The Arab Bank is the largest bank in Jordan, with 350 branches around the world and reported total assets of some $23 billion. Based in Amman, the bank is THE major banking institution in the Palestinian territories, and operates 15 branches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It serves as the primary recipient and distributor of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) funds, and is the preferred financial institution for a slew of terror groups – including Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), just to name a few.
The Arab Bank has even been identified by the PA’s security services as the major channel for funds from abroad to these organizations. This, of course, explains the presence of the Saudi Ministry of Finance and Economy, the Chairman of Palestine Development & Investment Ltd (PADICO), the Lebanese Finance Minster, and the Chairman of the Palestinian Telecommunications Corporation on its Board – connections that raise disturbing questions about complicity in the financing of terrorism.
In October 2000, shortly after the outbreak of the latest Palestinian intifada, the Saudi Committee for the Support of the Intifada al-Quds (“Saudi Committee”) was established in Riyadh as a private charity, run by Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abd al-Aziz. The stated mandate of the committee was to support the “Intifada al-Quds” and the families of [future] martyrs and [future] injured Palestinians. Shortly after its founding, the first of two telethons was held, with Prince Naïf calling for contributions, proclaiming that this telethon “is a continuation and assertion of the kingdom’s support [for the Intifada].” The two telethons raised $174 million, subsidizing the Palestinian terror campaign and bankrolling Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and their related front organizations in the West Bank and Gaza. Although these Palestinian organizations at the time were not listed on the State Department’s Terrorist List, they since have been added.
The Bank, the Saudis and other contributors to Palestinian charities that front for Hamas, the PIJ and others, claim, of course, that the money they sent to Jihad was intended for charity. However, leaflets distributed by Hamas in Gaza leave little doubt about the purpose of the money, beseeching, “If you can’t give your life, give your money”; “If it is impossible for you to bear arms and you truly desire to fight in the holy war, contribute from what you have received from Allah;” and “The land is ours… the jihad is ours… the Jews are our enemies and the money belongs to Allah.”
Their supporters have answered the call. On April 11, 2004, the website IslamOnline cited an operative of Hamas’ Izz a-Din al-Aqsa Brigades as saying that “an overseas donor had pledged a sum of money equal to the value of a significant number of Qassam rockets.” He also claimed that other donors had “pledged sums sufficient to recruit, train and send out many suicide bombers.”
In all, according to Palestinian documents seized by the IDF, the Saudi Committee “reported the transfer of $55.7 million mostly to the families of suicide bombers and to the families of imprisoned or injured Palestinian militants.” The Saudis transferred some of these funds in riyals to the Arab Bank’s branch on Madison Avenue in New York, which in turn “laundered the money” and forwarded the sum in dollars to the Arab Bank branch in Ramallah. These are just some of the charges leveled at the bank by American victims of Palestinian terror, who are now in the process of suing the Arab Bank in New York.
Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship goes beyond merely raising money to bankroll Hamas, the PIJ, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, however. Together with the Arab Bank, Riyadh has launched a PR campaign in the Palestinian territories, publicly announcing that this money was available for future “martyrs” and their families. Such advertisement surely encouraged potential Palestinian terrorists to volunteer, especially armed with the knowledge that an “insurance coverage” of over $5,000 was guaranteed to their families upon their death. Lesser amounts were promised – and provided – to those merely wounded or captured by the Israelis while carrying out a terror attack.
There are many more minute details about the Arab Bank’s active pursuit of Palestinian terror financing. Since the Arab Bank is the biggest bank in Jordan, since it has been identified by the Spanish authorities as having transferred money from the al-Qaeda cell in Spain to members involved in the September 11 attacks, of having wired money to al-Qaeda members in Yemen and Pakistan, and since it has been conducting its Palestinian terror financing in public – Hamas openly solicits donations, posting account numbers in the Arab Bank on its Internet site – one wonders why the Jordanian government has not put an end to these activities? And these activities beg the question: why has the U.S. refrained from bringing legal action against the bank?
Rachel Ehrenfeld is a member of the Committee On The Present Danger, the author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, and the Director of the American Center for Democracy.