Ibrahim Hewitt, chair of Interpal

It's an uphill struggle to support Palestine, he tells Paul Jump

Ibrahim Hewitt
Ibrahim Hewitt

Ibrahim Hewitt, chair of Palestinian aid charity Interpal: 'it's groundbreaking stuff'. "I was first elected chair of Interpal in 1997, when I was working for the Association of Muslim Schools UK. Since then, Interpal has constantly been involved with controversy.

There have been three Charity Commission investigations. The latest one, which cleared us of any links to terrorism in the occupied Palestinian territories, will not be the last. There is a concerted effort at home and abroad to bring about the end of Interpal.

But being involved with Interpal has generally had a beneficial effect on my professional and personal life. I have been able to travel a fair bit and meet many people I probably wouldn't have met otherwise.

Of course, there are downsides as well, such as negative media and internet blog coverage; but that goes with the territory - and the more of it I get, the more determined I am to continue doing as much as I can to help Palestinians in desperate need.

I went to Lebanon recently, where the plight of Palestinian refugees is even worse than in the occupied territories. When you see it, it tells you why you have to do something. You have no choice. You have to fight back, even though it is an uphill struggle.

The controversy causes us a lot of practical problems, such as the unwillingness of banks to process our money transfers.

In some ways, however, it also works for us because it gives us support from a wider section of society than we have had in the past, such as people in the anti-war movement.

We also have a loyal donor base. But it would be nice if people knew about Interpal for the right reasons.

The board meets once a quarter, but another trustee and I go into the office quite often. We have a lot of contact with the day-to-day affairs of the charity, but the commission wants us to monitor things even more closely. We are being asked to have a level of awareness that trustees of Oxfam and other charities wouldn't be asked for. It is groundbreaking stuff.

But it is the authority and we will do what it asks. The commission has also asked us to have a round-table discussion with other charities working in the occupied territories to share good practice.

I am now a self-employed education and media consultant, and I try to coordinate my work commitments so that I have time to spend on Interpal business.

For example, if I have a meeting in London, I will always try to make sure I can kill two or three other birds with that one stone; as I live in Leicester, getting the maximum use of my time in London, where Interpal is based, is important.

We have elections for the chair of trustees every couple of years and I have always been asked to continue in the role.

I suppose that I will do so, God willing, for as long as the other trustees want me to be here - and as long as I feel that I am of benefit to the charity."

Interview by Paul Jump

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