14 December 2023
A Franco-German-Italian plan setting out proposals to counter the activities of Hamas at both EU and global level has raised concerns that governments may use it as a justification for further attacks on pro-Palestinian protest and campaigning. The document outlines strategies ranging from restricting resources to banning support networks.
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The document (pdf), circulated sometime after 7 October to the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) and the European External Action Service (EEAS), emphasises the need to isolate Hamas internationally and delegitimise its narrative as a “defender of the (just) Palestinian cause” and “representative” of Palestine’s population.
Hamas is designated as a terrorist organisation by the Australia, Canada, the EU, Israel, Japan and the United States, and a number of other states have designated its military wing as a terrorist group independently of its political section. The document states that “its infrastructure and (financial) support needs to be disabled and its propaganda delegitimised,” and proposes a number of measures to do so.
“Once political conditions are right, these measures should ideally be implemented in the framework of a broad coalition of states (with a strong Arab foot-print),” says the document.
Sanctions and bans
The Franco-German-Italian document proposes disrupting Hamas’ operational and financial mechanisms and countering its propaganda efforts, in particular by stepping up sanctions and seeking to cut off financial flows, as well as preventing the diversion of humanitarian aid by “Hamas and affiliated organizations.” It also includes a suggestion to ban support networks for Hamas “in order to dry out visible solidarity pro Hamas across cities in Europe and beyond.”
The document references Germany’s ban of the group Samidoun, which was introduced on 2 November at the same time as a ban on all activities related to Hamas. A report in DW says that Samidoun is considered by unnamed intelligence agencies to belong to “the radical Palestinian organization PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).” The ban covers the use of symbols, the right of assembly and the freezing of assets.
According to Julia Hall, a counter-terrorism researcher for Amnesty International, the proposal is not necessarily a straightforward one – the lack of an international definition of terrorism and a precise understanding of what constitutes “support” may pose problems for any bans, particularly in light of how NGOs and civil society and solidarity groups are being targeted, intimidated, sued and more audited for expressions of support for Palestinian human rights.
She also underlined the need for any measures to adequately address what constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel’s human rights record and what constitutes genuine hate speech. The tendency to label legitimate criticism as anti-Semitic – a tendency often observed in the rhetoric of European states – dangerously conflates critical discourse with hate speech, said Hall, while neglecting the real and pressing issues of rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across the region.
Additionally, the proposal includes measures to combat hate speech and antisemitic propaganda, such as monitoring and enforcing obligations on digital service providers.
Human rights advocates and organisations are concerned that the vague language and broad scope of the proposal could be misused by European governments seeking to shut down not only pro-Hamas activities but also any manifestation of support for the Palestinian cause, leading to a further anti-Palestinian crackdown.
Jillian York, Director for International Freedom of Expression at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who is working on the Stop Silencing Palestine campaign, finds the proposed measures to fast track the removal of illegal content are troubling:
“Forcing companies to act more quickly on such content nearly always results in more automation and less oversight, with the end result being that vital human rights documentation and legitimate political speech are removed for expediency in attempts to tackle truly harmful extremist content.”
The Franco-German-Italian proposal further calls for an assessment of the sharing of intelligence and threat assessments on an intergovernmental basis as well as raising public awareness of the risks of financing terror activities, including through crowdfunding and NGOs.
Earlier this week, France, Germany and Italy went public with their call for the EU to impose ad-hoc sanctions on Hamas, though the state of play with the remainder of the proposals in the document is unclear.
The UK and USA recently imposed new sanctions on individuals associated with Hamas, and a press release published by the UK government noted: "Sanctions form part of a wider tranche of measures aimed at disrupting the group’s acts of terror, including the recently announced international taskforce set up to enable the UK and partners to share financial intelligence."
A planned amendment to the Residence Act in Germany has prompted more than 50 organisations to raise concerns about the potential criminalisation of sea rescue and humanitarian assistance. The proposed changes to Section 96 of the Residence Act, under the "Return Improvement Act," could result in non-profit organisations that support people on the move in border areas facing criminal prosecution.
The Council of the EU is moving ahead with plans to allow the use of financial sanctions against "individual or entities promoting radicalisation and violent extremism that may lead to terrorism" within the EU, as part of wide-ranging conclusions on counter-terrorism that seek to promote cooperation between asylum authorities and intelligence agencies, and reassert the need for mass data retention and action against encryption.
The European Court of Human Rights has overturned the criminal conviction by French courts of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigners. The pro-Palestinian activists were convicted "for incitement to economic discrimination, on account of their participation in actions aimed at boycotting products imported from Israel."
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