Islamic Groups Gaining Popularity, Could Replace PA

(Haaretz) Amos Harel - The dawa -- the civilian infrastructure of Islamic organizations in the West Bank and Gaza -- is starting to endanger the PA's hegemony over the Palestinian street. Hamas and its associates operate a large welfare system in the territories that competes with the PA in such fields as education, health, the economy, and jobs. Donations, which total tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars a year, come from all over the world: the United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Italy, France, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Israeli Arabs. Unlike the PA, the Islamic associations enjoy a reputation for transparency and lack of corruption, while Palestinian officials routinely take "commissions" for themselves from aid transferred via the PA. Even official government bodies in Arab countries now prefer to transfer aid via the Islamic organizations. "Hamas focuses on pockets of deep distress, where the PA has not succeeded in meeting the population's needs," said an Israeli defense source. When Nablus was under a tight closure, the Islamic charities opened their warehouses and distributed food to the residents. When the school year was about to start in Gaza, Hamas distributed classroom supplies. On the Feast of the Sacrifice, it provided meat meals for the masses. "The public understands: the PA steals from me, Hamas takes care of me," said an Israeli source. The real Israeli concern is the connection between the Islamic charities and terrorism. "Those who receive help from the Islamic associations pay with support for Hamas. This network, which devotes a significant portion of its efforts to supporting the families of suicide bombers, is part of the murder industry that is spreading through the PA," said a defense source. While surveys show Hamas receiving only 14 to 18 percent support from the public at large, among those aged 20 to 30, the numbers are much higher. The Israeli defense establishment has been mapping the Islamic organizations' civilian activities in the territories, aided by the documents and computers seized during Operation Defensive Shield. Soon it will propose operational recommendations, many of which will deal with halting the flow of money into the territories.

2002-06-28 00:00:00

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