Targeting Muslim charities in Britain

Developing Just Leadership

Fahad Ansari

Dhu al-Hijjah 03, 1429 2008-12-01


by Fahad Ansari (World, Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 10, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1429)

On November 12, the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, Interpal received notification from their bank, the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB), that Lloyds TSB (their clearing bank) had served notice on IBB to cease all dealings with Interpal. Clearing banks are responsible for processing all financial transactions. Lloyds TSB is one of the four clearing banks in the UK which all high street banks must work through. No reason or explanation was given for the closure.

The notice comes into effect on December 8, 2008 although the date has since been extended to January 30, 2009. After this date, “all transactions into or out of Interpal accounts will be blocked and IBB will be at further risk of all its customer payments being suspended.” To date, despite pressure from Lloyds, IBB has offered Interpal its full support but it remains under threat of Lloyds’ demands.

The move comes at a time when Palestinians, especially the 1.5 million civilians in Ghazzah, 60 percent of whom are children, are suffering severe hardships as a result of the Israeli-imposed economic blockade which began following Hamas’s victory in the January 2006 elections. In June 2007 Hamas defeated Fatah militants as they attempted to stage a coup d’etat. Following Fatah’s routing, Hamas asserted its control over Ghazzah but Israel immediately tightened its blockade to include everything except occasional deliveries of humanitarian goods. The local economy has collapsed as a consequence, leading to steep increases in unemployment, poverty and childhood malnutrition rates. The UN has described the siege as “collective punishment”.

Even International Peace Activists that have attempted to provide some help have been apprehended and jailed. Three of them — Scotsman Andrew Muncie, Italian Vittorio Anagoni and American Darlene Wallach — were detained and abducted by the Israeli navy from Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Ghazzah on November 18. They had attempted to prevent the Israeli navy from destroying the Palestinians’ fishing boats. Fifteen Palestinian fishermen were also detained. Israel has tightened its noose so much that Palestinian fishermen cannot even catch fish from the sea to feed their families. Israel accuses International Peace Activists of violating its laws by helping Palestinians feed themselves. Israel contravenes all international laws but through a careful propaganda that is amplified by a pliant Western media, it demonizes the very victims of its brutal policies.

For genocide to take place a number of factors must be in place to facilitate its perpetration: it requires people who feel no pangs of conscience while slaughtering innocent people. The actions of such people are underpinned by a political authority and financed by an economic power. Normally, civil society would not permit such crimes unless they are made to feel these actions are justified. This is done through a mass propaganda campaign aimed at dehumanizing the victims. Finally, the assistance and support, however meager, given to the oppressed by people of conscience must be hindered and obstructed in every way possible.

Interpal’s work falls in this category. Established in 1994, this British charity has been at the forefront of attempting to alleviate the social, educational, humanitarian, and development problems faced by ordinary Palestinians both inside Palestine and in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. Due to the real difference on the ground it makes to the lives of Palestinians, Interpal’s work has continuously been obstructed with repeatedly unfounded allegations of supporting and funding terrorism. Despite numerous such allegations in the mass media and two extensive investigations by the Charity Commission which resulted in clean bills of health, Interpal continues to be demonized by the enemies of justice.

Alongside this campaign of obstruction and demonization, there is Israel’s ever-tightening siege of Ghazzah. On November 5, it tightened the noose further by completely sealing off its crossings with Ghazzah, through which Tel Aviv previously allowed a limited quantity of vital goods, a move which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, described as a “direct contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law”. The UN Works and Relief Agency says the closure has forced it to suspend its distribution of food rations to half of Ghazzah’s 1.5 million people. UNRWA storehouses in Ghazzah are empty and Israel has refused to let emergency food and medical supplies through to the UN agency.

Israel has also cut off European Union-funded fuel supplies to Ghazzah’s sole power plant, prompting it to shut down, leading to rolling black-outs throughout the area. Hospitals, dependent on diesel-powered generators, regularly lose power for up to 12 hours a day. Unable to operate irrigation pumps, farmers are experiencing significant loss of crops. Most family homes have running water for less than six hours a day, and almost a third of all homes have no running water at all. In a terrifying parallel to its policy following the siege and massacre in Jenin in April 2002, Israel has refused to allow any journalists to enter Ghazzah for fear that the horrific realities of the situation may emerge for the rest of the world to see.

The activities of Interpal were only a small ray of light in this engulfing sea of darkness and misery. Yet under pressure from what one can only assume to be the Zionist lobby, its operational ability has once again been compromised. As mentioned earlier, the Charity Commission has already investigated Interpal twice; in 1996 and 2003, and found no evidence of any wrongdoing. It began another investigation in December 2006, no doubt the result of more pressure from the same anti-Palestinian elements and groups within Britain, the Charity Commission has not completed its findings yet. Despite allegations against Interpal, it has received apologies from the Daily Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post and the Board of Deputies of British Jews for slandering it as a financier of terrorism. Yet these apologies do not appear sufficient to persuade Lloyds TSB of its innocence.

Lloyds TSB is not the first bank to treat Interpal in this manner. On March 20, 2007, Interpal’s bank accounts with NatWest/Royal Bank of Scotland (with whom Interpal had a mutually beneficial banking relationship for over a decade) were closed by the bank, which cited pressure from the US legal system as the reason. The suit, filed in the federal court in Brooklyn in January 2006, made claims on behalf of 15 families of Americans wounded in attacks in Israel. It said NatWest, owned by RBS, allowed Interpal to raise funds on its website knowing the US government identified the charity as a fundraiser for Hamas, violating US anti-terrorism laws.

One would have assumed that transferring its banking to an Islamic bank would have provided Interpal with more protection. The Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) proudly proclaims itself to be UK’s only stand-alone fully Shariah-compliant retail bank, set up in 2004 to deal with thousands of customers whose faith prevented them from opening bank accounts in institutions that paid or charged interest. Despite its verbal and moral support for Interpal in this crisis, IBB has shown itself to be totally helpless in taking a practical stand against Lloyds. When asked by the Birmingham Post to comment on the anticipated closure of Interpal accounts, Sultan Choudhury, commercial director at IBB said, “Islamic Bank of Britain respects the confidential nature of the relationship with our customers, and has a policy of not commenting on the affairs of any individual customer. We respect all of our customers.”

This debacle has only served to undermine the credibility and independence of UK’s new fashionable Shari‘ah finance market. That a leading international Muslim charity such as Interpal could be treated in such a humiliating way raises questions about the Shari‘ah element of this banking system. IBB is not the first bank that promotes “Shari‘ah finance” to have taken such punitive measures against Muslim charities.

HSBC prides itself on its Amanah finance package and being “sensitive to Muslim needs.” In April 2005, HSBC decided to close the three bank accounts of Babar Ahmad, a British Muslim facing extradition to the US on allegations of supporting the mujahideen in Afghanistan and Chechnya. His three bank accounts were held at HSBC High Street Kensington Branch, London and were used to pay the house bills of his retired, elderly parents via a number of standing orders and direct debits. As with Interpal, no reason, explanation or warning was given for the closure. None of the allegations against Ahmad refers to fraudulent use of any financial system, let alone fraudulent use of his HSBC accounts. In any case, no evidence has yet been shown of any wrongdoing, although he has been held without charge for more than four years. The closure of his accounts has increased the stress and pressure on his 70-year-old parents who are already finding it difficult to cope with the situation arising out of their son’s prolonged incarceration without charge.

In July 2007, HSBC took another step in the banking “war on terror” by closing the accounts of Hhugs (Helping Households Under Great Stress), a registered charity set up in September 2004 which provides practical, emotional, financial and moral support and advice to families of suspects arrested under anti-terror laws. When requested to explain why the account had been closed, HSBC replied in writing that it was because the ethical and moral values held by Hhugs did not coincide with HSBC’s own values. In other words, there was a distinct lack of amanah (trust).

HSBC has also in recent years closed the accounts of other Muslim organizations and individuals involved in raising awareness of the oppression of Muslims, such as Save Chechnya Campaign and Saudi-dissident, Dr. Muhammad al-Massari.

The purpose behind the closures is clear: by targeting Muslim charities involved in assisting the oppressed in places such as Chechnya and Palestine, the authorities hope to discredit the valuable work they do and deter other Muslims from such activities. The situation has not arisen here yet where charities themselves have been prosecuted under terrorism laws such as has been the case in the US. Individuals such as Dr. Rhafil Dhafir are serving lengthy sentences in prison for breaching US economic sanctions on Iraq, and Palestinian charities such as the Holy Land Foundation continue to be dragged through courts on flimsy allegations.

One hopes that the Muslim community in the UK will stand up against such persecution before it reaches this stage. The alternative will be to go down the path taken by many Muslims in the US: to absolve themselves of their responsibility to their brothers and sisters around the world out of fear of dropping even a penny in the sadaqah box.

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