The trial of 68 alleged Hamas members has begun in Saudi Arabia. They were arrested in April 2019 in Saudi Arabia; most were Palestinians from the Palestinian territories who immigrated to Saudi Arabia, some were Jordanian citizens. Hamas officials claim the detainees were tortured in prisons in Riyadh and Jeddah.

This trial, which will last for several months, is being held publicly, and Saudi authorities permitted members of the suspects’ families to be present at the first hearing. Among the accused are students, academics and businessmen, all of whom have been held in solitary confinement for months without access to legal counsel or their families. The suspects’ Saudi bank accounts have been seized.

Among those on trial are Mohammed al-Khodari, an 81-year-old doctor, and his son Hani. Al-Khodari has been Hamas’s official representative in Saudi Arabia since 1988, before which he was a military hospital director in Kuwait and held the rank of colonel in the Kuwaiti army.

During the first court hearing, the detainees were accused of belonging to a “terrorist entity” and “supporting and financing a terrorist organization.”

The public trial of accused Hamas members in Saudi Arabia is enraging Hamas activists in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and supporters of the group throughout the Arab world.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem condemned Saudi Arabia’s behavior and called for the immediate release of the detainees.

“It is inconceivable to prosecute Palestinian leaders in an Arab state on charges that relate to the Palestinian problem and in support of their legitimate struggle. The patriotic and Arab duty requires support for the Palestinian resistance and support [for] the Palestinian opposition against the American ‘deal of the century,’ whose goal is the elimination of the Palestinian problem,” said Qassem.

The public trial of suspected Hamas activists in Saudi Arabia illustrates the depth of the rift that has been created between Gaza and Riyadh.

According to Hamas sources, these arrests were made at the behest of the United States and Israel and are part of Riyadh’s normalization efforts with Jerusalem.

Last September, the United States imposed sanctions on two money-exchange companies in Turkey over their role in assisting Hamas transfer funds from Saudi Arabia to the Gaza Strip. The U.S. move came in the wake of Saudi intelligence reports that dozens of Hamas activists in Saudi Arabia were engaged in collecting and laundering funds for Hamas’s military arm, which were then transferred to the Gaza Strip via Turkey.

The “golden age” between Hamas and Saudi Arabia began in 1988 during the first intifada, shortly after Hamas was established by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Hamas opened an official office in Riyadh, headed by none other than Mohammed al-Khodari, who is currently on trial.

In 1998, King Fahd hosted Sheikh Yassin and allowed him to raise funds for Hamas in the kingdom.

However, a rift between Hamas and Saudi Arabia opened in 2007 when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip and expelled the Palestinian Authority from it.

The Islamic holy city of Mecca served as the first meeting point for reconciliation efforts between Hamas and the P.A. Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas met near the Kaaba in Mecca a few months after the P.A. was expelled from the Gaza Strip. They signed a reconciliation agreement that did not come to fruition, an incident that embarrassed Saudi Arabia. The Saudis blame Hamas for violating the agreement.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s entry into the White House and the rise of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who became Saudi Arabia’s “strong man,” have only further aggravated Hamas’s situation. Saudi Arabia adopted President Trump’s position in 2017, declaring Hamas a terrorist organization.

Saudi authorities have rejected all Hamas efforts to secure the detainees’ release. Hamas appealed to international officials and senior figures in the Islamic world to intervene on behalf of the detainees, but to no avail.

Saudi Arabia’s actions, which are intended to dry up Hamas’s sources of funding, are notable. Riyadh’s disregard for Hamas’s requests to release the detainees and the fact that it turned to a public trial indicates its complete alignment with the United States and Israel in the war on terror.

With this public trial against alleged Hamas activists, Saudi Arabia is sending the Gaza-based terror group a clear message. Hamas, for its part, considers it a national humiliation and a surrender by Saudi Arabia to U.S. and Israeli pressure.

Hamas officials say the Saudi royals will do anything to maintain their rule and that it is the Saudi desire to help the United States and Israel against the Iranian threat which is pushing the kingdom to turn its back on the “leading” Palestinian resistance movement.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Support Jewish Journalism
with 2020 Vision

JNS is more than just another news website and syndication service. It is an organization devoted to nonstop reporting, and telling the truth about Israel and Jewish issues unburdened by the biases and institutional blinders that distort so much of what we read, hear and see about these topics elsewhere in the secular and even Jewish press.

At JNS, you get the facts about Israel and Jewish issues without the bias that so often tilts the argument against the Jewish state. JNS articles and columns are republished every week by digital outlets and print newspapers across the globe. But in the age of round-the-clock news coverage, advertising and syndication revenues are not enough to support our continued growth. We need your financial help to keep JNS on target as we continue our fair and accurate reporting.

Please help us take JNS to the next level with a tax-deductible sponsorship, either on a recurring monthly basis. Jewish News Syndicate is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization.