Foreign Office accused of hindering human rights lawyers in Gaza Strip – follow-up
We carried a Guardian report on the Foreign Office apparently hindering human rights lawyers in Gaza on 21 April.
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.
Bill Rammell MP
Minister of state, Foreign Office
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.
Hickman & Rose solicitors