London, 3rd November 2023- The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has written to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to request urgent clarification on the UK government’s position on Britons going to fight in Israel and Gaza.
According to media reports, since 7 October, hundreds, and potentially thousands of British citizens have left the UK to fight for the Israeli Defense Forces in Israel’s war on Gaza. Many of these Britons may already be complicit in potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, and could face future prosecution should these matters go to trial.
On 10 October, soon after the Hamas offensive, the Israeli government called up 360,000 army reservists from all over the world to join the IDF in Israel’s war on Gaza. Israeli media reported that air force planes were dispatched to various Europe countries to collect these reservists, providing transport for overseas Israelis and dual nationals to go “join the fight”.
In the UK, the media was awash with stories of British Israelis leaving to join the IDF, with some reporting that hundreds, if not thousands, of Britons were already on the ground, fighting in Israel and Gaza. Some may be there through the Mahal Programme, a volunteer programme which allows non-Israeli nationals to serve in the IDF in full combat and support roles for up to 18 months.
ICJP has urgently asked the government to clarify its position on the legality of British citizens going to fight in Israel or Gaza, noting the difference with its policy on Ukraine. The Government has made it clear that British citizens should not travel to fight in Ukraine, and those who do could be committing a criminal offence. The Foreign Office’s official guidance unequivocally states: “If you travel to Ukraine to fight, or to 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.”
It is unclear to us whether British citizens going to fight in Israel or Gaza would face similar sanctions. ICJP has asked the Foreign Office to clarify whether it is a criminal offence for Britons to fight in the current conflict. We have also asked whether the government has issued any warnings to people wishing to fight in Israel or Gaza about potential criminal liability they could face for complicity in mass atrocity crimes arising from their conduct.
ICJP noted that officers from the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Unit have attended the homes in the UK of Palestinians who are currently in Gaza, including the family of Professor Ghassan Abu Sitta, a renowned emergency surgeon who is currently treating the civilian victims of Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign in Gaza.
ICJP understands that the police visited homes of people like Professor Abu-Sitta as a result of guidance from the Foreign Office. ICJP has asked the government to clarify as a matter of urgency whether the police have been instructed to only visit the families of British Palestinians currently in Gaza, or whether the same rules apply to Brits who have left the country to fight for the Israeli armed forces.
ICJP has repeatedly called for a rules-based system of accountability to be upheld in respect of Israel and Gaza, with equal application to all actors. We strongly believe that if Israel had not been afforded decades of impunity by the international community, the horrific and devastating situation in Gaza could have been avoided.
Such a rules-based system of accountability must be applied not only to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but to the domestic context of the UK. ICJP calls for the equal and non-discriminatory application of domestic counter-terrorism legislation and policy, regardless of race, religion or nationality.
Notes to Editors:
- The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians is an independent organisation of lawyers, politicians and academics who support the rights of Palestinians and aim to protect their rights through the law.
- For more information, or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson please contact Public Affairs and Communications Officer Jonathan Purcell: [email protected].