Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has outlawed the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) – a Belgian non-profit organization that serves as Hamas’ representative in Europe. Members of the organization include four European MPs, who are now in danger of arrest if they land at Ben Gurion International Airport.
The director of the NGO is Dr. Arafat Shoukri, a resident of London who has been active for many years in various organizations working against the State of Israel, and was one of the leaders of the campaign calling for the lifting of the siege against Gaza.
The organization is registered in Belgium and acts as a lobby for the Gaza government in the European Union. It is also registered in the EU offices in the framework of the convention to increase transparency. On its website the organization claims that it “is working to improve the dialogue between Europe and the Arab world, with the objective of restoring Palestinian rights in accordance with international law, as part a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
In the past three years the CEPR has organized six delegations of European MPs, who visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. In 2010 Shoukri met with the then-chairman of the EU Parliament.
Two weeks ago Ya’alon declared the group “an outlawed organization,” based on the emergency defense regulations. That means that Israel can confiscate money related to the organization and try its members or those who provide them with services. In the past Israel has declared isolated European groups illegal, but still this is an unusual declaration.
Also outlawed was a Norwegian NGO called European Empowerment Services and the European Campaign to Remove the Siege Against the Gaza Strip, which as far as we know is a media name only, without any real organization behind it.
The leadership of the CEPR includes four members of parliament from Europe. British representative Richard Howitt, German representative Alexandra Thein, Swiss MP Geri Müller and British MP Norman Warner. The four are now in danger of arrest and trial if they visit Israel or try to reach the West Bank via Israel.
Shoukri was not available for comment.
The Shin Bet security services replied that CEPR has in fact recently been declared an illegal organization, in light of the fact that it is Hamas’ leading organization in Europe, which carries out its activity under cover of being a pro-Palestinian organization. The organization is headed by senior Hamas activists, including Arafat Shoukri and Rami Abdo.” In reply to the question as to whether the Shin Bet intends to take steps against the four MPs if they arrive in Israel, they said that “The Shin Bet does not usually discuss activities in which it engages for the purpose of fulfilling its mission.”
Dr. Shoukri told The Independent the CEPR will take legal action.
"The decision of the Israel defense minister is based on false accusations and has no shred of truth and we will challenge it through the legal means," he said.
"The CEPR is a non-profit organisation and is not affiliated to any political party whether inside or outside Palestine.
"Our main aim is to achieve peace and justice in the Middle East according to international law.
"We also believe that the international community should respect the democratic and transparent elections that took place in Palestine 2006 and engage with all representatives of the Palestinian people."