GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed Aug. 16 an administrative order to confiscate 23 tons of chocolate bars destined for the Gaza Strip, on suspicion of being used as an alternative currency to fund Hamas.
Gantz stressed that Israel would continue to work to prevent Hamas’ growth, accusing it of building a military force instead of serving the interests of citizens who suffer from economic burdens.
“Based on suspicions, Hamas operates a wide network to finance its activities by selling basic products, including chocolate bars, to the residents of Gaza, and thus uses the revenues as economic support for its military wing in the Gaza Strip,” the Israeli Ministry of Defense said in an Aug. 16 statement.
On Aug. 17, Middle East Eye reported that a joint investigation by the Israeli military intelligence, the National Bureau for Counterterror Financing and the Tax Authority’s National Center for Cargo Inspection concluded that the products were headed for Gaza, and were purportedly going to be sold by Hamas to generate income.
On the other hand, Palestinian citizens and activists mocked Israel's confiscation of chocolate bars on social media, and expressed their discontent with the policy pursued by Israel in dealing with Gaza.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem denied Israel's allegations that the tons of chocolate it confiscated belong to the movement and will serve to finance its activities in Gaza, stressing that they are lies to justify the unjust siege imposed on the enclave.
“We deny all allegations of similar cases occurring in the past,” he added.
On another note, Qassem stressed that Hamas does not benefit at all from the Qatari grant money, explaining that the Palestinian people in Gaza benefit from it, under the supervision of the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee.
“Hamas does not seek at all to benefit from the funds of the Qatari grant,” he said.
Qassem noted that Hamas — as a resistance movement that defends the rights of the Palestinian people — has the right to obtain the necessary support to continue its legitimate struggle, and all national forces in the region are required to support it, denying that the new Israeli government has a role in deepening Hamas' financial crisis or drying up its sources of funding.
Mustafa al-Sawaf, a political analyst close to Hamas and former editor-in-chief of the local Felesteen newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “If Hamas wanted to benefit from selling goods, it would not have chosen chocolate; it would have gone for a larger product to make greater profits.” He wondered about the value of the confiscated chocolate and “what difference it would make in funding the activities of a great resistance movement.”
He explained that Hamas members are part of the Palestinian community, and that some of them are traders. He said that they import goods for their own benefit, not to finance the movement, and that it is not logical for them to quit their business and trade because they are affiliated with Hamas.
“Israel is trying to blackmail traders in order to incite them against Hamas,” he noted.
Speaking about the recent Israeli announcement to ease some restrictions on the Gaza Strip, which coincided with the confiscation of the chocolate bars, Sawaf said that it is not a contradiction. He explained that Israel does not want to tighten the grip on Gaza completely for fear of the situation imploding and leading to a new escalation. “It also does not want to ease restrictions too much and end up facing internal criticism,” he added.
Sawaf expects that the Qatari grant would be introduced gradually, ruling out the Israeli rumors about the salaries of Gaza government employees being deducted from the grant.
Talal Okal, a political analyst and writer for the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “Everyone knows that Hamas benefits from imported goods through taxes it imposes on merchants, as it is the government that runs Gaza.”
He believes it is unreasonable to confiscate chocolate bars under the pretext that they are an indirect source to finance Hamas; another commodity would have made more sense.
He stressed that Hamas in Gaza is under pressure from several parties, especially from the United States, that want to reach a complete peace equation and neutralize the resistance's weapons, in exchange for economic recovery, which Hamas strongly rejects.
Okal noted that the new Israeli government is trying to link the Gaza reconstruction and the opening of the crossings to the return of its soldiers detained in Gaza (which Israel believes were killed).
He added, “The Israeli government is trying to put on a show for the Israeli people, helped by the US administration, which does not want this government to fail — especially since it came after four electoral rounds.”
Okal pointed out that Hamas’ financial crisis is tied to the economic crisis plaguing the people of Gaza, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line.
Mouin Rajab, a professor of economic sciences at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “This Israeli policy is completely unjustified and negatively affects the economic situation in Gaza. It directly affects importers who will now endure huge losses and will cause a large deficit in the markets.”
He added, “The turmoil caused by this policy makes importers anxious, as they fear that their other goods will be confiscated in the future.”
Rajab explained that this policy is a blow to the import process and Palestinian trade, stressing that it increases the suffering of the Gazan consumer and increases the prices of similar goods due to the scarcity of supplies, in addition to having many other negative economic repercussions.
Speaking about the Gaza government’s ability to support chocolate merchants, Rajab explained that the government’s role is limited and weak due to its lack of control over the crossings. But, he said, the government may resort to a similar policy by preventing Israeli goods from entering the Gaza Strip.
Rajab further called for the need to move toward self-sufficiency in most goods and products.