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Prevent review: Treat Hamas and Islamic State supporters the same, says Shawcross

Counter-extremism reviewer says supporters of proscribed Palestinian movement should face full force of counter-terrorism powers
A demonstration in London in support of Palestinians during the 2014 war in Gaza between Israeli forces and Hamas (AFP)

Supporters of Hamas should be treated the same as supporters of the Islamic State group and subjected to the full force of the law, a contentious review of the UK government's Prevent counter-extremism strategy has recommended.

William Shawcross's review, which was published on Wednesday, called for a greater focus within Prevent on countering “Islamist terrorism”, which he said remained the largest threat facing the UK.

Shawcross said the support network around Hamas, which he described as “the Islamist terrorist group which controls Gaza and is committed to the destruction of Israel”, warranted attention.

The British government proscribed Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation in November 2021, meaning that anyone who expresses support for the Palestinian militant group could face up to 10 years in prison.

The decision to ban the group, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since elections in the besieged enclave in 2006, was criticised as a backhanded means of delegitimising Palestinian solidarity and one which could threaten humanitarian efforts and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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Political dialogue efforts involving Hamas have included a push in 2015 by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, who invited the then-leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, to London for talks aimed at brokering an end to the siege of Gaza.

But Shawcross’s review says that in order for the proscription to be “truly effective”, Hamas supporters should be treated no differently to those who support Islamic State or the neo-Nazi group National Action.

“Those who fundraise for Hamas or break the law in support of the group’s activities must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” he writes.

“There is no reason why those who support Hamas should be treated any differently to those who support Islamic State, National Action, or other proscribed organisations.”

Open support voiced in the UK for Hamas “including by those in senior political and community roles” is “totally unacceptable”, he said, urging the government to pay attention to “the pernicious impact” of Hamas’s support network in the country.

“These companies and charities operate legally. This highlights the importance of arm’s length bodies such as the Charity Commission [which Shawcross led until 2018] in helping formulate the most effective response,” he writes.

'They are using Hamas to help Israel get away with whatever it is doing'

- Azzam Tamimi, academic

Azzam Tamimi, a British-Palestinian academic who has written several books about Hamas, said he believes the focus on Hamas in the review is an attempt to "silence any critique of Israel".

"They are using Hamas to help Israel get away with whatever it is doing," Tamimi told Middle East Eye. 

"What Hamas stands for today is really what the majority of the Palestinians stand for. So, this is the Israeli lobby and this is someone serving the Israeli lobby." 

He also disputed Shawcross' description of a support network for the group in the UK. 

"There are no organisations supporting Hamas. Individuals sympathise with Hamas, but what can they do about this?" he said. "Hamas doesn't receive funds from the UK. It doesn't need anybody to work for it in the UK."

The UK government said on Wednesday that it plans to take up all of Shawcross's recommendations, including refocusing Prevent to tackle "Islamist extremism".

Many critics of Prevent, however, had already rejected the review because of concerns about its independence and Shawcross's appointment, while others denounced the findings on Wednesday as "deeply prejudiced".

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