Today (29th November) marks the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, a day that has been annually celebrated by the United Nations for over 40 years.
Expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people has become increasingly difficult in recent years as governments of the world have sought to prohibit and even criminalise almost all meaningful acts of solidarity with them. It is through this prism that the British government’s recent proscription of Hamas, a non-violent political party, must be viewed.
Hamas is the democratically elected representative of the Palestinian people and is the civil administrative authority in the Gaza Strip, building and operating schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure. As such it is almost synonymous with Palestinians and there can be virtually no engagement with Palestinians by virtue of this proscription. It is a natural extension of the economic blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip for over a decade to punish the people for voting for Hamas.
Despite a plethora of evidence produced by both Israeli and international human rights organisations that Israel is operating a system of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and persecution against the indigenous Palestinian population, any criticisms of Israeli atrocities are often condemned as antisemitic. This frightening antisemitism of conflating the State of Israel with Jews was most recently witnessed when a peaceful protest by student against the presence of Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely on campus was compared with Kristallnacht, when thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps by Nazi paramilitaries, their properties destroyed and synagogues desecrated.
Earlier this year, amidst Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and its bombardment of the Gaza Strip in which it killed 260 people, including 66 children, thousands of Muslim pupils expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people in their schools by flying flags, wearing symbols of Palestine and speaking out against the atrocities. In return, they were penalised with detentions, suspensions and even referrals to the national counter-extremism agency Prevent. Following a letter from the Education Secretary to headteachers conflating such acts of solidarity with antisemitism and directing schools to take a partisan position on the issue, CAGE initiated legal proceedings against the government which remain pending at the High Court.
On 19 October, Israel designated six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations. These include groups that support children, aid women, help peasant families and offer legal support to prisoners. The designation was roundly condemned by no less than seven UN Special Rapporteurs and dozens of NGOs in Israel and around the world.
It comes as little surprise then that the British Home Secretary’s proscription of Hamas followed just over a month later. Priti Patel has justified the move as somehow protecting the Jewish community in Britain due to Hamas being ‘rabidly antisemitic’. But this belies the dearth of evidence of any antisemitic rhetoric or action on the part of Hamas for many years. On the contrary, in 2017, the party published a revised policy document clearly distinguishing their struggle as being against ‘occupying Zionist aggressors’ and not ‘Jews.’ Furthermore, the group’s Head of International Relations, Dr Basem Naim, who CAGE hosted last year, is on record as condemning terrorist attacks on synagogues in the USA in 2018 and in Germany in 2019.
It was only in June last year that the late Home Office Minister James Brokenshire said in parliament that “it is considered that there is a clear distinction between Hamas’s military and political wings. In distinguishing between the political and military wings for the purposes of proscription, the Government’s aim is to proscribe only those parts of Hamas which are directly concerned in terrorism.” Despite almost monthly questions to government ministers about proscribing Hamas, as late as 1 November 2021, James Cleverly responded that while Hamas’ military wing had been proscribed, the Government maintained a non-contact policy with Hamas in its entirety. Just 18 days later, the Home Secretary claimed that the distinction was an ‘artificial’ one.
So, the question arises as to what has changed over the past 17 months that Priti Patel has felt the need to proscribe Hamas in its entirety. CAGE firmly believes that the combination of growing solidarity with Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli apartheid and Priti Patel’s personal relationship with the State of Israel that has been the trigger factor in this reassessment.
Priti Patel was sacked by Theresa May in 2017 for holding over a dozen secret meetings in Israel with senior Israeli politicians including then Prime Minister, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Minister for Strategic Affairs, Public Diplomacy and Public Security, during which she was accompanied by one of the principal pro-Israel donor lobbyists in the UK, Lord Polak. Prior to this, she was a member of the Political Council of the Henry Jackson Society between 2013 and 2016 during which time two of HJS’ US directors were also involved in charities with close ties to the Israeli military.
Patel’s proscription of Hamas is nothing more than continuing evidence of her bias and influence by a foreign government, and has little to do with her protecting national security in the UK. The proscription neither tackles antisemitism nor does it protect the British public. The proscription merely serves to criminalise demonstrating solidarity with and supporting the Palestinian people in their struggle against apartheid and persecution, and further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. It is also highly likely that the proscription will lead to the widespread censorship by Big Tech of any posts on social media expressing solidarity with Hamas or any form of resistance by the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression. This will essentially shut down one of the few avenues remaining of raising awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people.
That the proscription decision does not appear to have been made in good faith is underlined by the fact that the Home Secretary made a deliberate decision not to proscribe ISKP in Afghanistan despite undisputed evidence of it being engaged in a series of a devastating terrorist attacks. It appears that the power to proscribe is being abused to penalise legitimate civil society organisations whose politics the government disagrees with. This is consistent with a global authoritarian trend with Israel, Egypt, the UAE, France, India and Australia being among the worst offenders.
In light of the above, there is an urgent need for an independent investigation into the existence of any conflict of interest the Home Secretary may have, and to what extent there was consultation about the evidential basis both within government, especially with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and with external agencies, before a decision was made to proscribe Hamas. There are growing case studies that establish that the current government is mired in corrupt and suspect practices, from the contracts for COVID vaccines to lobbying malpractice as most recently demonstrated by the Owen Patterson, which necessitates full disclosure and complete transparency.
In the global struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the British government criminalised the ANC and Nelson Mandela as terrorists for their resistance against persecution. Despite years of being subjected to vitriolic attacks and rhetoric, the ANC not only succeeded in overthrowing the apartheid regime but won over the support of the entire world. The towering statue of Nelson Mandela in Trafalgar Square should be a persistent reminder to the government that despite its ongoing support for Israeli apartheid, justice will inevitably prevail and the apartheid regime and its supporters will be consigned to the dustbin of history. We look forward to a future Prime Minister laying a wreath at a memorial in Trafalgar Square dedicated to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the millions of Palestinian victims of Israeli apartheid.
Image courtesy of Unsplash/Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)