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August 1, 2013 10:41 am

UK Palestinian Charity Faces Probe

avatar by Abha Shankar

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Qassam rocket launchers in Gaza. Photo: Israel Defense Forces.

Viva Palestina, a UK-based charity that seeks to provide “humanitarian aid” to Palestinians and “break the siege” of Gaza” has come under renewed scrutiny by the Charity Commission for failing to file its financial statements since 2010.

The Charity Commission told civilsociety.co.uk that “it has opened a statutory inquiry into Viva Palestina, and one of the regulatory issues to be examined by the inquiry is its overdue accounts.”

Viva Palestina was founded by British Member of Parliament George Galloway in January 2009 and has led several humanitarian convoys into Gaza in support of the Hamas-led government in the region. Evidence unearthed by the Investigative Project on Terrorism shows that the Viva Palestina campaign is more about supporting and legitimizing Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), than it is about providing aid to the needy. This was made abundantly clear in March 2009 when Galloway personally delivered a bag of cash to a Hamas Minister. Prominent leaders from the organization have openly advocated for the destruction of Israel.

Hamas officials greeted Viva Palestina officials at a number of convoy stops in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Gaza.

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Viva Palestina has several international affiliates, including in the U.S., Canada, Indonesia, Turkey, Italy, Arabia, and the Gulf. Viva Palestina’s website however has not been updated since 2011 and the website of its U.S. affiliate has been inactive since November 2010. When it was active, American activists for the group repeatedly acknowledged their work was “not about charity … but in every way that we cut it, it is political.”

The charity’s former director, Kevin Ovenden, however, blames the Charity Commission for Viva Palestina’s delay in submitting its financial paperwork. The UK Charity Commission had conducted an earlier investigation into the charity’s fundraising activities in connection with a February 2009 convoy to Gaza but subsequently concluded that the organization did not provide money to Hamas.

It did find that Viva Palestina exaggerated  the amount of money it raised. It claimed more than £1 million in aid was delivered during the first convoy, But Viva Palestina books showed the group raised less than a fifth of that amount. Galloway told investigators that the bag of cash he gave a Hamas official in 2009 contained his own money, not Viva Palestina’s.

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