Palestinians See Trouble For Charity In Crackdown

PRESIDENT CLINTON'S FREEZE on the assets of identified Mideast radical groups is aimed at curbing terrorism, but it will impact many charitable projects as well.

AL-RAM, West Bank - The U.S. government crackdown on donations to Mideast extremists spells trouble for many Palestinian schools, clinics and public welfare projects, whose sponsors warn of an anti-American backlash.

At Al-Ram's respected Faith School, Shiek Jamil Hamami predicted a "very negative impact" from President Clinton's decision to freeze assets of militant Muslim and Jewish groups.

The freeze is aimed at curbing their fund-raising efforts in the United States, but could also result in less money for charitable projects such as schools, clinics, welfare offices and community centers.

Israeli terrorist experts contend the groups are used to funnel some money to guerrilla fighters, and that the network of charitable projects lend false legitimacy and a supportive infrastructure to terrorists.

"It will increase hostility against the American government," Hamami said of the American decision.

Hamami, 42, directs the Islamic Culture and Science Society, which runs the school as well as a kindergarten, orphanage and a health clinic.

Israeli authorities link him to the militant Islamic group Hamas, and have arrested him twice on charges of illegal fund raising.

Hamami denies a Hamas connection, despite a pro-Hamas video sold in the Gaza Strip that identifies him as one of the group's leaders and in which he is shown giving a speech praising three Hamas gunmen who were killed by Israeli soldiers.

Hamami calls Clinton's move "more of a political decision than a practical one and is designed to appease the government of Israel."

Israel is pleased by the U.S. action. Israeli security sources said Israel gave the Americans information on 180 U.S. bank accounts linked to terror groups. The U.S. government acted to close 150 accounts, said the sources.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat also praised Clinton's move. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both listed as targets for the crackdown, are his principal rivals in the newly autonomous territories.

Violence by Islamic extremists has claimed 114 Israeli lives since September 1993 and brought the Israel-PLO peace process to the brink of collapse. Israel has launched its own crackdown, arresting more than 60 activists this week and shutting down two Islamic study centers in the West Bank.

Hamami said the Faith School and an orphanage run by his Islamic society are supported in part by money from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Richardson, Texas, and the World Islamic League in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

A foundation director in Richardson, Shoukry Abu Bakr, said his organization had no connection with Hamas or any of the other 11 Muslim and Jewish groups on the U.S. government's target list. Money goes only to schools, hospitals, clinics and special programs, such as food packages worth $30 to $50 that are being sent to Palestinian refugees for the upcoming holy month of Ramadan, he said.

"If they are going to stop funds for the 1,000 orphans, and no one nourishes them or gives them love, then it will create 1,000 terrorists," he said. "This is not what Mr. Clinton wants."

The foundation raised $1.6 million in 1993 for educational aid "in the holy lands," according to U.S. tax records. Abu Bakr said about 40 groups received funds in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Israel.

Much of the money for projects like the Faith School comes from alms given by West Bankers and Gazans to local Islamic committees. A cutoff in the flow from abroad may slow down Hamas' growth, but is unlikely to cripple it.

Hamas is believed to have only about 2,000 to 3,000 fighters from a hard core of activists who number in the tens of thousands. Guerrillas often find jobs in the charity organizations - as teachers, drivers and cooks, said Yigal Carmon, former Israeli government adviser on terrorism. The militants can call on such groups for a car, food, money, documents or a place to hide.

Israel's government has outlawed Hamas and Islamic Jihad in areas it controls outside the PLO-autonomy zones. It also arrested some envoys accused of carrying money from the United States.

Carmon estimated tens of millions of dollars intended for Islamic groups here came from the United States. Saudi Arabia, Arab Gulf countries and Iran are also sources of donations.