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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
18 Nov 2023


Ministers urged to proscribe Palestinian group with disputed claims of ‘Hamas links’ based in London

A Palestinian campaign group operating legally in London was designated an unlawful organisation by the Israeli government over disputed claims of links with the Hamas terror group.

The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), which has held meetings in the Houses of Parliament and advises the United Nations over the plight of Palestinian refugees, was accused by the Israeli security services of backing the activity of Hamas in Europe, while “de-legitimizing Israel’s status as a nation”.

Campaigners have now called for the British government to review the status of the PRC and ban the group.

Caroline Turner, director of UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) told the Telegraph: “Currently the UK government totally disregards Israel’s designation of UK organisations. In our view the Palestinian Return Centre should be proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000.

“It has been designated as an unlawful organisation in Israel since December 2010. The UK government ought to pay more attention.”

Forcefully disputed 

The claims are forcefully disputed by the PRC, who deny supporting Hamas activities.

The PRC was awarded special consultative status by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 2015 on Palestinian related matters, and that year held a public seminar at the Houses of Parliament and another, chaired by Baroness Jenny Tonge, in the House of Lords.

Five years earlier, Ehud Bara, the then Israeli defence minister, had signed a decree declaring the PRC an illegal association, accusing it of promoting Hamas’s agenda in Europe and directly interacting with its leadership in Gaza and the Gulf states.

In an assessment prepared for its government, Shin Bet, the Israel security services, claimed: “The Palestinian Return Centre’s activities are part of Hamas’s activities in the Palestinian communities in Europe in general and Britain in particular.

“They belong to the overall undertaking conducted by Hamas around the world to support its activities in the internal Palestinian arena.”

In a separate 2011 report, Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre, which has ties to the Israel Defense Forces, said that conferences organised by the PRC across a number of European countries included Hamas representatives in Europe and the Gaza Strip.

The report claims that in its statements in Arabic the PRC often expressed solidarity with the Palestinian intifada and the Hamas leadership.

In 2019, Paypal said it was no longer working as a payment method for the PRC’s online store, with potential customers still unable to use the online payments system. The move by Paypal followed submissions by UKLFI.

In one of its most recent reports on the bombardment of Gaza, which followed the Oct 7 attacks on Israel, the PRC described Hamas as a “resistance group”.

The PRC, which has called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza conflict, claimed in a press release, published the day of the Hamas attack which killed more that 1,400 people, that: “Israel alone is responsible for this escalation in the occupied Palestinian territory due to its continuous incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and violations of the rights of the Palestinian people to freedom of worship.”

It added: “PRC reaffirms its unswerving stance vis-à-vis the justice of the Palestinian struggle and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of their independent state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The PRC, which is registered with Companies House as a private company operating out of offices on the North Circular Road in north-west London, says it is a not-for-profit independent group whose mission is to highlight the conditions in which Palestinian refugees live and argue for their “right to return” to Israel.

‘Strongly renounces all acts of terror’

It says that claims it is affiliated with Hamas are unfounded, adding that the Israeli allegations have no credence.

Lawyers for the PRC told the Telegraph that “PRC strongly renounces all acts of terror, whether by Hamas or anywhere else, including the attacks of October 7”.

Their lawyers added: “Our client’s long-standing position is that its designation by the Israeli government (but not by the UK or any other government) as an illegal organisation is, and always has been, unjustified and purely politically motivated.

“Our client has not shied away from criticising the Israeli regime, but that is plainly not a basis for alleging that it promotes or encourages terrorism.”

The PRC says that previously, like all NGOs and charities who work with individuals in Gaza, it needed to engage with the political wing of Hamas as the governing authority in order to function in the area.

But it says that since 2018 it has “pivoted its main focus to providing consultative contributions to the UN on matters of Palestine” and has not had any engagement with Hamas at all.

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary can prescribe an organisation if they reasonably believe it is concerned in terrorism and it is proportionate to do so.

A government spokesman said: “Whilst the Government keeps the list of proscribed organisations under review, we do not comment on whether a specific organisation is or is not being considered for proscription.”