Israeli officials estimate that Hamas is getting 8 to 12 million dollars a month through online donations, much of it through organizations posing as charitable entities to help civilians in Gaza.
This would amount to a multiple increase in online funding compared to what the group was receiving before its attack on Israel on October 7, according to several officials at Israel’s National Counterterrorism Financing Bureau. All spoke with Bloomberg on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of his work.
Washington also believes that Hamas receives significant funding from online donation sites and is determined to help Israel put an end to it, according to a senior US official.
All officials said tracking and quantifying Hamas fundraising is complicated because the organization has years of experience in circumventing financial sanctions and other tools designed to cut off or restrict its access to money.
“There is no doubt that there is a notable increase in legitimate and illegitimate charitable giving to the Palestinians as a result of the hostilities in Gaza,” said Matthew Levitt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who has spent years following to groups like Hamas, even while previously working at the US Treasury.
“An increase in donation interest gives more cover to Hamas,” Levitt said. “I have seen charities that were previously designated by the US re-emerge, some under new names, but there are also many new ones.”
Hamas officials publicly ask for cash gifts for their fight against Israel. “This is not just a humanitarian issue, despite its immense importance and Gaza’s need for any help it can get,” Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said in January. “This is financial jihad.”
Israel has stepped up efforts with its allies to counter Hamas fundraising. He is part of a working groupe 16 nations established since the war to track the group’s financial activities. Other members include Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Canada.
The Israeli government also constantly updates a list of crowdfunding campaigns it says are operated by Hamas, and urges countries to crack down on them. Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas. Iran backs the group that rules Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The US has announced more financial sanctions on Hamas since October 7 and pressured Gulf Arab states and other countries, including Turkey, to follow suit. All deny being centers for Hamas fundraising and say they have stepped up efforts to curb money laundering.
Before the war, once donations were made to charities, the money reached Hamas in different ways, including through aid convoys, Israeli officials say. Another process known as TBTF, or Trade-Based Terror Financing. This camouflages donations by asking local business owners in Gaza to transfer money to Hamas, which has ruled the territory since 2007. The businesses are then repaid in the form of goods, Israeli officials said.
Officials say their most challenging task is determining whether a charitable organization is legitimate or is covertly assisting Hamas. They describe this process as an endless game of cat and mouse.
The US and European Union have considered Hamas a terrorist group for years, making it illegal in those countries to provide the group with money. To get around restrictions in the US and EU, Hamas raises money through organizations in other countries that are not clearly linked to the group, Israeli and US officials said.
Israel seeks to destroy Hamas after its militants invaded southern Israeli communities from Gaza, killing around 1,200 people. More than 25,000 people have died since Israel responded by attacking Gaza, according to health officials in the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory. Much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble, inflaming global tensions and leading to an outpouring of support for the Palestinians, particularly from Arabs and Muslims.
The conflict continues to rage and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it could last many more months.
After Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel imposed severe sanctions on it. But over the past decade, it allowed more goods and money in with the belief that Hamas was deterred and increasingly focused on improving the local economy, rather than fighting Israel.
Beginning about five years ago, Hamas spending was financed by about $30 million a month from Qatar along with an allocation from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, all with Israeli approval. These supplemented scarce local tax revenues.
Israeli intelligence says that Iran is funding Hamas’ military efforts with more than $100 million a year, money that is added to income from Hamas investments in various countries and donations. Iran has never commented on the extent of its funding to Hamas, but it openly supports the group.
Hamas leaders have previously said that Iran provides money because of its stance against Israel.
Despite the increase in donations, Hamas cannot use all of them at the moment because the war has made it difficult to move goods and equipment into Gaza, according to Levitt. However, the group could save the funds for later even if it loses power in Gaza, said. “Hamas probably won’t be able to transfer all that money right away, nor do they have the ability to absorb it all right away,” Levitt said.
(c) 2024, Bloomberg