The Unbreakable Relationship: Hamas and the Humanitarian Aid in Gaza

World Vision Office in Jerusalem(Credit: unknown)

In early June, Israel detained the director of the World Vision charity organization in Gaza. Two months later, early August, Israeli security authorities stated that Mohammed El Halabi was arrested because he diverted millions of dollars to Hamas, which were spent for its activities. If this story is accurate, which I doubt, it must be powerfully condemned. It is wrong to channel money that its purpose was to help needy people, and improve the quality of the lives of almost two millions besieged Palestinian in the Gaza Strip. Knowing the problematic situation in the Gaza Strip, we have to look at this matter from a policy perspective, where Hamas, as an Islamic movement, has a strong coupling with charities, historically.

The story began in 1987 when Hamas was established as a charity organization. In 1994, PLO returned to Gaza and West Bank, and Islamists were allowed to have charities. From 1994 until 2008, the Palestinian authority, led by Fatah, imposed “No-Jobs-For-Islamists” policy. Thousands of them were denied jobs in public institutions despite their academic and professional excellence. While most of Fatah’ members and its supporters joined the PA, very few of which turned to working for Non-Governmental organizations or charities. Simultaneously, the Palestinian left who opposed Oslo and found civil society as their proposer option, led NGOs that focused on democratization, civic engagement and human rights. For example, the current foreign affairs’ minister, Riyad Almalki, established Panorama Center for Democracy with a substantial fund from European countries. Therefore, Islamists who did not believe in democracy and were excluded from working in public institutions (even as teachers), went around to set up their own parallel organizations, creating hundreds/ thousands of jobs for themselves. As a result and a reality, the biggest three charity organizations in the Gaza strip until 2007 were “ Al-Mujam’a Alislami”, “Aljamiya Al Islmiya” and “Al Salah charity” which are affiliated to Hamas.

As Hamas supporters were denied public offices, they went to work in charities and its affiliated institutions, such as hospitals, Islamic University and schools. The Fund(s) used in these institutions was channeled from the Gulf countries and rich Arabs. Hamas charities were well organized, structured and competent, yet their fiscal system was an unfathomable province. No one identified from whom they have got the money exactly, and how they spent it. They distributed the food-packages and humanitarian assistance, including clothes and schools’ material, basic food, and sometime cash, to their supporters and members, at most. I do think there was nothing wrong with that, as the donors knew from the beginning that they are supporting Hamas, and their money would go for Hamas only. The donors were not interested in knowing where their money goes, and maybe even preferred, it would go to Hamas military wing. This all changed after 2008 as Hamas became the governing power in the Gaza Strip, and their charities were shut down in the West Bank.

Mohammed El Halabi

When international organizations such as World Vision started to function in Gaza, they, for sure, were looking for qualified employees who have expertise or worked at charity organizations before. While there is much expertise in the field, few had deep and elevated mastery and experience in faith-based and charity organizations in the Gaza strip. In principles, World Vision is a faith-based charity organization that works in dozens of countries. It collects donations from churches of USA, Australia and UK and other countries too. On the other side, Hamas has led effective and widely known faith-based charities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In reality, Hamas was set up as a charity organization, and got its working permission from the Israeli government in 1987.

Not only World Vision, but also possibly other organizations have employed Hamas supporters, which is normal and according to the meritocracy’s routines and ethics of international charities. No single organization can work as an intelligence agency when they hire their employees. They are not a security organization. They are a charity. They are an NGO. And Hamas members and supporters are a part of the Palestinian people. They cannot be excluded at any cost. Exclusion means more radicals and harm to the society, and perhaps increased violence.

Of course, I have to doubt that ElHalabi had been funneling money to the military wing of Hamas. It is considerably unlikely. Nevertheless, he may, unknowingly or deliberately, diverted funds to local organizations or communities that are affiliated with Hamas. His actions were according to the standards and procedures of WV. From a policy perspective, this is legitimate and not wrong, as Hamas’s local charities are registered and active in the Gaza Strip. It undeniably means that funds and programs that intended to be public for all people had become selective and mean-tested, which generate more inequality among people, subjecting them to more suffering.

To sum up, three main points need to be considered; first, all should stand firm against any imposition of charities or exploiting humanitarian aid that comes to the Palestinians in Gaza. It should be condemned and should be investigated fittingly if it (this) is true (what?). Second and more importantly is the reason, why Gaza has become absolutely dependent on international humanitarian aid. Israel besieges Gaza since a decade not allowing imports or exports and bans people movement. Ending the military rule is the only way, to effectively, eradicate radicalization, including Hamas, and opening doors of hope for, not only the Palestinians, but also the Israelis. Third, it seems that the Israeli government has decided to crack down the humanitarian organizations that work in Gaza, restricting their work or even, intervening in their policies, which is hazardous and will affect the lives of the two millions people living in Gaza.

Mohammed El Halabi, World Vision’s Area Development Programme Manager in Gaza, meets with children displaced by the violence during the brief ceasefire. (Credit: Mohammad Awed/World Vision International)