Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hamas got rich as Gaza was plunged into poverty

With multi-million-dollar land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza's rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggled with 38-percent poverty and 40-percent unemployment. Doron Peskin Published: 07.15.14, 16:12 / Israel Business While the fighting is only expected to worsen the distress of the residents of Gaza, the Strip's economic outlook for the Strip was never good. The unemployment rate in Gaza stood at approximately 40% before the latest conflict, with a similar proportion being classed as living under the poverty line. But while most of the Gaza population tries to deal with the difficulties of daily life, it seems that one sector at least has had few worries about their livelihoods - Hamas leaders and their associates. Multi-million-dollar deal Someone who has benefitted financially is the former Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh. Before 2006 and Hamas' shocking electoral win and subsequent dominance of the Palestinian government , 51-year-old Haniyeh was not considered a senior figure in Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But according to reports in the past few years, Haniyeh's new-found senior status has allowed him to become a millionaire. This is an unusual feat, given that he was born to a refugee family in the al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza. In 2010, Egyptian magazine Rose al-Yusuf reported that Haniyeh paid for $4 million for a 2,500msq parcel of land area in Rimal, a tony beachfront neighborhood of Gaza City. To avoid embarrassment, the land was registered in the name of the husband of Haniyeh's daughter. Since then, there have been reports that Haniyeh has purchased several homes in the Gaza Strip, registered in the names of his children - no hardship, as he has 13 of them. At least with regards to his eldest son, it seems that the apple does not fall far from the tree, given his arrest on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with millions of dollars in cash in possession, which he intended to take into Gaza. Subsidized fuel sold for profit According to sources in Gaza, Haniyeh's wealth, like others high up in Hamas, came primarily from the flourishing tunnel industry. Senior Hamas figures, Haniyeh included, would levy 20 percent taxation on all of the trade passing through the tunnels. Hamas's heyday came after the overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, as its parent organization the Muslim Brotherhood was growing in popularity in Egypt. In those days, Hamas leaders and their associates were not afraid to show off their ostentatious wealth. Gaza's market for luxury villas costing at least a million dollars was booming, most purchased by people associated with the establishment of Hamas. A Gazan familiar with the real estate market summed it up at the time with a quip about a Hamas crony who had recently acquired a luxury villa: "Two years ago, he couldn’t afford a packet of cigarettes." At the same time, Khairat a-Shater, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who headed his own business empire, made sure to personally transfer tens of millions in cash to senior administration officials in Gaza as well as to commanders from the Hamas military wing. There were senior Hamas members who preferred that the money be kept in a safer place than the Gaza Strip, and invested it in various Egyptian assets, often through business partnerships with Muslim Brotherhood officials. In some cases, the man conducting the deals on behalf of Hamas officials, who ensured that they received their dividends in cash, was Ayman Taha, a Hamas founder once considered one of its key spokesmen. In 2011, Taha himself paid $700,000 for a luxury three-floor villa in the central Gaza Strip; a year ago, he was charged with being an agent for Egypt. The Egyptian street has become inflamed with anger directed against Hamas over the last three years, partly due to what appears to be its financial gains at the expense of the Egyptian people. The tunnels in Rafah, the town straddling the Gaza-Egypt border, for example, saw a flourishing fuel-smuggling industry from Sinai. The fuel subsidized by the Egyptian government was entering Gaza at a low price, but being sold for eight times that. Those who made the greatest profits from the sale of the fuel were Hamas members, even as Egypt often reported shortages for its own people. Hamas, says Professor Ahmed Karima of Al-Azhar University in Egypt, has long become a movement of millionaires. According to Karima, the organization can count no less than 1,200 millionaires among its members. He did not, however, specify the source of this information. Mashal's mall It was not only Hamas members in Gaza who became rich. It appears that political leader Khaled Mashal is another member of the organization who used Hamas funds to his own ends. In 2012, a Jordanian website reported that Mashal had control of a massive $2.6 billion, in large part deposited in Qatari and Egyptian banks. This is likely Hamas' accumulated assets from years through donations, as well as its investments in various projects in the Arab and Muslim world. It is also known that, among other things, Hamas has invested in real estate projects in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Dubai. And, according to reports, Mashal did not always separate Hamas money and his own. Hamas' expulsion from Syria was a severe financial blow for the movement. In 2011, before the start of the Syrian conflict, Hamas's assets in the country had reached a value of $550 million. Apart from its real estate holdings, Hamas invested in various commercial companies, including a cargo company registered to a Syrian businessman close to Moussa Abu Marzook, Mashal's deputy. As with other areas, in its financial dealings Hamas leaders keep their cards close to their chest and maintain a high level of secrecy. Investments are made through front companies, using family and associates. Companies linked to Mashal in Qatar are registered to his wife and daughter. Once he was forced to close his office in Damascus (after falling out with the Assad regime over its oppressive response to the conflict), Mashal declared that his place was in Qatar. There, he claimed that $12 million he had stored in his safe in his Damascus office had been lost. Not many accepted this story, and to this day believe that Mashal kept the money, transferring it to his own personal accounts. Reliable sources claim that a project by the Fadil real estate firm in Qatar is linked to Mashal, his son and his son's wife. The prestigious project in Doha, the Qatari capital, includes the construction of four towers of more than 27,000 square meters, including office and commercial space attached to a mall with an area of ​​10,000 square meters. The company has never disclosed the source of its funding. According to a World Bank report released in November of last year, the Gaza Strip ranks third in the Arab region in terms of poverty, ranking above only Sudan and Yemen. The report stated that the poverty rate in Gaza stands at 38 percent. Furthermore, of the 144 countries included in the report, Gaza was the 44th poorest, with most of the countries with a higher poverty rate being located in Africa.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Top Israeli Judge: Free Pollard


Israel erred, concedes Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, but convicted spy has served 29 years and 'that's enough'
Israel's Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein has called for the US administration to pardon Jonathan Pollard, the American jailed since 1985 for spying on Israel's behalf.

Mistakes were made, mainly by the Israelis, but by the Americans as well, and 29 years was enough, said Rubinstein at a lecture last week at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His remarks were reported Sunday by Haaretz correspondent and analyst Amir Oren.

Rubinstein is expected to be named deputy chief justice of the high court next year.

Supreme Court justices rarely offer their views on current events, let alone comment about the decisions of foreign powers.

The lecture was delivered in memory of a former US ambassador to Israel, Sam Lewis, who died earlier this year.

Pollard was arrested at the end of Lewis’ term in Israel, when Rubinstein was acting ambassador in Washington. On November 21, 1985, Pollard tried to drive into the Israeli Embassy parking lot, was turned back by Israeli guards and arrested by FBI agents.

Rubinstein did not know that Pollard was being operated as a spy.

As Israeli attorney general in later years, Rubinstein was active in pushing for Pollard's release. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly raised the issue once again at his meeting Wednesday with President Barack Obama.

In his lecture, Rubinstein said he believed that Lewis also supported Pollard’s release.

Pollard's possible release was brought up earlier this year in efforts led by Secretary of State John Kerry to bring about a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. One proposal floated at the time called for Pollard to be freed in return for Israel's agreement to free Palestinians accused of terrorism.





Wednesday, October 1, 2014

PM Addresses Ban Ki-Moon

The terrorists of Hamas used  UN facilities over the summer to attack Israel.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took the bitter criticism he leveled against the UN Human Rights Council in the UN General Assembly on Monday directly into the office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday, saying the forum was badly stacked against Israel and defended Hamas.

Netanyahu, according to a statement issued from his office, complained to Ban that the council was focusing its investigation on Israel, rather than on Hamas which used UN facilities over the summer to attack Israel.

Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, will fight against this.

The prime minister stressed, as he did in his speech, that Israel did not intentionally target Palestinian civilians, and was sorry for every civilian casualty. He said that Hamas has taken the local population hostage, and compared the organization to Islamic State. He repeated his position that Hamas carried out a double war crime over the summer: firing on Israeli civilians, while hiding behind Palestinian civilians.

“I will not apologize for Israel having the Iron Dome to protect its citizens,” he said.

Netanyahu also complained that Israel was held to different standards from all other countries in the world. While some 200,000 people have been killed in Syria, he said, there is no proportionality between how much time the UN spends on Israel and on Syria.

Netanyahu was accompanied in the meeting by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Regarding the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu -- who did not mention support for a Palestinian state in his address on Monday -- said that there was no change in his position regarding acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state that will recognize Israel as the Jewish state, as long as security safeguards were in place that would enable Israel to defend itself against any threat.

He also stressed to Ban, who condemns every instance of Jewish building beyond the 1967 lines, that the conflict with the Palestinians is not over the settlements, but rather over Israel’s right to exist in the region as a Jewish state.

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