Poverty Pimps – The Palestinian Human Rights Abusers

Illustrative: Palestinian demonstrators attend a protest in Gaza City, on February 24, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

“Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes, but we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return.”

Syrian Prime Minister, Khaled Al-Azm in his memoirs published posthumously in 1973

If there had to be one quote to symbolize the plight of the Palestinian people, I would submit this one. Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas leaders receive millions of dollars in aid money every year, and none of it goes to the betterment of their people, but of themselves. Their people remain impoverished while they enjoy their mansions, Mercedes Benz’s, and an all around opulent lifestyle. In short, Palestinian leaders are what we would call ‘poverty pimps.’ Poverty pimps are people who act as an intermediary between the oppressed and those who want to help; accepting money meant for the oppressed and pocketing it. It helps to make sure the oppressed do not find their way out of poverty, or worse, get wise to your scheme. To best do this, you need a scapegoat you can routinely point to so that the oppressed can redirect their anger thusly. If you can get them to devote themselves to a fake cause to the point of death, that’s a bonus. It’s a delicate artform; one Palestinian leaders have mastered and perfected over decades.

Such a perversion of human rights should be condemned to the highest degree. One would think that among the condemners, the very loudest would be the so-called ‘Palestinian Human Rights Activists.’ Sadly, that is not their focus in the slightest. Outside of the Jew-hating incitement, Palestinians living in Gaza are often portrayed with a singular, one-dimensional, and inaccurate narrative. 

In July of 2020, Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu-Toameh wrote:

“Last year, Palestinian activists took to the streets of the Gaza Strip to protest economic hardship and demand that Hamas provide solutions for soaring unemployment and poverty rates. The protests, held under the banner “We want to live!,” were brutally suppressed by Hamas’s security forces and militiamen. Hundreds of activists were detained by Hamas, which saw the economic protests as part of a “conspiracy” to “create instability and anarchy” and undermine its dictatorial regime in the Gaza Strip.”

“We want to live!” should have been the highest trending slogan/hashtag in 2019; especially considering how much attention the Hamas led riots at the Gaza/Israel border received that year when many in the international community thought Israel had indiscriminately murdered innocent Palestinians at the border. However, even that event quickly lost traction when a Hamas leader was filmed on television saying that most of the ‘protesters’ killed were Hamas operatives dressed in civilian clothing, coinciding with what the Israel Defense Force stated from the beginning of the riots. 

What many in the media did not report is that Hamas closed schools in Gaza so children could join adults in attempting to overtake the Israeli side of the border. This is not a new strategy of Palestinian leaders, which is to keep Palestinian civilians in harms’ way as much as possible and point the blame at Israel should the civilians get caught in the crossfire; whether the bullets belonged to Israel or Hamas. This often-used strategy did not stop widely known papers like the New York Times (NYT) from publishing an incredibly misleading and dishonest article entitled “Israel Kills Dozens at Gaza Border as U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem” with no retraction or modification after the truth came out. “We want to live!” is a declaration not just to Palestinian leaders, but the world governments and organizations that enable them.

Like the NYT, complicit in this corruption are large sectors of Western media. According to journalist, Shoshana Bry’en in a 2013 article

“The Western media completely ignores such reports. By doing so, Western journalists are betraying their own people by failing to inform them how their foreign-aid money is being embezzled and squandered by corrupt Palestinian leaders. The Palestinians, of course, are the primary victims in this story. They live in poverty as their leaders scrabble to misappropriate public funds. The lives of the Palestinians could have been much better had their leaders been held accountable for their actions.”

The most glaring evidence of Hamas’ and the Palestinian Authority’s atrocities against the Palestinian people is the billions of dollars in aid received every year that seems to bear little to no fruit for the people. If the people do not see the money, where does it go? The answer is actually not complicated at all. Palestinian political analyst and human rights activist, Basseim Eid writes in a 2015 column:

“As for Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, it was they who provoked last year’s destructive war with Israel to gain support among their own people. They then cynically used their own population as human shields during the fighting to generate sympathy for their cause when innocent lives were inevitably lost. As in the past, Hamas will inevitably try to use some of the money it receives from international donors to reconstruct the terrorist tunnels and replenish its missile arsenal. There is no hope in the near future to solve this mess–except perhaps among the ordinary people of Gaza, who may compel Hamas to hold its fire against Israel.”

The “terrorist tunnels,” as Eid so aptly puts it, are cement tunnels that stretch from Gaza into various heavily civilian populated areas in Israel. The tunnels can be as long as just under 2 miles, and usually start from private homes, greenhouses, or public buildings. It cost around $3 million to make each tunnel. Hamas has successfully constructed almost forty of them. That is roughly $100 million. In 2019, however, pledges to the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA), which are funneled into the Palestinian Authority, amounted to just shy of $1 billion ($972,431,207 to be exact). So, there is still about $800,000,000 of unaccounted aid. Since the poverty rate in Gaza keeps increasing, it is safe to assume that the money is not being used to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. The rest can be accounted for by simply observing the lifestyles of the leaders of Hamas and the PA. 

Two senior members of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal (now retired) and Mousa Abu Marzuk have a networth of about $2.5 billion each. PA president Mahmoud Abbas (who is in his 15th year of a 4 year term, by the way), has a net worth of over $100 million. This wealth trend is true for many of the Palestinian leaders in Gaza. This corruption has been repeatedly called out by some Palestinian voices, but not without consequence. Palestinian journalist, Nadia Harhash is one of those voices. In July 2020, she spoke out about threats and attempts on her life for speaking out against Palestinian leaders. 

“This is an old technique of Palestinian activists to silence voices that dare to speak out against corruption, embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power.”

“The victims of car-torching are considered ‘lucky’ fire is directed at their property and not their bodies. Torching cars has a twofold goal: to inflict financial damage and to send a deterrent message to both the victim and the surrounding environment.”

PA and Hamas leaders target the people who dare to voice dissent, even where the dissent is voiced in a peaceful manner. Arbitrary arrests for criticism of the authorities on social media, by independent journalists, on university campuses, and at demonstrations are the norm. Torture is often used to punish critics placed in detention. 

So, we have a better understanding why many Palestinians in Gaza today may be afraid to speak up. The few that do either no longer live there, or live there but have been intimidated or tortured. Many of us would sympathize with the oppressed and suppressed people; but this is not the case. 

Our question to Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction), J Street, Linda Sarsour, the Black Lives Matter organization and the like is simply this: What is your excuse? Why do you never address this deep-seated, full-on corruption and persecution? Why is all the blame constantly shifted to Israel, even though Israel supports a thriving Gaza free of Hamas, like many of the Gazans? And most importantly, are you simply unaware of these things, or are you complicit in your silence?

Our question also extends to the UNWRA, an organ of the United Nations which ostensibly seeks to advance the development of the Palestinian people. Does UNWRA require any accountability from the PA for how it uses funds received, or does it provide a seemingly legitimate cover for the continued funding of the personal bank accounts of Palestinian leaders at the expense of the Palestinian people? “We want to live!” is a declaration that seems to fall on UNRWA’s deaf ears.

Despite the fact that for more than two decades reports on Palestinian leadership’s corruption have been available for those truly concerned about the improvement of life in Gaza and the West Bank, far too many human rights activists solely blame Israel for the plight of the Palestinian people and are silent on the diversion of civilian aid to more nefarious ends. Silent also are humanitarians. To this we ask, is their hatred for Israel greater than their sense of justice for the Palestinian people?

“We want to live!” is the cry made by Palestinians who overwhelmingly experience the corruption of the PA and Hamas. However, with the help from international institutions, the Palestinian leadership is not only enabled to practice terrorism against its neighbor but to perpetuate a financial crisis for their people. In July 2020, Khaled Abu Toameh notes that Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and their allies have become as strong as they are today politically and militarily “because of the billions of dollars that the international community has lavished on the Palestinians for nearly 30 years.”

We note that there are many well meaning individuals and organizations whose sincere intent is to help create a better life for the Palestinian people. Our advice to such individuals is to take a hard look at the sheer magnitude of the economic and political fraud committed by the PA and Hamas. For far too long, Israel has been used as a scapegoat to prevent holding the PA and Hamas responisble for the lives of the Palestinian people. In his 2017 address at the United Nations, Mosab Yousef, a former member of Hamas, noted that Palestinian suffering was the outcome of the “selfish political interests” of Palestinian leaders, and that “the Palestinian individual and their human development is the least of their concern.“

The Palestinian people deserve better. With countries like Morocco, Sudan, Lebanon, and Oman discussing following in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates and normalizing ties with Israel, one can hope the Palestinian leadership sees the tide turning and realizes that their oppressive poverty pimping regime is coming to an end. However, without international pressure that exposes and calls to an end the corruption of Palestinian leadership, that is doubtful.

This article was made possible with the help of my wife, Olga Meshoe Washington, CEO of DEISI International (Defend Embrace Invest(in) Support Israel)

About the Author
Joshua is the Director of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI) where he plans events and speaks. He’s a composition graduate of the University of Pacific’s Conservatory of Music. Joshua was formerly IBSI’s Director of Special Events, and planned music performances featuring The Hebrew Project Artists (THP) across the country. Joshua is also a graduate of CUFI’s 2016 Diversity Outreach Mentoring Endeavor (DOME), where he received training in Israel advocacy for diverse audiences. He was chosen to travel to Israel twice; once as part of CUFI’s millennial outreach, Israel Collective, and again as part of a music performance with Victor Styrsky’s Wild Branches & Friends. His other musical endeavors include writing for the Boston Pops, and music directing for other artists. Joshua is also a featured author on a collaborative book called 'Israelophobia and the West: The Hijacking of Civil Discourse on Israel and How to Rescue It' by Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs official, Dan Diker.
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