A television station based in the UK is facing criticism for regularly featuring a ‘former Hamas member’ who referred to the individuals responsible for the fatal attack on a synagogue in East Jerusalem as ‘resistance fighters’.
Al-Hiwar TV, a London-based news and current affairs channel regulated by Ofcom, has attracted a significant following on social media, especially among younger audiences.
Founded in 2005 by Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian scholar linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Hiwar TV has been known for its controversial content. The station’s studios are located in Acton, west London, and it is funded through Lebanese bank loans and anonymous sources, reports the Times.
One of Al-Hiwar’s recurring panellists is Mohammed Sawalha, a former Hamas member who was involved in the group’s leadership and, according to the US government, ‘ran its terrorists operations’ in the West Bank. Sawalha fled Israel in the late 1990s and settled in London, obtaining British citizenship and council housing.
He appeared on the channel while serving on Hamas’s politburo and representing the organisation in talks with the Kremlin between 2015 and 2018.
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As recently as last month, Sawalha appeared on “London Chat,” an Arabic-language late-night talk show hosted by Zaher Birawi, an activist supportive of Palestine and designated by Israel as a Hamas member.
Birawi has publicly challenged Britain’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and shared content commemorating the group’s 25th anniversary, featuring a type of rocket regularly fired from Gaza into Israel.
Sawalha’s appearance on the show came shortly after a tragic event in East Jerusalem where a lone gunman killed seven worshippers in a synagogue on Holocaust Memorial Day. The next day, The following day, a 13-year-old Palestinian opened fire on a family in Jerusalem, but luckily everyone survived. Sawalha referred to these attackers as “new resistance fighters” during a live broadcast on Al-Hiwar. He suggested that the Palestinian society respected such actions.
He said: “Israel is used to well-known traditional organisations … Recently, the problem for the Zionist side is that they are facing a new group of resistance fighters. Is this a point of weakness in the Palestinian resistance? I think it’s a point of strength, not a point of weakness.”
Sawalha added: “The Palestinian society respects action. If someone out there carries out an act of jihad on the land, whereby they defend the Palestinian people, be it an organisation … or individuals, this also has an enormous influence. Look at the two latest operations in Jerusalem. Truly, the mark [they left] on the Palestinian society and on the Zionist side was formidable and they were carried out by two people, one of them a 13-year-old.”
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Al-Hiwar TV has also featured interviews with other Hamas officials, including a spokesman, a politburo member, and a representative in Lebanon, who have made controversial statements on the channel.
Ofcom, the regulator overseeing the channel, requires it to adhere to a code of practice that prohibits broadcasting “offensive” material, content that promotes or encourages terrorism, or constitutes “hate speech”. It also mandates “due impartiality”.
While Ofcom has investigated Al-Hiwar in the past, no sanctions have been imposed.
The channel is owned by Sage Media Limited, whose sole shareholder is Adnan Faour, a British businessman based in northwest London, though the source of the broadcaster’s funding remains undisclosed.
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Sawalha’s lawyers questioned the translation of the comments, when asked about them. They also said: “Mr Sawalha was commenting objectively in the context of political analysis and there was no praise or glorification of the acts described. His support for Palestinian resilience is support for a struggle against occupation in accordance with international law.
“Mr Sawalha deplores all attacks on civilians and condemns the targeting of civilians over the past 75 years as well as in the current conflict.” They added that he was not a member of Hamas.
Birawi said: “I am a law-abiding British citizen of Palestinian origin who carries out his obligations as an activist defending the national and human rights of Palestinians who survive under occupation.”
Birawi denies belonging to Hamas and said that in 2021 he sued World-Check, a financial database blacklist that falsely linked him to terrorism. He didn’t comment on whether he supported Hamas’s military strategy, but said: “I have no connection to any Palestinian faction whatsoever, classified or otherwise.”
Al-Hiwar said it was fully aware of its Ofcom licence obligations and complied with them. It pointed out Hamas representatives had appeared on other broadcasters, including the BBC, in recent days.
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