Hamas has invested up to $70 million in social welfare
programs in the Gaza Strip over the last two years.
A report by the Washington Institute said Hamas invested between $60 and
$70 million in 2002 and 2003 for the organization's educational and welfare
network. The investment was part of Hamas's effort to gain control over
Palestinian Authority-controlled areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The report said that despite U.S. pressure on Arab allies in the Middle
East Hamas has succeeded in maintaining its financial independence. The
Islamic group has ensured operations of its huge welfare network through a
web of charities throughout the world.
"Hamas is reshaping Palestinian society through the practice of dawa [a
call to Islam], used to recruit and mobilize Palestinians," the report said.
"In Gaza, dawa has taken the form of a network of social welfare
institutions established by Hamas. This network has contributed to Hamas's
reputation among many Palestinians as a movement free of corruption,
primarily concerned with their welfare."
The report was authored by Col. Zohar Palti, the former head of
counter-terrorism at military intelligence. Palti, who has often briefed
U.S. and other militaries, has been regarded as the leading intelligence
expert on Palestinian insurgency groups as well as Hizbullah.
[On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority officials said PA Chairman Yasser
Arafat has agreed to an international demand that Palestinian security
forces be paid directly rather than through their commanders. For more than
six months, Arafat had refused to agree to the new formula, meant to
increase PA financial accountability.]
The report said Hamas's investment includes funding for its more than
100 educational institutions in the Gaza Strip. They range from early
childhood centers to universities, including the Islamic University. The
network also contains institutions that purchase school supplies for
Palestinian children and an annual summer camp attended by thousands.
Hamas has also invested in dozens of medical clinics throughout the Gaza
Strip, the report said. The network includes
institutions that offer free advanced medical equipment and medicine to
"Some of the same Hamas-affiliated charity organizations that donate
millions of dollars to the sick and poor also support the families of
suicide bombers," the report said. "Moreover, mosques can provide a
convenient venue for incitement against Israel and recruitment into Hamas."
The report said half of the 24 mosques in the Jabaliya refugee camp are
affiliated with Hamas. The mosques serve as venues for recruitment for
suicide operations against Israel.
The main challenge to Hamas, the report said, is the Palestinian
Authority security force directed by chairman Yasser Arafat. The report
said the PA has about 25,000 armed personnel in Gaza Strip alone.
But the report said the PA has failed to replace Hamas's social welfare
programs. The report said Hamas will continue to grow unless the PA responds
with a large-scale education, health and welfare program found in most
"It is uncertain whether the creation of an alternative Palestinian
social welfare infrastructure would reduce the level
of terrorism in the near term," the report said. "In the long term, however,
it would undoubtedly benefit Palestinian society and end the prospect of the
fundamentalist and anti-democratic Hamas supplanting the PA."