Analysis: Will Hezbollah flags fly in London this weekend?

This weekend’s Al-Quds Day parade may once again see the flags of Hezbollah, an antisemitic terror group, flying in the streets of central London.

Initiated by Ayatollah Khomeni in 1979, Al Quds Day is now marked internationally, normally at the end of Ramadan. Its intent – to destroy the state of Israel – has been clear from the outset and repeatedly underlined by its proponents.

As Khomeni stated in June 1979: “The day of Quds is an international day… it is the day when the oppressed should arm themselves against the oppressors and rub their noses in the dirt.” Israel, he continued, was the “enemy of mankind and humanity”.

At last year’s Al-Quds Day march in London, a large Hezbollah flag was flown alongside the Palestinian flag at the front of the march, while hundreds of smaller paper flags bearing the machine gun logo of the Hezbollah movement were carried by participants.

Supporters held up banners stating “Zionism is Racism” and “We are all Hezbollah”. Members of the crowd chanted slogans such as “From the river to the sea – Palestine will be free.”

Speakers called for the annihilation of Israel and blamed the Grenfell fire on “Zionists”. This Sunday’s rally will reportedly be addressed by Stephen Sizer, who once supported claims that Israel was behind the 9/11 terror attacks.

Over the past year, LFI has stepped up its campaign against this open display of support for terrorism and violence.

Immediately following last June’s march, our vice-chair, Louise Ellman, pressed for answers on how Hezbollah flags came to be flying in the centre of London and urged action to ensure it never happens again. She wrote to the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, asking her to take action; the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, requesting he review policing at the march; and the Charity Commission, enquiring as to whether the organisers breached any of its guidelines.

Ms Ellman later had a meeting with the Met to discuss the legislation which governs the way it polices the march and wrote to the commissioner, Cressida Dick, seeking further clarification.

Last week, LFI published Commander Jane Connors’ response, which made clear that the police do not currently have the power to prevent Hezbollah flags being flown.

At the root of the problem is the fact that Hezbollah is only partially proscribed here in the UK.

The terror group’s military wing has been banned in the UK since 2001, but its so-called political wing is still legal. Thus marchers are able to exploit this fact.

In January, LFI chair Joan Ryan secured a parliamentary debate on the issue.

Despite opposition from both the government and Labour frontbenches, she won widespread support from MPs from across the house for her motion to ban Hezbollah in its entirety. This would end a totally artificial distinction which its own leadership has consistently and emphatically rejected.

The character of Hezbollah – which the Obama administration in 2010 labelled “the most technically capable terrorist group in the world” – is undeniable.

Since the 1980s, it has been implicated in a string of deadly attacks against Israeli, Jewish and western targets in the Middle East and beyond. These include the murder of 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers in Beirut in 1983 and attacks on Jewish communal targets in Paris which saw 13 people die three years later. In 1992 it killed 29 people when it bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. It hit the Argentinian capital again two years later, murdering 85 people in an attack on the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association. More recently, it attacked a bus of Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas, killing six.

Hezbollah’s political leaders incite and promote terrorism. The organisation’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, has, for instance, praised Palestinian suicide bombings, saying that “those who love death” will triumph over those who fear it. “Martyrdom operations,” he has claimed, are “legitimate, honourable, legal, humanitarian and ethical.” This terror is motivated by a hatred of Jews. “If [Jews] all gather in Israel,” Nasrallah has declared, “it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Hezbollah has made clear it will accept no accommodation with, or peace process involving, Israel.

Its 1985 founding document declared that “our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated”. “We recognise no treaty with it, no cease-fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated,” it argued.

Hezbollah doggedly opposed the Oslo peace process and has sought to provoke war with Israel on at least three occasions. In defiance of UN Resolution 1701, which brought the 2006 Second Lebanon War to an end, Hezbollah has spent the last decade restocking its arsenal and rebuilding its forces in Lebanon.

Today, it has amassed an estimated 120,000-140,000 rockets and missiles – an arsenal larger than that of many states – thousands of which are capable of being fired 300-700km.

Hezbollah is also deeply implicated in Syria’s bloody civil war. In 2016, it was estimated that more than a quarter of its forces were, at the behest of Iran, engaged in fighting in the country on behalf of the Assad regime.

Aside from the vast sums it receives from Iran, the organisation also funds its terrorist activities by engaging in money laundering, arms sales and drugs smuggling.

While the UK government steadfastly refuses to proscribe its political wing, Hezbollah itself does not recognise the distinction between its military and political activities which ministers maintain exists.

Hezbollah’s founding document stated explicitly: “As to our military power, nobody can imagine its dimensions because we do not have a military agency separate from the other parts of our body. Each of us is a combat soldier when the call of jihad demands it.”

This message has been repeated regularly by Hezbollah’s leaders. In 2009, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy general-secretary made clear that, in his words, “the same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel”.

A number of countries – including the Netherlands, Canada, the US, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council – have thus proscribed Hezbollah in its entirety. But ministers in the UK have repeatedly refused to use their powers under the 2000 Terrorism Act and follow suit.

Last month, Ms Ellman wrote to the new home secretary, Sajid Javid, asking to him to act where his predecessors had failed to.

Her call was reinforced by Mr Khan, who this week repeated his previous calls for the government to step in and ban Hezbollah.

Writing this week for Progress, Ms Ryan suggested: “Let’s be clear, if terrorist flags are flown on the streets of London this weekend, it will be because ministers have allowed them to be. A year ago, in the wake of the London Bridge attacks, the prime minister said there had been ‘far too much tolerance of extremism in our country’. This weekend, those words may ring particularly hollow.”