A peace to safeguard the rights of Palestinians

Arthur Balfour in Palestine, 1925

Britain should now recognise the state of Palestine alongside Israel, on 1967 lines, says a cross-party group of parliamentarians.

Theresa May will dine with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Thursday to mark “with pride” the centenary of the Balfour declaration. She should pay heed to an event on Tuesday evening, when 1,000 British people gather at Westminster Central Hall – neither to celebrate nor to mourn, but to acknowledge British responsibility and to commit to change in the Holy Land.

Britain’s broken promise: time for a new approach” is the work of the Balfour Project, shedding light on British imperial history and stimulating thought – what can our people and government do today to advance equal rights for all living between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river?

The Balfour declaration contained two promises. The first was to facilitate the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The second was to safeguard the rights of the Palestinians. The second promise was broken. The new approach? Britain now to recognise the state of Palestine alongside Israel, on 1967 lines, and uphold international law in deed, not merely in word. We can’t leave the parties to this conflict to sort it out. Pitching the strong against the weak is not the way, particularly if one party works against the solution of two sovereign states. The tragedy of Gaza – 2 million people trapped by the 10-year blockade, compounded by deeply harmful Palestinian factional division – owes much to international political inertia. Nor can we put our faith in President Trump – which is what appears to be current British policy.

In our interest, and that of both the peoples who will share this Holy Land forever, our government needs to go beyond words. Only a just peace will bring lasting security and stability – our common aim.
Tom Brake MP Liberal Democrat
Richard Burden MP Labour
Lord Cope of Berkeley Conservative
Dr Philippa Whitford MP SNP

 

This letter was first published in The Guardian, Monday 30th October 2017 and is reproduced here in its entirity.

How the Israeli blockade affects cancer treatment in Palestine.

Dr Philippa Whitford at Dunya Womens Cancer Centre.

By Dr Philippa Whitford MP

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I recently hosted the ‘Wear it Pink’ photocall at Westminster for MPs to get silly photos, in outlandish pink gear, to highlight the campaign. While increased awareness, earlier presentation and modern treatments have improved Breast Cancer care in Scotland and the UK, this is not the case everywhere. Having worked with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) as a surgical volunteer in Gaza for a year and a half in 1991 and 92, I returned last year for the first time in 25 years to see how we could contribute to the improvement of breast cancer treatment there and in the West Bank and, then again, just a few weeks ago.

Dr Philippa Whitford at Dunya Womens Cancer Centre.
Dr Philippa Whitford at Dunya Womens Cancer Centre.

What struck me once I made my way through checkpoints at Erez crossing was how crowded and claustrophobic the Gaza Strip is after 10 years of virtual siege. The spread of Gaza City outwards to accommodate the population of almost two million people, squashed into a strip of land 8 by 40 kilometres, is eating into the arable land within the strip, while the Israeli security wall and associated no-man’s land shrinks it around the edges. The pervasive smell of sewage as a result of the near doubling of the population and refusal of Israeli permission to expand the sewage treatment plant, means raw sewage is just pumped out into the sea; one of Gaza’s most important resources. The water has been undrinkable for several years. The beaches could be beautiful and the plentiful seafood could have made tourism a major source of income and economic activity but the blockade of Gaza by land, sea and air have made that impossible. Gaza fishing boats, a traditional source of income as well as food, face the impact of the sewage effluent as well as the fact that, while boats from the south of the Strip can now fish out to the main reef at 9 miles, those from Gaza City harbour face a 6 mile limit.

Gazan Fishing boat. Credit Dr. Philippa Whitford
Gazan Fishing boat. Credit Dr. Philippa Whitford

When we lived in Gaza, 25 years ago, it was still under direct occupation by the Israeli Defence Force and Settlers which meant there were clashes every few days, resulting in patients with gunshot wounds needing surgery. Since the Israeli withdrawal, it is easier to move about in Gaza but the external security wall and a decade of blockade impact on every aspect of daily life, including cancer treatment. For those requiring chemotherapy, it is not always possible to maintain an unbroken course of treatment and there are always chronic drug shortages – WHO report that 35% of all essential medicines are out of stock in Gaza.

As I documented last year, radiotherapy, a key element of breast cancer treatment, but also crucial for many other tumours, is not available within Gaza so patients need to travel to East Jerusalem. However, not only is it expensive for patients to travel and stay in Jerusalem for over a month, many are simply denied access to Israel and permission to travel – in August, 45% of all patients were denied permission or received no response. During the clinic we carried out on the first day, I met an elderly lady who had been trying to get permission to travel for radiotherapy for six months without success and came to the clinic concerned that a nodule in her Mastectomy scar might already be a sign of recurrence: a sad phenomenon which is not uncommon among those with the highest risk disease. It is hard to imagine what threat she could possibly pose to Israeli security.

It is not just those who are denied permission who are affected as the routine denial of permission is skewing treatment, with the majority of surgeons opting for mastectomy and clearance of the axillary nodes so most patients won’t need radiotherapy in the first place. This aggressive approach for all patients, regardless of the size and extent of disease, has significant ramifications due to the cultural impact for a woman of losing her breast and the high incidence of lymphoedema or arm swelling. It also feeds into a nihilism among patients about the potential to treat breast cancer and the fear of destructive treatment keeps women in Gaza from coming forward until the disease is very advanced. At our first clinic in Gaza, once our radiologist performed detailed ultrasound scans, sadly patient after patient was found to have heavy nodal involvement. As these patients had already been seen by other breast surgeons, this highlighted the need to develop a more detailed diagnostic pathway so the medical team can make the most appropriate treatment plan for each patient – this is one of the key aspects that the MAP project would seek to address.

Palestinian Ministry of Health data shows that approximately 1 in 3 breast cancer patients in the OPT are node negative and the key aim of my trip was to introduce the technique of Sentinel Node Biopsy (SNB), which involves removing just one or two nodes for testing in women who appear to be node negative and carries a very low risk of side effects. In the UK, we would use a combination of blue dye and a radiocolloid injected into the breast to identify the first nodes in the axillary lymph chain, i.e. the most likely to have any cancer deposits. Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities do not allow the import of radiocolloid into the OPT – describing it as a security threat, despite the fact that Technitium has a half-life of a mere 4 hours which means the radioactivity is essentially gone the following day.

 

Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City
Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City

 

It felt like a homecoming for me as I operated in Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City, where I had worked back in the early

 

‘90s, and received an affectionate welcome from old friends and colleagues. Its lush garden remains a wee green oasis in this city of concrete and sand. Over the next three years, the MAP project will take multidisciplinary breast cancer specialists, from across the Scottish Breast Cancer networks, to the West Bank and Gaza. The aim is to help develop an overarching vision for Breast Cancer care, to help support quality improvement measures and particularly to provide training and mentoring through our Multidisciplinary Teams.

It is, however, not possible to ignore the political nature of the constraints faced by Palestinians in their daily lives, nor how that affects healthcare. There are many other parts of the world where cancer treatment is unavailable but the difference in Gaza is that the obstruction is political in nature. The decade long siege affects every aspect of life and results in survival from breast cancer being around half that of women in the UK, or even just a few kilometres along the coast in Ashkelon. The international community need to put the Israel-Palestine conflict back on the agenda. In this centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, the UK must recognise that, while a Jewish State has been created in Israel, the second half of that declaration, which promised to protect the Palestinian people, most certainly has not been delivered.

First published in The Sunday Herald 22/10/17

The Facts on the Ground

By Tommy Sheppard MP. Tommy is MP for Edinburgh East, Vice-Chair of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Palestine and co-Spokesperson for SNP Friends of Palestine at Westminster.

 

The hills around Jerusalem were drenched in sun the last time I was here. It brought out their significance and history. This week, though, the Holy Land has been visited by a Scottish winter. As I peer through the steamed up windows of our VW Transporter, it’s decidedly dreich out there.

I’m here on a parliamentary delegation to see if the political mood matches the weather. The trip is organised by the Committee for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding (www.caabu.org) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map.org.uk). Over four days we have a packed schedule of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, human rights groups and the UK Foreign Office. We also get the chance to see first-hand what it’s like to live under a military occupation.

While we are here Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is being entertained in Washington by President Trump. In one of his typical glib moments Trump tells the press “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like.” As he says it the world’s press and diplomatic industry are desperately trying to decipher what he means: is this a change in US policy or not?

Tempting as it is to see this as another spontaneous and reactionary outburst, I think it’s Trump’s way of buying time. The new US administration hasn’t yet decided which way to go and maybe, just maybe, they are beginning to understand the consequences of giving the Israeli right what they want. Things do look, however, like they might begin to move.

2017 is a year of anniversaries. It is now 50 years since Israel won the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and was left in military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, collectively known as the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). It is the longest military occupation of modern times. This most intractable of disputes is fraught with the problems of competing descriptions of the same thing, competing realities.

Emmanuel Nahshon from the Israeli foreign office rejects the notion of occupation for starters. “How can this be occupied Palestine” he asks “when the West Bank was run by Jordan and the Gaza Strip by Egypt before the 1967 war?” It’s a disingenuous point. Sure, there’s never actually yet been a state of Palestine, but the territory in question was exactly where it was intended to be.

The Two State Solution

This was one of the key components of the Oslo agreement reached by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation the last time they tried to make peace back in 1994. As with so many other aspects of this debate you could say opinion is divided on the matter: Israel takes one view, the rest of the world has another.

The Oslo Accords saw the creation of a Palestinian Authority and the division of the West Bank into three zones. Areas A and B contained the cities and towns, with most of the population. Area C was the rest, comprising 62% of the land. This was placed under the administrative control of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) as agents of the occupying power. It’s hard to overstate the degree of compromise that the PLO made in 1994, they not only recognised the State of Israel but effectively conceded that it would occupy around 80% of historic Palestine.

The intention back in 1993 was that a process of transition would take place with the new PA gradually assuming responsibility for all of the West Bank and evolving into a new state of Palestine.  And there were to be further negotiations on a range of matters left undecided in Oslo: refugees, settlements and the status of Jerusalem being the main ones.

The creation of an independent state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza living peacefully alongside a state of Israel based on the pre 1967 boundaries became known as the two state solution. This became the policy of pretty much everyone.

Two states is not a new idea. A hundred years ago then UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s declaration of support for a Jewish homeland also contained the qualification “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done that would be prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. As the British mandate came to a close in 1948, the UN proposed the creation of two states in the area: one Jewish, one Arab.

The objective of the two state solution is to do justice to competing territorial claims. But advocates of the policy ought to be clear that little would be achieved by creating two religious states, each armed to the teeth and living in seething tension with each other. It only works if the states respect each other and cooperate across the border. So if we talk about a Jewish state, or an Arab one, we should be clear we mean this in terms of the culture, history and demography of that country, but that civil and religious rights of everyone must be respected in a secular democratic society.

Permanent Occupation

The truth today is that only one of the two states exists. And that state is occupying the land intended for the other one. Until and unless the occupation ends, the two state solution cannot advance. Not only has the vision of Oslo not been realised, but Israel’s actions since have pushed it further and further away.

Over the last two decades Israel has used the zoning as a means to control the Palestinian population and ingrain and make permanent the occupation.  Most of the population has been hemmed into the urban areas A and B. On a map they look like an archipelago of Palestinian islands in a sea of Israeli occupied land.

In Area C two worlds exist.   Israel had commandeered much of the land as “state” land and then made it available to build residential settlements into which it moved Israeli citizens. This has been going on since the mid-70s and the existence of these enclaves throughout the West Bank was recognised in Oslo as an obstacle to be dealt with. Then there were about 200,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Today they are more than 600,000.

To the Palestinians – and to me –  this looks like a land grab. The UN has declared these settlements illegal and ruled them in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power moving its civilian population into areas it occupies.

We drove through a couple of these settlements. There is nothing low key or temporary about them. Most are modern towns and cities replete with the entire service and tech infrastructure you’d expect in a first world country. Nearby industrial development provides work and means that the settlements now have their own economy and are not just commuter zones into Israel proper. Leisure centres and shopping malls offer a good quality of life and it’s all protected by the fourth most powerful military in the world.

There are about a hundred settlements which have been established by religious extremists without authorisation from the Israeli government. These are known as “outposts” and effectively they are groups of people taking the law into their own hands and trespassing on land which is mostly owned by Palestinian farmers.

In a hardening of the Israeli government’s position the Knesset passed a law two weeks ago which will retrospectively legalise these outposts. If it goes through they will be given the same status and protection as the “official” settlements. This represents a major victory for the hard right Jewish Home party which is a minor partner in Netanyahu’s coalition government. The policy will be challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court and the Attorney General has said he will  not defend it. It remains to be seen, however, whether Netanyahu will simply find himself another Attorney General.

Credit: Tommy Sheppard

Demolitions

At the same time at the Israeli authorities have allowed, indeed encouraged, settlements, they pretty much prohibit any development by Palestinians.  We met with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) who monitor the situation in the oPt and are the go to people for statistics. They told us that in 2015 a total of 15 building permits were issued in the oPt to Palestinians. If people go ahead and put up a structure anyway, including in one farm we visited, installing solar panels, they will be served with a demolition order. Demolitions have been increasing in recent years and OCHA recorded over a thousand last year. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to run a business. It also makes it impossible for towns and cities to develop as the adjoining land is controlled by the Israelis.

We have also witnessed how settlements are used to make the occupation work. Each settlement will have a buffer zone around it in which Palestinians are forbidden. So because settlements are built on hilltops in the midst of Palestinian farms it forces the local population into less and less space. The IDF not only patrol the perimeters, they regularly raid Palestinian villages breaking down doors in the middle of the night and arresting young men.

On top of this there are increasing reports of violence perpetrated by settlers, many of who are religious extremists. We travelled to a farmers’ cooperative just outside Ramallah who have recently built a new olive oil pressing factory supported by Oxfam. (you can buy their oil here in Edinburgh at Earthy and Real Foods – or check out www.zaytoun.org). They told us of gangs of settlers setting dogs on families whilst they were bringing in the olive harvest and cutting or uprooting trees in the olive groves.

The often fractious interaction between settlers and Palestinians is not regulated fairly. Palestinians are subject to martial law and dealt with in the military courts; settlers are dealt with much more leniently under Israeli civil law. So if there’s a fight between a Palestinian and a settler, the soldier will always arrest the Palestinian. He may phone his commander and suggest the police are notified about the settler, but more often than not no action will be taken. Nothing makes the comparison with Apartheid more real than this.

Gerald Horton is a softly spoken Australian barrister who, for the last 11 years, has been running Military Court Watch, an organisation which defends Palestinians caught up in the military courts. He says he appreciates the massive challenge facing the IDF. “Their duty is to protect 400,000 Israeli settlers in the midst of a population of 2.8 million Palestinians who do not want them there. To do that you have to subdue the host population and break their will to resist. That is what the raids, arrests and detentions are all about. It’s not about upholding the rule of law.”

Red Tape and Humiliation

Underpinning the occupation is a vast array of red tape. Permits are needed for everything and are used to control movement and activity. Much of this just becomes a way of life: everyday minor injustices and petty humiliations.  It becomes normal for the five mile journey to work to take two hours because of checkpoints. You just accept that you cannot leave the West Bank. But sometimes the human effects are inhumane.

We visited Makassid general hospital, one of six in East Jerusalem, which specialises in paediatrics. We saw several premature babies on incubators. One was born at 29 weeks and will stay on oxygen until she reaches two kilos. Her mother came from Gaza to deliver her but had to return when her permit ran out. Now she cannot visit as the authorities say the baby is the patient and you have to be getting treatment to get a permit.

The doctors at Makassid also told us that a major problem they experience is “back to back transfers” of patients. This is where an ambulance from Gaza or the West Bank is stopped at a checkpoint and the patient is stretchered through the controls to a separate ambulance waiting on  the Israeli side. On average this takes 24 minutes and the delay has been fatal on occasion.

Daoud Nassar is a Palestinian farmer and head of the only Christian family left in the Palestinian village of Nahalin 9 kilometres south-west of Bethlehem. His grandfather bought the land in 1916 when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1991 the IDF declared the farm “state land” and sent him an eviction notice. But Daoud, unlike most farmers, had all the original deeds and decided to fight the notice in the courts. He’s been doing that for the last 25 years. He has also had 22 separate demolitions served on him for every structure on the farm, each of which he is resisting in the courts.

The day before we visited the IDF used bulldozers to block the road from the farm to Bethlehem. Daoud has been told it is for security reasons. He hopes to persuade the local commander to remove it – he is effectively cut off by road and visitors have to park at the roadblock and walk the final kilometre to the farm. Daoud explains how the roadblocks and checkpoints severely affect his work at harvest time. “During the grape season we pick early in the morning and try to get to market quickly. But sometimes we are held up for hours. We do not have refrigerated trucks  so in the hot sun the grapes spoil and by the time we get through they are sub-standard. “

Credit: Tommy Sheppard

He calls the farm the Tent of Nations and is campaigning throughout the country under the slogan “We refuse to be enemies”.  Listening to this gentle man tell his story with quiet determination I think the phrase “patience of a saint” could never have been more apt.

Jerusalem

The Israeli Government’s actions in Jerusalem do most to undermine a two state solution. Since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967 the authorities have been pursuing the twin objectives of increasing the Jewish population of the city whilst simultaneously reducing the Arab population. This process is known as the Judaisation of Jerusalem.

For four decades Israel has been building settlements to the east of the city in the occupied West Bank. These are effectively suburbs of Jerusalem and right wing members of the Knesset are urging the government to now annex the occupied areas including the major settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. If that happens it will effectively cut the West Bank in two.

Inside the city the Palestinian area in East Jerusalem is under intense pressure. Sarit Michaeli from the Israeli Human Rights Organisation B’tselem (www.btselem.org) took us to the neighbourhood of Silwan lying in the shadow of the Al Aqsa mosque. We met community activist  Zuheir Rajabi who organises 81 families in this area of the old city. He’s lived there all his life but has now been served with an eviction notice on behalf of a Jewish trust which claims ownership from the nineteenth century. Like most of his neighbours he has no paperwork to prove his ownership of the property. Like most, he never thought he’d need it.

One by one Palestinian homes are being taken over by Jewish families who see themselves as the vanguard of the new Jerusalem. You can tell their homes from the massive blue and white Israeli flags in which thy are draped. These settlers seem to revel in the opposition they face from the long established Palestinian population, Zuheir claims they are determined to provoke a reaction. He points to the private security police which guard each settler family, paid for by the city council out of his taxes.

If there is to be a Palestinian state, then East Jerusalem would be its capital as the historic claims on this city are shared by both Muslims and Jews for whom it is equally significant. Judaisation is designed to prevent this from happening.

One state solution?

Israel has paid lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state even as its every policy seems to make this harder and harder to achieve. But now the coalition government may be ready to ditch the idea completely and pursue the objective of a greater Israel by annexing the Palestinian territories. I assume that this was on the agenda in Washington this week.

For the first time there is a majority in the Israeli cabinet which opposes a two state solution. This week several ministers took advantage of the Netanyahu visit to restate their vision. “Israel needs to say loudly and clearly: no to a Palestinians state, yes to an expanded, complete and united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty” says Transport Minister Yisrael Katz.  Education Minister Naftali Bennett who leads the extreme right party Jewish Home and is part of Netanyahu’s coalition, went further: “We need to say that everywhere, to every Christian and Muslim in Europe and to every Jew in Israel and in the world. The Land of Israel is ours. Period.”

Parties like Jewish Home are clear in their intention. The want to see a state of Israel which stretches across all of historic Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river. They want it to be a religious state where civil rights are related to Judaism. They are in a minority for now but there seems no doubt that opinion in Israel has shifted markedly to the right.

Most of the Israelis we met would describe themselves as liberal or left wing. I was intrigued to know how they saw things. Sarit from B’tselem says the word “left” is a dirty word in Israel at the moment so they don’t use it. “We are pessimistic but more resilient than ever” she tells me. Even with the shift to the right polls still suggest a majority of ordinary Israelis favour a two state solution and would end the occupation if it brought peace.

One of the many wonderful Israeli campaigners we met was Yehuda Shaul who founded Breaking the Silence (www.breakingthesilence.org.il) eleven years ago. It’s an organisation which records and publishes the testimony of formers members of the IDF and campaigns against the occupation. A cuddly bear of a man he talks incessantly, anxious to explain every detail of his argument. An IDF veteran himself Yehuda says he is treated like a traitor by many and there’s a campaign to outlaw his organisation which has so far told the stories of more than a thousand former soldiers. He says things will get worse before they get better but he is confident that his vies will prevail. “Don’t’ get me wrong” he says “I’m a Zionist. I believe in a Jewish homeland. But the occupation is destroying Israel. It will have to end.”

So with the mood in Israel hardening and the US considering policy change, what should the UK Government be doing? Well, first and foremost, we need to realise that Israel gets away with policies that the world consistently condemns because the world sits back and lets them. If we believe not just in a secure Israel but in justice for the Palestinians, it’s now time to apply some leverage.

At dinner I’m seated beside the UK’s deputy ambassador. He tells us that relations between the UK and Israel have never been better, describing a range of new trade agreements signed in recent weeks. In the next breath he tells us our government is putting pressure on the Israelis over the occupation and settlement expansion. I point out that these two things may contradict each other.

These are good questions he says, but really I should ask them of Number Ten.

So I will. Here’s four things I’ll be asking the UK Government in the year ahead.

  1. In marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, make it clear that there is unfinished business and it is now time to make things right for Palestine. And to make that clear the UK Government should officially recognise the State of Palestine as 136 other nations have now done.
  2. Having supported the UN resolution on 23rd December, now implement it. In particular, issue guidance to businesses making clear the difference between Israel itself and the occupied territories.
  3. Instead of sending observers to international peace talks, step up and take a leadership role. Britain, more than most, has a responsibility for the situation that we have in that part to the world today.
  4. Use aid money to support peace and human rights organisation in both Israel itself and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

We need to you to contact your MPs NOW!!

We need you to contact your Westminster MP immediately and implore them to attend the forthcoming backbench business committee debate this coming Thursday, 9th of February, and to urge the government to strengthen its policy on the issue of Israel’s illegal settlements.

In December 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 demanding that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” whilst also reaffirming the illegality of the settlements and their existence as a barrier to peace. This position corresponds with the longstanding UK Government position regarding settlements. Despite this, however, the UK Government continues to permit substantial trade with and financial support to settlements.

“There are…clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activities”

In March 2016, the Foreign Office released advice to businesses that stated “There are…clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activities”. The European Union has also insisted on the labelling of settlement goods and to ensure they are excluded from preferential status under the EU-Israel trade agreement. These policies are again reinforced by UNSC 2334 which called on states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. These clear policies of the EU, the UN and the UK Government have yet to be translated into Government action to prevent goods from Israel’s illegal settlements from reaching the UK.

The impact of Israel’s settlement building is stark. Their construction results in dire consequences for Palestinians who face severe restrictions on their mobility, revocation of residency rights and destruction of livelihoods. Those living next to settlements face land confiscations, home demolitions and frequent attacks by settlers; this oppressive status quo exists alongside restrictive planning laws that force Palestinians into ever-shrinking ghettos. All this brings incredible suffering to the lives of Palestinians and makes any hopes for a just peace ever more remote.

The UK has the opportunity to take a new path. There is now an international consensus opposing Israel’s settlements, a universal recognition of their illegality and an acknowledgment of the enormous damage they inflict on Palestinians and the prospects for peace.

Why Has Israeli ‘Spy’ Shai Masot Not Been Expelled?

by Craig Murray: Author, broadcaster and human rights activist, Craig was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010, and member of SNP Friends of Palestine.

 

There is no starker proof of the golden chains in which Israel has entangled the British political class, than the incredible fact that “diplomat” Shai Masot has not been expelled for secretly conspiring to influence British politics by attacking Britain’s Deputy Foreign Minister, suggesting that he might be brought down by “a little scandal”. It is incredible by any normal standards of diplomatic behaviour that immediate action was not taken against Masot for actions which when revealed any professional diplomat would normally expect to result in being “PNG’d” – declared persona non grata.

“There could be no more conclusive evidence of Israel’s undue and pernicious influence than the astonishing fact that Shai Mosat has not yet been expelled.”

Obama has just expelled 35 Russian diplomats for precisely the same offence, with the exception that in the Russian case there is absolutely zero hard evidence, whereas in the Masot case there is irrefutable evidence on which to act.

 

To compare the two cases is telling. Al Jazeera should be congratulated on their investigation, which shames the British corporate and state media who would never have carried out such actual journalism. By contrast, the British media has parroted without the slightest scrutiny the truly pathetic Obama camp claims of Russian interference, evidently without reading them. When I was sent the latest “intelligence report” on Russian hacking a couple of evenings ago, I quite genuinely for several minutes thought it was a spoof by the Daily Mash or similar, parodying the kind of ludicrous claims that kept being advanced with zero evidence. I do implore you to read it, as when you realise it is supposed to be serious it becomes still more hilarious.

The existence of a natural preference in Russia to see a US President who does not want to start World War III is quoted as itself evidence that Russia interfered, just as the fact that I could do with some more money is evidence I robbed a bank. The fact that Russia did not criticise the electoral process after the result is somehow evidence that Putin personally ordered electoral hacking. Oh, and the fact that Russia Today once hosted a programme critical of fracking is evidence of a Russian plot to destroy the US economy. Please do read it, I promise you will be laughing for weeks.

In passing, allow me to destroy quickly the “we have smoking gun evidence but it’s too secret to show you” argument. Given the Snowden revelations and the whistleblowing of the former NSA Technical Director Bill Binney, for the US government to claim to be hiding the fact that it can track all electronic traffic in the USA is risible. This is like saying we can’t give you the evidence in case the Russians find out the sky is blue. If there were hacks, the NSA could identify the precise hack transmitting the precise information out of Washington. Everybody knows that. There were no hacks so there is ne evidence. End of argument. They are internal leaks.

The two stories – Russian interference in US politics, Israeli interference in UK politics – also link because the New York Times claims that it was the British that first suggested to the Obama administration that Russian cyber activity was targeting Clinton. Director of Cyber Security and Information Assurance in the British Cabinet Office is Matthew Gould, the UK’s former openly and strongly pro-Zionist Ambassador to Israel and friend of the current Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev. While Private Secretary to David Miliband and William Hague, and then while Ambassador to Israel, Regev held eight secret meetings with Adam Werritty, on at least one occasion with Mossad present and on most occasions also with now minister Liam Fox. My Freedom of Information requests for minutes of these meetings brought the reply that they were not minuted, and my Freedom of Information request for the diary entries for these meetings brought me three pages each containing only the date, with everything else redacted.

I managed to get the information about the Gould/Werritty meetings as a result of relentless questioning, where I was kindly assisted by MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and Paul Flynn. The woman with whom Shai Masot was conniving to undermine Alan Duncan, was Maria Strizzolo, who works for Tory Minister Robert Halfon. It was Halfon who repeatedly tried to obstruct Paul Flynn MP from asking questions of Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell that threatened to get to the heart of the real Adam Werritty scandal.

Both Robert Halfon and Adam Werrity received funding from precisely the same Israeli sources, and in particular from Mr Poju Zabludowicz. He also formerly had a full time paid job as Political Director of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Halfon’s assistant is now caught conspiring with the Israeli Embassy to attack another Tory minister.


House of Commons Public Admininstration Committee 24/11/2011

Q<369> Paul Flynn: Okay. Matthew Gould has been the subject of a very serious complaint from two of my constituents, Pippa Bartolotti and Joyce Giblin. When they were briefly imprisoned in Israel, they met the ambassador, and they strongly believe—it is nothing to do with this case at all—that he was serving the interest of the Israeli Government, and not the interests of two British citizens. This has been the subject of correspondence.

In your report, you suggest that there were two meetings between the ambassador and Werritty and Liam Fox. Questions and letters have proved that, in fact, six such meetings took place. There are a number of issues around this. I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories, but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and he has previously served in Iran, in the service. Werritty is a self-proclaimed—

Robert Halfon: Point of order, Chairman. What is the point of this?

Paul Flynn:> Let me get to it. Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran.

Chair:> I have to take a point of order.

Robert Halfon:> Mr Flynn is implying that the British ambassador to Israel is working for a foreign power, which is out of order.

Paul Flynn:> I quote the Daily Mail: “Mr Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran and has made several visits. He has also met senior Israeli officials, leading to accusations”—not from me, from the Daily Mail—“that he was close to the country’s secret service, Mossad.” There may be nothing in that, but that appeared in a national newspaper.

Chair:> I am going to rule on a point of order. Mr Flynn has made it clear that there may be nothing in these allegations, but it is important to have put it on the record. Be careful how you phrase questions.

Paul Flynn:> Indeed. The two worst decisions taken by Parliament in my 25 years were the invasion of Iraq—joining Bush’s war in Iraq—and the invasion of Helmand province. We know now that there were things going on in the background while that built up to these mistakes. The charge in this case is that Werritty was the servant of neo-con people in America, who take an aggressive view on Iran. They want to foment a war in Iran in the same way as in the early years, there was another—

Chair:> Order. I must ask you to move to a question that is relevant to the inquiry.

Q<370> Paul Flynn:> Okay. The question is, are you satisfied that you missed out on the extra four meetings that took place, and does this not mean that those meetings should have been investigated because of the nature of Mr Werritty’s interests?

Sir Gus O’Donnell:> I think if you look at some of those meetings, some people are referring to meetings that took place before the election.

Q<371> Paul Flynn:> Indeed, which is even more worrying.

Sir Gus O’Donnell:> I am afraid they were not the subject—what members of the Opposition do is not something that the Cabinet Secretary should look into. It is not relevant.

But these meetings were held—

Chair:> Mr Flynn, would you let him answer please?

Sir Gus O’Donnell:> I really do not think that was within my context, because they were not Ministers of the Government and what they were up to was not something I should get into at all.

Chair:> Final question, Mr Flynn.

Q<372> Paul Flynn:> No, it is not a final question. I am not going to be silenced by you, Chairman; I have important things to raise. I have stayed silent throughout this meeting so far.

You state in the report—on the meeting held between Gould, Fox and Werritty, on 6 February, in Tel Aviv—that there was a general discussion of international affairs over a private dinner with senior Israelis. The UK ambassador was present. Are you following the line taken by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who says that he can eat with lobbyists or people applying to his Department because, on occasions, he eats privately, and on other occasions he eats ministerially? Are you accepting the idea? It is possibly a source of great national interest—the eating habits of their Secretary of State. It appears that he might well have a number of stomachs, it has been suggested, if he can divide his time this way. It does seem to be a way of getting round the ministerial code, if people can announce that what they are doing is private rather than ministerial.

Sir Gus O’Donnell:> The important point here was that, when the Secretary of State had that meeting, he had an official with him—namely, in this case, the ambassador. That is very important, and I should stress that I would expect our ambassador in Israel to have contact with Mossad. That will be part of his job. It is totally natural, and I do not think that you should infer anything from that about the individual’s biases. That is what ambassadors do. Our ambassador in Pakistan will have exactly the same set of wide contacts.

Q<373> Paul Flynn:> I have good reason, as I said, from constituency matters, to be unhappy about the ambassador. Other criticisms have been made about the ambassador; he is unique in some ways in the role he is performing. There have been suggestions that he is too close to a foreign power.

Robert Halfon:> On a point of order, Chair, this is not about the ambassador to Israel. This is supposed to be about the Werritty affair.

Paul Flynn:> It is absolutely crucial to this report. If neo-cons such as yourself, Robert, are plotting a war in Iran, we should know about it.

Chair:> Order. I think the line of questioning is very involved. I have given you quite a lot of time, Mr Flynn. If you have further inquiries to make of this, they could be pursued in correspondence. May I ask you to ask one final question before we move on?

Sir Gus O’Donnell:> One thing I would stress: we are talking about the ambassador and I think he has a right of reply. Mr Chairman, I know there is an interesting question of words regarding Head of the Civil Service versus Head of the Home Civil Service, but this is the Diplomatic Service, not the Civil Service.

Q<374> Chair:> So he is not in your jurisdiction at all.

Sir Gus O’Donnell:> No.

Q<375> Paul Flynn:> But you are happy that your report is final; it does not need to go the manager it would have gone to originally, and that is the end of the affair. Is that your view?

Sir Gus O’Donnell:> As I said, some issues arose where I wanted to be sure that what the Secretary of State was doing had been discussed with the Foreign Secretary. I felt reassured by what the Foreign Secretary told me.

Q<376> Chair:> I think what Mr Flynn is asking is that your report and the affair raise other issues, but you are saying that that does not fall within the remit of your report and that, indeed, the conduct of an ambassador does not fall within your remit at all.

Sir Gus O’Donnell:> That is absolutely correct.

Paul Flynn:> The charge laid by Lord Turnbull in his evidence with regard to Dr Fox and the ministerial code was his failure to observe collective responsibility, in that case about Sri Lanka. Isn’t the same charge there about our policies to Iran and Israel?

Chair:> We have dealt with that, Mr Flynn.

Paul Flynn:> We haven’t dealt with it as far as it applies—

Chair:> Mr Flynn, we are moving on.

Paul Flynn:> You may well move on, but I remain very unhappy about the fact that you will not allow me to finish the questioning I wanted to give on a matter of great importance.


It is shocking but true that Robert Halfon MP, who disrupted Flynn with repeated points of order, receives funding from precisely the same Israeli sources as Werritty, and in particular from Mr Poju Zabludowicz. He also formerly had a full time paid job as Political Director of the Conservative Friends of Israel. It is not surprising that Shai Mosat evidently views Halfon as a useful tool for attacking senior pro-Palestinian members of his own party.

But despite the evasiveness of O’Donnell and the obstruction of paid zionist puppet Halfon, O’Donnell confirmed vital parts of my investigation. In particular he agreed that the Fox-Werritty-Gould “private dinner” in Tel Aviv was with Mossad, and that Gould met Werritty many times more than the twice that O’Donnell listed in his “investigation” into the Werritty affair. The truth of the Werritty scandal, hidden comprehensively by the mainstream media, was that Werritty was inside the UK Ministry of Defence working for Israel. That is why it was so serious that Defence Minister Liam Fox had to resign

Of the eight meetings of Fox-Gould-Werritty together which I discovered, seven were while Fox was Secretary of State for Defence. Only one was while Fox was in opposition. But O’Donnell let the cat much further out of the bag, with the astonishing admission to Paul Flynn’s above questioning that Gould, Fox and Werritty held “meetings that took place before the election.” He also referred to “some of those meetings” as being before the election. Both are plainly in the plural.

It is evident from the information gained by Paul Flynn that not only did Fox, Gould and Werritty have at least seven meetings while Fox was in power – with no minutes and never another British official present – they had several meetings while Fox was shadow Foreign Secretary. O’Donnell was right that what Fox and Werritty were up to in opposition was not his concern. But what Gould was doing with them – a senior official – most definitely was his concern. A senior British diplomat cannot just hold a series of meetings with the opposition shadow Defence Secretary and a paid Israeli lobbyist.

All of this underlined the pernicious influence that Israel has in the political class, which is founded on the Israeli lobby’s shameless use of cash for influence – as witnessed in the discussion between Shai Mosat and Labour Friends of Israel and his flaunting of a million. Attitudes towards the plight of the Palestinians are an extreme example of the disconnect between public opinion and the views of the political class, and Al Jazeera should be congratulated heartily on giving us a peek into that.

No further evidence is required. There could be no more conclusive evidence of Israel’s undue and pernicious influence than the astonishing fact that Shai Mosat has not yet been expelled.

15 y.o. Palestinian child detainee imprisoned by military court.

Child detention and abuse whilst under detention is an issue constantly raised by SNPFoP, SNP Parliamentarians and the many NGOs and solidarity groups we work with.

Back in April, 15-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl Natali Shoukha was shot by Israeli forces for allegedly attempting to

Treated in shackles.

carry out a stabbing attack.

 

Natali was rushed to hospital and treated for the gunshot wounds she received, and then when she was deemed fit enough she was transported to an Israeli military detention facility outwith Palestine… in itself a breach of the Geneva Convention.

Yesterday at Ofer Military Court, only recently visited by an SNP delegation, this 15 year old Palestinian Child was sentenced to one and a half years imprisonment in an Israeli prison.

SNP delegation on a recent visit to Ofer Military Court.
Children in detention as of 31 August 2016 – 319

 

 

 

The matter of guilt or innocence is not being questioned here * … it is not for us to make assumptions. That is for others who are better equipped to do so and better informed of the case.

No, what is on trial here alongside this child is the very system whereby the Israeli military occupation forces can take children, some as young as 9, from their family, and detain them without charge indefinitely in another country… a serious breach of the Geneva Convention** and defined as a War Crime in itself.

‘Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees. Since 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in an Israeli military detention system notorious for the systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children.’

These children will often be held in solitary confinement and may not be allowed to see their parents for months.
These children will be repeatedly interrogated by Israeli security forces and endure treatment deemed tortuous by many NGOs. This treatment leaves many of these children with emotional scars which they will live with for a lifetime.***


* Although most detainees plead guilty because this is the quickest way out of a system that rarely grants bail.         – DCI-Palestine

** After sentencing, nearly 60% of Palestinian child detainees are transferred from occupied territory to prisons inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The practical consequence of this is that many of them receive either limited or no family visits due to freedom of movement restrictions and the time it takes to issue a permit to visit the prisons. – DCI-Palestine

*** See here for such an example.


 

Are Israel supporters accelerating its moral degeneration?

By- Dr. Paul Monaghan MP

First published by Al-Araby on 09th December 2016

 

It’s a little over six years since the philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky suggested that people who call themselves supporters of Israel are actually supporters of the country’s moral degeneration and ultimate destruction.

Chomsky thought his suggestion correct and also suggested that, as time passes, Israel’s occupation of Palestine becomes more powerful and more overwhelming. His comments are probably influenced by the feeling that the occupation is increasingly becoming normalised and ever harder to disentangle.

In my experience, nowhere perhaps does this view fall into sharper focus than when sitting in Ofer Military Court in the West Bank watching the full might of a modern military machine dispense justice to a 14 year old boy still carrying obvious scars of having been shot in the head.

Israeli martial law was imposed on the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 when civil law, civil rights, and habeas corpus, or guarantee against illegal detention, were suspended for the Palestinian people.

Since 1967 some 760,000 people have been prosecuted within Israeli military courts. The conviction rate runs at an alarmingly implausible 99.7 percent and 8,000 Palestinians, including children, are subject to detention and transfer to prison inside Israel each year.

We should neither take these figures lightly nor underestimate the impact of them on Israeli society. The transfer of individuals from the West Bank to prisons located inside Israel is both a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and is classified as a war crime.

Some might argue that no society can conduct war crimes on such a scale indefinitely without inflicting mortal wounds on itself.

“…absentee laws are used to erode Palestinian rights to hold property and to legitimise continuing Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank”

Alongside the application of martial law, we must also understand Israel’s “absentee property” laws, which are deployed to confiscate Palestinian land through application of the legal definition of “present absentee”.

These absentee laws are used to erode Palestinian rights to hold property and to legitimise continuing Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. Absentee property laws act in combination with martial law to prevent Palestinians from physically returning to their homes and to render individuals unable to challenge allegations of absenteeism. The laws enable settlements.

I visited Israel and Palestine in both 2015 and 2016. On each visit I had the good fortune of meeting community leaders and senior politicians from both sides of the debate. I enjoyed each visit and feel privileged to have met some wonderful people.

Both times, I left with the view that the process of normalisation alluded to by Noam Chomsky has indeed created a situation where the prospect of future dialogue is ebbing away, and indeed a situation where some on both sides no longer easily identify the opportunities to communicate and build on common ground. And there is common ground.

“…some on both sides no longer easily identify the opportunities to communicate and build on common ground. And there is common ground”

Israel has a right to protect itself, its territory and its people, but we should be under no illusion that martial law and the phenomena of absentee property runs counter to the desire for dialogue. These laws are decimating Palestinian society and act as a block to peace and prosperity.

Indeed we might say it is a fact that the day-to-day manifestation of the occupation today is the use of military administration to confiscate property, impose curfew, restrict movement, detain or incarcerate without charge, deport, exclude or simply summon individuals to a police station.

These laws however also impact on Israeli society – in different, less tangible ways admittedly – but the impact is no less significant. Indeed martial law and absentee property laws diminish the integrity of Israeli society just as they diminish the integrity of Palestine lands.

“I was reassured that humanity is both alive and well in the most cosmopolitan communities in Israel.”

However, like most Palestinians I choose not to dwell on the negative. Having visited Israel and Palestine I can say that my strongest memory of each visit to Israel and Palestine is the strength of feeling on both sides that each want to speak with the other.

On Saturday 5th November I attended Rabin Square in Tel Aviv with 70,000 other people who were there to remember the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. It was an extraordinary event with children, couples, families and groups choosing to remember the assassination by holding aloft posters proclaiming the rights of Palestinians. I spoke with as many of those attending as I could, and was reassured that humanity is both alive and well in the most cosmopolitan communities in Israel.

The next evening I was privileged to eat with a Bedouin tribe on the outskirts of Jerusalem. With the sound of nearby machine gun fire hanging heavy in the air, I listened as the tribe spoke of hope, opportunity and their aspiration for peace. I spoke with every member of the tribe and was reassured that humanity is also alive and well in the most impoverished communities of the West Bank.

“Every person I spoke to in Rabin Square and in the Bedouin tent was a supporter of Israel but not one was a supporter of Israel’s moral degeneration or ultimate destruction.”

Every person I spoke to in Rabin Square and in the Bedouin tent was a supporter of Israel but not one was a supporter of Israel’s moral degeneration or ultimate destruction.

Those I spoke to knew that their destiny is dependent on others they have yet to meet, and that the seeds of peace will only grow when communities have the opportunity to talk and work together.

Any one of these individuals could be taken as proof that Chomsky is wrong and that the true supporters of Israel are not supporters of a model of government that might inevitably lead to the country’s moral degeneration and ultimate destruction.

All of these people, tellingly, argue that the seeds they choose to nurture will grow and lead not to destruction but to a resolution they call “Two States for Two Peoples”.

That is an objective we should all support. Indeed we must support that objective because we owe it to people like the 14-year old boy I watched in Ofer Military Court and to everyone else who supports Israel.

‘Why evict us when we can both live here?’

This village is in Israel, not the Palestinian Territories. Its residents are full citizens of Israel. Yet they are treated as though they had no rights, no importance.

At the time of Israel’s war of independence in 1948 the villagers were thrown out of their ancestral village in a more fertile area in the Western Negev to make way for a Jewish kibbutz as part of the drive to “make the desert bloom”.

Eight years later they were forcibly moved again to their present location in the Atir valley in the less fertile northern Negev where they rebuilt their village and called it Um Al Hiran.

“It was a desert with no roads, water, houses or services. We built the village. We invested in the houses, the roads and the water pipes. Life has been tough, but we worked hard to develop this place into a beautiful and wonderful village,” said the village sheikh.Like all the other “unrecognised” villages in the Negev, they were provided with no mains electricity, no paved roads, no water, no sanitation. They had to do their best buying water from tankers and using solar panels for intermittent power.

This is not because it was remote. On the contrary, the Jewish owner of a dog-kennel only 800 metres away is provided with all mod cons. The Israelis do this solely to make life difficult for Arab villagers so they will move.

And it is not a question of money. Often if the villagers try to pave the roads, army bulldozers break them up; if they install water pipes, they are disconnected; if they build stone houses, they are demolished. The Israelis want the buildings to look temporary, ramshackle, worthless.
This makes it easier for the Israelis to sustain the myth that the villagers are Bedouin nomads who originate from other countries. In fact, while they are all proud of their Bedouin heritage, it is historically verifiable that their families have lived in the Negev for hundreds of years.
And while a few of the villagers were still engaged in the traditional Bedouin occupation of sheep-farming, Umm Al Hiran also had lawyers, teachers and doctors among its 500 residents.
Last year the leader of the Jewish settlers came and drank coffee with the villagers to ask them, disingenuously, why they were trying to block plans for the new Jewish village in the courts.
Salim Abu Alkia’n, Atwa’s brother, explained patiently: “To all the Jewish people who want to live in this town I say that people are already living in this town. We have been living here for 60 years and, even if they demolish our homes, we will stay here forever.”
Israelis can be excused for not knowing about the village, as it does not appear on Israeli maps. Even when the National Council for Planning and Building approved plans for a new Jewish town on the site in 2010, they submitted a map to the planning committee that made no reference to the fact that there was already an Arab village on the land.
When they applied for demolition orders, they claimed the buildings “had been discovered” by an inspection patrol and they had been “unable to identify or reach the people who owned the houses”.
When they applied for eviction orders, they described the villagers as “trespassers” squatting illegally on state land and the magistrate had to point out that they had lived on the land for years with the state’s knowledge and consent.
Written by Martin Linton – Palestine

‘Former Israeli soldiers speak out against the occupation’

In this article from AJ+, former Israeli soldiers are given a voice, an outlet, by Breaking the Silence to speak out against the unjust occupation of Palestine.

Carol Monaghan MP meets with Rohan Talbot from MAP & Yehuda Shaul from Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence
Carol Monaghan MP meets with Rohan Talbot from MAP & Yehuda Shaul from Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence
 
We were lucky enough to have co-founder of Breaking the Silence Yehuda Shaul with us at SNP National Conference in Aberdeen this time last year to speak to our members, MPs, MSPs & Cllrs from around the country.
Since then Yehuda has been on hand in occupied Palestine to give tours to a number of MPs who have travelled out to see for themselves the situation on the ground.
 
We praise the work that BtS are doing to expose the immoral occupation of Palestine against awful treatment by the Netanyahu coalition and its supporters.
 

The Unique Vulnerability of Palestinian Refugees from Syria.

By Anne Irfan
PHD CANDIDATE, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS
This paper was presented in a Parliamentary seminar in the House of Commons on 21 March 2016.

As we are all too aware, Syria today is in the midst of a major humanitarian
disaster. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country since the start of the
Civil War 5 years ago, leading the UN to describe the situation as the worst
refugee crisis since the Second World War.1 What we have heard much less about
is the plight of the many Palestinian refugees also fleeing Syria, and in the process
becoming twice or even three-times displaced as a long-term stateless population.

This evening, we want to highlight not only the numbers of Palestinian refugees
from Syria but also their particular vulnerabilities. To put it simply, Palestinian
refugees are suffering from further persecution and torment simply because they are
Palestinian.
At the core of their plight is of course their statelessness, which makes them
inherently vulnerable for the obvious reason that they lack the protection of a
state. In the case of Palestinian refugees from Syria, they are additionally
vulnerable because they also lack the protection of many other states and
international organisations which are responding to the crisis by focussing
exclusively on Syrian refugees, rather than all refugees from Syria. While this might
sound like merely an issue of semantics, it is in fact an important distinction.

Before the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, there were around 560,000
registered Palestinian refugees living in Syria.2 This population can be traced to the
original refugees from Palestine in 1948 and their descendants. Their conditions in
pre-war Syria were relatively good; although they lacked citizenship, the
Palestinians were well-integrated into Syrian society and enjoyed many of the same
rights as Syrian citizens, including access to healthcare, education and
employment. Their situation was much better, by comparison, than that of
Palestinians in neighbouring Lebanon, who are denied the right to work in
professions, to own property or access state services.

Today the situation of Palestinians in Syria has changed drastically. More than
100,000 Palestinians have fled Syria, and it is estimated that around half of these
(45,000) have sought refuge in Lebanon. 3 The numbers fleeing to Lebanon
increased after January 2013, when the Jordanian government imposed a ban on
Palestinian refugees from Syria entering the country (although it has continued to
accept Syrians). The Jordanian ban drove many Palestinians escaping Syria to
travel to Lebanon instead, putting a huge amount of pressure on already overstretched
Lebanese resources. The Lebanese government subsequently closed
its doors to Palestinian refugees from Syria in May 2014.4

This has left those Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria with very few options. As
already mentioned, these people are uniquely vulnerable because of their
statelessness; they are also uniquely vulnerable because the international
organisations that were theoretically created to help them, actually leave them at a
major institutional disadvantage. Under international convention, Palestinian
refugees are administered and categorised differently not only to Syrians but to
every other group of refugees in the world. If this seems absurd, it is worth noting
that it is nothing new; it is certainly not limited to the last 5 years. In fact, this kind
of ‘Palestinian exceptionalism’ has always been the case, dating back to the very
beginning of their existence as a large-scale refugee population.

To recap briefly, the Palestinian refugee crisis began in 1948, in what is known as
the Nakba (meaning ‘the catastrophe’) when around three-quarters of the
Palestinian population lost their homes and became refugees. The newly-created
United Nations, which had been operational for 3 years at the time, intervened
directly. In 1949, it created the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to respond specifically and exclusively to
the plight of Palestinian refugees. UNRWA became responsible for their welfare
in the 5 geographical fields with the largest Palestinian refugee population: the
West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and of course Syria. Since then, the Agency
has provided a huge range of major services that would conventionally be the
domain of the state, including healthcare, education and poverty relief.

The year after the UN created UNRWA, it moved to establish a broader
organisation for refugees across the world. In 1950 it created the office of the UN
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). When the UN created UNHCR, the
crucial decision was made that UNRWA would not be merged with it. Instead,
both organisations continued to exist alongside one another, with UNRWA
responsible for Palestinian refugees, and UNHCR responsible for all other
refugees globally. As a result, the Palestinians are the only group of people
excluded from UNHCR’s mandate.5

This set-up remains in place to this day, such that UNHCR is responsible for all
refugees in the world, except the Palestinians. Today, Palestinian refugees are
cared for by one organisation, and everyone else is served by another organisation.
One might ask why this matters, if the result is that everyone is ultimately being
served. It matters because there are fundamental differences in what these two
organisations – UNRWA and UNHCR – are mandated to do. UNRWA has a
much more limited mandate than UNHCR, which has put the Palestinian refugees
at a serious disadvantage.

Most crucially, there is a disparity in the two organisations’ mandates for
providing protection to the refugees they serve. UNRWA is not mandated to
provide protection to the Palestinian refugees or to pursue political solutions to
their plight. Instead, this is the role of yet another UN body, UNCCP.6 UNCCP
was established in 1948, just before UNRWA, with a mandate to pursue political
solutions to the Palestinian refugee crisis. In reality UNCCP has been inactive for
many decades now. UNRWA claims that it has a de facto mandate for protection,
and its work in this area has increased over the last two decades, but it remains
informal and adhoc.7 Ultimately no UN organisation is formally mandated to
provide protection or pursue political solutions for the Palestinian refugees.

By contrast, UNHCR is mandated to provide protection and to pursue political
solutions for the refugees it serves – for example, it explicitly promotes return as a
solution.8 Of course, the Palestinians are excluded from UNHCR’s mandate,
generating what is known as a ‘protection gap’ whereby the Palestinian refugees
are left uniquely vulnerable.

Moreover, in practical terms UNRWA is also limited by its geographical
constraints. UNRWA is only mandated to work in the 5 fields of the West Bank,
Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and of course Syria. By contrast UNHCR has a much
larger mandate to operate across the world in every continent.

What does all this mean for Palestinian refugees from Syria? Unfortunately, this
disparity between UNRWA and UNHCR, and the resulting protection gap, had a
host of negative repercussions for Palestinians fleeing Syria today.

Firstly and fundamentally, it means that Palestinian refugees are lacking formal
protection at a time when they need it most. As Palestinian refugees are ineligible
for UNHCR services and are not Syrian citizens, too often they are falling through
the gaps and not being able to access the services they need. As they cannot
register with UNHCR, their numbers, needs and conditions are excluded from the
data.

There is a particular problem when Palestinians from Syria seek refuge outside the
5 geographical fields where UNRWA works. In theory, in these situations they
should fall under the mandate of UNHCR; Palestinian refugees become eligible for
UNHCR services when they are outside UNRWA’s fields of operation. 9 In
practice, this is often quite complicated, and the Syrian refugee crisis has only
served to highlight the difficulties.

For example, Turkey shares a long border with Syria and has received many
refugees fleeing the civil war, both Syrian and Palestinian. Turkey is outside
UNRWA’s fields of operation, and UNHCR operates there through the Turkish
government. Unfortunately, there are reports that Palestinian refugees from Syria
have not been allowed to register with UNHCR in Turkey.10 As the Turkish
government does not allow UNHCR to perform refugee status determination, the
Palestinians’ legal status in Turkey remains unclear.11

The situation is even worse in Egypt, where the government does not allow
Palestinians to register with UNHCR on the explicit grounds that they come
under the mandate of UNRWA. As UNRWA is not mandated to work in Egypt,
the result is that Palestinians there lack any assistance whatsoever, let alone
protection. In contrast to Syrian citizens, Palestinians in Egypt cannot register
with UNHCR as refugees and therefore they cannot receive residence permits, or
access food vouchers, medical support or any emergency relief.12 Even worse,
there are reports that some have been forcibly deported back to Syria, in
contravention of the 1951 Refugee Convention.13

Even those Palestinian refugees from Syria who have been able to register with
UNRWA in Jordan or Lebanon, remain at a disadvantage. They must rely on the
very limited resources of UNRWA, which is already hugely overstretched.
UNRWA’s financial problems have only worsened due to the Syrian crisis, and it
is of course the Palestinian refugees who are suffering as a result.14

Finally, Palestinians are ineligible for many of the special programmes that have
been set up to aid Syrian refugees, including the one that David Cameron has
launched on behalf of the UK government. Mr Cameron announced in
September 2015 that the UK will take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5
years. He also announced that these 20,000 refugees will be identified through
UNHCR, which will mean that Palestinians are automatically excluded.

In view of this, the question remains as to what action can be taken.
Fundamentally, there is a need to insert the plight of the Palestinians into the
many discussions taking place about Syria. Many people are simply not aware that
there are Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria at all, let alone that they suffer from
particular discrimination. The task of ‘raising awareness’ may sound clichéd, but it
is a vital first step to take.

In this spirit, the UK charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is launching a
new factsheet on Palestinian refugees from Syria, with the objective of spreading
the word about their plight. Highlighting the Palestinians’ exclusion from relief
programmes is also vital. MAP is petitioning the UK government to ensure that
its response to the Syrian refugee crisis does not exclude Palestinians. The petition
can be viewed and signed online at www.map-uk.org/Syria

Unfortunately, the conditions of many Palestinian refugees from Syria are dire and
getting worse every day. Action needs to be taken as soon as possible to prevent
total catastrophe. While raising awareness may seem basic, it really is a necessary
step to ensure that Palestinian refugees from Syria can get the protection and the
assistance they so desperately need.


1 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52055#.VvKGdse3Pww
2 http://www.map-uk.org/news/archive/post/364—palestinian-refugees-from-syriabetween-
dispossession-and-displacement
3 Ibid.
4 https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2014/07/families-ripped-apart-palestinianrefugees-
syria-denied-entry-lebanon/; https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/08/07/jordanpalestinians-
escaping-syria-turned-away ;
http://www.mapuk.org/news/archive/post/364—palestinian-refugees-from-syriabetween-
dispossession-and-displacement
5 Article ID of the 1951 Refugee Convention excludes ‘persons who are at present
receiving from organs or agencies of the UN other than the UNHCR protection or
assistance’. The Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA are the only group to
whom this applies.
6 United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine
7 Lance Bartholomeusz, ‘The Mandate of UNRWA at Sixty’, Refugee Survey Quarterly, 28:2-
3, 452-474; Susan Akram, ‘Reinterpreting Palestinian Refugee Rights under International
Law’, in Nasser Aruri (ed.), Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return (London: Pluto Press,
2001), 165-194.
8 The preface to the UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation states: ‘voluntary
repatriation is usually viewed as the most desirable long-term solution by the refugees
themselves as well as by the international community. UNHCR’s humanitarian action in
pursuit of lasting solutions to the refugee problems is therefore oriented, first and
foremost, in favor of enabling a refugee to exercise the right to return home in safety and
with dignity.’ UNHCR, Voluntary Repatriation: International Protection (Geneva, 1996).
9 See also Endnote 5. The second paragraph of Article 1D states that ‘when such
protection or assistance has ceased for any reason, without the position of such persons
being definitively settled…. these persons shall ipso facto be entitled to the benefits of this
Convention.’ This is usually interpreted to mean that when registered Palestinian
refugees have ceased to receive UNRWA services as a result of being outside its 5 fields
of operation, they consequently become entitled to UNHCR services. See also: UNHCR,
Revised Note on the Applicability of Article 1D of the 1951 Convention relating to the
Status of Refugees to Palestinian Refugees, October 2009.
10 http://www.badil.org/phocadownload/badil-new/publications/periodicals/almajdal/
al-majdal-57.pdf
11 https://al-shabaka.org/briefs/palestinian-refugees-from-syria-stranded-on-themargins-
of-law/
12 http://www.badil.org/phocadownload/badil-new/publications/periodicals/almajdal/
al-majdal-57.pdf
13 Article 33 of the 1951 Convention prohibits signatory states from expelling refugees to
territories where their lives may be endangered (the principle of non-refoulement). Turkey
and Egypt are both parties to this Convention.
14 In 2014 UNRWA reported a deficit of over $60 million. Its funding crisis was so
severe last year that it had to delay the start of the school year while it sought emergency
funding.