Going after Hamas gold

The PA has launched a major assault on the Hamas money machine in the West Bank.

Offices of an Islamic charity in Hebron_390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Offices of an Islamic charity in Hebron_390
(photo credit: Reuters)
On December 29, the Abu Dhabi intelligence service arrested Ja’afer Daghlas, a 27-year-old Palestinian from Burqa, a village near Nablus, on suspicion of belonging to an international fundraising network for Hamas.
Daghlas, who became a prominent Hamas activist while completing a Master’s degree in Engineering at An-Najah University in Nablus, was summoned for interrogation by Abu Dhabi intelligence officials several times before his arrest. At the same time, intelligence officers appeared at his sister’s home in the emirate of Sharjeh, 110 miles from Abu Dhabi, and confiscated his laptop.
Daghlas, who fled to Abu Dhabi three years ago after he was shot in the stomach during a failed attempt on his life by Fatah gunmen, was detained for three weeks on suspicion of helping to fund weapons transfers to Hamas in Gaza. In mid-January, he was deported to Jordan where he was held and interrogated for another two days by Jordanian intelligence before finally being released.
He is now in Jordan. His passport has been returned to him and he is free to go wherever he wants.
The arrest of Daghlas in Abu Dhabi, more than 1,000 miles from his home in the West Bank, followed by his interrogation in Jordan, suggests a high level of intelligence cooperation between the security and intelligence services in Abu Dhabi, Jordan and their Palestinian Authority (PA) colleagues based in Ramallah.
Palestinian intelligence officials refused to confirm or deny their involvement in the Daghlas affair. But the Fatah-dominated security services of the PA have launched a heavy crackdown on the Hamas money machine in the West Bank since June 2007, when Hamas launched a coup d’état against Fatah in Gaza and seized control of the embattled coastal strip.
Since then, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also leader of Fatah, has been in competition with Hamas, who won the last Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah the following year. Recently, Abbas and the Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal signed an agreement in Cairo designed to end their differences, establish a unity government and move towards new elections.
But despite the deal, the PA security services in the West Bank have continued their assault on Hamas finances through all possible means.
As a result, Palestinian security officials say the PA has succeeded in drying up the sources of Hamas finances on the West Bank and seized cash, goods and property worth millions of dollars.
But Hamas remains defiant, accusing Fatah of targeting charities that support poor families rather than the Hamas military apparatus.
“The Palestinian Authority confiscation of Hamas money in the West Bank will not weaken the movement and we certainly will win any future elections,” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri tells The Jerusalem Report.
“The people who suffer as a result of the confiscation of Hamas money by the PA security forces are the poor families, as well as the families of martyrs, the injured, and prisoners – and not Hamas organizations,” says Abu Zuhri. “Only a low percentage of the money confiscated by the PA security services in the West Bank is related to the Hamas organization, but they are taking everything belonging to the Hamas charitable service.”
The two leading Palestinian security services engaged in targeting Hamas finances are the Preventive Security Apparatus and the General Intelligence Service. Officials say they have adopted a security theory based on the idea that “drying up Hamas money in the West Bank begins abroad.” So it is no surprise to see them cooperating with regional Arab intelligence services to accomplish their mission.
But PA officials have surprised Hamas by proving more efficient than Israel’s Shin Bet security service in drying up Hamas financial sources and restricting the fundraising capabilities of the radical Islamic movement.
“It’s strange that an Arab security service cooperates with the PA security in cracking down on Hamas fundraising resources abroad,” says a senior Hamas official in the West Bank, speaking to The Report on condition of anonymity.
“Wherever they learn about money, they act immediately. They consider the finance issue more dangerous than weapons,” says the Hamas official, acknowledging that the PA crackdown on Hamas money in the West Bank has been more disruptive to the movement than similar efforts in the past by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). He says PA intelligence has confiscated more than $7 million from Hamas since June 2007. They have also arrested businessmen and money-changers suspected of involvement in facilitating Hamas money transfers either from abroad or from Gaza to the West Bank.
“The Shin Bet has not focused on the money issue as the PA security services does,” says the Hamas official. “The Shin Bet tolerates the money used to support the families of Hamas security prisoners, while the PA does not.”
A senior PA security official in Ramallah tells The Report that the attempted coup in June 2007 was a turning point in relations between the PA and Hamas that saw the emergence of an entirely new security doctrine in the West Bank.
“Dozens of arrested Hamas members confessed that their weapons were not prepared for use against Israel, but to conduct a coup d’état against the PA in the West Bank, and they established an executive force similar to the one that was founded in Gaza,” says the PA official, referring to the shadow militia established by Hamas that served as the vanguard of the 2007 putsch.
“The Shin Bet acts when it finds links between money and the financing of terror attacks against Israel, while the PA motive has been to disrupt financing for a Hamas coup d’état against the PA in the West Bank following its experience in the Gaza Strip,” he says. “We are also fighting money laundering that harms the Palestinian economy, and finance for attacks against Israel because this could provoke a violent reaction by Israel against Palestinians.”
He says the PA security services are more effective than the Shin Bet in fighting Hamas money because they employ different methods and are closer to the ground.
“While the Shin Bet are monitoring money transfers at banks, PA security is tracking all the methods used by Hamas through businessmen and money-changers, as well as in the field. When a poor man suddenly becomes a gold dealer, we wonder where he got the money and start tracking the matter. That’s when we discover that Hamas is financing him.”
PA security officials say Hamas has used increasingly sophisticated arrangements to overcome Israeli and Palestinian restrictions on the group’s traditional methods of money transfers and fundraising. Hamas has provided finance for Palestinian traders importing from China, who then repay the “debt” to Hamas in the West Bank after deducting a 20-30 percent commission. Hamas supporters trying to smuggle cash through the Allenby Bridge, the land crossing between the West Bank and Jordan controlled by Israel, use euros instead of US dollars because the 500 euro note is much more valuable than the largest, readily available dollar note of $100, enabling them to carry huge amounts of cash secreted on their person.
PA officials say Hamas has also initiated a system of transferring small amounts via people not identified as Hamas members, including some Arab citizens of Israel traveling on pilgrimages. The group also has been laundering money through trade in properties and vehicles, in which Hamas activists purchase a car or property in the West Bank, then sell it on for a higher price abroad and transfer the surplus to representatives of the group.
Palestinian sources tell The Report that targeting Hamas money in the West Bank also has a political purpose. The aim is to weaken the movement that is seen as the strongest rival to Fatah in parliamentary and presidential elections that may be held in the near future.
“Hamas plans now to conduct its coup d’état in the West Bank, not militarily as it did in the Gaza Strip in mid-June 2007, but through the ballot boxes,” says the PA official.
Mkhaimer Abu Sa’ada, professor of Political Science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, tells The Report that Hamas needs to fund the institutions that help to maintain popular support ahead of elections planned for later this year.
“Fatah still fears Hamas money in the West Bank because Hamas tries to use the money to gain voters,” says Abu Sa’ada. “Money is like oxygen for Hamas. Without it, the movement cannot operate dozens of charitable societies, heath clinics and schools. It cannot buy weapons and train its military wing members.”
Abu Sa’ada says the arrest of Hamas activists and the refusal to release Hamas prisoners is throwing the reconciliation agreement in doubt.
“Hamas is using the assault by PA security on its funding in the West Bank to accuse Fatah of escaping the reconciliation with Hamas,” he says.
Ironically, even as the PA has been cracking down on the Hamas money supply, it continues paying salaries to the group’s elected lawmakers in both the West Bank and Gaza, including Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar. Abbas dismissed both of them after the Gaza takeover.