Tackling Hamas Funding in the West

November 29, 2023

Tackling Hamas Funding in the West

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  • Hamas has long created funding mechanisms in the US, Canada, and Western Europe. While the sums collected in the West constitute only a small portion of Hamas’ total budget, they nonetheless contribute to the organization’s functioning. Moreover, the same networks that raise funds for Hamas also disseminate propaganda and conduct other forms of political support for the group in the West.
  • Charitable organizations are one of the most common vehicles used by Hamas networks in the West to collect funds for the group. Western-based charities headed by Hamas members and/or supporters raise funds in communities and, at times, obtain aid and development grants from Western NGOs and governments. Funds are then siphoned to Hamas in various ways. In many cases, the passage is indirect, as the formal recipient of the Western-based charity simply acts as a middleman and re-directs all or part of the funds to Hamas. In other cases, the recipient is an educational or humanitarian organization that belongs more or less directly to the Hamas orbit. 
  • Hamas is a designated terrorist organization in the US, Canada, the UK, and the European Union. Funding the organization constitutes a criminal offense in these jurisdictions. Entities that raise money for Hamas can be shut down by law in most Western countries. 

  • Over the years, many Western governments have conducted investigations to close charities and other entities suspected of fundraising for Hamas, as well as prosecuted their officials. Yet the outcomes of these efforts have been mixed. While some have resulted in criminal convictions, closings of organizations, and assets forfeitures, an arguably larger number of cases have ended with dismissals or acquittals. 

  • Based on publicly available information, this report identified investigations of organizations suspected of funding Hamas in twelve Western countries. Administrative measures that withstood appeals and other countermoves were adopted in just four countries (US, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands). Criminal prosecutions ending with convictions have taken place only in the US. 

  • There are several overlapping reasons for the limited successes of efforts against entities suspected of funding Hamas: 

    • Terrorism financing investigations tend to be complex, as they require evidence that is often difficult to obtain, analyze, and admit in court. This is particularly true in the case of Hamas funding, as the primary evidence often comes from Israel or other Middle Eastern countries, and therefore presents substantial admissibility and chain of custody issues. 

    • Since Hamas has not been seen as a direct threat to their security, and terrorism financing investigations are labor-intensive, Western governments have not prioritized shutting down Hamas funding mechanisms. This has been particularly true over the last 10/15 years, as the attention has been largely focused on al Qaeda, ISIS and other global jihadist groups. 

    • In some countries, any provision of funds to a designated terrorist organization, such as Hamas, is punishable. In others, it is necessary to meet the much higher probative threshold of demonstrating the donor’s intent to fund a specific act of terrorism. 

    • Similarly, in some cases it was ruled that only funding Hamas’ military branch should be punished. Other courts have dismissed this argument, arguing that the distinction between branches is artificial and that funding Hamas’ social or political branch should also be punished. 

  • The US has historically played a leading role in stemming funding for Hamas. Domestically, it has designated several entities, with its most successful terrorism financing prosecution to date conducted in 2008 against a Hamas funding entity, the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation. Internationally, US authorities have frequently provided evidence to, and exerted pressure on, their counterparts in other Western countries to increase activities aimed at stemming Hamas funding mechanisms. 

  • Western-based Hamas funding networks regularly change their tactics, engaging in a constant cat-and-mouse game with authorities. For example, charities frequently get dissolved or simply change their names to cover their tracks. Cryptocurrencies are also increasingly used in an effort to evade law enforcement. 

  • There are indications that, in the aftermath of the October 7th, 2023, attacks in Israel, the US and other Western countries will look at Hamas funding networks with renewed interest. The challenge of these investigations will be finding the balance between safeguarding the right to provide aid to the Palestinian population and thoroughly investigating and eventually stopping funding of Hamas. 

  • Investigations on financial milieus might also yield positive results from a security perspective. FBI Director Christopher Wray recently stated that, in light of recent developments in the Middle East, the possibility of Hamas carrying out attacks in the West cannot be discounted. “While historically our Hamas cases have identified individuals here who are facilitating and financing terrorism overseas,” he stated, “we continue to scrutinize our intelligence to assess how that threat may be evolving.” It is likely that this potential security threat would emanate from the same milieus that have over the years provided various forms of support to Hamas.