The UK Charity Commission published the results of its inquiry into Viva Palestina (VP) this week, criticizing some of the practices of the organization that materially and politically supports the terrorist group Hamas. The investigation started a year ago due to concerns over VP's "financial governance arrangements relating to the use of funds."
Among the problems the report notes is VP originally registered itself as a charity in January 2009 to provide humanitarian aid, yet amended its constitution two months later to include its intention to also run a political campaign. According to the report, "it was not legally possible for the Charity to turn itself into a non-charitable body" under the conditions outlined in its original constitution.
The report indicates it did not find evidence VP gave money to Hamas, one of several instances in which founder and MP George Galloway's public statements turned out to be false. During the March 2009 convoy to Gaza, media reports and Galloway's public statements indicated the aid was given to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. However, Galloway told investigators that Haniyeh was not there and "'the drivers all handed their keys over to a reception committee of government ministers, government officials and non government organizations, charities, hospitals, and so on."
Galloway told investigators the £25,000 he was shown on video handing to a Hamas official was his own money, not VP's.
Additionally, the report finds that VP misled the public and its supporters about the amount of money it raised. Its website claimed more than £1 million in aid was delivered during the first convoy, yet the inquiry discovered that VP had only raised £180,000 (in cash) by March 17, 2009.
The report notes that "a charity cannot have political aims" and its trustees "must implement adequate safeguards to ensure that the Charity's representatives do not present the charity in a manner that may contribute to a perception that it is a political organization."
Although the report concludes that "from the material the Inquiry examined the Commission found no evidence that the Charity's property or money was provided to Hamas," it is plausible that the UK Charity Commission did not have access to all the materials needed in order to determine whether money and political support was given to Hamas. The Investigative Project on Terrorism has previously documented evidence to the contrary, showing that Galloway and Viva Palestina have raised money for Hamas and supported the organization in its rhetoric.
During VP's third convoy to Gaza in December, convoy members and leaders were warmly greeted by Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood officials. Palestinian media reported that the convoy prompted infighting among Hamas leaders for control over $1 million which they received from Viva Palestina. An article by the news agency the Voice of Palestine describes how Ahmad al Ja'abari, the commander of Hamas' armed wing "removed $600,000" of the money from Haniyeh's office while leaving the rest for Haniyeh.
Galloway is planning a fourth convoy to Gaza later this spring. Egypt has banned his return, so this trip may have to be made by boat.