Last week, allegations arose that Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, had diverted tens of millions of dollars from three major humanitarian organizations to support their own ends. For many this kind of behavior reminded them of Hamas’s rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, which was known for corruption, bribe-taking and nepotism.
On Aug. 4, the Gaza director of World Vision, one of the biggest NGOs in the world, was indicted for siphoning $7.2 million to Hamas annually over the course of five years. The World Vision official, named as Mohammad Al Halabi, allegedly funneled construction materials and food and medical aid packages to Hamas rather than to Gaza’s impoverished civilians.
According to Halabi’s indictment, he also recruited a Gaza employee of the organization Save The Children to work for the Al Qassem Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, suggesting that donations to yet another major international charity were also being used to prop up the hardline Islamist group.
Then, a few days later, Israel also charged a United Nations (UN) aid employee in Gaza with assisting Hamas’s military operations. Waheed Borsh, who worked as an engineer for the UN Development Program, allegedly persuaded UN managers to prioritize the reconstruction of Hamas neighborhoods ahead of other destroyed areas of Gaza.
Even though Halabi and Borsh both confessed to being double-agents for Hamas, many will still say that they’re innocent, that Israel is making trumped-up charges in order to tighten its siege of Gaza. But while we should be skeptical of Israeli claims, it’s not so implausible that the Jewish state has uncovered corruption between Hamas and Gaza’s development groups. It’s long made claims that such groups are secretly funding Hamas operations and over the years has put significant resources into proving it.
In a report published Aug. 11, aid workers in Gaza privately admitted to an Agence France-Presse reporter that they had felt pressure from Hamas, with the powerful group seeking to influence and organize charity projects in Gaza.
Hamas was once seen as the more disciplined, cleaner alternative to a corrupt Fatah, whose incompetence and pocket-lining came to infuriate many Gazans. Though Islam was a big part of Hamas’s appeal when it rose to power in the 2006 elections, the group appealed to Palestinians of all denominations, and received a significant number of Christian votes that year.
Now, World Vision, the UN and Save The Children have all said they will conduct their own investigations to get to the bottom of what happened. If any of them find even some of these allegations to be true, it will be a massive moral failure for Hamas, whose responsibility is to protect and provide for Gaza’s 1.8 million residents.
The people of Gaza are in a desperate state. They have endured three Israeli military offensives since 2008, leaving the region in ruins. The 2014 war between Hamas and Israel left over 100,000 housing units destroyed, and less than 10 percent have been rebuilt since then. A UN report published last year said that if current trends in Gaza persist, the region will become uninhabitable by 2020.
Analysts and aid workers have said that Hamas’s meddling in Gaza’s humanitarian efforts, if verified, could seriously compromise the potential of charity organizations to continue their work in the coastal enclave. Already, major donors are pulling out: Shortly after the indictment of World Vision’s director in Gaza on Aug. 4, Germany and Australia both suspended donations to the group’s Gaza chapter.
The funds donated to Gaza by aid groups are a lifeline for the region’s inhabitants: Nearly 80 percent of Gazans depend on humanitarian aid to survive, according to a report published last year by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Since the 2014 war, such groups have given more than $3.5 billion for reconstruction and have earmarked billions more for the coming years.
Hamas’s shenanigans have now severely jeopardized the delivery of these funds, and thereby jeopardized the future of the very people it claims to serve.
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