British Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Friday that the government is planning to designate the whole Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, as a “terrorist” organisation and outlaw support for the group. According to Al Jazeera, any form of support for it in the country will be punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Patel called Hamas “fundamentally and rabidly anti-Semitic” and asserted that she would push for the ban in parliament this week, claiming that this will protect Jews in Britain. “Anti-Semitism is an enduring evil which I will never tolerate,” she pointed out. “Jewish people routinely feel unsafe – at school, in the streets, when they worship, in their homes and online.” She claimed that people who raise the Hamas flag in Britain contribute to this insecurity.
Hamas is a resistance movement seeking to end Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestine. Who, I wonder, has pushed Patel to take such a step? Who benefits? And will it stop Hamas and the other Palestinian resistance groups struggling against the occupation of their land, and the expulsion and killing of fellow Palestinians who are consistently denied their legitimate rights by Israel and its supporters?
Famed Israeli journalist Gideon Levy told me that he did not know for certain whether there had been Israeli lobbying for this measure or not, “But it is very possible.” Staff reporter and photographer at several Israeli outlets Oren Ziv added that, “I assume that there has been something behind the scenes.”
Journalist Baruch Yedid explained that Israel handed over information to Britain which alleged that Hamas uses the UK for fund-raising and money laundering. He added that the Israelis are annoyed that there appears — to them — to be a relationship between people accused of being Hamas members or supporters and the former leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn MP.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Israeli politicians welcomed Patel’s move. “Hamas is a terror organisation, plain and simple,” said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He thanked his British counterpart Boris Johnson for his “leadership on the subject”.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also thanked the home secretary for what he described as, “An important and significant decision that gives British security bodies additional tools to prevent the continued buildup of the Hamas terror organisation, including in Britain.”
Israel has succeeded in convincing the West that Palestinian resistance is “terrorism”. In fact, resistance against a military occupation is entirely legitimate under international law. Those living under occupation are entitled to use any means at their disposal in their resistance, including arms.
Patel and those like her overlook this uncomfortable fact. She has a “long record of support for Israel,” wrote British journalist Donald Macintyre in 2017. Macintyre was the Independent’s Jerusalem correspondent between 2004 and 2012.
As Britain’s International Development Secretary, Patel was forced to resign in 2017 after failing to disclose 12 meetings with senior Israeli officials during a holiday in Israel, including the then opposition leader Yair Lapid. In addition to her good relations with Israeli officials, she is also actively anti-Palestinian. In 2016 she announced a review, wrote Macintyre, “Which has already resulted in notable [aid] cuts of some £17 million. This includes, to the widespread dismay of NGOs, cuts in funding to Gaza, where humanitarian and economic conditions are generally agreed to be at their direst ever.”
Such moves do not benefit Britain in any way whatsoever. All they do is prove that the country which issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and basically handed Palestine to the Zionists on a plate 30 years later continues to side with aggressive Zionism by providing the apartheid state of Israel with political and other support.
“Such a step may not benefit the UK,” Ziv told me, “but Israel gets political benefit.” This allows it to continue its aggression against the Palestinian. “It [Israel] can continue the siege of Gaza, continue the different restrictions [imposed on the Palestinians], continue separating Gaza from the West Bank.”
In all fairness, though, if Britain is blacklisting those it regards as “extremists”, surely Patel must also designate as terrorists the illegal Jewish settlers who attack Palestinians and their property? And the so-called Israel “Defence” Forces which kill and maim Palestinian men, women and children at an alarming rate, and protect the extremist settlers as they attack the Palestinians? What about them, home secretary?
“Under the current situation,” said Ziv, “I do not think the UK will blacklist extremist settlers… Nor will it not prevent the entry [to Britain] of any Israeli accused of carrying out crimes against Palestinians.”
The Palestinian Mission in the UK condemned Patel’s plan to designate Hamas, stressing that it “will make peace-making harder.” In its official statement, the mission said, “With this move, the British government has complicated Palestinian unity efforts and undermined Palestinian democracy.”
Various Palestinian factions across the political spectrum also condemned the “unjustified” measure. “This decision is an extension of the UK’s hostile stances towards Palestinian people and their rights,” declared the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. “It is completely biased to the Zionist entity and its aggression against the Palestinians and their legitimate rights.”
Stressing that it does not carry out any illegitimate action, Hamas pointed out that the British government is supporting the aggressors at the expense of the victims. “We resist the occupation,” Hamas Spokesman Hazem Qasim told me. “Resisting occupation is guaranteed by international laws and conventions.”
Hamas was founded in 1987 to challenge the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Although designated as a terrorist group by the US and the EU, countries around the world maintain official contact with it, including Russia, Qatar, Turkey and Pakistan.
The movement was persuaded to participate in the 2006 election for the Palestinian Legislative Council, and to the surprise of everyone, the West and itself included, Hamas won. Even though the election was described by impartial observers as “free and fair”, Israel and its supporters in the West along with several Arab states refused to accept the result because Hamas would not abide by the agreements signed by its secular rival Fatah with Israel. Indeed, Israel itself did not abide by the terms of these agreements, but that didn’t matter.
Zaher Birawi, the chair of the London-based Europal Forum explained to me that Patel’s plan to designate Hamas is intended to restrict even further the public space for expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians and their cause against the Israeli occupation. “It is also intended to frighten the people who express their solidarity with the Palestinians’ legitimate right to resist the Zionist enterprise.”
Hamas, Birawi pointed out, has no offices or assets in Britain, so Patel’s move is likely to have little effect on the movement. “There are, however, many Palestinians and non-Palestinians in the country who support resistance against the occupation and — in line with international law — consider it to be a legal right for a people under occupation… These supporters criticise the occupation state, its racism and crimes based on the principles of freedom, human rights and the law.”
As my fellow MEMO columnist Yvonne Ridley wrote on Friday, “Hamas is part of the solution” for the conflict in occupied Palestine, because the movement is a major political force in Palestinian society. Its designation by Israel, the US and the EU did not make it change course, and it remains committed to the legitimate struggle against occupation. In doing so, it shames those in the West who continue to support Israel while claiming to be defenders of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh commented after a decision made against his movement three years ago by the US Treasury, “It is absurd and nonsense.”
The dictionary definition of “absurd” is “wildly reasonable, illogical or inappropriate”. Priti Patel’s demonisation of Hamas as a “terrorist” group is absurd in every sense if peace and security are her real objectives.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.