Following the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections, the head of Hamas’ Change and Reform List Isma’il Haniyya was tasked with forming a new government. The cabinet was approved by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas and the Hamas-dominated parliament (the Palestinian Legislative Council – the PLC).
This brief look at the biographies of the new ministers, cited mostly from the Hamas website, indicates that Hamas is placing much of the emphasis on the new ministers’ academic achievements, perhaps in an effort to hide a lack of professional and management experience in the field of their ministerial portfolios.
Since it was founded in 1987, Hamas has been at odds with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian leadership. Up until 2005, when Hamas participated for the first time in the local elections, the group was an opposition group and as such, its members did not hold posts in the official Palestinian leadership and have gained no substantial working experience in running an authority.
Here are the biographies of the new 24-member Palestinian government:
Isma’il Haniyya – prime minister, minister of youth and sports
Isma’il ‘Abd A-Salam Haniyya was born in the A-Shati refugee camp near Gaza City in 1963. His parents are originally from what is today the Israeli city Ashqelon.
He became involved in the Islamist movement during his studies at the Islamic University in Gaza when he joined the Islamic Bloc, the student branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian areas. He was actively involved in the uprising of the late 1980s, also known as the intifada, and was involved at that time with establishing Hamas with several Muslims Brotherhood members.
Haniyya was imprisoned in Israel in 1987 (for 18 days), in 1988 (for six months) and in 1989 (for three years) for his involvement in Hamas.
In 1992 Haniyya was part of a group of some 400 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad whom Israel deported to Marj A-Zuhour in southern Lebanon for a year.
After returning to Gaza in 1993, Haniyya was appointed Dean of the Islamic University.
In 1997 he left this position to become the assistant of Ahmad Yasin and was the organization’s representative vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority (P.A.)
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has said Haniyya is a possible target of Israel’s targeted assassinations.
He is married with 13 children, all of whom live with him in A-Shati camp.
Mahmoud A-Zahhar – minister for external relations
Mahmoud Khalid A-Zahhar, a 55-year-old vocal Hamas leader in Gaza, was one of the founders of Hamas, along with Sheikh Ahmad Yasin.
A-Zahhar is a physician, born in Gaza to a Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother. He spent much of his early childhood in Egypt and later obtained a bachelor’s degree in medicine at the ‘Ein Shams University in Cairo in 1971, followed by a master’s degree in surgery in 1976.
A-Zahhar headed the health society in Gaza between 1981 and 1985. He still heads the nursing department at the Islamic University in Gaza and lectures there.
In 1988 A-Zahhar was arrested and imprisoned for six months in an Israeli jail during an extensive crackdown on the organization.
Similarly to Haniyya, A-Zahhar was part of the group deported to southern Lebanon in 1992.
A-Zahhar also spent several months in a Palestinian prison in 1996, where Hamas says he was tortured and transferred to hospital in critical condition.
He escaped an assassination attempt when Israeli aircraft targeted his house in Gaza in September 2003, a day after two terror attacks killed 15 Israelis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. He emerged with mild wounds, but the oldest of his seven children, Khalid, was killed in the attack.
He has been quoted supporting deadly terror attacks against Israelis.
Sa’id ‘Siam – interior and civil affairs minister
Sa’id Mahmoud Sha’aban ‘Siam was born in 1959 in A-Shati refugee camp to a family originally from Ashqelon.
The significance of the interior portfolio is that ‘Siam will effectively control the Palestinian security forces.
‘Siam has a diploma in teaching sciences and mathematics and a bachelor’s degree in Islamic education from Al-Quds Open University.
He has worked as a teacher in UNRWA schools in Gaza and held other posts within the organization.
‘Siam represented Hamas in the Higher Follow Up Committee of the National and Islamic Forces in Gaza. He was a member of Hamas’ political bureau and headed the movement’s external relations department.
The Israeli army placed him under administrative detention four times in the late 1980s and early 1990s and he has been imprisoned several times in Israel.
He was expelled to Marj A-Zuhour in 1992 for one year. The Palestinian security forces arrested him in 1995 for his political affiliations.
He is married with six children.
Dr. ‘Umar ‘Abd A-Raziq – finance minister
Dr. ‘Umar Mahmoud Matar ‘Abd A-Raziq was born in Silfit, in the northern West Bank, in 1958. He studied economy in the United Sates and completed a doctorate at Iowa University.
He is a lecturer at the economy department of A-Najah University in Nablus and a researcher at the Palestinian Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) in Ramallah.
He was number 16 on the Change and Reform List.
He was arrested in 1997, and was put under administrative detention in Megiddo prison for four months. He was also arrested more recently, in December, and was released a week later.
Dr. Bassim Na’im – health minister
Dr. Bassim Na’im Muhammad Na’im was born in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun.
He obtained a degree in medicine in Germany and completed a doctorate in surgery. He works at Dar A-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
Na’im heads Hamas’ health department and is secretary of the Palestinian Medical Forum Institute.
Na’im is married with six children.
His eldest son, Na’im, was a member of Hamas’ armed wing, the ‘Izz A-Din Al-Qassam Brigades. He was killed at the age of 17 during an Israeli raid of a Gaza neighborhood after violence erupted in September 2000.
‘Alaa Al-A’raj – minister of national economy
‘Alaa A-Din Al-A’raj was born in Gaza in 1964.
He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from A-Najah University in Nablus.
He headed the board of directors of several trade and contracting companies.
He is active in the Palestinian private sector and heads the Palestinian Contractor Union in Gaza. He is also secretary of the Engineers Syndicate in Gaza.
Al-A’raj was arrested and imprisoned for two years in 1991, accused of what Hamas labels resistance activities. He has five children.
Fakhri Turkeman – social affairs minister (Independent)
Fakhri Fahd Turkeman was born in 1940 and lives in Jenin, in the West Bank.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, psychology and sociology at Damascus University. He holds a higher education diploma in education from A-Najah University in Nablus and worked in education for 36 years.
He is a former member of the PLC, active mostly in affairs regarding budgets, education and religious issues.
Turkeman headed the emergency committee for rebuilding Jenin after Israeli forces entered the West Bank town in 2002, while hunting for terrorists.
Wa’sfi Qabha – minister of prisoners
Wa’sfi Mu’stafa ‘Izzat Qabha was born in 1959 near Jenin. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in Detroit and holds a diploma in water management.
He has headed the engineering office at Jenin municipality’s research and planning department since 1996.
Qabha was arrested several times and spent a total of six years in Israeli prisons where he became a leading Hamas figure among prisoners. He was last arrested in 2002 and spent three years in a jail in the Negev. He speaks Arabic, English and Hebrew. He is married with seven children.
Dr. Na’sir A-Sha’ir – deputy prime minister and minister of education and higher education
Dr. Na’sir A-Din Muhammad Ahmad A-Sha’ir was born in 1961 in Sebastia, near Nablus.
It appears that most of his experience in the field of education focuses on Islamic higher education rather than on the regular school system.
A-Sha’ir lectures on Islamic law and comparative religious studies at A-Najah University in Nablus and teaches at Al-Quds Open University.
He completed a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, which focused on the role of women in Islam and Judaism.
A-Sha’ir is married with six children.
Dr. Yousuf Rizqa – information minister
Dr. Yousuf Rizqa is from Al-Bureij camp in the Gaza Strip. He holds a doctorate in Arabic language. He was Dean of the Arts College and Students’ Affairs at Gaza’s Islamic University.
Dr. Maryam ‘Saleh – Minister of Women’s affairs
Dr. Maryam Mahmoud Hasan ‘Saleh is from Dir ‘Ammar, near Ramallah. She was number 12 on the Change and Reform List and is a member of the PLC.
‘Saleh lived in Saudi Arabia for 22 years, where she completed a master’s degree and a doctorate in Islamic law from Umm Qura University in Mecca, before returning to the Palestinian territories in 1993.
She has been teaching religious studies at Al-Quds University in eastern Jerusalem since 1993.
‘Saleh, the only female member of the new government, has written essays and participated in forums about women’s rights in Islam, as well as delivering lectures at the Dome of the Rock, and at schools, colleges, institutions and mosques throughout the West Bank.
She is married with seven children.
Dr. Ahmad Al-Khalidi – justice minister (Independent)
Dr. Ahmad Mubarak Al-Khalidi was born in 1945 and lives in Nablus.
He is Dean of the Law School at A-Najah University and heads the Palestinian constitution drafting committee.
Jamal Al-Khu’dari – minister of communications and information technology (Independent)
Jamal Naji Al-Khu’dari was born in Gaza in 1955.
An elected PLC member, he holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from an Egyptian university and has worked in the field of communications.
He has headed the board of trustees at the Islamic University for 14 years.
He was deputy head of the engineers syndicate and a member of its board of directors for seven years. He was a member of Paltrade for two years.
Khu’dari is described as a successful businessman who has good connections with officials and diplomats both within Palestinian areas and beyond.
He has five children.
‘Abd A-Rahman Zeidan – minister of public works
‘Abd A-Rahman Fahmi ‘Abd A-Rahman Zeidan was born in 1961. He is from Tul Karem, in the West Bank.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Alabama University and is studying for a master’s degree in road engineering and transport at A-Najah University. He is a supervising engineer for PECDAR projects.
Zeidan was arrested in 1993 for suspected links with armed cells and was placed under administrative detention in 1997 for his activities. He was a member of the dialogue council in Megiddo prison.
Joudeh Morqos – tourism and antiquities minister (Independent)
Joudeh Morqos was born in 1959 in Bethlehem.
He has been a civil engineer at Bethlehem Municipality since 1982.
He has two children.
Morqos was named tourism minister after Tanous Abu ‘Itta, a Christian businessman from Bethlehem, backed down due to reported pressure from his family and business partners.
Dr. ‘Atallah Abu A-Sabah – minister of culture
Born in 1948 and grew up in Rafah in the Gaza Strip.
He was trained as a science and math teacher in Ramallah and he taught in a school for several years. He majored in Islamic law at the Islamic University in Gaza and became head of the students council. A-Sabah obtained a master’s degree in Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic law at A-Najah University and preaches in mosques in Gaza.
He completed a doctorate at Umm Darman University in Sudan.
He is known for his writings in A-Risala newspaper and A-Sa’ada magazine and has also published several collections of poems.
He was imprisoned in Israel five times.
Ziad A-Zaza – minister of transport
Ziad Shukri ‘Abd Rabbo A-Zaza was born in Gaza in 1955.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Alexandria University in Egypt.
He is currently the deputy regional construction engineer in the Gaza branch of UNRWA and manages the Gaza branch of the engineers union.
He coordinates other charities in the Gaza Strip.
A-Zaza has worked as an engineer in construction and infrastructure projects in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
He has nine children.
Sheikh Nayif A-Rajoub – minister of Islamic trust (Waqf)
Sheikh Nayif A-Rajoub was born in 1958 in Hebron.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in Islamic law from a Jordanian university and a master’s degree in jurisprudence from Hebron University. He has written a doctoral dissertation for a Yemenite university. He is an imam and a preacher and lectures at Al-Quds Open University.
He was arrested in 1989 for his affiliation with Hamas and spent a year in jail. He was placed under administrative detention in 1992 for six months and arrested again in 2005. He was one of the group of Islamic Jihad and Hamas members who were deported to Marj A-Zuhour in 1992.
Nayif A-Rajoub is the brother of Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of the rival Fatah party who was formerly the Palestinian National Security Adviser.
He is a member of the PLC.
Dr. Samir Abu ‘Isha – planning minister
Dr. Samir ‘Abdallah Abu ‘Isha was born in Nablus in 1960.
He is currently vice president for planning and development at A-Najah University in Nablus.
He is a professor of civil engineering and obtained a master’s degree and a doctorate at Pennsylvania University in engineering, transport and road planning.
He is the former dean of the Engineering College and the Civil Engineering Department at A-Najah University and was a visiting lecturer in several American and European universities.
He has served as consultant to several Palestinian, Arab and international ministries and institutions, among them the Palestinian planning ministry and the Palestinian transport ministry.
He is married with six children.
Dr. Muhammad Al-Agha – agriculture minister
Dr. Muhammad Rama’dan Al-Agha was born in 1959 in Khan Younis, Gaza.
He holds a doctorate in sciences from the University of Manchester and lectures at the Islamic University in Gaza, where he heads the environmental studies center.
Al-Agha has written extensively on water and environment and his writings have been published in Palestinian areas and beyond, including in the United States.
He is married with three children.
Khalid Abu ‘Arfa – Jerusalem affairs minister
Khalid Abu ‘Arfa was born in Jerusalem in 1961. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Technology University in Baghdad.
He worked as a technical manager for a Sinoqrot food product company and owned a store in Jerusalem which sold building materials.
Abu ‘Arfa was a member of the council to protect Silwan property and a member of the engineers union.
The Israeli authorities arrested Abu ‘Arfa, an active Hamas leader in Jerusalem, at least five times in the 1980s and 1990s for his activities in the movement.
He is married with five children.
’Issa Al-Ja’abari – minister of local government
‘Issa Al-Ja’abari was born in 1966.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the Jordanian University, and a degree in Islamic Education from Al-Quds Open University.
He is a businessman and the general director of an Industrial Trade firm in Hebron.
He is the former secretary of the Islamic Charitable Commission in Hebron. He has been arrested four times since 1993.
He is married with two children.
Dr. ‘Atif ‘Adwan – minister of state
Dr. ‘Atif ‘Adwan is from Gaza’s Beit Hanoun. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree and a doctorate from British universities.
He joined the Islamic University as a political science teacher and has held several administrative posts at the university.
He was an officer in the “popular liberation forces” in the early seventies. He was arrested and imprisoned for thee years in 1971 on grounds of taking part in an armed struggle.
He has been imprisoned in both Israeli and Palestinian jails for his activities in Hamas and was expelled to Marj A-Zuhour in 1992.
He was a political and economic adviser for Hamas’ spiritual leader and founder Ahmad Yasin.
He has contributed to several Arab publications and was the editor of Filistin Al-Muslima, a Hamas magazine.
‘Adwan has written 18 books on issues related to political science and has authored biographies on Hamas leaders. He delivers weekly lectures on current affairs in a Gazan mosque. He speaks Arabic and English.
‘Adwan is married with seven children.
Muhammad Al-Barghouthi – minister of labor
Muhammad Al-Barghouthi was born in 1968 near Ramallah, making him the youngest minister in the new cabinet. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computers and math.
He has been arrested six times and spent a total of more than five years in Israeli prisons.
He was elected head of the student’s union twice and has worked in the charity sector.
He is married with two children.
Dr. Muhammad ‘Aw’d – chief of cabinet
Dr. Muhammad Ahmad Muhammad ‘Aw’d was born in 1960. He is Vice President of the Islamic University in Gaza for information technology issues and is a professor of engineering. He is the former dean of the university’s School of Engineering, and was dean of Planning and Development.
He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
‘Aw’d is the former head of the engineers syndicate in Rafah.
He is married with five children.