Levitt, a former FBI analyst and deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Treasury Department, and now director of terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explains how terrorist groups are financed. Many talk freely about such matters but few have examined the subject in great detail over a long period of time; Levitt has. His book focuses specifically on the financial basis of Hamas, a subject of particular interest since that Islamist group took control of Gaza in mid-June 2007.
Levitt finds a basically two-stage process. First, charities linked to Hamas collect money throughout the West, nominally to help widows and orphans or, more openly, Palestinian activists and gunmen. Second, this money is used through a network of institutions to buy or, at least, inspire support through direct aid and a web of religious, educational, and health institutions, as well as for direct subsidies of armed groups. Levitt does a thorough job, leaving the reader with a clear idea how Hamas functions and why its strategy works so well.
The methods used by Hamas are not unique to it. Levitt's study also explains similar operations by Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda affiliates, Muslim Brotherhood branches, and others.
Ironically, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad also revealed something about the deficiencies of media and academic coverage of the Middle East. In a New York Times review, that newspaper's Middle East correspondent, Steve Erlanger, ignored the book's argument or evidence but complained that Levitt "does not discuss … the premise that Palestinians have a right to resist a 40- year Israeli occupation and partial annexation of their land." Erlanger blames Hamas's popularity on Israeli policies, including a failure to support Fatah's (allegedly) nonviolent leaders. These complaints have nothing to do with Levitt's book; they do display Erlanger's political bias and inability to examine facts, which in turn helps explain why Americans have so little understanding of radical Islamist and terrorist groups.