A key flotilla organizer is alleged to be a Hamas operative wanted for financially supporting militant networks in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Mohammed Sawalha, a key organiser of the second flotilla which is set to attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza later this week, is alleged to be a Hamas operative with long-standing connections to the militant organisation. Last year’s flotilla resulted in widespread media coverage and international condemnation when nine individuals aboard the Mavi Marmara were killed by Israeli soldiers. Israel maintained that its soldiers had acted in self-defence after being attacked by activists from the controversial Turkish Islamist charity IHH.
Sawalha’s open involvement in the organisation of the flotilla is noteworthy given the repeated allegations that he has strong ties to Hamas. In 2005, The Sunday Times reported on his appointment at Finsbury Park mosque:
‘Sawalha’s link with Hamas emerged after he was named as a co-conspirator in an American court case involving racketeering and conspiracy. Last week the cleric, who arrived in Britain 15 years ago and has been given indefinite leave to remain, said that he still supported Hamas, notorious for its suicide attacks in Israel.
‘According to US court documents, Sawalha was a leading militant in the early 1990s “in charge of Hamas terrorist operations within the West Bank”. The documents, from the federal court in Chicago, claim he met two of the three “conspirators” accused of laundering millions of dollars to finance Hamas activities, including the purchase of weapons.’
A 2006 BBC Panorama investigation into the activities of Islamic charities in Gaza and the West Bank also repeated these allegations. ‘Faith, Hate and Charity’ included further information on Sawalha’s role in fundraising for Hamas. According to the presenter, John Ware:
‘From London, Sawalha is said to have master minded much of Hamas’ political and military strategy. Wanted by Israel, he fled to London in 1990… In London, Sawalha is alleged to have directed funds, both for Hamas’ armed wing, and for spreading its missionary dawah. Then, in January 1993, an operation Sawalha was involved in went badly wrong. Hamas would be forced to reorganise its funding arrangements. A senior Hamas man from America flew into London for instructions from Sawalha. Sawalha’s visitor was en route to the Palestinian territories. The two men travelled to Sawalha’s home. His visitor’s name was Mohammed Salah. Salah’s mission was to distribute funds. Sawalha told him who to meet in the Palestinian territories…. With Sawalha’s agreement Salah began distributing about a quarter of a million dollars to local Hamas operatives. Some was ear marked for military activities. Some for missionary dawah. More money was in the pipe line from his bank in Chicago. But the Israeli’s had been tracking him. Stopped at a check point as he left Gaza, Salah was arrested.’
Alongside reports of his ties to Hamas, Sawalha is also a signatory of the infamous 2009 Istanbul Declaration, which explicitly calls for all crossings to Gaza to be opened so that Palestinians can gain access to weapons for use against ‘the Zionist enemy’:
‘The obligation of the Islamic Nation to open the crossings — all crossings — in and out of Palestine permanently, in order to allow access to all the needs of the Palestinians — money, clothing, food, medicine, weapons and other essentials, so that they are able to live and perform the jihad in the way of Allah Almighty. The closure of the crossings or the prevention of the entry of weapons through them should be regarded as high treason in the Islamic Nation, and clear support for the Zionist enemy.’"