On Thursday, February 17, the Australian government announced its intent to ban the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas in totality as a terrorist organization. Australian home minister Karen Andrews announced the decision claiming that “there is no place in Australia for their [Hamas’] hateful ideology.
Hamas’ military wing, Izz al-din al-Qassem Brigades, is already listed as a terrorist organization in Australia. After announcing the ban on Hamas in totality, Australia joins a small set of western countries, such as the US, the UK, the EU, and Israel, who have also done the same earlier.
Israel welcomed the Australian move, with prime minister Naftali Bennett thanking his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
The banning of Hamas by Australia would lead to restrictions on the financial flows to the organization. Anyone found to be a member of Hamas, or accused of carrying forward its agenda, would be punished with up to 25 years in prison.
Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, was formed during the first intifada in the late 1980s to fight against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In the subsequent decades, it gradually emerged as the most powerful Palestinian resistance group. It came out as the largest party in the last elections for the Palestinian Authority in 2006.
Hamas controls and administers the Gaza strip, with a population of over two million. Israel has imposed a severe land, air and sea blockade of Gaza, turning it into the “world’s largest open air prison.”
Australia under a right-wing government is seen to be following the US and Israel in its foreign policy. Last year, it banned the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah in totality despite opposition from a strong Lebanese community at home and from rights groups across the world.
Both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine have a strong political presence, and listing them as terrorist organization can restrict popular political choices. At the time of the announcement of the ban against Hezbollah, several groups had pointed out that such bans amounted to external political interference.
Israel has regularly bombed Gaza and is responsible for killing hundreds of Palestinian citizens in the narrow territory. In May last year, Israel bombed Gaza for almost two weeks, killing over 250 Palestinians and wounding nearly 2,000. Israel justified the move by saying that it was responding to rockets fired by Hamas from the territory. It also led a global campaign to vilify Palestinian resistance movements, and has for longed lobbied with the US and the UK to be term them as terrorist organizations.
The move to ban Hamas was opposed by Australia’s Palestine Advocacy Network, which claimed that “this designation will not act as a deterrence against terrorism, but would damage Australia’s capacity to play a constructive role towards Middle East peace.”