17 April 2023

Britain’s refusal to proscribe a Palestinian terror group is baffling


Activists were recorded chanting ‘death to the Jews’ and ‘death to Israel’ were recorded at a demonstration in Berlin last week, organised by Samidoun, a group linked to The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The German capital’s authorities have since made moves to forbid the group from holding gatherings in the city.

Back on this side of the Channel, the same group is set to participate in a demo in Manchester today, and Salah Hamouri, who has been convicted of terrorism offences in Israel for his alleged involvement in a foiled plot to assassinate Israel’s chief rabbi, is apparently planning to visit the UK for a lecture tour. As it stands there is nothing to stop these events going ahead as the PFLP is not designated as a terror group in Britain as it is in the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia the European Union, and Israel.

Like many other extremist radicals, from Hamas to Hezbollah to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the PFLP maintains a thin veneer of being a purely political organisation, and many gullible Westerners fall for their ploy.

The PFLP has routinely employed terror methods against civilians, including suicide bombings, shootings, and assassinations. They were the first Palestinian organisation to hijack aeroplanes in the 1960s and 1970s have long been linked to the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre in which 26 people were killed.

In November 2014 the PFLP claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem synagogue massacre in which four Jewish worshippers and a policeman were killed with axes, knives, and a gun. They also claimed responsibility for a 2015 attack in which Palestinians in a car opened fire on a passing Israeli vehicle. Four people were injured; one was severely injured and died the next day in hospital. Israeli police also suspect PFLP involvement in the 2019 murder of 17-year-old Jewish teenager Rina Shnerb.

In 2021 the PFLP described a submachine gun attack carried out by Palestinian terrorist Fadi Abu Shkhaydam in Jerusalem’s Old City as ‘heroic’ and ‘ideal’ and lauded Shkhaydam as a ‘knight’.

George Habash, who served as head of the PFLP until his death in 2008 was never one to mince his words, noting in the wake of a spate of attacks, including the 1985 bombing of a Paris branch of Marks and Spencer, that. ‘To kill a Jew far from the battlefield has more effect than killing a 100 of them in battle. It attracts more attention.’

Although the group describe themselves as ‘Marxist-Leninist’ they selected this allegiance while the USSR was looking to dish out cash and Kalashnikovs to groups open to taking their side in the Cold War. The PFLP has remained ideologically flexible enough to take funding from the erstwhile Communist empire and the tyrannical theocrats in Tehran. François Genoud, a prominent Swiss neo-Nazi financier, also provided the group with significant support during its fledgling years. The PFLP’s boundaries have always been porous because they are only truly concerned with one thing, destroying Israel. While there are more than likely some committed Marxists in the PFLP, it would hardly be the first time the far-left and Islamism have brokered an unholy alliance. 

While no one expects Westminster to usher in any renewed peace efforts in the Holy Land, the UK should start as we mean to go on. There is no space for engagement with terror groups, nor should they be permitted to operate freely on British soil.

The UK’s refusal to proscribe the PFLP is especially baffling given the recent push to proscribe Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after it was revealed they had sought to target Jews and Israelis in Britain. The PFLP targeted British Jews and Israelis as far back as the 1960s, so why do they merit a softer touch? 

Not only has the PFLP revelled in the most horrific attacks on innocent civilians, but they directly contribute to a political climate which makes progress unlikely. PFLP members are deeply embedded in scores of organisations, including Samidoun, which masquerade as legitimate NGOs. Samidoun does not just hold the occasional problematic rally in Berlin, but campaigns for the ‘release of all Palestinian political prisoners’. In reality, this involves funnelling millions of pounds away from helping Palestinian civilians with the very real consequences of living in a conflict zone, toward lobbying for the freedom of convicted terrorists, and is allegedly ‘involved with establishing militant cells and motivating terrorist activity in Judea and Samaria and abroad’.

This is not simply a moral quandary, but potentially a legal one as well. Under the Terrorism Act 2000, UK law defines terrorism as ‘the use or threat of action, both in and outside of the United Kingdom, designed to influence any international government organisation or to intimidate the public and for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause’. 

It would be difficult to imagine a member of the government arguing that the PFLP falls outside this definition, so why continue to turn a blind eye to its UK activities? 

Britain has its own deep-rooted extremism problems, and it cannot permit the PFLP to add to them. In the year ending March 2022, 6,406 people were referred to the Home Office’s Prevent anti-extremism programme. Its alumni include the late Southend MP Sir David Amess’s killer Ali Harbi Ali and London Bridge attacker Usman Khan.

Is it any surprise that our political class stand accused of failing to take extremism seriously? While proscribing the PFLP would be a drop in the ocean of global counter-terrorism measures, it would surely be an important step toward making the streets of Britain and beyond safer.

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Georgia Gilholy is a contributor for Young Voices UK & Campus Associate for the Committee For Accuracy in Middle East Reporting & Analysis.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.