In early August, most of Britain's broadsheet newspapers published a full-page advertisement for a "Gaza crisis" appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee [DEC], a British charity that serves as a fundraising body for its 13-member bodies, each one itself a prominent British charity.
Broadcast versions were also aired on major television channels, including the taxpayer-funded BBC television and radio stations. On August 15th, DEC announced the appeal had raised over £9 million.
British celebrity Martin Freeman appears on a BBC broadcast of the DEC's "Gaza Crisis Appeal". (Image source: DEC YouTube video screenshot)
Although DEC claims to use the appeal's funds "to reach hundreds of thousands of people with urgently needed food and safe drinking water," DEC does not provide these charitable services itself; it simply raises the funds. The money is then handed over to its 13 member-bodies, which are tasked with actually providing the humanitarian help.
One of DEC's leading members is Islamic Relief UK, the British branch of Islamic Relief Worldwide [IRW], an enormous British Islamic charity with branches all over the world. In 2012, this Islamic charity raised over £100 million.
As in much of the Middle East, critics suspect humanitarian aid to Gaza does not always end up helping the people for whom it is reportedly intended. Who is raising this money and where is it going?
This very question, debated publicly among sections of Britain's Jewish community and a number of counter-extremism groups, appears to have led Islamic Relief UK to take the unusual step of declaring a temporary freeze on income from the appeal, and to launch an "internal investigation" into its work in the Gaza Strip.
A spokesman for Islamic Relief UK, speaking to Third Sector magazine, stated, "As a responsible organisation we are looking into this matter thoroughly to ensure that our processes for aid delivery have been followed. Islamic Relief decided independently that it will not draw down any funds from the DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal until our review is completed."
There is good reason to be sceptical of the thoroughness of an "internal investigation."
IRW's present and past officials are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the worldwide Islamist group described by the former head of the MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, as being, "at heart, a terrorist organization."
Islamic Relief trustees and officials have included:
- Essam El-Haddad, who was the national security advisor to President Mohamed Morsi, the former Muslim Brotherhood President of Egypt;
- Ahmed Al-Rawi, the former President of the Muslim Brotherhood's chief lobby group in Britain. In 2004, he signed a declaration that supported jihad against British and American forces in Iraq;
- Issam Al-Bashir, who was a leading official within the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood and remains a leading member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, a group of fundamentalist clerics led by Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf Qaradawi; and
- Ibrahim El-Zayat, a German Islamist activist identified by German intelligence services as a key part of the Muslim Brotherhood network in Germany.
IRW also maintains financial relationships with a number of terror-linked charities across the world.
In 2004, 2007 and 2009, for instance, IRW accounts revealed donations of tens of thousands of pounds from the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, a charity founded by Al Qaeda terrorist and "Bin Laden loyalist" Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani. During a terrorism trial in 2004 in the USA, Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Brian Murphy testified that the Charitable Society for Social Welfare was a "front organization to funnel money to terrorists."
In 2008, IRW's accounts revealed a donation of £13,437 from the Yemeni Al-Eslah organization, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood the leaders of which include Sheikh al-Zindani, mentioned above, whom the US government has designated a "Global Terrorist."
In Gaza, IRW is a key supporter of the Islamic University of Gaza, where, during 2008, rockets and explosives were produced for use by Hamas. One of the founders of Hamas and its "spiritual leader", the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founded the University in 1978, and sixteen of the University's lecturers and teachers are elected Hamas members of the Palestinian legislature.
IRW has been "designated in Israel recently as an unlawful association, for providing support and funnelling funds to Hamas, a terror group designated in the UK," according to the Israeli embassy in London.
Despite these connections, IRW's UK branch is not, however, simply just a member body of DEC. The chief executive of DEC, in fact, is Saleh Saeed, who was formerly chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide.
In addition, the current chief executive of Islamic Relief UK, Mohamed Ashmawey, is a member of DEC's board of directors. Ashmawey previously served on the board of Mercy International and the Islamic Society of North America, and in the late 1990s, he was President of the Muslim Arab Youth Association. All three of these charities have been accused of funding terrorism:
- Mercy International was originally named Human Concern International. Its Pakistan branch was headed by Osama bin Laden associate and al-Qaeda financier Ahmed Khadr, and its Kenya branch was implicated in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa. In 1999, Bin Laden told an Egyptian interviewer that Human Concern International's Canadian branch, which today still provides funds to Islamic Relief, was providing funds to Al Qaeda front groups.
- The Islamic Society of North America is a Muslim Brotherhood front group, and was named as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the 2007 Hamas-funding trial of the Holy Land Foundation.
- The Muslim Arab Youth Association was an organisation founded by Osama bin Laden's nephew, which described itself as "opposed to those [principles] of Western civilisation." In the mid-1990s, the Association held a conference in which the keynote speaker was a Hamas military leader who urged the audience to "finish off the Israelis. Kill them all! Exterminate them!" $200,000 was raised for Hamas at the conference.
While President of the Muslim Arab Youth Association, Mohamed Ashmawey expressed support for Egyptian cleric and Hamas financier Wagdy Abd el-Hamied Mohamed Ghoneim, after he was denied entry to Canada in 1998, and, reportedly, Ashmawey even let Ghoneim stay at his house. Ghoneim has also been banned from the US, Britain and Switzerland, and is described by the British Home Office as someone who is "considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to foment, justify or glory terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs and to provoke others to commit terrorist acts."
Clearly, there is much about IRW's connections and its officials within DEC that causes concern.
Once IRW's "internal review" is finished, will the money raised only help those in need of humanitarian help? Or will the terror group Hamas benefit?
The most obvious problem is that the money DEC raises for Islamic Relief UK is fungible – that is, funds provided for bona fide humanitarian reasons helps potentially free up Islamic Relief monies for its habit of promoting extremist preachers or of funding organizations linked to terrorism, such as the Islamic University of Gaza.
The bigger problem, however, is the question of where the specific funds end up. As DEC admits, its member bodies work with "local partners." Who are these partners?
In Gaza, Hamas operates a system of da'wah -- a type of outreach program that involves providing various social services, such as education, healthcare and welfare payments.
Azzam Tamimi, a Hamas "insider," notes in his book, Hamas: A History from Within, that Hamas was established using this da'wah system -- capitalizing on the support from the Palestinian people acquired through the mosques, schools, and medical clinics built by the Gazan Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas was established by the Brotherhood). Tamimi writes: "Ikhwan [Brotherhood] medical specialists... would provide free medical consultations... Ikhwan pharmacists would dispense medicine at cost or lower."
To fund these da'wah efforts, Tamimi reveals, "zakat [charitable] committees" were established "across the territories ... These same zakat committees later became the principal recipients and dispensers of donations sent from abroad by Ikhwan branches that had set up their own fundraising networks." 
Today, counter-terrorism expert Matthew Levitt writes, the social infrastructure produced by da'wah activities "are crucial to Hamas' terrorist activity: they provide cover for raising, laundering, and transferring funds, facilitate the group's propaganda and recruitment efforts, provide employment to its operatives, and serve as a logistical support network for its terrorist operations."
In response to enquiries about how member bodies spend the money raised by DEC, a spokesman for DEC told Gatestone Institute that, "DEC has extensive systems to ensure funds are spent appropriately and effectively." The spokesman added that DEC's member bodies "work with carefully vetted and monitored local partners... No funds are turned over to Government, political organizations or armed groups."
Although DEC claims that its members only work with "carefully vetted" local partners, it does not oversee these partnerships. DEC could not, in fact, actually provide a list of those "local partners" that will benefit from the money raised by DEC and transferred through Islamic Relief and DEC's other member bodies.
One such "partner" in Gaza used by IRW's branches, though, appears to be the Al-Falah Benevolent Society, which, according to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre, is one of "Hamas's charitable societies". Al-Falah is run by Ramadan Tamboura, whom Ha'aretz newspaper describes as a "well-known Hamas figure". In addition, one of Al-Falah's Directors, Jamal Hamdi al-Haddad, runs one of Hamas' Hebrew-language education programmes, entitled "Know Your Enemy".
IRW's activities have already alarmed other charities. In late August, the Charities Aid Foundation, a charitable fundraising organization and provider of financial services to charities, shut down Islamic Relief's accounts.
Of course, IRW is not the only DEC member body of concern. Christian Aid, for instance, is an "international development charity" that has provided funds to Ul Haq and DCI Palestine, two Palestinian charities, the officials of which are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist terror group. Another example is Oxfam, also a DEC member, which has previously organized events with trustees of Interpal, a British charity accused of links to Hamas.
It is a fine thing to help others. But in giving money to the DEC appeal, which offers donors no information on how their money is spent, it seems there is a real chance that funds raised to ease suffering might contribute towards its very cause.
 Burnett, et al. v. al Baraka Investment and Development Corp., et al., Jan. 18, 2005
 "Muslim cleric's jailing in Canada angers followers," Toronto Star, 11 January 1998
 Azzam Tamimi, Hamas: A History from Within, Olive Branch Press, 2007. 38.
 Matthew Levitt, Hamas, London: Yale University Press, 2006. 23-24