Hamas Leaders Get Rich, While Many Gazans Are Destitute

Image: Hamas Leaders Get Rich, While Many Gazans Are Destitute Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh, left, and Khaled Meshaal

Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 10:34 PM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Senior Hamas leaders and their associates have grown rich smuggling arms and other material into the Gaza Strip, while the majority of the 1.8 million Palestinians living there subsist on incomes among the poorest in the Arab world.

Only Sudan and Yemen are more impoverished than Gaza, where people exist on an average income of $1,000 per year, according to a World Bank study in November.
While the majority of Palestinians hunker down in dilapidated housing hiding from Israeli air strikes, top leaders of Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for eight years, take refuge in multimillion-dollar seaside villas.

Ynet News reported that one Hamas millionaire is Ismail Haniyeh, whose income soared after he became prime minister in Gaza following the group’s surprise election victory in 2006. Four years later, the Egyptian magazine Rose al-Youssef reported that he paid $4 million for a sprawling parcel of land in a luxury beachfront area of Gaza City.

Haniyeh's wealth  is said to have come from the tunnel industry, in which he and other senior Hamas operatives would charge a 20 percent tax on weapons and other items smuggled from Egypt into Gaza.

After the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak three years ago and the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization of Hamas, leaders of the Palestinian terror group delighted in showing off their multimillion-dollar-plus luxury villas in Gaza. A wealthy senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt reportedly transferred millions of dollars in cash to senior Hamas figures in Gaza. Top Hamas officials established business partnerships with Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt.

But profiteers can run into trouble if they are seen as flaunting their wealth too blatantly. A Hamas founder and spokesman named Ayman Taha was said to have insisted that his associates receive their cut of the profits in cash. Three years ago, he paid $700,000 for a luxury villa in central Gaza. But Taha’s fortunes changed and in February Hamas said he had been  arrested for financial irregularities.

Many Egyptians have come to despise Hamas in recent years because they perceive the group to be profiting at their expense. Tunnels in Rafah, a town located on the border between Egypt and Gaza, were part of a fuel-smuggling industry based in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The fuel, subsidized by the Egyptian government, entered Gaza at a relatively low price but was sold for eight times more, with the biggest windfalls going to Hamas members, according to Ynet News. This created substantial resentment in Egypt, where fuel shortages were a continuing problem.

Gaza leaders were apparently not the only Hamas bosses who became millionaires.  According to a Jordanian website, longtime Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal had control of $2.6 billion in Hamas assets accumulated over the years through donations and investments, including  real-estate projects in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Syria and other countries. Much of the money was reportedly deposited in banks in Qatar and Egypt. 

Meshaal and Hamas were damaged financially as a result of their expulsion from Syria during the early stages of the civil war there. The group’s  assets in Syria reportedly totaled well more than $500 million.  Meshaal, who claims to have lost $12 million in cash that he had stored in a safe in his Damascus office, may have taken some of the assets with him when he left Syria. That cannot be verified, because Hamas has not opened its financial records to outsiders.

There is some evidence that many Gaza residents have turned against Hamas and its goal of destroying Israel. A Palestinian pollster’s survey of 450 Gazans last month found that even as Hamas began firing rockets at Israel, 70 percent wanted to maintain a cease-fire  and 57 percent wanted a Palestinian unity government to renounce violence against Israel.

Haniyeh and Meshaal combined won a total of 15 percent support in Gaza, while a solid majority backed either Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or other officials in his Fatah organization.

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