Israeli authorities on Tuesday cleared for publication details regarding the investigation and case of Muhammad Murtaja, the director of the Gaza office of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), who was detained by Israeli forces at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Feb. 13.
According to a statement from the Israeli army, Murtaja was arrested on suspicion of working for Hamas, the de facto ruling party in the Gaza Strip, which is considered to be a “terrorist organization” by the state of Israel, and that the TIKA director “falsified lists of needy Gazans, transferred aid packages, and diverted millions of shekels to the terror group.”
The army claimed that while Murtaja was traveling to receive training from TIKA, that “he also intended to acquire information that would increase the accuracy of Hamas rockets launched at Israel.”
“The Israeli Security Agency (ISA) investigation revealed that Murtaja was recruited by Hamas’s military wing in the end of 2008. By early 2009, he was already an active member of the terror group, participating in military training and exercises, manufacturing weapons and explosive devices, and digging terror tunnels. Murtaja even stored weapons, such as hand grenades and guns, in his home,” the statement said.
According to the army, Murtaja “deceived TIKA” by using resources intended for the organization and humanitarian projects in Gaza and “diverting them to Hamas’ military wing,” adding that “millions of shekels” were given to the military wing of Hamas.
The army then went on to claim that “this fraud was carried out in collusion with the senior ranks of Hamas in Gaza, headed by Ismail Haniyeh.”
“Murtaja’s interrogation revealed the depth of his collusion with Hamas. He divulged information about tunnel routes, the methods used by Hamas in digging the tunnels, action plans for fighting, and weapons manufacturing,” the statement said.
The army went on to point out that Murtaja’s alleged connections to the Hamas movement was “far from the first time that Hamas has recruited and exploited the positions of humanitarian workers in order to divert aid intended for Gaza’s civilians to terror,” citing the 2016 conviction of a UNDP official for using his position to provide funds and weapons to Hamas, and the allegations against World Vision employee Muhammad al-Halabi accusing him of funneling “tens of millions of dollars in charity funds to Hamas.”
TIKA, a Turkish governmental department working on development projects abroad, which according to the organization’s website, it has funded a number of medical, agricultural, and housing projects in the Gaza Strip in the past three years, was not immediately available for comment on the allegations against Murtaja.
In 2016, Israeli forces detained at least three employees of aid agencies at the Erez crossing.
The recent spate of detentions of aid workers over their alleged involvement with Hamas comes amid an already dire situation in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas was elected to rule the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008, most recently in the summer of 2014.
The 51-day Israeli offensive, termed “Operation Protective Edge” by Israeli authorities, resulted in the killings of at least 1,462 Palestinian civilians, a third of whom were children, according to the UN.
Since then, Israel has repeatedly restricted the amount of construction material allowed into the Gaza Strip, claiming that Hamas diverted portions of it.
However, according to UN agency OCHA, “most of the previously entered shelter repair and reconstruction material has already been sold to beneficiaries.”
The UN has said that the besieged Palestinian territory could become “uninhabitable” by 2020, as its nearly two million residents remain in dire poverty due to the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade that has crippled the economy, while continuing to experience the widespread destruction wrought by the Israeli offenses, and the slow-paced reconstruction efforts aimed at rebuilding homes for some 75,000 of Palestinians who remain displaced following the last Israeli assault.
Recovery efforts have also been hindered by a severe shortage of foreign funding.
Earlier last year, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which has played a leading role in rebuilding destroyed homes in the beleaguered coastal enclave, said that of the $720 million required for its emergency shelter program, donor countries had pledged only $247 million.