Hamas: Haven in the Land of the Free

As the result of Israel’s arrest of three Palestinian-Americans who are allegedly tied to the HAMAS organization, attention has been drawn to the activities of that organization’s supporters in the United States. Recent press reports indicate that the political command of HAMAS was relocated to the United States over the last two years due to Israel’s success in fragmenting the organization’s underground structure.[25]

The reported transferal of the HAMAS command structure to the United States came in response to a series of arrests of HAMAS activists by Israel in 1990. A similar series of arrests which ended with the December 17 deportations brought an apparent attempt on the part of American HAMAS supporters to rebuild the movement in January of 1993.

Recent reports indicate that the political command of HAMAS in the United States is located at the United Association for Studies and Research in Springfield, Virginia. The head of the association is named Ahmad Yussef, who is also known by the code name “Abu Ahmad.” The political chief of the organization is Musa Abu Marzuk, whose code name is “Abu ‘Umar.” Muhammed Qassam Sawalha, code named “Abu Badr,” is the military chief of the organization who travels to the United States frequently and reportedly lives in London. In this capacity, Sawalha recently directed the travels of Palestinian-American Muhammed Abd al-Hamid Saleh through the West Bank and Gaza.

Two alleged HAMAS activists, Saleh and Muhammad Hilmi Jarad, from Bridgeview and Chicago, Illinois, respectively, were arrested in Israel on January 25 for attempting to re-structure the organization.[26] In preparation for their travel, $230,000 was transferred from a Chicago bank account to a Palestinian moneychanger. In Israel, Dr. Mahmud Rumahi, a physician from the town of Al-Birah who was arrested on December 16, allegedly served as a conduit for the funds by opening bank accounts for the two men.[27] Jarad and Saleh obtained cash from the moneychanger and proceeded to distribute the funds throughout the West Bank and Gaza: $100,000 to a “key military operative” in the Gaza strip, and 60,000 to the commander of HAMAS’ military arm in Ramallah. Upon their arrest, Jarad and Saleh were found in possession of $100,000. Subsequent to a search of Saleh’s room at the YMCA in East Jerusalem, written reports that the two had collected detailing HAMAS activities in the West Bank and Gaza were found.[26]

After his arrest, Muhammed Saleh told Israeli investigators that he gave a total of $130,000 in cash to agents of HAMAS in one week. $110,000 of that was intended for “arms purchases, the building of new safe houses, recruitment of new members and assistance to fugitives.” [29] Saleh further recounted that he was authorized by his superiors in the organization to spend up to $650,000 on this trip alone. In order to obscure the money trail, $600,000 was deposited for him in various bank accounts. On a previous trip in August 1992, Saleh was reportedly ordered by Muhammad Qassam Sawalha, HAMAS’ London-based military commander, to prepare attacks on Israelis. At that time he gave a HAMAS agent $48,000 to obtain arms that were later used in attacks on Israeli soldiers in Hebron.[30]

Due to his activities, Israeli officials believe that Muhammad Saleh is a senior figure in HAMAS’ military wing. In his conversations with Israeli investigators, Saleh provided a glimpse into his attitude and that of his cohorts vis-a-vis terrorist attacks. Describing the goal of his trips to the West Bank and Gaza as building the organization’s structure for “positive works,” Saleh explained, “It’s a code term. Killing your enemy is positive. And on the telephone, that’s how they can talk about it.” [31]

Muhammed Jarad and his family continue to deny any connection to the HAMAS organization. Yet, according to press reports, Jarad’s Holy Land Bakery and Grocery regularly advertised in Al-Zaytuna, one of HAMAS’ publications in the United States.[32] A journalist who visited Jarad’s place of business described it as follows:

“The store – Holy Land Bakers and Grocery – is located on North Kedzie Street in downtown Chicago. Its walls are covered with PLO flags, intifada texts, HAMAS communiqu,s, pictures of Jerusalem and reliefs of the the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Intifada slogans adorn every possible comer. An entire wall is dedicated to the display of extremist Palestinian propaganda material: posters, videotapes, leaflets and newspapers.”[33]