Shin Bet: Palestinian student leader received €150k for Hamas through Turkey

Omar al-Kiswani, whose on-campus arrest in March by undercover forces was filmed and went viral, said to have funneled funds with aid from Gaza-based operative

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

A Palestinian student leader arrested in March in a daylight raid by Israeli commando forces is suspected of illegally receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from Hamas operatives in Turkey to promote the terror group’s activities at a university near Ramallah, the Shin Bet security service said Thursday.

The student, 24-year-old Omar al-Kiswani from the West Bank village of Beit Iksa, is a member of Hamas’s student faction at Birzeit University and the head of the student council.

“It is another expression of the efforts by Hamas command centers in Turkey and the Gaza Strip to accelerate the activity” of the terrorist group in the West Bank, the Shin Bet said, adding that “the investigation’s findings tell us of the deep involvement” of the overseas Hamas members.

The Shin Bet said that Kiswani had contacted Yassin Rabia, a Hamas member who had formerly been jailed by Israel until he was freed and deported to the Gaza Strip in a 2011 prisoner swap deal. More than a thousand Palestinians convicted for terror offenses were released in the exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Kiswani asked Rabia and Hamas members in Turkey for money to promote Hamas activity at the university, and received about 150,000 euros. The funds were split and hidden in several hiding places throughout the West Bank, according to the Shin Bet statement.

He would then take some of the money from those hiding places — along with his friend, Yahye Alawi, also a member of Hamas and its student faction at Birzeit —  to promote Hamas activity, the security agency said.

The March 7 daylight raid by undercover Border Police officers, dressed as Palestinian civilians on the campus, was caught on camera and shared widely on social media at the time.

Birzeit University said in a statement following the arrest in March that “the kidnappers, carrying firearms in their backpacks, entered the campus during working hours and attacked the student in front of the Student Council Building, located at the center of the campus. The operatives forced and pinned the student to the ground while firing their weapons, endangering lives.”

“Protecting this group’s intrusion into the university was an armed Israeli army unit. The unit detained the university’s guards in the guards’ room and proceeded to use their firearms against the students while providing cover for the kidnapping operation,” it added.

In a video of the arrest, a group of men in civilian clothing can be seen wrestling Kiswani to the ground as other members of the group brandish pistols at onlookers.

At the end of the short clip, Palestinians can be seen clashing with Israeli soldiers maintaining a perimeter at the entrance to the university.

On social media, the video was compared to popular TV show “Fauda,” about undercover Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Reports said the commandos, members of the Border Police’s undercover unit, were disguised as Palestinian journalists.

Birzeit University said the raid was a violation of international law.

“This is not the first violent intrusion by Israeli army forces, who systematically invade the university’s campus – even though it is specifically protected under international humanitarian law – and constantly harass students, faculty members, and staff at Birzeit University and other Palestinian educational institutions,” it said.

But the Shin Bet said the arrest “again points to the great importance Hamas leadership attributes to student activities through its groups in universities as a primary method of recruiting and training Hamas operatives in the West Bank.”

Calling these activities “very dangerous,” the statement said that “while it is within the academic institution’s activity, in effect we are dealing with a significant branch of the Hamas movement with the aim of promoting damage to the State of Israel.”

The Shin Bet also noted that last year Israel exposed a Hamas terror cell from Gaza that recruited students from the Birzeit University to carry out suicide attacks against Israelis.

It added that it is currently in the process of exposing other members of Hamas’s student group in the university who planned shooting attacks near Ramallah.

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

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