1.8 million people live in the Gaza Strip, most of them refugees. They endure an unemployment rate that reaches 40%, shameful poverty, rock bottom wages, and, to top it all, an apparently corrupt regime, with an extreme political ideology, that finds it convenient to perpetuate poverty.
In the Arab press, particularly in Egypt, there are countless stories about the corruption in Hamas. The Egyptians are no fans of Hamas, and their own regime is corrupt enough, but we present here a few excerpts from the welter of stories about Hamas's financial criminality.
According to Palestinian news agency WAFA, the Hamas movement is in the throes of an economic crisis in its political, military and social institutions, after a number of corruption affairs within it were exposed. Public anger has forced the movement to bring many activists accused of corruption to justice, to avoid a revolution in the Gaza Strip. Some of the cases involved bribery in the justice system itself.
According to one report, the Hamas political bureau held several meetings to discuss the many corruption affairs connected to the financing of the movement's institutions in the Gaza Strip, the financing of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and especially payments of activists' wages. Moreover, the movement's financial statements show that bad investments were made in real estate in Saudi Arabia, in Syria, and in Dubai, leading to the loss of tens of millions of dollars that had been earmarked for rehabilitating the Gaza Strip.
Sources cited in these reports said the money was raised in Europe and the Gulf states through the "Charity Coalition" and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which transferred money to Hamas in exchange for attacks on Israeli targets.
The most prominent corruption affair was the one involving Ayman Taha, a senior figure in Hamas. Hamas has confirmed that Taha was disloyal and that he had abused his authority to make money. He is still under investigation, a matter which is under a veil of secrecy, and there have been reports that he has been severely tortured. It emerges from the reports that Taha allowed people close to him to engage in illegal trading at the expense of hundreds of citizens who paid money for projects, mostly in connection with smuggling tunnels.
Other people who have been involved in corruption affairs connected to taxation of goods passing through the tunnels are Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu, and senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar. Al-Zahar confirmed in a recent interview that he took part in illegal trading via the tunnels, which are also used to smuggle weapons, and that his wealth amounted to some six billion Egyptian pounds (hundreds of millions of dollars).
Another corruption affair was that of a senior Hamas figure who was exiled to Qatar in the prisoner release deal for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Zaher Jabarin. Jabarin is responsible for the payment of wages to families of Hamas prisoners and former prisoners.
But the cherry on the cake is the conduct attributed to Hamas's foremost leaders: Khaled Mashaal, head of the organization's political bureau, and Ismail Haniyeh, head of the organization in Gaza. It was reported recently that Mashaal smuggled $12 million from Syria to Turkey under cover of the civil war in Syria. Mashaal reportedly appointed someone by the name of Jibril Janid to transfer the money to Turkey in October 2012 from Mashaal's borther-in-law. It was also reported that the money belonged to Hamas, but Mashal said it had "disappeared" in the civil war.
Furthermore, a Qatari real estate company has unveiled a seven-acre project in Qatar that includes four towers and a 2.5 acre commercial center owned by Mashaal, his wife and son. According to the company's engineer, the towers will be among the most prominent in Doha, with 250 luxury apartments, a private club, a kindergarten, a library, and tourist attractions.
As for Ismail Haniyeh, he reportedly owns 2,500 square meters of land in Amar Almatar street in the Al-Ramal area of the Gaza Strip. The land is estimated to be worth about $4 million, and is registered in the name of his son-in-law. And while the talk is of the failure to pay wages in the Gaza Strip, Haniyeh has bought several houses in the names of his sons. According to press reports, Haniyeh's wealth has risen in line with his popularity, thanks to his involvement in the tunnels trade. It is also reported that Haniyeh's son, who is also active in Hamas, was caught at the Rafah crossing with millions of dollars in his possession. It turns out that the tunnels are not just a pipeline for weapons, but also for the proceeds of corruption.
There's a great deal of money, then, and so it's no surprise that corruption is correspondingly great. One newspaper published a Qatari document concerning a check for $250 million sent to the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip in return for support for the regime of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. The beneficiary of the check is Khaled Mashaal.
It's no wonder therefore that an Egyptian television presenter mocked Mashaal the other day. "Khaled Mashaal sits and eats in restaurants in Qatar. He runs his jihad from Qatar. My dear sir, Khaled Mashaal, the jihad is in Gaza. Mr. Khaled and all his brave warriors in Gaza people don’t have enough to eat, children are suffering and buildings are destroyed with their inhabitants. And all this time he resides in the most luxurious hotel in the most beautiful district, in a room that overlooks the office that the Israelis opened there." (The screen shows pictures of Mashaal eating and in a fitness room).
"Where is the courage? Where is the heroism? If you have real spirit in you, go back tomorrow. Get on the first plane and come back to Egypt. Don't worry, we'll open the Rafah crossing for you, and make sure you get to the other side safely, and reach your family whole and healthy. Our brothers the Palestinians will greet you and you will meet your brother there, what's his name? Ismail Haniyeh… sit in one of the hiding places underground and manage operations. At least you'll stand at the head of your people. Every shepherd leads his flock, and you, sir, are responsible for your people. A leader doesn't run away. A leader is not afraid. A leader does not run things by telephone…
"Khaled Mashaal, before the revolution in Syria against President Assad, bought a house there for $4 million. A house for $4 million! When his people in Gaza have nothing to eat. That's what the great jihad warriors do, Sheikh Haniyeh and Sheikh Mashaal…"
There are orientalists who think that Hamas's corrupt behavior will in the end provoke social protest in the Gaza Strip. If only one could believe it.