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We need a national debate about Hamas

October 30, 2023 at 11:30 am

People gather for the Edmonton Emergency Protest and Sit-In for Gaza outside the Alberta Legislature, on October 18, 2023, in Edmonton, Canada. [Stringer – Anadolu Agency]

As bombs continue to be dropped on Gaza, this is an opportune time for an urgent public debate about whether the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, really is a “terrorist” organisation, as the UK government has declared it to be, or a legitimate independence movement of freedom fighters. Hamas was formed in the late 1980s as a social movement intent on working for the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation; the aim was to free all of occupied Palestine, not only the land occupied since 1967. However, by 2017, it agreed to a truce if Israel withdrew to the 1967 nominal border — which in reality is the 1949 Armistice (“Green”) Line — with the establishment of a fully independent State of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of all Palestinian refugees. This, said Hamas, was the formula for national consensus.

The movement does seek the dismantling of Israel as an exclusively “Jewish State”, but that does not mean that it wants to kill Israelis and Jews. This is outlined in the movement’s “Document of General Principles and Policies” published in May 2017.

As a liberation movement, it should be remembered, Hamas has never conducted any resistance acts beyond the borders of occupied Palestine. Nevertheless, the British government headed by Prime Minister Tony Blair designated the Hamas military wing — Al-Qassam Brigades — as a terrorist group in 2001, but added the political wing to the designation in 2021.

Hamas won the last free and fair Palestinian legislative election in 2006, and senior official Ismail Haniyeh became Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority with a mandate to govern Gaza and the occupied West Bank. The election result was not recognised by Israel and its Western allies, which imposed and backed a siege of the Gaza Strip, where the movement has its headquarters. Its status has been undermined by the terrorist designation; it is fighting for justice for its people and is thus obliged, as any governing body is, to defend them. Israel has recently tightened the siege, and cut off all water, electricity, fuel and food supplies.

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The British government negotiated with the Sinn Fein political party in talks that resulted in peace in Northern Ireland, at the same time as it condemned the military wing of the Irish republican movement, the Provisional IRA. When the IRA bombed towns and cities on the British mainland, the government did not despatch the RAF to bomb republican strongholds in the province and kill everyone in them. And yet the current government in Westminster defends Israel’s “right to defend itself” and condones the genocidal bombing campaign against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The situation in Palestine is very similar. If we exclude a major Palestinian political player such as Hamas, we cannot hope for peace.

The British government should reconsider the situation and revoke the designation of Hamas. Even former Tony Blair said in 2017 that “We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its election win.”

This is why I am calling for support for Hamas to be removed from the list of proscribed organisations in this country, and pointing out to Home Secretary Suella Braverman that the political wing of the movement was only proscribed by her predecessor Priti Patel following her secret meetings whilst on holiday in Israel, and passed through parliament without a vote.

Besieged Gaza is the open-air prison resisting Israel’s colonisation of Palestine - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Besieged Gaza is the open-air prison resisting Israel’s colonisation of Palestine – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The move to have Hamas removed from the list is being made under Section 4 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which provides “that the organisation or any person affected by a proscription can submit a signed, written application to the Home Secretary requesting that they consider whether a specified organisation should be removed from the list of proscribed organisations.” We are all affected by the Hamas proscription as it places limits on campaigning for legitimate Palestinian rights.

With the ongoing destruction and genocidal slaughter in Gaza, now is the time to re-open communications with the political wing of Hamas which is, after all, the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. Britain regards the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel as contrary to international law, yet by proscribing Hamas, we exclude those who are suffering from conversations about a resolution of the issue. Britain played a major role in the creation of Israel, so our government surely has a moral responsibility to solve the problem and end the occupation of Palestine.

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International law encapsulated in UN Resolution 37/43 of 1982 “reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.” This is a course which Hamas follows, but few western governments acknowledge.

The resolution’s preamble makes clear that it refers specifically to the rights of Palestinians: “Considering that the denial of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, sovereignty, independence and return to Palestine and the repeated acts of aggression by Israel against the peoples of the region constitute a serious threat to international peace and security.” It should be noted that Israel’s right to defend itself does not extend to justifying “self-defence” against Palestinian resistance by the kind of bombardment happening in Gaza even as I write.

Hamas underlined its commitment in 2017 to abide by the democratic will of a new Palestine, one that includes the current occupiers, on the understanding that they are “de-Zionised” (as Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe has said). The movement insists that it will abide by the democratic preference of a majority of the people living between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in an electorate that would include Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as people of no faith. A number of Muslim lands have Jewish and Christian minorities who are recognised as fellow “people of the book”.

Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas by brute, military force are wiping out the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the majority of whom may have voted for the movement in 2006 and have had calls for fresh elections denied by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. After 75 years of occupation, it is time to re-assess the purpose and format of the “peace process”, as well as those with whom talks will be held. For that reason alone, Hamas really should be removed from the list of designated terrorist organisations.

Pete Gregson of One Democratic Palestine is calling upon people to sign his letter to the Home Secretary. If you wish to do so, go to  

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.