Foreign donors have pledged around US$5.4 billion for the reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. Yet Hamas still controls the Strip, and therefore has control over the supplies that come into Gaza. Many are concerned that the cement and other building supplies that Gaza receives for its reconstruction will again be diverted to enable Hamas to restore its tunnels that are built to smuggle goods/weapons, and to attack Israelis.
Hamas is also known to have profited from foreign donations. This issue was recently highlighted when Forbes Israel named Hamas the second-richest terrorist organisation in the world, after ISIS, taking in US$1 billion annually.
As a Jerusalem Post editorial notes, “Hamas’s chief source of earnings, according to the exhaustive Forbes report, comes from skimming hefty sums off foreign NGO donations and putting the squeeze on ordinary Gazans – the very ones the NGOs ostensibly seek to aid. Hamas taxes them to the hilt, imposes harsh penalties and fees, and trades in the black market. All provisions and material that enter the Gaza Strip fall under the control of Hamas gangsters who garner lavish profits from their distribution and/or sale. Such supplies enrich Hamas and enhance the organization’s power – above and beyond moral travesties such as their using cement earmarked for civilian construction to reinforce labyrinthine attack tunnels into Israel.”
Raising new alarm bells are reports that Hamas is stealing medicines and taxing all goods that enter Gaza, as Palestinian Maan News Agency reported:
“A spokesman of the Palestinian Ministry of Health on Sunday accused ministry officials in the Gaza Strip of stealing medicines and supplies sent to the coastal enclave.
At a news conference in Ramallah, Osama al-Najjar said that the Ministry of Health had shipped large quantities of medicines and medical equipment to the Strip during the last Israeli military offensive.
He said the ministry ‘didn’t know where those medicines were distributed and who benefited from them.’
‘After investigations, we have been informed that influential ministry officials in Gaza steal these medicines and equipment, and that the medicines do not go to hospitals and the health sector in the Gaza Strip which badly need them.'”
Maan also reported that Hamas is collecting taxes on all goods that enter Gaza:
“Al-Najjar also accused the Hamas movement of inventing ‘a new department at the Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing called the general administration of custom tax security.’
This department, he said, ‘forcibly collects 2.5 percent custom tax on everything that enters Gaza, including medicines and medical equipment.'”
Moreover, Palestinian journalist Hazem Balousha posted an image on Twitter appearing to show cement imported into Gaza under the auspices of the UN being sold on the black market. He tweeted next to the photo:
“Cement came to #Gaza through #UN mechanism and sold out just at entrance of warehouse to the black market”.
According to blogger Elder of Ziyon, there were reports in the Arab press that the Ministry of Finance in Gaza controlled by Hamas started taxing every ton of cement a fee of 20 shekels, but that after complaints Hamas stopped imposing the tax.
Elder of Ziyon also wrote:
“The Gaza Ministry of Housing is apparently in charge of which citizens can get the cement and construction materials, and they have published a list of nearly 6000 homeowners who qualify. This sure seems like a system that is ripe for corruption and diversion of the materials.”
Meanwhile, Israel has also been accused of not letting in enough cement into Gaza. However, as BBC Watch has noted, Israel has consistently allowed the importation of construction supplies to rebuild Gaza over recent weeks as highlighted in reports from the Coordination of Government Activities in the Terrutories (COGAT):
“On November 23rd 2014, 311 truckloads of goods entered the Gaza Strip, 94 of which carried 3,760 tons of construction materials.
On November 20th 2014, 403 truckloads of goods entered the Gaza Strip, 93 of which carried 3,720 tons of construction materials.
On November 18th 2014, 340 truckloads of goods entered the Gaza Strip, 101 of which carried 4,002 tons of construction materials.
On November 17th 2014, 274 truckloads of goods entered the Gaza Strip, 99 of which carried 3,960 tons of construction materials.”
In addition, COGAT reported that on December 7, 372 truckloads containing a variety of goods and 90 tons of gas were delivered into the Gaza Strip, and 483 people entered the Gaza Strip from Israel and 779 entered Israel from Gaza through the Erez crossing.
And while Israel continues to send supplies to Gaza, Egypt’s border with Gaza has generally remained closed. It was open briefly to allow around 500 Palestinians to return home to Gaza, and yet there has been little if any international outcry about Egypt’s border closure.
Egyptian authorities have condemned Hamas and blame it for recent terror attacks in the Sinai. To protect its security, Egypt created a buffer zone that required demolishing 800 homes and displacing more than 1000 families.
However, there has been little condemnation of this move. Amazingly, it was even backed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who said regarding tunnels in an interview on November 30 with the Egyptian daily Akhbar Al-Yawm:
“This has been my view for nine years, and I have asked Egypt many times to close the tunnels. In Gaza, 1,800 residents have become millionaires by utilizing the tunnels for their own interests. Likewise, they utilize the tunnels to act against Egypt by smuggling weapons and drugs, and [they also harm Egypt] by operating an industry of counterfeiting money and forging documents. The destruction of the tunnels is the answer that will put an end to these phenomena. I have many times proposed ideas for destroying the tunnels, for example, to flood them with water 30 meters deep – as deep as the tunnels. This should be done after destroying the homes with tunnel openings in them, and punishing the owners of those homes. No country in the world tolerates the problem of the tunnels except for Egypt and Palestine,”
Abbas also said in the interview that Hamas is derailing efforts to rebuild Gaza, and the plan for PA oversight of reconstruction efforts which was supposedly the condition of international aid never eventuated:
“They [Hamas] concluded with Robert Serry, the UN emissary for rebuilding Gaza, that we [the Palestinian Authority] as a state would be at the border and the crossings in order to receive aid and construction materials, under UN oversight, so that we could transfer them to whoever needs them. But they backed out of the agreement, and again difficulties were created for rebuilding Gaza. Despite this, we are transferring aid in a variety of ways,” said Abbas. “I ask Hamas: ‘Go to the polls again. The results will be [either] your continued control of Gaza, or the people not reelecting you. But they believe in one-off elections.”
As reports come in of Hamas exploiting foreign aid assistance, international donors should demand accountability and transparency for their dollars to ensure that the goods help the people of Gaza, instead of going into the pockets of Hamas leaders – who will then likely use them to re-arm and prepare for another round of armed conflict with Israel, to the detriment of Gaza residents who could again be caught in the crossfire.