Iran Cuts Funding to Hamas


Iranian aid for Hamas in the Gaza Strip has declined. International  agencies had estimated Iranian aid at $20 million a month. The decline in  Iranian aid has had a noticeable impact on cultural, sports and social projects  that Iran used to support with a little bit of competition from Qatar, which has  become the top aid provider for Hamas. The Qatari grant for the reconstruction of  Gaza was estimated at $407 million in 2012.


Al-Monitor met with Finance  Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ziad al-Zaza. When asked if his government  was receiving Iranian aid, he denied that his government had received support  from any country.

In an interview at his Ministry of Finance office [June  17], Zaza said, “We do not get any support from any government in the world. But  we receive support from our friends, our Arab brothers and from the free  world.”

In response to whether his government had Iranian friends  who supported it, he said, “Iran is a Muslim sister state like all Arab and  Muslim countries. … There are individuals [who support us] in Iran, like in  all Arab countries and the free world. That kind of support is still ongoing but  it is minor. We are talking anywhere between $5 million to $12 million a month.  I have been in the government since 2006 and nothing has changed.”


Culture and Iran

Al-Monitor took a look at  government-sponsored cultural, sports and youth projects in the Gaza Strip.

Mohammad al-Aeraar, international relations official at  the Ministry of Culture, said that the Iranian Ministry of Culture used to  support his ministry by training technical teams in cinema, but all that  stopped. “The last time we talked to them on the phone, they said that the  reason [for the stoppage] is the Iranian election and that the support will  resume afterward,” he said.

He said that the only current Iranian-supported project is  the production of a film titled “22 Days,” written by Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar. The film will be shot in  Lebanon and is about the 2008-09 war on Gaza. Aeraar stressed that there is an  ongoing cooperation between the Iranian Ministry of Culture, the government in  Gaza and the Hamas cultural department, which is headed by Zahar. The Hamas  cultural department is producing the film and has begun marketing it.

Al-Monitor obtained a copy of  the memorandum of understanding between the Iranian Ministry of Culture, the  Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Gaza and the Hamas cultural department. The  memorandum calls for “cooperation between the two countries to establish  educational camps, conduct youth exchange programs for training, conduct movie  production training rounds in the two countries and perform scientific and  cultural festivals.”

The memorandum also states: “Both sides declare their  readiness to (1) conduct film festivals — in Tehran and Gaza — about Palestine,  Jerusalem and the intifada; (2) establish centers of Iranian studies in Gaza and  centers for Palestinian studies in Iran; (3) establish bilateral relations  between the film unions in both countries; (4) support Palestinian film  production, especially about Jerusalem; (5) start working for the establishment  of forums that spread the resistance culture and delegitimize Israel; (6)  translate Iranian works into Arabic and Palestinian works into Farsi, and  distribute them; and (7) establish cultural institutions, equip libraries in the  Gaza Strip and establish a cinema complex and a museum to commemorate the  Palestinian resistance.”

The memorandum, which was signed in September 2012, was  valid for five years and could be renewed if there are no objections. It could  be abrogated by a formal request by either party.

Asked whether the memorandum of understanding was  implemented, Aeraar said that it has been frozen, even though Iran had provided  support for cultural projects in the past. Iran invited Palestinian officials to  participate in a number of film festivals and trained technical personnel. This  is what happened for the first Hamas-produced film. The same was being planned  for another Hamas-produced film about the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Zahar wrote its screenplay.  Aeraar clarified that some of these activities and projects were supervised by  the Islamic Cultural Center in Gaza.

The memorandum of understanding was signed in Iran in the  presence of Culture, Youth, and Sports Minister Mohammad al-Madhoun and Zahar.  The latter is close to Iran, where he is nicknamed “the father of the martyrs.”  Analysts said that the purpose of the visit was conciliatory because the visit  by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in February failed to  repair Hamas-Iranian relations, which deteriorated after Hamas leaders left  Damascus.

Aeraar saw it likely that the stalled projects would soon  be supported by the Qatari Ministry of Culture, although he was still optimistic  that the Iranians would resume their support now that the presidential election  is behind them.

Youth and sports

Iranian aid used to be the largest foreign aid for the  Gaza government and affected all areas of daily life for Gaza citizens.

The head of the Palestinian Youth Support Fund, Ahmad  al-Mashhawari, whom Al-Monitor met in his office,  said that the fund provides loans for young people who want to get married,  write scientific research, attend graduate school or buy a house. The fund has  helped more than 900 young people by giving them a loan of $2,000 each. The fund  was established by the Palestinian prime minister in 2007 and has about $1  million available for eligible applicants.

Mashhawari said that the fund is suffering from a deficit  and a dearth in beneficiaries. He said that the problem may be in the procedure  for receiving the money pledged by some countries such as Iran. So far, the fund  has only received $40,000 from Iran.

The director of the Department of Youth and Sports, Nabil  al-Aawajah, told Al-Monitor that Qatar and Iran are  competing to support the sports sector. Qatar has opened up to Gaza and is  contributing human and material resources. Iran, on the other hand, is  supporting infrastructure and training personnel, as it used to organize scout  camps in the past. He said that his ministry places no conditions on Qatar or  Iran and pointed out that Turkey also has started supporting projects two years  ago.

He added, “Qatar is playing a major role in supporting  sports clubs and building the stadium that was destroyed in the recent war;  Qatar is providing $1 million. Before that, Iran used to be the main supporter  since 2007. But things changed because of the volatility of the political  atmosphere.”

Zaza said that those projects are not that important  because of the drop in Iranian support, which he insists has become nonexistent.  He told Al-Monitor that if a country pledges support  but never delivers, it cannot be counted as support. He said that all  international agencies provide support for infrastructure projects in the Gaza  Strip and the West Bank, but that doesn’t mean that the Palestinians are  controlled by these institutions.

An Iranian  consulate?

During Al-Monitor’s previous meeting with Aeraar at the  Ministry of Culture, he repeatedly suggested that the Islamic Cultural Center  served as a supervisor of some projects for the Iranian government or stood in  the place of an Iranian consulate. But the center’s website and offices do not  give the impression that it is a foreign entity. A member of the center’s board  of directors, Fayez al-Hussni, asserted to Al-Monitor that portraying the center as an Iranian consulate is inaccurate and a  distortion. He explained that receiving previous Iranian support to conduct  projects does not make the center an official Iranian body.

In the past, the center had organized 49 arts and sports  projects with the Ministry of Education. It also collaborated with the Ministry  of Culture to organize a film festival. He said that that era is over and the  center receives support from many entities.

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a contributing writer  for Al-Monitor’s Palestine Pulse, and a journalist  from the Rafah refugee camp based in Gaza.

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