Viva Palestina (VP), a British-based group with a history of Hamas support, has announced that it will not be a part of a planned aid flotilla to Gaza in May. British participation in the Freedom Flotilla II is being organized by a group called "Britain 2 Gaza."
While VP is formally taking a pass, many of those working with Britain 2 Gaza have ties to Viva Palestina, and have supported the group in the past.
The first flotilla ended in a deadly confrontation between Israeli commandos and IHH activists in the Mediterranean Sea. It resulted in an international outcry as well increased tensions between Israel and Turkey. Kevin Ovenden, a VP trustee and a close aide of VP's brainchild George Galloway, was on the Mavi Marmara ship where the violence took place.
In an email announcement sent out earlier this month, VP explained it would sit out the second flotilla after "trustees have decided that VP cannot be a sponsor the second flotilla [sic] given our charitable status, though we are, of course, entirely supportive of the aim of breaking the siege."
Among those working on the next flotilla:
The British Muslim Initiative (BMI) has ties to the UK Muslim Brotherhood and is headed by Mohammed Sawalha, a senior Hamas commander in the West Bank until he relocated to London. Sawalha, who still supports Hamas, played an active role in organizing last year's flotilla. An article that ran on IHH's website prior to last year's flotilla described Sawalha as the person who "coordinates the [flotilla] campaign in Europe." Sawalha also plays an active role in Viva Palestina's convoys to Gaza.
Friends of Al-Aqsa is headed by Ismail Patel, who was on the Mavi Marmara last May and is a Hamas supporter. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has previously partnered with Viva Palestina and both PSC and the Stop the War Coalition are supporters of George Galloway and VP. The Stop War Coalition website lists Galloway as "a vice-president" of the organization. Finally, the Palestinian Forum of Britain's spokesperson Zaher Birawi also serves a spokesman for Viva Palestina during their convoys to Gaza. Birawi is a Hamas activist who sought refuge in the UK.
Birawi said that Britain 2 Gaza will hire a cruise ship for flotilla participants, who would be joined by 15 other ships. Birawi also "stated that Israel does not respect international law and commits serious violations against the Palestinians day and night, so it is likely to repeat its crime," according to an article published in the London based AhlulBayt News Agency.