers that were suspected of being involved in the smuggling of huge amounts of gold from Egypt into the Gaza Strip through the tunnels. The Palestinian responsible for the smuggling operation was Muhammad Naim, the Chief Bodyguard for the Prime Minister of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh. Naim himself owned a tunnel through which terrorists, gold and money were smuggled. Nai’m was arrested by the Egyptian authorities.
The following day, on January 20, 2010, in Palestinian news portal, Alaahd published another report, “The Qassam Runners”, describing the involvement of Hamas’ people in drug smuggling. According to the report, an armed clash took place between gangs of drug smugglers. Those smugglers were also militants within the ranks of the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades. The Hamas police force was totally powerless to stop the clash.
In fact, articles published throughout the Arab world from Egypt to the Gulf as well as numerous news portals describe in detail instances of Hamas’s leading families engaging in a range of corrupt activities.
Here are a few examples:
The Hamas Minister of Welfare purchased a home with a swimming pool on a 1.5 acre beach-front lot.
The Director of the Department of Religion of the Hamas government stole funds that were paid by Palestinians planning to conduct the Haj (the pilgrimage to Mecca).
A high-ranking official in the Hamas Department of Health stole a stock of medicine worth USD $250,000 that was provided to The Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Authority.
An official within the Political Bureau of Hamas who is also responsible for the funds received from UNRWA bought 7.5 acres of land and registered the land on his and his brother’s name.
Hundreds of Hamas militants that serve in the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades receive double salaries and they invest the money they receive with one real estate broker in The Gaza Strip.
Even Isma’il Haniyeh is not immune to the corruption and intimidations brazenly carried out by Hamas and its military wing on a daily basis. On January 19, 2010 the following report entitled “The Money from HYPERLINK “http://www.alaahd.com/arabic/?action=detail&id=30204″Me” was published in a Palestinian news portal Alaahd:
Ahmad Alja’abary, the Commander of the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades stormed into the office of Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip and demanded Haniyeh immediately give him $600,000.000 in cash. Petrified, Haniyeh rushed to do as he was told.
That money that Haniyeh gave to Alja’bary was raised in Europe by Hamas supporters and Pro-Palestinian activists and was supposed to be used for the welfare of the people in the Gaza Strip. That money was given to Ismail Haniyeh personally by the head of the Viva Palestine organization, former UK Member of Parliament, George Gallway.