Muhammad Murtaja, head of TIKA’s Gaza office (palsawa.com, February 13, 2017)
1. In February 2017, the Israeli security forces arrested Muhammad Faruq Sha’aban Murtaja, a resident of the Gaza Strip, the head of TIKA’s Gaza office. TIKA is a humanitarian aid organization operating on behalf of the Turkish government throughout the world, including in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Murtaja was arrested on suspicion of having worked for the military wing of Hamas in his capacity as head of TIKA’s Gaza office (Israel Security Agency, March 21, 2017).
2. During his interrogation,it emerged that Murtaja had been recruited to Hamas in late 2008 and that he had worked for its military wing since 2009. As part of his activity as a Hamas operative, he received military training and stored weapons in his house. Murtaja was detained while passing through the Erez Crossing on his way to Ankara. His interrogation revealed that the purpose of his trip to Turkey was to participate in TIKA in-service training.However, his trip was also intended to obtain information that would help Hamas improve the accuracy of its rockets (Israel Security Agency, March 21, 2017). According to the indictment filed against him at the Beersheba District Court, he was sent to Turkey by the military wing of Hamas in order toobtain maps based on Turkish satellite photos (Haaretz Israeli daily, March 22, 2017).
3. In 2012, about three years after joining Hamas’s military wing, Murtaja was appointed head of TIKA’s Gaza office. Hamas apparently encouraged him to accept this position from the perspective that it would be able to use him to advance its interests. During Murtaja’s interrogation, it emerged that since joining TIKA, he had transferred to Hamas funds and resources intended for humanitarian purposes or civilian projects in the Gaza Strip, in the amount of millions of dollars. He transferred funds to Hamas operatives and their families and allocated homes to Hamas operatives in a building project designated for the needy (Israel Security Agency, March 21, 2017).
Muhammad Murtaja, head of the TIKA branch in the Gaza Strip (second from left), meeting with the heads of the Hamas-affiliated Dar al-Quran al-Karim wal-Sunnah organization. The purpose of the meeting was to strengthen the ties between the two organizations (Website of Dar al-Quran al-Karim wal-Sunnah, April 23, 2014).
4. The phenomenon of “wearing two hats,” i.e., officials of international aid organizations who also serve in Hamas and promote its interests, is well known from the past (recently in the form of senior Hamas activists working for UNRWA).Stealing resources from TIKA and transferring them to Hamas’s military wingis also a known phenomenon. In the past, it was reported that the World Vision aid organization had employed an engineer by the name of Muhammad Halabi who secretly transferred some of the humanitarian aid funds to Hamas’s military wing. Another example: An engineer by the name of Wahid Abdullah, who worked for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), transferred money to Hamas’s military wing, inter alia for the construction of a military port in the northern Gaza Strip. In addition, Murtaja’s interrogation also revealed that during the years that he served as deputy head of the Gaza branch of IHH, an anti-Israel Turkish aid organization, he regularly transferred aid funds from Turkey to Hamas’s military wing.
5. Turkey’s response (so far) has been characterized by a low profile. Turkey has refrained from turning the affair into a bone of contention between the two countries.
6. Even before the gag order was lifted, Israel provided the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Turkish Embassy in Israel with the details of the indictment. On February 23, 2017, the Anatolia News Agency reported that the Israeli authorities had arrested Muhammad Murtaja on February 12, 2017, and claimed that they were preventing him from meeting with a lawyer (Anatolia News Agency, February 23, 2017). The Turkish press published informative reports on the arrest of Muhammad Murtaja on charges of “supporting terrorism” (Milliyet; Yeni Şafak, March 21, 2017). The Turkish media quoted the Israel Security Agency’s announcement that TIKA had not been aware of Murtaja’s activities within Hamas and that Murtaja had defrauded his employers and had taken advantage of the organization’s budget (Anatolia News Agency, February 23, 2017).
7. Hüseyin Müftüoğlu, Spokesperson of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, issued a statement noting that Murtaja was an employee of TIKA’s Gaza office since 2012. According to the statement, he was arrested at the Erez Crossing on February 12, 2017, after receiving a permit from Israel to attend a professional seminar in Ankara for the organization’s employees. According to the spokesman, Turkey asked Israel for complementary information about Murtaja. Meanwhile, all relevant legal support necessary for protecting Murtaja’s rights is being provided. The spokesman said that TIKA’s development assistance activities in Gaza are being carried out with Palestinian authorities’ consent and with the knowledge of the Israeli government. Therefore, any attempt affecting the security of the parties has never been tolerated or allowed. The spokesperson concluded that “TIKA will continue, in the future as in the past, its projects with diligence and devotion in order to alleviate the plight of Palestinian people, including in Gaza, which emanates from the 50-year-long occupation” (Turkish Foreign Ministry website, March 22, 2017).
8. Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum issued an official statement in response to Murtaja’s arrest. According to the statement, Israel has targeted international organizations and is arresting their directors. The statement notes that Israel recently arrested the head of TIKA’s office in the Gaza Strip and is disseminating accusations and lies about him. According to the statement, these steps are part of an “extensive Zionist campaign” to impose a siege on the Gaza Strip and terrorize international institutions so that they will not provide services to the destitute, children and owners of demolished homes in Gaza (Hamas’s official website, March 21, 2017).
9. Attached are three appendices:
A.Appendix A: The TIKA aid agency and its activities in the Palestinian arena
B.Appendix B:Hamas’s theft of TIKA’s aid funds by means of Muhammad Murtaja
C.Appendix C: Further examples for the theft of aid funds by Hamas
2) World Vision