Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad

Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad

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The first complete, fully documented portrait of Hamas--its charitable work and its connections to terror

How does a group that operates terror cells and espouses violence become a ruling political party? How is the world to understand

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300122589
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 03/22/2007
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

This book was written while Matthew Levitt was a senior fellow and director of terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of the Treasury or the United States Government.

Matthew Levitt is Senior Fellow and Director of the Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence and Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad


FOREWORD BY AMBASSADOR DENNIS ROSS, U.S. ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST, 1988-2000.....................ix INTRODUCTION Hamas' Muddied Waters..............................................................1 CHAPTER 1 Origins of the Hamas Dawa.............................................................8 CHAPTER 2 Terror and the Hamas Political Leadership.............................................33 CHAPTER 3 Economic Jihad: How Hamas Finances Terror.............................................52 CHAPTER 4 The Logistics of Terror: Tactical Uses of the Dawa....................................80 CHAPTER 5 Teaching Terror: How the Dawa Radicalizes Palestinian Society.........................107 CHAPTER 6 Foreign Funding of Hamas..............................................................143 CHAPTER 7 State Support for Hamas...............................................................171 CHAPTER 8 Will Hamas Target the West?...........................................................203 CHAPTER 9 Displacing the Hamas Dawa.............................................................229 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS..................................................................................251NOTES............................................................................................253 INDEX............................................................................................315


hamas' muddied waters

How does Hamas, a militant Islamist group in a relatively secular society fatigued by conflict, attract and retain its base of operatives and supporters? How does it radicalize, recruit, and dispatch Palestinian suicide bombers and still woo Palestinian voters to vote it into power as the ruling political party? While it may be the case that Hamas' victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 was in large part a protest vote against the septuagenarian kleptocrats of Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, the vote undeniably demonstrated that under the right conditions a majority of Palestinians was willing to accept and support Hamas. But is this support a result of the group's bold suicide bombings targeting Israelis, of its campaign to Islamize Palestinian society, of its reputation for honesty in a sea of political corruption, of its grassroots social activism, or of some or all of the above? How are the political, charitable, and terrorist activities of Hamas to be understood and reconciled? Are these disparate activities carried out by separate and unconnected wings of a larger movement, or is Hamas a unitary organization that sees good works and murder as equally legitimate means to achieve its non-negotiable ends?

Hamas leaders, for their part, are keen to stress that Hamas is "one body." The day before Hamas' electoral victory, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar vowed that the group's military wing would never be disbanded. Miriam Farhat, a Hamas candidate who won a seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council, stressed that the group's participation in politics would not moderate its stance on continued terror attacks: "Those who say we have changed our methods, we will never change." Farhat entered the electoral race with a measure of name recognition as the mother who appeared on her son's martyrdom video blessing his decision to participate in a Hamas suicide attack. Indeed, Hamas relies on its political and social activists and organizations to build grassroots support for the movement, to spot and recruit future operatives, to provide day jobs and cover to current operatives, and to serve as the logistical and financial support network for the group's terror cells. Often the Hamas operatives running the group's political and charitable offices are closely tied to the group's terror cells, or are themselves current or former terror-cell members. Muddying the waters between its political activism, good works, and terrorist attacks, Hamas is able to use its overt political and charitable organizations as a financial and logistical support network for its terrorist operations.

Some of the ways these institutions support Hamas terrorism are by glorifying acts of violence, Islamizing Palestinian society, and providing a social welfare safety net for Hamas activists and their families. As an Arab commentator noted in the online edition of the Egyptian weekly al-Ahram, "In Palestine, when young men and women who carry out suicide attacks are known to the entire public [sic]. Their pictures adorn homes, their stories are told, and their families get financial help." In the Palestinian context, the commentator continued, "a young man or woman undergoes a process of psychological preparation, a process captured on film which [is] later released to the public. The bomber is promised paradise in the afterlife and glory in this one. Only God knows what goes on in paradise, but in the life the bomber's achievement is recorded and glorified." The financial assistance provided to martyrs' families also comes through Hamas dawa organizations under the banner of humanitarian aid.

Little attention, however, is paid to the support Hamas terrorists receive through a network of political leaders and charitable organizations one, two, or several steps removed from terrorist attacks and operating under the guise of legitimate political, humanitarian, social, and communal activities. Understandably, analysts and pundits commenting on Hamas focus either on the group's surprise electoral victory in January 2006 or on its indiscriminate suicide bombings and other attacks. But what these commentators miss by overlooking this network of political and charitable support is the how and why behind Hamas' dramatic electoral and operational success.


As a result of the heightened focus on exposing terrorist networks in the post-9/11 global environment, investigators have revealed how terrorist groups systematically conceal their activities behind charitable, social, and political fronts. Indeed, many of these fronts have seen their officials arrested, their assets seized, and their offices shut down by authorities. Still, Hamas benefits from an ostensible distinction drawn by some analysts between its "military" and "political" or "social" wings. Analysts who make such a distinction regularly dwell on the good works of Hamas, rarely looking at the connections between these activities and the attacks on civilians and the suicide bombings that are the organization's trademark. Because of the notion that Hamas has independent "wings," its political and charitable fronts are allowed to operate openly in many Western and Middle Eastern capitals. In these cities, Islamic social welfare groups tied to Hamas are often tolerated when their logistical and financial support for Hamas is conducted under the rubric of charitable or humanitarian assistance.

While convenient for Hamas and its supporters, this distinction is contradicted by the consistent if scattered findings of investigators, journalists, and analysts. A review of the evidence regarding the integration of Hamas' political activism, social services, and terrorism demonstrates the centrality of the group's overt activities to the organization's ability to recruit, indoctrinate, train, fund, and dispatch suicide bombers to attack civilian targets.

The social welfare organizations of Hamas answer to the same political leaders who play hands-on roles in Hamas terrorist attacks. In some cases, the mere existence of these institutions is invoked to classify Hamas as a social welfare rather than a terrorist organization. To debunk these specious assumptions, it is necessary to fully expose what Hamas calls the dawa (its social welfare and proselytization network). This is sometimes difficult because, as one U.S. official explained, "Hamas is loosely structured, with some elements working clandestinely and others working openly through mosques and social service institutions to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda."

Nevertheless, there is ample evidence of the role Hamas social institutions and political leaders play in the terror activities directed and authorized by Hamas leaders and commanders. Consider, for example, the case of the Hamas suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya on Passover Eve, March 27, 2002.


Holocaust survivor Clara Rosenberger wanted to feel safe after a shooting attack in Netanya a few weeks earlier, so she decided to celebrate the Passover Seder in a communal setting at the Park Hotel. It was a decision she and 154 other wounded victims would live to regret; 29 less fortunate victims died when Hamas suicide bomber Abdel Aziz Basset Odeh, disguised as a woman to hide the explosives-laden vest strapped to his torso, entered the hotel dining hall and detonated the bomb sewn into his clothes in the midst of some 250-mostly elderly-people.

The attack, perpetrated on a major Jewish holiday and targeting elderly civilians, was the most devastating one since the outbreak of the Intifada in September 2000. Despite early setbacks like the capture or killing of two bomb makers and the loss of one of two planned suicide bombers to the common cold, the Nablus-Tulkarm cell responsible for the attack successfully executed the most severe in a string of suicide bombings. Coming on the heels of this surge in Palestinian suicide bombings, the Park Hotel attack led to the reinvasion of much of the West Bank by Israeli forces in Operation Defensive Shield in March and April 2002. At the time of the attack Arab leaders were meeting in Beirut at an Arab League summit where Saudi officials proposed that Arab states agree to recognize Israel and establish normal relations in the event of a just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin told Palestinian television that the attack was a message rejecting the Arab League proposal, adding, "the Palestinians will not surrender."

Beyond its timing and deadly effect, the attack also stands out as a paradigmatic example of how Hamas political and social activists play hands-on roles in the group's terror attacks. The mastermind of the attack, Abbas al-Sayyid, served simultaneously as both the overt political Hamas leader in Tulkarm and the covert head of the Qassam Brigades terrorist cell there. Wearing these two hats, al-Sayyid gave public speeches and represented Hamas at public functions even as he secretly recruited military operatives and suicide bombers, received orders and funds from Hamas leaders in Lebanon and Syria, and personally planned and oversaw the cell's operations. Al-Sayyid openly acknowledged his contacts with Hamas leaders abroad, but maintained these were purely political in nature. In fact, al-Sayyid took active measures to hide the military nature of these contacts. For example, while funds for Hamas political activity-$10,000-$13,000 a month-were overtly transferred from Hamas leaders abroad into al-Sayyid's personal bank account, Hamas leaders in Syria transferred funds for Hamas terrorist operations to an account al-Sayyid opened under a fictitious American-sounding name. At the operational level, almost all the Hamas terrorists involved in the attack rose through the ranks of Hamas through the group's Islamic Bloc student movement. Al-Sayyid himself began drifting toward Hamas while in high school after hearing the lectures of Sheikh Jamal Mansour, a prominent Hamas political and dawa leader. Three of the operatives, including both intended suicide bombers, were members of a singing troupe called al-Ansar that lauded Hamas and its suicide bombers. Hamas dawa activists and institutions performed a variety of key functions like helping fugitive cell members hide from authorities. In one case female Hamas activists helped a cell member move around Tulkarm disguised as a woman. Covert operatives also used mosques tied to Hamas as meeting places and as dead-drops where messages and matériel-including the suicide bombing vests-were left and retrieved by parties unknown to one another. Long after the attack, the Hamas dawa would use the Park Hotel bombing as a means to radicalize and recruit future operatives by printing posters glorifying the attack and naming community events like a soccer tournament after Abdel Aziz Basset Odeh, the suicide bomber.


Inside the Palestinian territories, the battery of mosques, schools, orphanages, summer camps, and sports leagues sponsored by Hamas are integral parts of an overarching apparatus of terror. These Hamas entities engage in incitement and radicalize society, and undertake recruitment efforts to socialize even the youngest children to aspire to die as martyrs. They provide logistical and operational support for weapons smuggling, reconnaissance, and suicide bombings. They provide day jobs for field commanders and shelter fugitive operatives.

So why did Hamas surprise everyone, including itself, when it won 44.5 percent of the vote and became the majority party in the election of January 2006? Because Hamas also provides desperately needed social services to needy Palestinians and-until Hamas' stunning electoral victory-served as a de facto Islamist opposition to the secular Palestinian Authority (PA).

It is a painful reality that Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have endured a deplorably low standard of living for years. Palestinians suffer not only from living under occupation, but from the neglect of a corrupt Palestinian leadership as well. As a result, the economic, social, and health conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are truly miserable, leaving a void that groups like Hamas are all too eager to fill.

Palestinians suffer from extensive economic hardship. The West Bank and Gaza economies are in crisis, as evidenced by an unemployment rate as high as 33.5 percent in 2003. With a struggling economy and limited employment opportunities, it is not surprising that by 2004 approximately three-fourths of the Palestinian population living in the West Bank and Gaza survived below the poverty line of $2 per day. Health conditions in the West Bank, and especially Gaza, are very poor. As of 2003, 30 percent of Palestinian children under age five suffered from chronic malnutrition and 21 percent from acute malnutrition. In 2001, Palestinian Ministry of Health officials estimated that the infant mortality rate in Gaza was at 40 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Clearly, the vast majority of Palestinians are in desperate need of assistance, ranging from unemployment compensation to food, childcare, and access to proper medical care. Both the Israeli government and Palestinian leadership have consistently failed to provide these essential services to the Palestinian community. The situation is further complicated by Hamas' efforts to capitalize on this humanitarian crisis to further its own agenda.

Hamas has successfully blurred the lines between political and charitable activities and terrorism in large part because many governments, experts, and academics continue to subscribe to the shallow argument that terrorist groups maintain distinct social, political, and militant wings. In fact, Hamas political leaders are intimately involved in the group's terrorist activities, as are the group's charities and social welfare organizations. Hamas uses the mosques and hospitals it maintains as meeting places; buries caches of arms and explosives under its own kindergarten playgrounds; uses social-welfare operatives' cars and homes to ferry and hide fugitives; and transfers and launders funds for terrorist activity through local charity committees.

The Hamas dawa serves several distinct functions in support of the group's objectives and through which it facilitates Hamas attacks. In many cases, dawa operatives and organizations fund and participate in Hamas attacks. Far more frequently, however, the dawa functions as Hamas' logistical support network and provides day jobs to Hamas leaders and operatives. Hamas dawa charities and social organizations radicalize Palestinian society, and their activities are targeted to building grassroots support for Hamas at the expense of more moderate Palestinian groups.

Hamas political offices, dawa organizations, and Qassam Brigades terror cells are funded through a combination of means. These include charitable giving, via both genuine Islamist charities and Hamas organizations fronting as legitimate charities, by states like Iran and Saudi Arabia, by individual wealthy donors, through front companies and criminal enterprises, and in cooperative relationships with other terrorist groups. Shutting off the flow of funds from such sources to Hamas is absolutely critical, but must be accompanied by an international humanitarian aid effort-one with strict oversight components at both the donor and recipient ends of the aid spectrum-to fill the gap in desperately needed social services that shutting Hamas fronts would create. The international support necessary to crack down on Hamas, however, can be achieved only when governments, experts, and academics develop a fuller understanding of the role the Hamas dawa plays in the group's suicide and other terror attacks.


Excerpted from HAMAS by Matthew Levitt Copyright © 2006 by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Excerpted by permission.
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