When Israeli commandos recently raided a terrorist-laden “relief” ship, they came into deadly contact with so-called “peace” activists who were aiding the terrorist cause of Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Among them were representatives of Viva Palestina, an organization founded by the anti-American former member of Britain’s parliament, George Galloway. Viva Palestina portrays itself as a humanitarian group dedicated to helping the people of Gaza. In reality, the group has longstanding ties to terrorism — one its members was once a senior leader in Hamas — and prolongs the Gazans’ suffering by supporting Hamas; by aiding its jihad to destroy Israel; and by working closely with the Turkish Islamist group that sponsored the recent Gaza flotilla.
In July 2009 in Brooklyn, Viva Palestina held an event where one of its members, Lamis Deek, gave voice to her organization’s pro-Hamas worldview:
“In choosing Hamas, what they [the Palestinians] chose was one united Palestinian state on all of the 1948 territories from the north to the very south…And in supporting Palestinian choice, we are saying we support their right to liberation from violent colonialism.”
Notably, Deek is also a member of Al-Awda, another group fighting for the end of the state of Israel.
The Free Gaza Movement and the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (better known as IHH, the acronym for its Turkish name) worked with Viva Palestina to organize the flotilla whose participants clashed with Israeli soldiers on May 31.
One of Viva Palestina’s leading members, Kevin Ovenden, was aboard the ship where the deadly fighting occurred. He has since depicted the incident as an unjustified Israeli massacre of nine innocent activists. Writing on the SocialistWorker.com website, Ovenden claims that any physical attacks that were aimed at the Israeli soldiers were in reaction to the soldiers’ initial violence. “Some people responded quite instinctively and with good cause—and with all legal and moral authority on their side,” he says.
But there are amble to reasons to doubt that Viva Palestina was supporting a “good cause.” Steve Emerson, the executive director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, points out that the group is a declared supporter of Hamas. “While Viva Palestina claims that they aim to ‘distribute necessary medical aid to the Palestinian people,’ evidence indicates that they are fighting to support the Hamas government in Gaza financially, morally and politically,” Emerson told Front Page. Indeed, Viva Palestina’s Ovenden openly supports Hamas and has called the late Hamas co-founder Abdel Aziz Rantisi “one of the greatest heroes, greatest leaders that Palestine has ever known.”
Viva Palestina’s support for the terrorist group is not only rhetorical. Although George Galloway has denied that the group finances Hamas, Emerson pointed out that Galloway “defiantly handed a bag of cash to a Hamas minister” in March 2009. Emerson further described Viva Palestina’s efforts as “very effective” in raising money and recruits. Over $100,000 was raised at a single event in Kansas City.
What is clear beyond dispute is that Viva Palestina has been actively aiding Hamas in its goal of ending Israel’s naval blockade, which is designed to prevent arms and supplies from reaching Hamas and ultimately to drive it from power. Thus far, Viva Palestina has sent three convoys to Gaza, aside from the one organized by the Free Gaza Coalition. Galloway says plans are underway to send additional convoys, including one sponsored by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and possibly one sponsored by Iran.
Viva Palestina’s previous Gaza-bound convoy, which made its trek earlier this year, traveled by land rather than by sea. The Egyptian authorities, aware of the group’s history of supporting Hamas, stopped that convoy and demanded that the cargo it was transporting enter Gaza via the Al-Arish port instead of the Al-Nuwaiba port. The Egyptians explained that all humanitarian aid to Gaza was required, for security reasons, to go through Al-Arish, and that Viva Palestina had been notified of this but “did not even bother to reply” and ignored the rule. In a skirmish that erupted during the dispute over where the convoy was obliged to gain entry to Gaza, more than 50 people were injured and one Egyptian soldier was killed. The Egyptians subsequently reported that Viva Palestina had “provoked” its security forces. Kevin Ovenden, for his part, said that the bloodshed “signaled the end of the siege.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sided with the Egyptians and described Viva Palestina as a Hamas “propaganda tool.”
Viva Palestina has numerous connections to terrorists and extremists. In March of this year, George Galloway announced that he was organizing an event, to be held in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, called the “University of Palestine,” which would bring together 500 students to “plan the next 12 months of solidarity with the Palestinian people.” According to Galloway, the scheduled guest speakers at this confab will include Noam Chomsky; the wife of the political and terrorist figure Marwan Barghouti; the Holocaust denier Norman Finkelstein; and Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Mousawi.
Viva Palestina is also closely tied to the Turkish IHH organization, accused by Israel of being “part of Hamas’s fundraising network” and of having ties to Al-Qaeda. Jean Louis-Bruguiere, once France’s top counter-terrorism magistrate, testified that the IHH was involved in the Al-Qaeda plot to attack the LAX airport in December 1999. The IHH also financed jihadists in Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan in the 1990s. Moreover, the group is a member of a coalition known as the Union of Good (UOG), which the U.S. Treasury Department says was “created by Hamas leadership to transfer funds to the terrorist organization.” UOG is led by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, a supporter of Hamas and a top Muslim Brotherhood theologian.
One member of Viva Palestina, Muhammad Sawalha, attended a conference in December 2009 with such luminaries as Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and Sheikh al-Qaradawi. Sawalha was once a senior leader in Hamas, and later became the head of the British Muslim Initiative which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. As pointed out by Steve Emerson, Sawalha is listed on the IHH website as the person in charge of its operations in Europe.
This means that Viva Palestina and IHH actually share personnel, including one individual with a past in Hamas and current ties to Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. If this publicly available evidence is so plentiful, one can only imagine what incriminating evidence may exist in classified documents. The IHH is clearly a front for Hamas, has numerous ties to terrorism, and works closely with Viva Palestina. Congress should immediately investigate IHH and Viva Palestina for their activities as part of the pro-Hamas infrastructure in the West. The media, meanwhile, would do well to discount these groups’ claims to victim status and describe them as the terrorist supporters they are.