ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Analysis

Far from Gaza hardships, Hamas chief and family enjoy easy life in Qatar

Thanks to Doha’s sponsorship and the wealth he accumulated as Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh and his children today live a life of wealth and privileges denied to other Gazans

Gianluca Pacchiani

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

FILE - Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders leading a prayer before hosting an Iftar Ramadan fast-breaking dinner in Qatar with Qatari officials and international diplomats, April 13, 2023. (Hamas.ps)
FILE - Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders leading a prayer before hosting an Iftar Ramadan fast-breaking dinner in Qatar with Qatari officials and international diplomats, April 13, 2023. (Hamas.ps)

Shortly after the start of Hamas’s brutal attack against Israel on October 7, a video began circulating of the terror group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh in his elegant office in the Qatari capital Doha, watching the bloody onslaught unfold on Al Jazeera and “prostrating in gratitude” with a group of other Hamas officials for the killing of over 1,300 Israelis, among them at least 1,000 civilians.

For years, Haniyeh has been rebuked by many Palestinians for leading a comfortable life away from the hardships of Gaza in the oil-rich Gulf monarchy, which offers shelter to the terror group’s leaders and an internationally recognized platform to spread its propaganda through Al Jazeera.

Before Hamas’s win in the Palestinian elections against Fatah in 2006, Haniyeh was not a prominent member of the terror group’s leadership. After the electoral victory, his star began to rise.

He was appointed prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip, and his wealth rapidly grew thanks to the control that he and other ministers in the Hamas government exerted over the Gazan economy and the taxes they levied on goods imported into the Strip from Egypt.

Senior Hamas figures, including Haniyeh, would levy a 20 percent tax on all of the trade passing through the tunnels, according to a 2014 report in Ynet, an Israeli news site.

A senior PA official alleged that the tunnel-smuggling market had transformed 1,700 senior Hamas officials into millionaires, according to a report in Saudi weekly Al-Majalla.

In 2010, Haniyeh spent $4 million on a plot of land on the Gazan beachfront near the Shati refugee camp where he grew up, which he registered under his son-in-law’s name, according to Egyptian magazine Rose al-Yusuf.

Since then, Haniyeh has purchased several apartments, villas and buildings in the Gaza Strip, registered in the names of some of his 13 children.

His lavish holdings contrast sharply with endemic poverty in the Gaza Strip, where some half of the population is unemployed, and per capita GDP was around $5,600 annually in 2021, making it one of the poorest places in the world.

Some experts blame its stunted economic growth on the Israeli-Egyptian blockade in force since 2007, which has imposed restrictions on goods traveling in or out of the Strip. Israel says the restrictions are necessary for security reasons, to prevent Hamas from arming and building tunnels into Israel. Corruption is also believed to be widespread.

People gather around the official countdown clock showing remaining time until the kick-off of the World Cup in Doha, Qatar, November 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The Gazan economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid, with Qatar topping the list of donors – the Gulf monarchy is estimated to have contributed over $1.5 billion over the past decade, although the money has been disbursed as stipends for public officials and poor families, and not to develop the economy.

The gap between Hamas’s leaders and the Gaza street extends beyond their bank accounts, with the terror group’s brass and their families seemingly able to leave the beleaguered enclave at will, a benefit few Gazans enjoy.

On December 30, 2022, the Saudi news website Elaph cited a “knowledgeable Palestinian source” saying that Haniyeh’s son Maaz, known in Gaza as Abu Al-Iqarat, or “The Father of Real Estate,” obtained a Turkish passport, which allowed him to easily exit Gaza and travel abroad, and invest in properties in Turkey.

File: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh flashes the victory sign before he speaks to journalists after his meeting with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in Beirut, Lebanon, on June 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The article further claimed that Maaz, and other sons of the Haniyeh family, drink alcohol abroad and spend time with women other than their wives in luxury nightclubs. Elaph also reported that Haniyeh’s children own generators, and sell electricity, a rare commodity in an area under constant power shortages, while they themselves get it for free.

In July 2022, a document was shared on Palestinian social media showing an official list of travelers who had been given permission to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing. Among the names was Haniyeh’s son Hazem, along with his wife and two children, who left Gaza to join other members of the Haniya family in Turkey.

The revelation sparked a social media campaign against the Hamas leadership, titled “Our Hands Are Clean” — a rarity in the Strip, where political dissent is generally not tolerated.

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), the name was an allusion to a speech given by Haniyeh in 2009 on the 22nd anniversary of Hamas’s founding, in which he said: “Our hands are clean. We do not steal funds, hold real estate or build villas…”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivering a speech during an Iftar dinner in Qatar with Qatari officials and international diplomats, April 13, 2023 (Hamas.ps)

This year, Hamas held a festive iftar (evening meal at the close of the daily Ramadan fast) in Qatar’s capital Doha for some 30 diplomats from Arab and Islamic states and several “friendly non-Arab countries,” as well as Qatari ministers and MPs.

The event, publicized on Hamas’s online platforms, took place in Doha’s Diplomatic Club, reflecting the high status that Hamas enjoys in the Gulf monarchy. Among the participants were the ambassadors of Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, and Russia, as well as “a security adviser from a large European country,” according to the al-Arabi al-Jadid daily.

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