Two officials from the Muslim Hands charity have been deported from Israel after being prevented from attending an event organised by an Israeli interfaith charity.
Maqsood Ahmed, Director of Community Development at Muslim Hands, and Irfan Khan, the charity’s Global Programme Manager, accepted an invitation from The Abraham Fund Initiatives (TAFI) for the three-day event.
But they were refused entry to Israel for “security reasons” and were held in cells at Ben-Gurion Airport overnight before being turned away by Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet on Friday.
Their attempted visit is likely to prove controversial among British Muslims, many of whom stand steadfastly against any relations with Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians.
The incident was queried by TAFI directors who said they had consulted the Israeli foreign ministry beforehand, and had been told there were no problems.
TAFI chief executive Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said the trip had been the culmination of a sensitive year-long dialogue between the two groups, but that Maqsood Ahmed had now promised not to return to Israel after his treatment.
He said: “About a year ago, we began building a relationship through our UK based charity with Muslim Hands, an organization founded during the war in Bosnia by British Muslims to build classrooms and medical clinics.
“Muslim Hands is highly respected both in England and around the world, as it works in over 50 countries (primarily in Africa and Asia). We made sure to clear our burgeoning partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and were given the green light to go ahead.
“With great courage, committing themselves to dealing with criticism from the growing number of organizations who boycott Israel, Muslim Hands accepted our invitation to come visit Israel and to see how we are building a shared Arab-Jewish society.
“We planned a three day itinerary, full of visits to our programs including our education initiative where Jewish students learn Arabic, and Arab students learn Hebrew; to our Encounter program where Jewish and Arab school children meet; and to our Public Leadership program to meet with the women and youth working to improve their communities.”
Muslim Hands response
Muslim Hands was founded in 1993 in Nottingham as a response to the devastation of the Bosnian war but now says it works in over 50 countries distributing aid and making a lasting difference to the communities it works with.
According to its latest accounts for 2015, Muslims Hands received £14.4 million in income and spent £12.2 million of that on charitable activities.
Shakil Ur Rahman, of Muslim Hands, told 5Pillars that he understood the sensitivity that surrounds Muslim NGOs working in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, but thought that the blacklisting of Muslim Hands’ officials may have been due to the charity’s erroneous placing on a list which linked them to the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said: “Muslim Hands is an international relief and development organisation operating in over 50 countries worldwide, and for over 20 years Muslim Hands has been undertaking humanitarian missions around the world. Despite being known primarily for our emergency response work, a very significant portion of our activities are focused on orphan sponsorship and establishing schools.
“In 2008, the MoD Israel erroneously listed Muslim Hands as an ‘unauthorised association’ due to alleged links with the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Union of Good. Despite strenuously denying any such links our name has not been removed from the list. We are continuing to challenge this position legally. It needs to be stressed that Muslim Hands does not have any links with governments, political or militant bodies anywhere in the world, and our mission remain strictly humanitarian. We do not receive government funding.
“Now, the refusal of entry to Israel faced by two managers from MH (UK) is most probably related to this list, as indeed all appropriate processes were followed for this visit; the two staff members were cleared by the Foreign Ministry’s European Department and were invited by an Israel based NGO, namely the Abraham Fund.
“The purpose of this initial visit was one of fact finding, to see first-hand Abraham Funds’ work with the Bedouin communities in Negev and Arab-Israeli towns including Al-Ludd/City of Lod. It is our understanding currently that the Abraham Fund is probably one of the few if not only Israel based NGOs that has a mandate to empower Bedouin communities in this area and advocates for equal rights of Arab citizens within Israel. Of course the fact-finding mission was not allowed to proceed as ‘security concerns’ meant our staff were detained and deported – rather acrimoniously.
“Despite this setback and the daily restrictions, the MoD listing poses for Muslim Hands (most acutely within movement of funds to conflict zones and now the movement of our staff too) by Allah the ability of Muslim Hands to extend the generosity of our donors to some of the neediest people in the world hasn’t diminished but has grown.
“Alhamdulillah, Muslim Hands continues to work in Gaza and Jerusalem, and our renovation of the Blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa has completed another phase; the lighting project has been completed just recently and feedback reports and images will be disseminated online soon.”