Hamas has condemned a move by Britain towards banning the group as a terrorist organisation which could see supporters of the Palestinian movement face up to 14 years in prison.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, who will push for the ban in Parliament next week, argued on Friday that it was not possible to distinguish between Hamas’s political and military wings. She called Hamas “fundamentally and rabidly anti-Semitic”, adding the proscription was required to protect the Jewish community.
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Hamas responded in a statement, saying: “Instead of apologising and correcting its historical sin against the Palestinian people … [Britain] supports the aggressors at the expense of the victims.”
That comment referred to the Balfour Declaration and British Mandate, which it said handed “Palestinian lands to the Zionist movement”.
“Resisting occupation, by all available means, including armed resistance, is a right guaranteed by international law to people under occupation,” added the statement.
The group called on its supporters to condemn the UK’s move, as it described Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, forcible displacement of Palestinians, the demolition of their homes, and the siege of more than two million people in Gaza Strip, as “terrorism”.
Patel, who is on a trip to Washington, DC, said her move was “based upon a wide range of intelligence, information and also links to terrorism”.
“The severity of that speaks for itself,” she said.
In 2017, Patel was forced to resign as Britain’s international development secretary after she failed to disclose meetings with senior Israeli officials during a private holiday trip to the country.
She met then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-opposition leader Yair Lapid.
The Qassam Brigades military wing of the Palestinian movement that rules the Gaza Strip has been banned in Britain since March 2001.
An outright ban under the Terrorism Act 2000 will bring the United Kingdom in line with the United States and the European Union.
If Patel’s bid is successful, flying Hamas’s flag, arranging to meet its members or wearing clothing supporting the group will be outlawed.
Politically, it could force Britain’s main opposition group to take a position on Hamas, given strong pro-Palestinian support among the more left-wing members of the Labour Party.
Earlier this month, a man appeared in a British court for wearing T-shirts supporting Hamas’s military wing and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the UK banned in 2005.
On three occasions in June, Feras Al Jayoosi, 34, wore the garments in the Golders Green area of north London, which has a large Jewish population.
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said that the UK government’s move is not going to improve a climate of peace.
“There is a degree of gesture politics going on, whereby the UK government is trying to look tough on terrorism and anti-Semitism, but the reality is that this will not have much meaningful impact on the ground where it really matters,” Doyle told Al Jazeera.
“I don’t think you are going to see any stemming of violence at all as a result of this, nor will it impact the fighting against anti-Semitism because those who hold anti-Jewish views and spout it out are going to do so regardless,” he said.
The UK government “seems to be very happy to take this move today against Hamas, but it says absolutely nothing about [Israel’s] really serious transgressions of international law, violations of Security Council resolutions, use of torture [and] home demolitions,” he added.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett applauded the news, calling Hamas “a radical Islamic group that targets innocent Israelis and seeks Israel’s destruction”.
“I welcome the UK’s intention to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation in its entirety – because that’s exactly what it is,” he tweeted.
Hamas is a radical Islamic group that targets innocent Israelis & seeks Israel's destruction.
I welcome the UK’s intention to declare Hamas a terrorist organization in its entirety — because that’s exactly what it is.
Thank you to my friend @BorisJohnson for your leadership.
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) November 19, 2021
Lapid, now foreign minister, said in a statement: “There is no legitimate part of a terrorist organisation, and any attempt to differentiate … is artificial.”
Lapid said the move was a result of “joint efforts” between the British and Israeli governments.
Founded in 1987, Hamas is against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Based in Gaza, Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, defeating its nationalist rival Fatah. It seized military control of Gaza the following year.
An 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza in May this year killed at least 250 Palestinians, including 66 children. Israeli officials say, 13 people, including two children, were killed in Israel by Hamas rockets.