Two British women, Heba Alhayey (29) and Pauline Ankunda (26), have been charged with terrorism offenses for carrying posters depicting Hamas militants paragliding at a pro-Palestine demonstration in central London. The Crown Prosecution Service announced the charges on Friday, stating that the women had violated Britain’s Terrorism Act 2000 by carrying or displaying an article that aroused reasonable suspicion of their support for Hamas, which is a proscribed organization in the UK.
The posters, which showed Hamas militants using paragliders to enter Israel, were deemed to indicate support for the group, which is considered a crime in the country. If convicted, both women could face up to six months in prison for their actions.
The use of paragliders by Hamas militants in a surprise attack on October 7th was highlighted as the reason for the charges. The attack allegedly allowed the militants, said to be members of Hamas’ elite Nukbha unit, to kill 1,400 Israelis and kidnap over 200 more before bringing them back to Gaza. These captives are believed to still be held in Gaza.
In response to the attack, Israel declared war on Hamas and launched a devastating bombardment of Gaza, resulting in the deaths of over 9,488 Palestinians and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of residents, according to the Gaza health ministry.
The arrest of Alhayey and Ankunda occurred during a larger pro-Palestine protest organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The police had warned beforehand that anyone displaying a flag in support of Hamas or any other proscribed terrorist organization would be arrested. However, the majority of the arrests made during the protest were for offenses such as setting off fireworks in public and assaulting emergency workers, rather than for displaying support for Hamas.
Despite warnings from Home Secretary Suella Braverman that certain slogans and symbols used during pro-Palestine demonstrations could constitute criminal offenses, protesters have continued to wave Palestinian flags and chant slogans such as “from the river to the sea.” Braverman argued that these expressions could reflect a violent desire to see Israel erased and may be used to intimidate or harass Jews.
The charges against Alhayey and Ankunda, along with the ongoing protests in London, highlight the deep divisions and tensions surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict within the UK. The government is actively seeking to crack down on displays of support for proscribed organizations while balancing the right to protest and freedom of expression.
It remains to be seen how the case against the two women will unfold, but it serves as a stark reminder of the contentious nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the legal consequences of expressing certain views in the UK. The debate over where the line should be drawn between legitimate protest and criminal support for proscribed organizations continues, making it a complex issue for authorities to navigate. In the meantime, pro-Palestine demonstrations in London show no signs of slowing down, with protesters steadfast in their support for the Palestinian cause.