By Khaled Abu Toameh
Recently, the Iran-backed Palestinian terror group Hamas has again been encouraging Palestinians living under its rule in the Gaza Strip to march toward the border with Israel and attack Israelis. Similar protests in 2018, also encouraged and sponsored by Hamas, resulted in the death or injury of hundreds of Palestinians.
Those anti-Israel protests lasted for a year and ended without any noticeable achievements for Hamas. Israel agreed to ease some restrictions on the Gaza Strip, such as expanding the fishing zone three miles and allowing more raw material to be imported for civilian factories.
The latest attacks on Israelis by Hamas, however, appear to be less linked to Israel, which has taken a series of measures over the past two years to boost the economy and improve the living conditions of the Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Those measures include issuing work permits in Israel for more than 17,000 Palestinians.
Hamas is now sending Palestinians to get killed or injured on the border with Israel because it is apparently upset with its friends in Qatar, the Gulf state that has long been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood organization of which Hamas is an offshoot. Hamas is evidently taken aback because Qatar has reduced the monthly financial grant it has been providing to the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip over the past five years.
Here is what is happening. An Arab country (Qatar) decides that it wants to channel fewer funds to a Palestinian terrorist group (Hamas). Hamas, instead of directing its grievances toward Qatar, responds by sending young Palestinian men to throw explosive devices, firebombs and stones at Israeli soldiers along the border with the Gaza Strip. Apparently, Hamas is hoping that the “Zionist enemy” (Israel) will come to its rescue by putting pressure on Qatar not to cut the financial grant. With many of its leaders sitting in Doha, Hamas must be rather fearful about coming out in public against Qatar.
Salama Marouf, director of the Hamas-controlled Media Office, confirmed that the Qataris have reduced the financial grant by a few million dollars. He said that in addition to Qatar’s reduction of the grant, the financial deficit in Hamas’s budget is also attributed to a decline in revenues that has exacerbated the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Although Qatar has not offered any explanation regarding its decision to reduce the grant, a source close to Hamas told the BBC that the move was connected to the Qataris’ dissatisfaction with Hamas’s recent effort to restore relations with President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. Shortly after the eruption of the civil war in Syria in 2011, the Syrian authorities expelled Hamas leaders and closed their offices in Damascus for failing to side with the Assad regime against the rebel groups.
Relations between Qatar and Syria have been strained since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. Then, Qatar backed rebel groups aiming to overthrow the Assad regime. According to reports, Qatar allegedly provided weapons, ammunition and financial support to rebel groups, such as the Free Syrian Army and Army of Conquest.
Hamas and other terror groups have attempted to portray the renewed protests near the border with Israel as a response to Israeli “provocations,” specifically visits by Jews to the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. However, the visits, which have been taking place for several years, have not affected Muslims’ access to the holy site.
A Hamas security official in the Gaza Strip admitted that the attacks on Israeli soldiers along the border are due to differences between Hamas and Qatar regarding the Qatari grant. The official said that civil servants, including senior Hamas officials, have not received full salaries because of the reduction in the grant. Hamas, in other words, is admitting that the renewed violence is not linked to Jerusalem or the Temple Mount, but to its leaders’ desire to obtain more funds from Qatar.
Commenting on the renewed attacks on Israeli soldiers along the border, former Palestinian Authority peace negotiator and cabinet minister Hassan Asfour lashed out at Hamas for turning the protests into a “poisoned weapon” against the people of the Gaza Strip. Asfour accused Hamas and its leaders, “who are sitting in hotels in Doha,” of exploiting the issue of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque to send young men to clash with the Israeli army.
While Hamas leaders are evidently afraid to criticize Qatar, Hamas-affiliated journalist Rajab al-Madhoun accused Qatar of joining up with Israel to maintain the relative calm that has prevailed in the Gaza Strip over the past two years. Al-Madhoun quoted unnamed Hamas sources as saying that Qatar, at the behest of Israel, was withholding the funds to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to exert pressure on them to refrain from carrying out terror attacks against Israel, especially during the Jewish holidays in September and October.
The real blackmail, however, is coming from Hamas. First, Hamas is implying that if it doesn’t get the funds, it will accuse the Qataris of collaboration with Israel, harming the Gulf state’s image in the Arab and Islamic countries. Second, Hamas is openly stating that it will continue to send Palestinians to attack Israeli soldiers near the border if the Qataris do not resume the financial aid.
The controversy surrounding the financial grant is yet another example of how Palestinian leaders (in this instance Hamas) regularly sacrifice their young people for money. The leaders of Hamas, most of whom lead comfortable lives in Qatar, Turkey and Lebanon, appear to care little about Palestinians getting killed or injured while attacking Israeli troops.
What they do appear to care about is how to enrich themselves and their families and continue the jihad (holy war) to destroy Israel. They also appear not to care if thousands of Palestinian workers are unable to enter Israel every day for work because of the violence along the border.
Will the international community call out the Hamas leaders sending young men to their deaths for the sake of money? Based on experience: not likely. Far more likely is that we will hear loud and bitter condemnations of Israel for “opening fire” at Palestinian protesters along the border with the Gaza Strip.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award winning Arab and Palestinian Affairs journalist with the Jerusalem Post. He is Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.