Britain’s Charity Commission said on Wednesday it had launched a formal investigation into the affairs of Interpal - the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund - and had frozen its accounts after the United States charged the charity last week with funding the radical Palestinian group Hamas.
But Interpal’s spokesman, Ibrahim Hewitt, immediately dismissed the allegations and said he was dismayed Britain had folded under US pressure to launch a politically motivated crackdown.
“Interpal is a politically neutral, British charity that the Charity Commission has recognised in the past as having no links to any terrorist groups," said Hewitt. “As a British citizen, I’m appalled our government appears to have surrendered its sovereignty on issues such as this.”
The Charity Commission has denied its action was linked to US or Israeli pressure, saying it opened informal enquiries in April.
But the formal probe comes just days after Washington froze the accounts of six Hamas leaders and four other charities based in France, Switzerland, Austria and Lebanon. It claimed the four were raising funds for Hamas and urged European countries to crackdown on such organisations.
The US drive followed an upsurge in violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories, which Tel Aviv has blamed on Palestinian resistance groups. The latter say Israel as consistently tried to undermine peace efforts, including a unilateral ceasefire that they had called.
UK Islamic organisations have protested at the treatment of Interpal. The secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr Iqbal Sacranie, said on Thursday he had written and spoken to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw about the matter.
"George Bush may well be driving humanitarian fund-raising underground"
“Interpal is a reputable organisation doing excellent work bringing relief to those brutalised by the Israeli occupation,” Sacranie said, “these allegations are part of an sinister campaign driven by the pro-Israeli lobby.”
"I am confident Interpal will be vindicated of these charges," he added.
Interpal works through local charities – and with Israeli authorities – to assist humanitarian projects mainly in the Occupied Territories, Lebanon and Jordan.
Interpal's accounts were frozen in 1996 after Israel accused the charity of helping Hamas. But a two-month inquiry by the UK charity watchdog cleared it of any wrongdoing.
This time, the charity says it has been instantly presumed guilty, especially by the British and US media. Moreover, the accusations and investigations will end up hurting Palestinians in desperate need.
“If he UN adopts the US approach – which it habitually does – then a ban on Interpal becomes worldwide,” said Hewitt. The loss of charity status, he added, would force Interpal to close down.
Ultimately, says Hewitt, Washington’s campaign against alleged terrorist-linked groups is not only misguided but potentially counterproductive.
“If the US president were able to look at the broader picture, instead of relying on Israel to tell him what to do, he would see the best way to monitor aid is to have them channelled through registered charities like Interpal,” he said.
“George Bush may well be driving humanitarian fund-raising underground, and then it will be much harder to keep tabs on what is being done.”