Multilateral and bilateral relations are being pushed and pulled like never before and influencing not only countries but companies and charities as well.
HSBC, the giant United Kingdom-headquartered bank recently announced that it would stop making payments to Interpal, a group which describes itself as a “non-political charity working to support the most vulnerable and support Palestinian communities.” The charity is considered legal according to UK law.
But not for the United States.
The Palestinian Arab group HAMAS is designated by the United States State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and in an effort to cripple it financially, the US Treasury Department assembled its own list of groups which direct money to HAMAS and other terrorist organizations. The infamous Holy Land Foundation (US-based) was on the list for funding HAMAS and consequently shut down. A few internationally based charities are also on the list, including Interpal, also based in the UK.
In response to HSBC halting payments to Interpal, the organization released a statement on April 26, 2020 slamming the bank for “appeas[ing] those who act on behalf of an alien state,” seemingly calling the United States “an alien state.” The charge suggests that the US may have pressured HSBC to stop facilitating payments to Interpal or risk its operation in the US where it has over 200 branches. However, in other Interpal materials, Interpal claims that the Israeli government pushed the US Treasury to label it an FTO in 2003, meaning that Interpal’s use of “alien state” may be directed towards Israel.
At play are two dynamics: countries arriving at different conclusions about whether a group is an FTO, and using pressure to exact the results one wants.
Terrorist Groups and Their Supporters
The UK has taken a “nuanced” approach to Hamas in that it labels the military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, as a terrorist group but not the branch which handles community services. As such, it allows funds to flow to the charitable arm of Hamas.
For its part, the United States makes no distinction between the branches of Hamas. The US Treasury states:
“HAMAS raises tens of millions of dollars per year throughout the world using charitable fundraising as cover. While HAMAS may provide money for legitimate charitable work, this work is a primary recruiting tool for the organization’s militant causes. HAMAS relies on donations from Palestinian expatriates around the world and private benefactors located in moderate Arab states, Western Europe and North America. HAMAS uses a web of charities to facilitate funding and to funnel money. Charitable donations to non-governmental organizations are commingled, moved between charities in way that hide the money trail, and are then often diverted or siphoned to support terrorism.”
Interpal objects to being characterized as supporting Hamas directly, and states it simply aids the people whom Hamas also supports, similar to UNRWA. But it is generally clear how the UK would consider funding part of Hamas as legal while the US would not, let alone the murky work of providing similar services to the same people, often at the same time and place.
The United States has been waging a global war on terror since the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. To be effective, it enlisted the world to help root out terrorist groups, including the United Kingdom.
The United Nations has also recognized the role that money plays in terrorism. The UN Security Council Resolution 2462 (2019) specifically called for all states to “prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts and to refrain from providing support to those involved in them.” While the UNSC called out ISIS and al-Qeda, it did not list other groups like Hamas. As such, there was room for countries to arrive at different conclusions about whether groups are terrorists and charities which support them should be targeted.
While every country must be able to define for itself the contours of acceptability, when allies disagree on something as fundamental and critical as terrorism, there will certainly be cause for aggressive actions and angry responses.
While Interpal may claim to be a non-political humanitarian organization, casting itself as handing out aid to the indigent, it has a very active anti-Israel agenda.
It has a division committed to “advocacy,” taking up 10 per cent of its budget, which bashes Israel in international fora. It repeatedly refers to Israel in the most ugly terms while casting Palestinian Arabs as innocent victims.
As an example of its distorted view, it wrote in its 2019 brochure about a hospital in Gaza during the 2014 war:
“During the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, staff and patients at El Wafa hospital in Shujaiya were forced to evacuate after the Israeli army shelled the hospital on 17th July…. Interpal is proud to support El Wafa’s staff.”
Left out from this tidbit is that Hamas terrorists were firing into Israeli civilian areas from the hospital and Israel responded first with a “tap” to get people to evacuate before hitting the missile launching pad.
Interpal’s horrible anti-Israel bias is its own business and the group is entitled to its own opinion. The vile anti-Zionist perspective infects many and does automatically mean that they all actively support terrorists.
But to state that Interpal is an apolitical humanitarian group is a bit laughable, especially with a logo which covers the entirety of Israel.
To be a co-sponsor of events in Gaza under the watch of Hamas and then be shocked when antisemitic plays occur is to play naive. Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 and its antisemitic charter calling for a death to Jews and destruction of Israel is available to all.
Interpal has been investigated and cleared of supporting terrorism, which goes to the heart of the matter here: should one country be able to pressure another to follow its lead in the designation of a terrorist group? What about the actions of companies domiciled in those countries?
The global war on terror demands it while the urgency for political independence abhors it.
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