Israel arrested a major Hamas figure earlier this month as he attempted to infiltrate the country via the Allenby Bridge crossing, the Shin Bet security service revealed Thursday afternoon. Mahmoud Toameh, a “top-ranking overseas operative of Hamas,” gave the security agency a wealth of details about the activities of the radical Islamic group during his interrogation, it said, including its funding sources, international activities and activities inside Israel. Notably, he revealed that Hamas pays hundreds of young Israeli Arab citizens to harass Jews seeking to enter the Temple Mount area.
Toameh was arrested on May 14, the Shin Beit said, and formally indicted on undisclosed charges on Thursday.
In his interrogation, Toameh revealed that Hamas works with the Islamic Movement (an Israeli organization that promotes Islam among Israel’s Arab citizens) to keep Jews from entering the Temple Mount compound, by retaining a group of young men to harass and throw stones at Jewish visitors. These men, who ostensibly are studying Islamic theology at the site, are paid a monthly salary of NIS 4,000 to NIS 5000 ($1,150-$1,440) for their activities, the Shin Bet said.
Toameh said that before this, Hamas backed another project which similarly acted to prevent Jewish visits to the Temple Mount by employing hundreds of young men to harass Jews entering the compound. That venture was closed down by Israeli authorities in 2013, prompting the new cooperation between Hamas and the Islamic Movement regarding the Temple Mount, which he said Hamas took pains to keep hidden from Israel.
Toameh also said that Hamas maintains a secret connection with firebrand cleric Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch. Salah, an Israeli citizen, has been arrested several times for his activities, and was jailed between 2003 and 2005 for providing funding to Hamas.
Until about a year ago, Hamas was primarily funded by Iran, Toameh told the Shin Bet. The closing of the tap by Tehran has caused economic hardship for the group, but at the same time, Hamas runs several civil groups and companies abroad, most of them real estate groups in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which work to provide funding.
Toameh sits on the main economic council of Hamas, and, according to the Shin Bet, detailed various arrangements the group makes to transfer funds to both its Gaza base and to supporters inside Israel or the West Bank. Several of these involve Islamic charities operating abroad. According to Toameh, it was at his suggestion that Hamas began surreptitiously transferring funds via real estate deals — for example, a Saudi Arabian-backed mosque, built several years ago in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, resulted in some 750,000 riyals (about $200,000) being transferred to Hamas operatives.
According to Toameh, the “Palestinian Business Forum,” ostensibly a business organization promoting Palestinian economic development, was founded by Hamas operatives, who use the group to further the economic interests of Hamas.
Hamas maintains close ties with the global Muslim Brotherhood movement, Toameh said, and noted that eight members of Hamas’s guiding Shura Council were members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s international arm. He said that Turkey and Qatar are major centers of Hamas activity abroad, and Hamas operates there with the tacit approval of the governments of those two countries.
Regarding the recent reconciliation between Hamas and the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Toameh said that it was the result of a practical decision by Hamas and did not have any bearing on the group’s ideology. Hamas, he said, realized that in order to have a voice in the direction of the PA, and to gain greater political influence beyond Gaza, it would have to join the PLO and participate in general Palestinian government.
According to the Shin Bet, Mahmoud Mahmoud Issa Toameh was born in 1951 in Tulkarem and lived in Saudi Arabia for a brief period during the 1970s. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1983 and then because a founding member of Hamas when it split off in 1987. He is married and a father of eight. In 2008 he joined the Shura Council, the body headed by Khaled Mashaal which oversees policy, including military policy, for Hamas.