- On November 26, 2021, the British Parliament approved the Home Secretary’s Order and designated Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organization. That means that “members of Hamas or those who invite support for the group could be jailed for up to 14 years” (British government website, November 26, 2021). The organization’s military-terrorist wing had already been outlawed in March 2001. However, a reassessment of the situation led the British government to outlaw Hamas political bureau as well.
- The separation of Hamas’ military-terrorist wing from its political bureau is artificial and without foundation because the military-terrorist wing and political bureau are interfaced and the distinction between the organization’s political-social and military-terrorist activities is vague and blurred. Hamas’ political bureau, headed by Isma’il Haniyeh, determines Hamas policy, including everything related to the movement’s terrorist, political and social activities, and is exploited to strengthen the military-terrorist wing and its military buildup.
- Hamas was sharply critical of the British decision, which was regarded as surrender to and support for Israel, and the leadership is clearly worried about the damage done to the movement’s image, its efforts to attain international legitimacy and its ability to exploit its branches abroad, in Britain in particular, to enlist support and gain resources. Taher al-Nunu, Isma’il Haniyeh’s media advisor, said Haniyeh had given instructions for launching a campaign to enlist Arab, Islamic and international support to fight the decision. Al-Nunu stated that the decision would not cause Hamas to change its positions on Jerusalem or the Palestinian cause (al-Aqsa, November 27, 2021). However, it was also claimed the decision had no significance for Hamas and nothing in Britain would change, because Hamas had no presence in Britain (al-Ghad, November 27, 2021). Sources affiliated with Hamas in Britain also emphasized for the media that Hamas had no presence in the country.
- Hamas does not in fact have an official legation in Britain. However, over the years institutions and activists affiliated with Hamas have established a presence, for the most part camouflaged as Muslim Brotherhood activities or human rights organizations which support Palestinian rights. Hamas activity in Britain is mainly reflected in the running of institutions, associations, charity funds and foundations which transfer funds, for the most part to the Gaza Strip; diplomatic activity to display Hamas to British and Western public opinion as a legitimate organization which represents the Palestinians; to erode Hamas’ image as a terrorist organization; propaganda activities in the Hamas-affiliated media vilifying Israel and organizing boycott campaigns; organizing convoys and flotillas to the Gaza Strip; lawfare; organizing protests in Britain, etc. The activities are carried out with the involvement of a number of Hamas operatives who fled from Israel and settled in Britain, some of them considered senior operatives, who try to hide their direct connection to the organization (See the Appendix). Their public outcries denying the existence of Hamas activity in Britain give witness to their ties to the organizations.
The British decision
- On November 19, 2021, Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary, announced that Britain would designate Hamas’ political bureau as a terrorist organization. That meant that anyone who was a member of the organization or supported in any way, including by waving Hamas flags or attending meetings organized by Hamas, would be breaking the law. She stated the decision had been based on a large amount of information and intelligence relating to the ties of Hamas’ political bureau to terrorist activity, adding the decision would help fight anti-Semitism (The Guardian, November 19, 2021). She tweeted she had undertaken the measure to outlaw all Hamas activity and that the British government was committed to fighting extremism and terrorism (Priti Patel’s Twitter account, November 19, 2018).
- Patel gave a speech where she said that “Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities, and it has long been involved in significant terrorist violence. But the current listing of Hamas creates an artificial distinction between various parts of the organisation – it is right that the listing is updated to reflect this. This is an important step, especially for the Jewish community. If we tolerate extremism, it will erode the rock of security.” She also noted that Hamas’ military-terrorist wing had been outlawed in March 2001, although at the time the government was of the opinion that a distinction had to be made between the military wing and the political bureau. Such a distinction now seemed artificial since Hamas in its entirely was involved in terrorist activity (British government website, November 19, 2018).
- On November 26, 2021, the British Parliament approved the measure without a vote and designed Hamas’ political bureau and military-terrorist wing as one terrorist organization. The decision was effective immediately. According to a notice on the British government website, support for Hamas would forthwith be considered illegal and membership in or support for the organization could be punished by up to 14 years in prison. The decision would support efforts to protect the British public and support the struggle of the international community against global terrorism (British government website, November 26, 2018).
- The Home Secretary’s announcement (and Parliament’s subsequent decision) led to furious reactions from Palestinians. Senior figures in the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas and other terrorist organizations were enraged. The PLO legation in Britain issued a condemnation saying the decision was unacceptably biased towards Israel (“the occupation”) and a gross violation of international law, and calling on the British government to avoid taking such steps (Sawa, November 19, 2018).
- Hamas said in an announcement that Britain continued its treachery instead of apologizing for the Balfour Declaration and atoning for its “historical sins.” The Palestinian people, said the announcement, had the right to “resist the occupation” in every way, including with arms. Hamas accused the “occupation” of terrorism and “war crimes against humanity [sic]” (Shehab, November 19, 2021).
- Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said Hamas would fight the British decision in the courts. He said they had British lawyers who were formulating a legal strategy to have the decision overturned. He called on the PA and Fatah to join Hamas in the struggle for the sake of the Palestinian people (al-Andalou News, November 28, 2021). Senior Hamas figure Isma’il Radwan called on the British people to oppose the decision (al-Jazeera, November 19, 2021).
- Taher al-Nunu, Isma’il Haniyeh’s media advisor, said Haniyeh had given instructions for enlisting Arab, Islamic and international support to oppose the decision. Taher al-Nunu said the affair was regrettable because during recent years Hamas had made strides towards gaining international support (al-Aqsa, November 27, 2021).
- Hazem Qassem, Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, called the decision a British political, legal and moral mistake and a crime against the Palestinian people. He claimed it showed Britain’s bias towards Israel, and stated that Hamas would continue its struggle despite “all decisions” (RT TV in Arabic, November 25, 2021).
Hazem Qassem interviewed by RT TV in Arabic (RT TV channel in Arabic, November 25, 2021).
- On November 24, 2021, an EU delegation of 20 representatives and ambassadors visited the Gaza Strip. Senior Hamas figures requested they exert pressure on Britain to change its decision (al-Andalou News, Ma’an, November 24 and 25, 2021).
- According to Mansour Abu Karim, a Gaza-based political commentator, the decision was the result of direct American pressure on post-Brexit Britain. He said the decision put all the other Palestinian organizations in danger (RT TV in Arabic, November 25, 2021.
- The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) also condemned the decision, claiming it was a mistake because “resistance” [i.e., the Palestinian violence and terrorism] was the legitimate right of the Palestinian people and Britain had to atone for its mistakes and not make declarations that attacked the Palestinian people’s legitimate struggle (PIJ Telegram channel, November 19, 2021).
- Even before the Parliament had confirmed the Order, the Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip held an emergency meeting, after which they warned Britain of the decision’s consequences. They regarded it as an attack on the Palestinian people, and said Britain had to rescind it. The organizations announced they would launch an international campaign calling on the UN and Arab League to reject the decision (al-Aqsa, November 20, 2021).
Joint press conference held by the Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip (Gaza Post, November 20, 2021).
Right: The Palestinian organizations’ solidarity with Hamas: shredding the British decision to outlaw Hamas and the Balfour Declaration (Palestinian cartoonists’ Facebook page, November 21, 2021). Left: Criticism of the British decision (Alaa’ al-Laqta’s Facebook page, November 20, 2021).
The Arabic reads, “British support for the occupier state.” The signs on the boxer’s back read, “The Balfour Declaration” and “Criminalizing the resistance” (Alaa’ al-Laqta’s Facebook page, November 28, 2021).
- Other condemnations came from the Iranian foreign minister, the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Khaled al-Qaddoumi, the Hamas representative in Tehran, met with 50 activists and representatives of Iranian organizations who wanted to express support and solidarity with Hamas (Hamas website, November 28, 2021).
Khaled al-Qaddoumi (fifth from left) meets with representatives of Iranian organizations (Hamas website, November 28, 2021).
Reactions of Palestinian activists in Britain
- Tareq Hamoud, CEO of the Palestinian Return Centre in London, was interviewed by the BBC in Arabic as a segment of a program about the British decision. He stressed the claim that Hamas had no presence in Britain, adding that he opposed the decision and denied any connection between the Palestinian Return Centre and Hamas, as Israel claimed. He added that in his opinion the decision would have a negative effect on Hamas’ flexibility and might complicate political arrangement between Hamas and Israel with the organization (BBC in Arabic, November 26, 2021).
Tareq Hamoud interviewed by the BBC in Arabic (November 25, 2021)
- Zaher Birawi, a senior Hamas-affiliated activist in Britain, was interviewed by al-Hiwar TV (where he is also an employee and presents a current events program). He claimed the decision was ridiculed by many people working for the British media because the Home Secretary linked anti-Semitism in Britain with the activities of Hamas’ military wing. He claimed Hamas did not operate in Britain and had no presence in the country because Hamas did not operate beyond the borders of the “occupied territories.” He alleged that the Home Secretary was closely tied to the Jewish lobby in Britain and to the government of Israel, and in the past had met with senior officials in the Israeli government without reporting the meetings to the British Foreign Office or the British embassy in Israel. He claimed the objective of the decision was to harm Hamas and British solidarity with the Palestinians and the BDS movement (al-Hiwar TV, London, November 25, 2021).
Zaher Birawi interviewed by al-Hiwar TV after Britain outlaws Hamas (al-Hiwar TV, London, November 25, 2021).
 theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/19/hamas-to-be-declared-terrorist-organisation-and-supporting-it-unlawful ↑