Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has signed a decree declaring a Hamas-affiliated organization, the Palestinian Return Center in England, an illegal association in Israel. A report released by the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) on Monday explains that the Center is involved in initiating and organizing radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe, while de-legitimizing Israel's status as a nation.
It was not immediately clear what ramifications the declaration will have on the ground, since the organization does not operate on Israeli territory. However, public statements by the Shin Bet are not everyday occurences, and the report could signal a new, tougher approach by Israel in the war of delegitimization being waged against it abroad.
Among other terror-affiliated activities, the Center organizes many conferences in various European countries for Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood activists from all around the world, along with active members of the Center. The participants mostly include Hamas fundraising representatives in Europe, and representatives of Hamas from Gaza.
Founded in London decades ago, the center officially declares its sole mission as promoting the issue of "Palestinian refugees." However, in reality, the Center functions as Hamas's organizational branch in Europe and its members are senior Hamas leaders who promote the movement's agenda in Europe, and directly interact with various Hamas leaders, particularly from Damascus.
The Center's leaders include prominent Hamas activists including: Majad El Zir, Zahar Birawi and Maged Akil. Another activist, Assan Paur, also serves as a member of the Interpal Board of Trustees, an organization also declared to be a terrorist organization in Israel and in the United States due to its direct involvement with Hamas global funding.
During the past few years, the Center became a leading contributor for the European Campaign for Ending the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) and was involved in transporting one of its main activists, Arafar Madi, to plan the violent confrontation on the Mavi Marmara ship in May 2010. They had worked in cooperation with the IHH Foundation in Turkey, as well as other Hamas fundraising bodies within Europe and around the world.
Recent Center conferences included taped speeches by Hamas leaders who are banned from entering Europe, since Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organization by the European Union.
The Palestinian Return Center is only a part of the broader Hamas activism and support network within Europe, which is especially strong in England. The Center is only one affiliate out of many global Hamas associations that support and recruit for Hamas terror activities inside Gaza.