The media in Israel, but more so in neighboring Egypt, is full of condemnations of Hamas leaders, who live in luxury hotels at the expense of the Qatar oil sheiks, or in mansions with the latest fitness equipment, while instructing the downtrodden civilians in the Gaza Strip to become martyrs in service of the Palestinian cause.
Middle East expert Col. (res.) Dr. Moshe Elad spoke to Globes this week about the estimated wealth of those Hamas leaders, who are beginning to be known popularly as the Arab world’s new tycoons.
Elad spent 30 years in the IDF, as Governor of Jenin district, Bethlehem district , Tyre district (in South Lebanon), and as Head of Security coordination with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, during the implementation of the “Oslo Accord” (’95-’98). Since his retirement, Elad has been teaching today at Western Galilee College, and at Galil – the International Management Institute.
“The vast majority of Hamas founders and leaders were refugees or second generation refugees, ” said Elad. “They had no money at all. When they and Hamas were just starting out, the organization (not in its own name) was nurtured by the Israeli military government, which fostered the Islamic associations working in the Gaza Strip as a counterweight to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Their phenomenal wealth started accumulating when they decided to disassociate themselves from Israel and search for alternative financing sources.”
The money, says Elad, came from wills of the deceased, charity funds, and contributions from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and these days Qatar.
To remind you, the strongly pro-Hamas Al Jazeera Media Network is also funded by the ruling family of Qatar, the House of Thani.
With US based charities starting to funnel funds to Hamas, in the early 1990s, Hamas leaders began to acquire big money. “One of those fundraisers was Dr. Musa Abu Marzook, the number 2 man in Hamas, ” says Elad. “He began a fundraising campaign in the US among wealthy Muslims, while at the same time founding several banking enterprises. He himself became a conglomerate of 10 financial enterprises giving loans and making financial investments. He’s an amazing financier.”
The US arrested Marzook in 1995, on charges of supporting terrorism. After he spent two years in jail, he was expelled without a trial. And he got to keep the money.
“When he was expelled from the US in 1997, he was already worth several million dollars, ” Elad says. “Somehow he evaded the clutches of the US Internal Revenue Service and was not charged with financing terrorism. People in the know say he probably became connected to the administration and cooperated with it. There is no proof, but it’s hard to think of any other reason why he escaped punishment for such serious offenses. In 2001, in the investigation of the September 11 events, it turned out that he had extensive financial connections with Al Qaeda, including the transfer of funds to the 21 Al Qaeda operatives accused of the attacks.”
Today, Marzook is considered one of Hamas’ wealthiest billionaires. “Arab sources estimate his wealth at $2-3 billion, ” Elad says.
Another Hamas leader-turned-tycoon is Khaled Mashaal. “Estimates around the world are that Mashaal is currently worth $2.6 billion, but the numbers mentioned by the Arab commentators are much higher, varying from $2-5 billion invested in Egyptian and Persian Gulf banks, and some in real estate projects in the Persian Gulf countries, ” Elad notes.
Another tycoon terrorist is Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. “He is a scion of a family from the Al-Shati refugee camp, and his capital is estimated at $4 million, ” Elad says. “He registered most of his assets in the Gaza Strip in the name of his son-in-law, Nabil, and in the name of a dozen of his sons and daughters and a few less well known Hamas leaders. They all have homes in good neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip, where the value of every home is at least $1 million.”
The Arshaq Al-Awsad newspaper, one of the most prestigious in the Arab world, recently reported that at least 600 millionaires were living in the Gaza Strip. Much of that money came from the smuggling operations, through hundreds of tunnels that used to lead into Gaza from Egypt.
“Senior Hamas leaders charged a 25% tax and $2, 000 on every disassembled vehicle coming through the tunnels, ” said Elad. “From June 2007 until 2010, $800 million in cash was transferred in tunnel deals (according to information from Hamas money traders). Hamas also taxes Gaza merchants on everything traded, from boxes of vegetables to luxury cars, and the leaders scoop the money into their pockets.”
Another source of wealth for Hamas leaders was land acquisition. “They took over land mainly near the sea in good areas, such as the former Gush Katif, then sold it. In effect, they are the cat guarding the cream – the land – so they were able to take over land and loot it for themselves, ” Elad explains.
“This is corruption at the highest level, Elad concludes. “What has united the Palestinian leaders all throughout the years is the saying, ‘We have to get rich quick.’ This is how the regime sees it. Their leaders have no shame. Shortly after they got power, they took control of fuel, communications, and any other profitable sectors in the country. There are get-rich-quick schemes and corruption in Western society, too, but there it’s done sophisticatedly with envelopes of money and complex structures of bribery and the like. Among the Palestinians, they tell you straight out, ‘I want to get rich.'”