Under the pretext of “fighting terrorism”, the Israeli army has begun a wide campaign of assaulting charities associated with E’tilaf el Khair, a coalition of Islamic charitable organizations headed by Islamic scholar Dr. Yousef Al-Qardawi. Even though the campaign was begun in February of this year, it was not until five days ago, when the top officials in the Israeli Government were to convene a special security meeting giving the army the legal protections to carry out an all-out war against Islamic charitable societies and civil institutions. Over the past five days, the Israeli army raided charity associations, clinics, schools, orphanages, malls, businesses, and even soup kitchens as it broadened its campaign against Islamic charities and institutions.. The following is a report published in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz on Tuesday July 8, 2008:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently signed an order declaring 36 international charities illegal in Israel , on the grounds that they funnel money to Hamas.
By declaring the organizations illegal, the order opens the way for criminal proceedings or civil suits against banks that provide them with certain types of financial services. That may deter banks from doing so, which would make it harder for the charities to send Hamas money.
Defense officials expressed satisfaction with Barak's decision, which was based on information supplied by the Shin Bet Security Service, calling this Israel's most extensive effort to date to target Hamas' overseas charitable funding sources.
Also yesterday, the Israel Defense Forces raided the offices of several Islamic charities in Nablus , confiscating documents and computers and issuing closure orders to the organizations. The raid was part of a new IDF effort to target Hamas' local funding sources, as reported in yesterday's Haaretz. This effort, which began a few months ago, previously focused on Islamic charities in Hebron , Qalqilyah and Ramallah.
According to defense establishment data, Hamas received $120 million in overseas funding in 2007, much of it from the overseas network of charities targeted by Barak's new order. Some of this money was used to fund terror attacks against Israel.
The information obtained by the Shin Bet indicates that in addition to funding Hamas itself, these charities have begun raising money to aid the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli security sources say Hamas receives funding from dozens of charities worldwide. Most are located in the Gulf states or Europe, but the network also includes organizations in Canada , South Africa and the United States . The charities outlawed by Barak's latest order include organizations in South Africa , Austria and Jordan.
The sources said all these charities are loosely linked in a coalition headed by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a leading Muslim Brotherhood activist who currently resides in Qatar. Qaradawi has met several times with the Damascus-based head of Hamas' political wing, Khaled Meshal, and according to the Shin Bet, he has issued religious rulings that authorize suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has recently outlawed 36 international non-governmental bodies, charging them with fundraising for Hamas.
Security sources on Monday said that the organizations support and aid Hamas. The sources added that Barak's move integrated and extended current Israeli policy against sponsors of terrorism.
Barak's order seeks to ban a large number of bodies operating abroad to finance Hamas activities in the Palestinian territories.
Defense establishment data has revealed that in 2007, approximately $120 million were transferred to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The defense establishment added that the money was intended to finance the activities of terrorist organizations in these areas.
The money was said to have originated from a number of countries, including Jordan , Iran , Syria , Lebanon , Britain , Canada , the United States , Egypt and the Gulf States .
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces shut down three facilities of a Hamas-affiliated charity and a medical center in the West Bank town of Nablus , Palestinian witnesses said Monday.
Witnesses said troops confiscated computers, documents, cash and furniture.
The soldiers also raided offices of the Palestinian Authority's ministry of religious affairs. The IDF had no immediate comment on the Palestinian reports.
The troops shut down a girls school, a sports club and the headquarters of the Solidarity charity. Witnesses said the medical center bears the same name as the charity, but is run by a different charitable organization that once was controlled by Hamas.
The IDF had been expected to step up its campaign against Hamas' civilian infrastructure in the West Bank , including the closure of a large number of Hamas-affiliated charities, confiscation of their property, and searches of computers and documents that detail their activity.
The IDF has been carrying out similar raids in the Hebron , Qalqilyah and Ramallah areas since the beginning of the year, but the campaign will now be expanded to additional parts of the West Bank, in the wake of approval from Israel 's legal authorities.
After receiving permission to seize property that provides Hamas-affiliated associations with income, even if they are not directly linked to terrorism, the IDF has shut down a mall in Hebron , confiscated buses and prohibited the opening of a new school in Hebron due to ties with Hamas-linked Islamic associations. Offices and storehouses have also been shut down.
The IDF argues that closing Hamas-affiliated institutions cuts off a crucial source of funding earmarked for terror activities. The move is also aimed at making it difficult for Hamas to increase its influence in the West Bank , in a bid to stem Hamas' rising popularity and keep it from wresting control from the Palestinian Authority.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin have approved the plan to target Hamas' civilian infrastructure.
Over the last few years, Hamas has built an "organizational system that, if necessary, could serve as the basis for a state," a senior IDF official told Haaretz. "It's simply a 'state of associations.' They accumulate a lot of popular support and rely on an enormous infusion of funds from abroad, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, from bodies in Saudi Arabia , the Gulf states and Muslim communities in Europe, the United States and South America ."
A senior IDF officer said the IDF, which is curbing Hamas' military capability and preventing it from challenging the Palestinian Authority more directly, is the primary obstacle to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank .
"They have knowledge, funds and skilled people, much more so than Fatah," the officer said. "They won the elections in many towns and local authorities, and they are gradually gaining control of more education, health, welfare and religious institutions."
But the officer said the IDF was fighting what he called a "rearguard battle."
"We're talking about strengthening the moderate elements ¬ that is, the Palestinian Authority ¬ but actually the PA has little control over the area. Hamas has taken over all the associations ¬ not just blatantly Islamic bodies, but also those that used to be under PA control. The Palestinian public prefers Hamas, because they are less corrupt and more efficient."
But although the IDF is targeting Hamas-affiliated institutions, the IDF officer notes that "we have not yet declared war on Hamas." He said such a move would need to be undertaken by the state as a whole, rather than "local work" carried out by the IDF and Shin Bet.
Hamas-affiliated institutions that were targeted so far include schools, health centers, charities, and even soup kitchens and orphanages. Dozens of associations were shut down and the food confiscated.
Several dozen indictments have been issued so far, and some operatives have been convicted and sentenced to jail terms. Police have also begun investigating suspected money-laundering and the transfer of terror funds. Unlike in the past, when seized intelligence information was left in storage for years because there weren't enough experts to translate and analyze it, this time a team of translators was set up to deal with the seized material.
"This campaign is what most disturbs Hamas in the West Bank ," said a senior official. "But this is only the beginning of the effort, and we need more activities and more resources. When it comes to these matters, you can't compare the efficiency of the security forces to the level of effectiveness developed by the army and the Shin Bet over the last few years, in everything related to stopping the terror of suicide bombers from the West Bank ."