May 02, 2009

UK colluding in Gaza blockade

Have a see at this unfolding story at the Guardian. It starts with an article Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent.
British lawyers attempting to build a war crimes case against Israel have been blocked from entering the Gaza Strip because the Foreign Office has refused to support their work, the Guardian has learned.

A number of the lawyers, who have travelled to the region on fact-finding trips, could not get into the Palestinian territory because they cannot cross the border without letters from the British government authorising their visits.

One lawyer, whose MP, Diane Abbott, wrote to the Foreign Office on her behalf, was told her effort would be better spent contributing to humanitarian work.

That can't be right, surely the UK wouldn't help Israel get away with war crimes.

Well sure enough, Bill Rammell MP, Minister of state, Foreign Office was having none of that:
Your report (20 April) says the Foreign Office "blocked" British lawyers attempting to build a war crimes case against Israel from entering Gaza. This is completely at odds with the facts. First, the UK does not control access to Gaza over the Rafah crossing - Egypt does. And the UK does not control access to Gaza through the crossings on the Israeli border - Israel does. We have continually urged Israel to open the crossings into Gaza, particularly for humanitarian aid, and have raised this issue with the new Israeli government. In general, we advise against travel to Gaza, while recognising the importance of humanitarian workers and independent reporting.

Second, we have, in exceptional cases, provided letters reiterating our travel advice to some individuals. They showed these letters to the Egyptian authorities and were subsequently allowed into Gaza. But when Kate Maynard approached us - in the immediate aftermath of the conflict - we were reviewing our policy on the issuing of these letters. Ms Maynard did not come back to us, possibly because we understand she was able to enter Gaza in any case.

The idea that there is a determined effort not to enable witnesses to get into the Gaza Strip is inconsistent with the assistance we have provided to journalists and humanitarian workers. We take all allegations of war crimes very seriously and have consistently said that they should all be properly investigated.[stop laughing you lot!]
I remember reading that and wondering how the Guardian could have got it so wrong in the first place. Well according to this letter perhaps they weren't so wrong:
Bill Rammell is disingenuous when he says that the UK does not control access to Gaza (Letters, 28 April). He knows the Egyptians require those wanting to cross the border to have a letter from their embassy. Only the British have consistently refused to provide a letter, which is why British doctors, psychiatrists and lawyers have been turned away and denied access to Gaza via the Rafah crossing. Whatever arrangement the UK reached with Israel on access to Gaza, it is not working. The siege continues and the humanitarian disaster is deepening.

Mr Rammell insults Palestinians when he refers to people seeking to enter Gaza as "witnesses". While that term perhaps applies to journalists (whose entry the FCO has facilitated), it hardly applies to those excluded from Gaza earlier this year, including doctors and lawyers asked to come by NGOs to provide services for their patients, clients, etc.

Allegations of war crimes are not taken as seriously as Mr Rammell would have us believe: how does he explain Jack Straw's apology to Israel for the fact of a judicial arrest warrant against an Israeli suspect in September 2005 (after the near-arrest of Doron Almog at Heathrow airport)? A government that supported the rule of law as applied to suspected war criminals would not have treated its judiciary with such contempt.
Kate Maynard
Hickman & Rose solicitors

Or the Palestinians.


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