In the U.S. and England, organizers are laying the groundwork for a convoy of relief aid destined for Gaza. It would be the third such venture by a group calling itself Viva Palestina.
Its two previous trips saw the group deliver medical supplies, ambulances and other goods. They also included meetings with senior Hamas officials. In March, Viva Palestina's leader, British MP George Galloway, defiantly handed a bag of cash directly to a Hamas minister (click here to see the video from the Middle East Media Research Institute):
"I, personally, am about to break the sanctions on the elected government of Palestine. By Allah, we carried a lot of cash here. You thought we were all fat. We are not fat. This is money that we have around our waists ... We are giving you now 100 vehicles and all of the contents. And we make no apology for what I am about to say: We are giving them to the elected government of Palestine; to the Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh."
Galloway was a little more circumspect on the second trip to Gaza in July. There was no public ceremony showing the donations. A group of Viva Palestina convoy participants did meet with Haniyeh, however, who praised them "as heroes; you are opening the eyes of the world to the siege in the Strip."
The Investigative Project on Terrorism has found ample evidence that Viva Palestina's ultimate objective is political – with the elevation of Hamas at its core. How can we be so sure?
Viva Palestina officials repeatedly said so. During that March event with Hamas officials, Galloway held up the bag of cash and said:
"This is not charity. This is politics. The government of Palestine is the best people to decide where this money is needed. We are giving this money now to the government of Palestine. And, if I could, I would give them 10 times, 100 times more."
That sentiment was echoed on the eve of the sendoff of the Viva Palestina USA convoy which left in July. During a rally in Brooklyn, speaker Lamis Deek told the crowd:
"It's not about charity... but in every way that we cut it, it is political."
"[I]n choosing Hamas, what they chose was one united Palestinian state on all of the 1948 territories from the north to the very south. That is what Palestinians chose. And in supporting Palestinian choice we are saying we support their right to liberation from violent colonialism."
The IPT's findings about Viva Palestina, and its American offshoot Viva Palestina USA, can be read in a thorough report here. Among those findings:
- Viva Palestina USA is not incorporated anywhere. It uses an existing charity, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations/Pastors for Peace (IFCO) to collect donations.
- During fundraisers and rallies, Viva Palestina members often invoke Hamas. In addition, a Hamas website promoted a pending trip by "European political figures" that quoted a Viva Palestina organizer.
- Viva Palestina USA has struck alliances with a number of extremist groups, including La Voz de Aztlan, an organization that advocates the revolutionary overthrow of U.S. territory that it deems to have been stolen from Mexico; the Al-Awda, Palestine Right of Return Coalition, and Code Pink.
England's Charity Commission has an open investigation into Viva Palestina, reporting that officials with the group have not responded to requests for information.
Canadian officials refused to allow Galloway into the country last spring, citing an immigration law barring foreign nationals who support terrorism. A spokesman labeled Galloway as "infandous," or particularly odious, and someone "who actually brags about giving 'financial support' to Hamas, a terrorist organisation banned in Canada." That decision was upheld by a Canadian judge.
Wednesday, the Jerusalem Post reported that the University of California-Irvine was investigating whether the school's Muslim Students Union helped raise money for Hamas by organizing an event with Galloway in May.
Galloway has denied being a Hamas supporter, despite his direct donation to Hamas in Haniyeh's name that was captured on video last spring. He claims to be loyal to the late Fatah leader Yasser Arafat. But he stands against Arafat in endorsing Hamas, which has been engaged in a bloody power struggle with Fatah since 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza by force.
Viva Palestina events show the group is aware it risks running afoul of U.S. law. At the July 3 pre-convoy sendoff in Brooklyn, Father Luis Barrios urged convoy travelers to, "Break the law. Just break it. OK?"
A representative of the National Lawyers Guild advised travelers what to do if questioned about their trip:
"And if there is anything in your mind that seems to suggest that there's a trick or something about that, don't answer it. Don't answer."
After the convoy returned, supporters gathered July 27 to discuss their experiences at Brooklyn's Salam Arabic Lutheran Church. Archbishop Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem expressed a desire in sync with Hamas' ultimate goal:
"Historic Palestine from the river to the sea; that is Palestine. Therefore, friends, we must not talk about the people of '67 or the people of '48. The Palestinian people are one people, no matter where they are or where they are found. The Palestinian people are one people indivisible."
Life in Gaza must be desperate for its residents. But the fastest way to improve those conditions is not to entrench an Islamist government espousing doctrinaire opposition to a peaceful settlement to its conflict with Israel. The more Hamas believes it can withstand diplomatic and military pressures, the longer this cycle will endure.
To see the full IPT report on Viva Palestina, click here.