On 26 October 2023, Christian Wakeford , the Labour MP for Bury South raised a Point of Order in the UK Parliament as follows:
“A few days ago, The Sunday Times reported on its front page that a “Hamas fugitive” who “‘ran the group’s terrorist operations in the West Bank’” lives here in London. Muhammad Qassem Sawalha is designated by Israel as a senior Hamas operative in Europe and accused of fleeing the country with fake documents. He is now believed to hold UK citizenship. Zaher Birawi lives in Barnet not far from Sawalha. He was designated by Israel in 2013 as a senior Hamas operative in Europe. He is listed as a trustee of a UK registered charity, Education Aid for Palestinians. A publicly available video shows him hosting a 2019 event in London titled “Understanding Hamas”.
Christian Wakeford MP
Two weeks ago, [on 7 October 2023] Hamas launched the deadliest terror attack the world has seen since 9/11. This House rightly voted to proscribe Hamas in its entirety in November 2021. It is therefore a serious national security risk for Hamas operatives to be living here in London, especially where at least one appears to have done so through the use of fake documents in obtaining British citizenship.
Madam Deputy Speaker, can you advise me on how I might raise this with the Government as a matter of great urgency and ask if you have had any indication of a Minister seeking to come to the House to provide an urgent update on this matter?”
The Deputy Speaker replied:
“I thank the hon. Gentleman for notice of his point of order. I hope that he will understand that I cannot comment on individual cases. I have had no notice of a statement, but he has put the issue on the record and those on the Government Benches will have heard his point.”
UKLFI had complained to Barnet Council in June 2020 regarding Sawalha renting a council house from them. In June 2021 Barnet sold the house to Sawalha under the tenants’ right to buy scheme.
Birawi is a Trustee of Education Aid for Palestinians (EAP). In 2008 Israel declared EAP to be a banned organisation on the ground that it was a member of the “Union of Good” which formed a fundraising network for Hamas.
According to accounts filed at the Charity Commission, EAP’s income plummeted in 2021, the last year for which accounts have been filed. This followed UKLFI writing to banks and donation platforms used by EAP, drawing attention to its banning in Israel and other matters, as described previously on this website: see https://www.uklfi.com/muslimgiving-removes-education-aid-for-palestinians.
The Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades (sometimes called the Hamas Armed Wing) were proscribed under the UK Terrorism Act 2000 on 29 March 2001. Hamas was proscribed in its entirety under this Act on 26 November 2021.
Under section 11(1) of this Act a person commits an offence if he belongs or professes to belong to a proscribed organisation. Section 11(2) states that it is a defence for a person charged under section 11(1) to prove that the organisation was not the proscribed on the last or only occasion on which he became a member or began to profess to be a member and that he has not taken part in the activities of the organisation at any time while it was proscribed.
Hamas including Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades has also been designated as a terrorist organisation under UK asset-freezing legislation since 15 September 2003.
Caroline Turner, director of UKLFI commented: “We will continue to draw relevant matters to the attention of UK authorities and urge them to take appropriate action.”