On November 19, British Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that she is seeking a terror designation for the Palestinian movement Hamas. Its military wing has already been banned in the United Kingdom, but now the government wants to extend the measure to the political party as well.
The designation would effectively criminalise support for the movement, including actions such as wearing clothing with its slogans or flying its flag. Patel claimed that the proscription order is vital for protecting the UK’s Jewish community and combatting anti-Semitism. It is well-known that Hamas has no formal activities in the UK. So it is hard to believe that this move is actually meant to uproot some kind of Hamas presence on British territory that somehow threatens the Jewish community. On the other hand, there are many initiatives in the UK supporting the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian population in Gaza and there are several British charitable institutions operating in the Strip.
What many Palestinians suspect is that this is yet another legal tool the British government is deploying to suppress these pro-Palestinian activities. The proscription order can easily be used to equate “support for Hamas” with “support for Gaza” or “support for Palestine”, thus criminalising peaceful activism and charity work. Outlawing a political party that enjoys wide support among Palestinians is also a dangerous prospect. The British government, along with other Western allies of Israel, often try to portray Hamas as an alien organisation that holds the Palestinian population in Gaza “hostage”. But that is not the case. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, securing 74 seats in the 132-seat parliament. Had elections been held this year, as was originally planned, the movement would have won once again – which is why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with Western and Israeli backing, postponed them indefinitely. Thus, designating the movement a terrorist organisation means effectively labelling Palestinian voters as terrorists. While that may be exactly what Israel wants and has been striving for over the past 20 years, it goes against any moral and legal norms the British government alleges to abide by.
Even Palestinians who disagree with Hamas on its ideology or governance do not disagree with it on its anti-occupation stance. The Palestinians are almost unanimous in their right to resist occupation on the basis of international law, which gives people under military occupation the right to resist it in any shape or form. The text of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 37/43 of 1982 also affirms that people under occupation have the right to take up an armed struggle for freedom, independence and self-determination. The Palestinian people outright reject the UK government’s actions. In a show of solidarity, Palestinian factions have also come out in support of Hamas, saying in a statement: “The Palestinian people and their political and national forces are united in rejecting and condemning” the British designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
While we, Palestinians, are outraged at the UK government’s actions, we are by far not surprised. Earlier this month we marked the 104th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, with which then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour promised the Zionist movement to do his utmost to establish a Jewish state on Palestinian land. The British colonialists kept their promise. Several years later, they took control of Palestine and paved the way for accelerated Zionist colonisation. Over the following decades and to this day, Palestinians have been systematically uprooted from their lands, oppressed, ethnically cleansed and killed to make room for the Zionist colony, unreservedly supported by Britain and other Western powers.
The British government bears the historical responsibility for the continuing Palestinian tragedy. But instead of apologising, trying to set the record straight, and offering compensation to the Palestinians, the British authorities are now sending a message that they remain faithful to their colonial history and to suppressing anti-colonial struggles for liberation and independence.
The government order on designating Hamas a terrorist organisation comes amid a concerted effort to curb the growing support for the Palestinian cause within British society and to undermine pro-Palestinian activism. The peaceful Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, for example, has also been a target. In 2016, the British government issued guidance to local councils forbidding them from adopting boycotts on ethical grounds. It has since announced that it will turn the policy into law. The same year, the British government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which has been widely criticised as an attempt to silence critics of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian land. The forced public equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism has been used against numerous British public figures who have spoken out in favour of Palestinian rights.
The UK government’s drive to designate Hamas as a terror organisation should also be seen within the context of Israel’s global efforts to suppress pro-Palestinian activism. A generational change in attitudes towards the Israeli occupation and its war crimes against the Palestinians is becoming ever more apparent. Israel is losing ground among young Westerners, who are more outspoken and more mobilised in their support of the Palestinian cause. This was on full display in May, when solidarity marches with Gaza, amid Israel’s latest deadly assault, were held in the UK, US, Canada, Germany, France and elsewhere.
By now, Palestine has been elevated to an international issue of justice, freedom and equality. People across the world who support progressive ideas embrace the Palestinian struggle as their own. On the other side sit regressive forces who want to preserve the (neo)colonial status quo, who thrive on injustice, oppression and dispossession. They may be powerful today but time is not on their side. History has proven that regimes founded on injustice and subjugation do not last.
Today, the British government stands once again on the wrong side of history by supporting a settler-colonial apartheid regime. However, it is never too late to learn from past mistakes, correct course, and embrace justice.