House of Commons, London SW1A OAA
18 November 2009
Dear Mr Hilley
Following on from our previous correspondence, I have now received a further reply from Ivan Lewis MP regarding your concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Please find enclosed a copy of his reply for your records. I hope you find this information useful.
Tom Harris MP
Member of Parliament for Glasgow South
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
12 November 2009
Thank you for your letter of 25 October 2009 on behalf of your constituent, Mr John Hilley of [address] about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
I should like to assure Mr Hilley that the Government remains extremely concerned about the very grave situation in Gaza, particularly with the onset of the autumn rains and colder winter weather. It is simply unaccepatable that many people in Gaza have not been able to rebuild their homes since the conflict ended in January.
We continue to urge the Israeli government to open the crossings into Gaza not only for humanitarian purposes, but also for reconstruction materials, commercial trade and people. The Prime Minister made this clear to the Prime Minister of Israel on 14 October. The Secretary of State for International Development has also recently written to the Israeli government about this matter. Securing better access to Gaza will remain a high priority for the UK government.
The UK is doing what it can to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza. Following the January conflict we pledged £48.8 million to the people of Gaza. We are using this money to fund the activities of charities and aid agencies in Gaza, including the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the International Committe of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Food Programme and Oxfam. They are helping to provide food, water, shelter and medical assistance to the people of Gaza, as well as emotional support for traumatised children. We have also funded the Mines Advisory Group to clear unexploded ordnance from Gaza, including from UN schools, which has enabled the children of Gaza to return to school.
Mr Hilley also raises the issue of Palestinian prisoners. We continue to monitor the situation with regard to all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Most Palestinian prisoners have been tried by Israeli courts and have the right of appeal. However, we have concerns about Palestinian prisoners who are being held without charge or trial, particularly minors. All Palestinian prisoners should have access to a fair trial and we have consistently called upon Israel to ensure that any actions are in accordance with international law. We will continue to raise our concerns with the Israeli authorities.
We are in close contact with the ICRC, which monitors conditions in Israeli prisons. Where appropriate we raise our concerns with the Israeli authorities. The Israeli Prison Service has stressed its commitment to honouring its international obligations with regard to the humane and dignified treatment of prisoners.
Mr Hilley might be interested in the following link to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's 2008 Human Rights Report, launched on 26 March, which includes a section on Israeli administrative detention and detainee abuse (see page 151):
www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-the-fco/publications/publications/annual-reports/human-rights-report1/ [amended link here]
I hope this addresses Mr Hilley's concerns. Facilitating peace in the Middle East remains a high priority for the UK . With the support of our international allies, we will continue to pursue vigorously a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution, involving a viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace and security.
Minister of State
26 November 2009
Dear Mr Harris,
Thanks for passing on the reply from Ivan Lewis. Consistent with my last response from him, I suspect this is also a template-type letter sent to others who have written to ask what the UK government is seriously doing to challenge Israel's siege and ongoing aggressions in Gaza - all violations of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. I can only assume that they, like me, remain wholly unconvinced by the Foreign Office's stated "concerns" regarding Israel's conduct in Gaza and the other Occupied Territories.
UK aid, of a token kind, may be getting to Gaza, but where is the political pressure needed to hold those responsible for Israel's murder and destruction to legal account? While the FCO's human rights report contends that the UK government is "particularly worried by the humanitarian situation in Gaza", it has offered no outright denunciation of Israel nor made any attempt to pursue such issues through the United Nations.
As the FCO report intimates, administrative detention is a violation of international law. Yet, again, Mr Lewis's "concerns"over illegal detention and other ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners contains no significant condemnation, preferring to take on trust the 'humanitarian pledges' of the Israeli authorities.
Since my last communication to you, the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to endorse Judge Richard Goldstone's report, the substantive part of which involved documenting Israeli aggressions against Gaza and recommending that Israel be indicted for war crimes. Among many further considerations of Israeli abuses across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Goldstone also made significant criticisms of Israel's use of arbitrary arrest and unwarranted incarceration of Palestinians.
As my constituency MP, I'd like you to make a clear and unequivocal statement on whether or not you support the Goldstone report's findings and recommendations.
Also, please could you ask Mr Lewis to respond specifically to the following questions:
1. If the UK government is really concerned about the plight of the Palestinians and the upholding of international justice, why did it refuse to vote for the recent UN General Assembly motion to endorse the Goldstone report?
2. As one of the senior UK government officials holding Labour Friends of Israel membership, please explain how the decision to oppose the Goldstone motion was not influenced by that particular affiliation?
I look forward to your considered replies.
In lieu of a formal reply from Ivan Lewis, here's a letter copied to me from Joe Sucksmith regarding the UK's 'reasoning' on the Goldstone report. The response from Ivan Lewis was made via Joe's MP, Martin Horwood.
16 September 2009
As I'm sure you're already aware, the UN report into the recent Gaza "conflict" has confirmed what humane and moral citizens the world over have been saying for months: that Israel was guilty of multiple violations of international humanitarian law, the Geneva conventions, and customary international law during its murderous assault on the civilians of Gaza; more specifically that the siege (which continues) constitutes "collective punishment", a war crime; and that Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the fundamental factor underlying all the violations of international law documented in the report.
The Israelis have already said that they will mount a diplomatic offensive to ensure the report's findings are not referred to the ICC, and we can be reasonably sure that the Israeli "case" will receive a sympathetic ear in Washington... and that the US stance will, in turn, be slavishly replicated by the UK government.
I dearly hope, however, that the Lib Dems, will do all in their power in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that the UK government does not shirk its moral and legal responsibilities in the face of Israeli (and US) pressure, and that you, as my MP, will do your bit to ensure that the UN report's recommendations are followed to the letter.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
London SW1A 2AH
From the Minister of State
2 November 2009
Martin Horwood Esq MP
House of Commons
Thank you for your letter of 23 September to the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of your constituent, Mr Joe Sucksmith, regarding the UN-mandated Fact Finding Mission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone. I am replying as Minister responsible for the Middle East.
We take the report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on Gaza very seriously. We have been clear from the beginning of the conflict that all allegations of abuse should be properly investigated.
We have some concerns about the final report. While we are pleased that Justice Goldstone made clear that he would investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law by all sides in the conflict, the report did not adequately recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens and did not pay sufficient attention to Hamas' actions. The report also made some broad assertions concerning detailed interpretation of international law with which we differ. Israel's refusal to co-operate with Goldstone's team, which we regret, also had the effect of limiting Goldstone's access to crucial information, not least about decision-making at the time of an attack which is so crucial to assessment of legality. Given these issues, we cannot endorse all of Goldstone's recommendations.
However, we remain deeply concerned about the allegations of abuse committed by both sides during the Gaza conflict. Hamas rockets are a clear violation of international humanitarian law and the report raises serious questions about Israeli conduct. As Goldstone himself highlights, the way forward is for those against whom allegations are made to carry out full, credible and impartial investigations. Israel has undertaken a number of investigations, but we do not yet believe these have yet adequately addressed the concerns highlighted by Goldstone and elsewhere, including going beyond specific incidents to address the policy around use of weaponry and rules of engagement.
Without contact with Hamas, there is little we can do to press them to face up to their actions. We have, however, raised this at the highest levels with the Israeli authorities. The Prime Minister has spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to Defence Minister Barak.
We did not vote on the recent Palestinian resolution at the UN Human Rights Council. As the Foreign Secretary explained to the House of Commons during Foreign Office questions on 20 October, this was because at the time that the vote was called, the Prime Minister was working closely with President Sarkozy of France to secure movement on three key issues: an independent enquiry into the allegations at the heart of the Goldstone report, greater access for humanitarian aid into Gaza, and restart the peace process. The vote was called in the middle of the discussions between the Prime Minister, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is right that the UK government takes every opportunity to drive forward on those three key issues and we will continue to do so.
The current humanitarian situation in Gaza is a serious cause for concern that will only get worse with the onset of winter. Despite recent representations from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and indeed the whole international community, the Israeli government has not eased border restrictions sufficiently to allow the passage of all essential humanitarian aid or significant reconstruction material. Continuing rocket fire from Gaza and the detention of over three years by Hamas of Gilad Shalit, without Red Cross access, is also unacceptable. We welcome the videotape of him released by Hamas on 2 October as part of a prisoner swap deal, but call again on Hamas to release him without further delay or conditions.
We believe the best way to address the various issues in the region is for a comprehensive peace between the parties. Facilitating peace remains a high priority for me. With the support of our international allies, we will continue to pursue vigorously a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution, involving a viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace ands security.
My responses to the above.
Ivan Lewis states:
“While we are pleased that Justice Goldstone made clear that he would investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law by all sides in the conflict, the report did not adequately recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens and did not pay sufficient attention to Hamas' actions.”
This is a bald assertion based on zero evidence. Lewis provides no illustration of Goldstone's apparently failed recognition in the report of Israel's right to protect its citizens. Regarding “pay[ing] sufficient attention to Hamas' actions”, Goldstone has called for Hamas to be referred to the UN and International Criminal Court for investigation, alongside Israel. So, there is simply no excuse for rejecting the report on these two issues.
He also conveniently declines to say which aspects of international law he's referring to here:
“The report also made some broad assertions concerning detailed interpretation of international law with which we differ.”
Lewis further asserts:
“Israel's refusal to co-operate with Goldstone's team, which we regret, also had the effect of limiting Goldstone's access to crucial information, not least about decision-making at the time of an attack which is so crucial to assessment of legality.”
And then goes on to say:
“Israel has undertaken a number of investigations, but we do not yet believe these have yet adequately addressed the concerns highlighted by Goldstone and elsewhere, including going beyond specific incidents to address the policy around use of weaponry and rules of engagement.”
The contradiction in these two statements should be self-evident. By his own admission, Lewis concedes that all previous “investigations” by Israel into such matters have produced no credible outcome. Thus, surely, the FCO's “regret” over such access should be coupled with a stated concern over the rather obvious reason for such evasion. The Minister is basically saying that when an accused party refuses to answer allegations of war crimes and pre-planned conspiracy to murder civilians, their silence and evasion on the matter should be used to excuse them from any action. Imagine that kind of argument being seriously presented in a court of law.
He further claims:
“Without contact with Hamas, there is little we can do to press them to face up to their actions.”
This is a false and darkly ironic statement, given that it was the UK and its Western allies who decided to cut off contact with Hamas after it was fairly elected as the legitimate government of the Palestinian people.
Lewis also insists:
“We did not vote on the recent Palestinian resolution at the UN Human Rights Council.. because at the time that the vote was called, the Prime Minister was working closely with President Sarkozy of France to secure movement on three key issues...”
The duplicity behind this statement should be obvious to any rational observer. As all the evidence suggests, the UK had no intention of supporting the motion, and its claims of being detained in 'helpful behind-the-scenes negotiations' only confirms the evasion.
Lewis concludes with a series of concerns about Gilad Shalit and rocket fire from Gaza, failing to provide any context on the situation, including the illegal imprisonment of over 11,000 Palestinians, the continuous efforts by Hamas to initiate and maintain ceasefires and the consistent violation of them by Israel.
In sum, this is a statement purporting to care about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the need for a just resolution, yet refusing to address the key issues of Israel's criminality and its consistent negation of any peace process.