While some argue that Hamas' political, terroristic and charitable arms are separate entities, one Mideast expert suggests that the lines are more than blurred.
Matthew Levitt, former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, said "distinguishing between wings of Hamas is a myth."
Speaking to about 40 people at the Center City office of the Foreign Policy Research Institute on Monday, Levitt cited his experience interviewing Palestinian Authority Gen. Nizar Ammar in 1997, who told him explicitly of the overlap in duties throughout Hamas in general.
"Someone who is working today in the political wing is working tomorrow in the military wing," reported Levitt. "We see it all the time."
Hamas, which has been officially branded a terrorist organization by the United States and which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, has attempted to present itself as a reputable social-welfare organization, especially since it won the elections in Gaza in January 2006. Levitt and other analysts like him see things differently, and find that the group's charitable efforts feed the violence it uses to consolidate its power and disseminate its philosophy.
To demonstrate the connection between politics and terrorism in Hamas, Levitt pointed to the suicide bombing at a Netanya hotel during Passover of 2002, an incident that killed 29 and wounded 140, according to CNN.
Abbas al-Sayyid, who organized the attack, served simultaneously as both the political Hamas leader in the Tulkarm section of the West Bank and the head of the Qassam Brigades terrorist cell there, according to Levitt's book, Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad.
"Wearing these two hats, al-Sayyid gave public speeches and represented Hamas at public functions, even as he secretly recruited military operatives and suicide bombers, received orders and funds from Hamas leaders in Lebanon and Syria, and personally planned and oversaw the cell's operations," wrote Levitt.
At his lecture, the author explained that Hamas' charitable wing does not stand alone either, serving instead to help launder money used to support terror. He pointed to the Al-Islah Charitable Society, and its leader Jamal Tawil, who was found to have e-mailed Hamas leaders in Damascus about filtering money.
When Hamas does use cash to help people, it makes sure to be selective. "From its very foundation, it has targeted its efforts to benefit Hamas members or people who could be moved to their cause," said Levitt.
On a more personal note, he described a picture that he took of three Palestinian boys who were close, in age, to his three children. (He has since had a fourth child.) Levitt described them as barefoot, wearing filthy clothing and playing along a trash-strewn area. Kids in this type of situation, he said, provide a tremendous recruiting opportunity for Hamas.
Receives Popular Support
Levitt also discussed the time he spent in refugee camps in the Palestinian territories, and dispelled the notion that if Israel or the United States shut down Hamas, many Palestinians would not receive appropriate aid.
He assured that "the United Nations provides assistance to Palestinians that dwarfs what Hamas provides."
Levitt also believes that Palestinian support for Hamas has not wavered since last January's elections, even with the recent fighting with the more moderate Palestinian group Fatah.
"If the election were today, Hamas would do just as well."
To counter the workings of Hamas, Levitt suggested undermining its social-welfare programs, so that the organization cannot take credit where no credit is due. He also supports economic sanctions.
As he stated: "We are not stopping money from going into Palestinian territories, we're stopping it from going to Hamas."