Last year, a World Vision employee was arrested by Israelis and charged with funneling large amounts of aid money directly to Hamas. This sparked international outrage as many Westerners began to consider the legitimacy, transparency, and efficiency of humanitarian aid organizations. Little information has been released by the Israelis on the details of the charges and trial, but based on the history of Hamas, it is not surprising that such a crime occurred. This has further polarized opinions on whether or not aid should be given to Gaza at all, to ensure the safety and security of the nation of Israel; our closest allies in the region. Others suggest that the arrest of the World Vision worker was a fabrication for the sake of refueling tension with aid workers in Gaza.
Hamas was originally created as a charity, but developed its current political ideology in 1987 during the first intifada. Hamas quickly gained support, mostly as a result of their aid through food banks and social services. The name Hamas comes from the Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement” and Hamas actually translates to “enthusiasm.” The group is influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Hamas released a charter shortly after the first intifada stating the only chance of liberating Palestine is through the dogmas of political Islam.
In the early 2000s, Hamas began to clash with Fatah (the dominant Palestinian political party at the time), as the Palestinian people became divided on who should represent Palestine. Under Fatah, a “no work for Islamists” policy was implemented to discourage radicalization and thus strive for a non-violent peace process. However, as Fatah repressed Islamists, many Palestinians who identified with a more radical ideology found themselves without jobs, despite their qualifications. This allowed a group like Hamas to mobilize; they began through smaller charitable organizations. Many of these organizations were actually funded by Gulf countries and rich Arabs around the world.
In 2005, Hamas decided to channel their power and influence through the means of a political party. In the national and municipal elections, Hamas beat out Fatah. The main differences between these two parties are as follows: Fatah decided to recognize the state of Israel – post Oslo – and condemns any violence, especially related to politicizing Islam. Hamas began as a resistance to Fatah by promoting religion-motivated violence and today believes in the power of political Islam for the Palestinian people. Hamas emerged on the international radar following the 2006 elections, as many Western powers became worried about the progress and future of the peace process. The United Kingdom’s intelligence unit, MI6, interfered in the elections as an attempt to keep Fatah in power. The Bush administration actually pushed to include Hamas in the Palestinian election, in order to ensure a more fair and democratic result. However, the results of this election shocked the international community. The idea that a party with a radical political ideology, such as Hamas, could be democratically elected revealed much about the desire of the Palestinian people in their relation to Israel and peace. This deeply undermined the peace process especially, for the Western powers involved. The US and the UN halted all aid to Gaza following the transition of power from Fatah to Hamas in the Gaza strip in 2006.
History of Aid to Gaza Strip
Understanding the roots and beginnings of Hamas is crucial when discussing the issue of giving aid to Gaza. Due to the nature and charitable roots of Hamas, likelihood of hiring staff previously affiliated with Hamas is high, but must be avoided to distribute aid the way it was intended. This can be seen in the case of the World Vision scandal last year. The details and verdict of the scandal have yet to be determined, but it is important to look at the backstory of World Vision’s interactions with the people of Gaza.
World Vision originally went into Gaza to bring aid; they looked for qualified employees who were native to the area to work for them. Due to the nature of how Hamas was formed, many of the qualified employees had previously worked for Hamas-affiliated charitable organizations (the ethics of the this particular hiring process have been contested). ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/abdalhadi-alijla/the-unbreakable-relations_b_11727200.html )The problem was with the management and distribution of funds to the Palestinians in Gaza. World Vision was not able to directly follow the funds that were channeled from a particular employee, who turned out to be affiliated with Hamas. Some funds were directly wired to Hamas supporters and possibly contributed to the arming of Hamas military, thus using World Vision funds to support an internationally recognized terrorist organization. The implications of a humanitarian aid organization funding a terrorist organization are serious for both parties as well as for the Palestinians of Gaza. Today, the Palestinians of Gaza are completely dependent on humanitarian aid, and until the military blocks are gone, famine will continue to occur.
The brutality of the regime in Gaza is a crucial factor when examining the dilemma of whether or not to give aid. Hamas rose to power after a bloody coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007. They killed rivals, opponents and showed no mercy to their own people. After firing many rockets into Israel, the IDF set up a military blockade on the borders of Gaza. This was not done to cause the Palestinians to suffer, rather to protect Israel. However, as a result of this strong military block, the Gaza strip is being choked of any financial capital or access to outside resources. Additionally, the people are suffering from human rights violations resulting from strict Islamic law (in the perspective of the West). The question of how to give humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza is complex, because many of the problems and hardships are due to poor policies enacted by Hamas. If aid is given, it could be received as a message that encourages Hamas to commit human rights violations.
As Christians, it is important to recognize the need to protect the sanctity of life and promote human flourishing. World Vision has good intentions in the Gaza strip, and I can only pray that more aid organizations will continue to bring aid to those suffering in Gaza. However, as the governing power remains to support inhumane practices and inflict suffering on its own people, our ability to bring aid will be limited.