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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Near East Report: Hamas’ Abuse of Humanitarian Aid Hurts Ordinary Gazans

Explosive materials discovered inside crates of medical supplies at the Kerem Shalom Crossing into the Gaza Strip. (Israeli Defense Ministry)

The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is tragic, and the Strip’s roughly 1.8 million residents suffer severely from their own leaders’ decisions. Sadly Hamas—which prioritizes destroying Israel over providing basic needs to Palestinians—has diverted international assistance from the people of Gaza to build terror tunnels and rocket factories. This Iranian-backed terrorist organization, together with groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are holding Gaza’s Palestinians hostage—using them as human shields and impeding economic development in the Strip. This problem is exacerbated because Hamas hijacks international assistance and goodwill at the expense of its own people.

Hamas is abusing assistance to Gazans to promote its terrorist ambitions. While not new, this diversion of humanitarian aid from Israel and other nations harms ordinary Palestinians by depriving them of this much-needed support and by discouraging future assistance. The United States and our allies must condemn Hamas’ outrageous practice and continue identifying additional means to deliver aid directly to needy individuals.

On July 3, Israeli security services announced that they caught a Hamas operative using an Israeli humanitarian medical permit to form a terror cell in the West Bank, only one of many Hamas operatives apprehended doing so. The suspect—Fadi Abu al-Sabah—is an explosives expert and the former head of Hamas in Hebron. Previously, he had been imprisoned (prior to a 2011 release) for recruiting suicide bombers. During al-Sabah’s arrest, Israeli officials discovered hidden instructions to assemble and operate a bombmaking facility in the West Bank. This incident is one of many illustrating Hamas’ strategy of using humanitarian permits provided to Gazans to promote terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Another major threat to Israel is Hamas’ terror tunnels. For years, Hamas has been diverting building materials to terrorist tunnel construction. On July 8, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uncovered a new cross-border tunnel reaching into Israel from Gaza, with the intention of kidnapping and attacking Israelis. This terror tunnel was the 18th destroyed by Israel since 2015. Despite knowledge of Hamas’ diversion and Hamas’ intention to attack Israeli civilians, Israel continues to allow the delivery of thousands of truckloads of cement and other construction materials into Gaza each month to address Gazan civilian needs.

Israel also transfers fuel into Gaza as a part of its long-standing humanitarian assistance in the Strip. This past month, Israel sent 650,000 liters into Gaza. Despite civilian electricity shortages, Hamas continues to steal much of the fuel that would enable electricity production for schools and hospitals. According to reports, Hamas has diverted for terrorist use nearly half of the 30 million liters of diesel fuel intended for Gaza’s power station brought into the Strip since the beginning of the year.

Hamas also conceals weapons caches in civilian trucks and other vehicles. In 2017 alone, Israeli forces prevented nearly 1,300 attempted weapons shipments into Gaza. Most of these arms caches were found in containers labelled as humanitarian goods, such as medical supplies.

In the last eight months alone, Israel has prevented repeated weapons shipments intended for terrorist attacks against Israelis:

  • On June 7, the IDF seized a Gazan vessel carrying a shipment of fiberglass, one of the main components used to manufacture Hamas rockets.

  • On May 16, the IDF seized a shipment of 172 packages containing “dual-use” items marked for both civilian and military use. The shipment included military equipment including drones, rifle scopes, gun holsters, and firearm flashlights; underwater equipment including scuba gear and diving lights; and communications technology including hidden cameras and field phones.

  • Between November 2018 and May 2019, the Israeli Air Force intercepted several shipments of Iranian weapons en route to Gaza through the Sinai.

  • On Feb. 18, 2018, the IDF seized a shipment of medical supplies containing explosive materials used in Hamas’ long-range rockets.

  • On Nov. 22, 2017, the IDF discovered a routine shipment containing hidden explosive materials.

Despite Hamas’ continued aggression and abuse of Israel’s humanitarian gestures, Israel and other international actors remain committed to improving the lives of ordinary Gazans. Israel currently operates three freshwater pipelines into Gaza, bringing much-needed clean water to the residents of the territory. Additionally, both Israel and international actors recently announced plans to construct new freshwater pipelines, sewage systems, and industrial zones. Instead of working to improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas continues to incite violence against Israelis, risking a new war which could further damage the infrastructure in the enclave.

In its continued abuse of aid provided by Israel and the international community, Hamas exacerbates the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. The terrorist group continues to utilize entrance permits into Israel and necessary humanitarian resources for terror. This widespread abuse by Hamas prevents Palestinians from fully utilizing Gazan infrastructure to conduct trade, halts the distribution of millions of dollars for humanitarian work, and prolongs civilian suffering. Nevertheless, Israel and other international actors remain dedicated to working to provided needed assistance to Gaza, despite the consistent threat from Hamas and its affiliates. The United States should continue to support Israel’s humanitarian efforts and press to create channels that can ensure the delivery of needed aid to the people of Gaza.

Type: Near-East-Report Near East Report NearEastReport NERSummer2019