Wed, 12/06/2023 – 14:05
The UK government is facing growing pressure to clarify its position on British nationals fighting for Israel following the death of a dual national soldier and mounting allegations of war crimes committed by Israeli forces in Gaza.
An advocacy group for Palestinian rights wrote to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in early November seeking clarification on its policy following reports of British nationals joining the Israeli army following Hamas’s 7 October attacks in southern Israel.
But more than a month later, the International Centre for Justice in Palestine (ICJP) told Middle East Eye it is still awaiting a response.
In a follow-up letter later in November, the ICJP warned the Foreign Office there was a “serious risk of genocide” in Gaza where more than 16,000 Palestinians have been killed during Israel’s two-months-long assault.
It says British nationals, including dual Israeli-British nationals, are “at risk of participating in war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide”.
The ICJP believes the UK government has a legal duty “to take steps to prevent and punish acts of genocide” as a signatory to the International Genocide Convention.
In a sign of confusion surrounding UK policy, when contacted for comment, a foreign office spokesperson referred Middle East Eye to the Home Office – which referred MEE back to the foreign office.
A foreign office spokesperson eventually told MEE that it advised against all but essential travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The FCDO added that dual nationals may be liable for military service in another country.
Last month, Tom Tugendhadt, the minister of state for the Home Office, made similar remarks when responding to a question about UK citizens fighting in the Israeli army.
But Tugendhat also said: “Anyone who travels to conflict zones to engage in unlawful activity, should expect to be investigated upon their return to the UK. Decisions on prosecutions are taken independently by the police and Crown Prosecution Serice on a case-by-case basis.”
Earlier this week, the Israeli army confirmed that Binyamin Needham, a 19-year-old British national whose family moved to Israel 10 years ago, died while fighting for Israel in Gaza.
The Israeli army said Needham, who fought with the 601st Battalion of the Combat Engineering Corps, was killed in close contact after his unit entered a building and encountered Palestinian fighters.
Another British national serving in the Israeli army, 20-year-old Nathaniel Young, was killed in the Hamas-led attacks on 7 October on Israel’s border with Gaza.
Since 7 October, 401 Israeli soldiers have been killed, including 75 during the ground offensive inside Gaza.
Reports quoting British nationals fighting for Israel have suggested that hundreds more could currently be enlisted in the country’s armed forces.
MEE has been unable to confirm those numbers.
One British national has also posted footage on Instagram which appears to show him fighting for the Israeli army in Gaza.
In one clip, Simon Levi, an Israel-based tour guide, raises an Israeli flag over a building that he says is a school in Gaza. In another, he draws a Star of David on the wall of a building, allegedly the home of a Hamas commander, which he says is also in Gaza.
“Inside of Gaza, waving an Israeli flag, in one of those schools where they teach terrorism, so it’s time to teach something about Israel,” Simon says in a clip posted from Gaza.
“We’re here, here to stay. Not going anywhere, not going to take your terror, and we’re going to start teaching Hebrew here soon.”
MEE has contacted Levi for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.
‘Britons serving in the IDF run a real risk of becoming complicity in war crimes, crimes against humanity and potentially, genocide’
– Ilora Choudhury, senior legal counsel at ICJP
Ilora Choudhury, senior legal counsel at ICJP, told MEE it was concerned at the lack of guidance from the UK government on British nationals going to fight for the Israeli army.
“Britons serving in the IDF run a real risk of becoming complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity and potentially, genocide,” said Choudhury.
“It has now been over a month since ICJP asked the Foreign Office to clarify the legal position on Britons fighting in the IDF.
“Its failure to respond is deeply irresponsible in the face of the catastrophic situation in Gaza, with clear evidence of mass atrocity crimes being committed by the IDF.”
Choudhury called on the UK government to provide the same clarity to British nationals considering fighting for Israel as it had for British nationals wishing to fight in Ukraine.
Official British guidance states that for UK nationals who travel to “Ukraine to fight or assist others engaged in the war, your activities may amount to offences under UK legislation, and you could be prosecuted on your return to the UK. British nationals fighting in Ukraine have been killed or captured.”