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Israel/UK: Rishi Sunak should raise apartheid crimes during Netanyahu visit - letter

An Israeli 'closed military zone' has been declared in the vicinity of the Palestinian village of Masafer Yatta, one of numerous West Bank locations where Palestinians' lives and livelihoods are under threat because of military occupation © HAZEM BADER/ AFP via Getty Images

Amnesty UK head has written to PM pointing out ‘glaring inconsistencies’ in UK’s stance on international justice 


Growing human rights crisis under Netanyahu has met with only a muted UK response and new UK-Israeli ‘roadmap’ on bilateral relations downplays apartheid

‘We need to see the PM having the courage to tackle Mr Netanyahu over these crimes’ - Sacha Deshmukh


Amnesty International UK has written to Rishi Sunak ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu’s expected visit to the UK later this week raising concerns about “glaring inconsistencies” in the UK’s commitment to international justice, given its tacit acceptance of Israel’s decades-long occupation and annexation of Palestinian territory.


For example, the UK has championed international justice measures in dealing with Russian war crimes committed on Ukrainian soil - with ministers welcoming last week’s International Criminal Court arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights - yet continues to offer only muted criticism of the Israeli authorities in relation to its serious breaches of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Amnesty’s letter emphasises that while the two situations are far from identical, it’s vital that the UK pushes for international justice in “a consistent manner”, noting that while the UK supports ICC investigations into Russian atrocities in Ukraine, it does not do so when it comes to an ICC investigation into Israeli abuses against Palestinians.  


Since the formation of a new Israeli government under Netanyahu in December, there has been a sharp deterioration in an already poor human rights situation in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, yet the UK has made few public statements on the growing crisis and refrained from substantive criticism of the Israeli authorities. Last month, following mass state-backed Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in and around the town of Huwara in the West Bank, the UK government took days to respond and only in the form of a joint statement with a number of other countries. 


Last year, Amnesty published a 280-page report showing how the Israeli authorities have long been overseeing a punitive system of oppression - amounting to the crime of apartheid - against the Palestinian people, including with massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, years of unlawful killings, the forcible transfer of Palestinian people from their land, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians in Israel.

Yesterday, James Cleverly and his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen agreed a seven-year roadmap for UK-Israeli relations. The document shows the UK echoing the Israeli government’s contention that it has been singled out for criticism by the UN and other international bodies, with the UK saying it “disagreed” with the use of the term apartheid “in this context”. 

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: 

“Rishi Sunak must stand up for the principles of justice and accountability for the Palestinian people in the same way as he and his ministers have for the people of Ukraine. 

“While no two situations are ever identical, it looks like clear double standards for the UK to back international investigations into Putin and Russia’s appalling behaviour in Ukraine, while declining to do so when it comes to Israel’s shameful catalogue of abuses against Palestinians.


“This visit is all about Benjamin Netanyahu seeking legitimacy for his government despite its increasingly extremist policies, with his occupation forces in the Palestinian Territories killing civilians, stealing their land and building illegal new settlements.  


“Rather than the usual diplomatic waffle about ‘strengthening ties’ with Israel, we need to see the PM having the courage to tackle Mr Netanyahu over these crimes against the Palestinians.  


“One concrete thing the UK should do is ban the trade in goods from Israel’s settlements - these are the tainted products of occupation and form part of an illicit economy which is fuelling state-backed settler violence against Palestinians.”

Mass petition and hire bike sticker campaign

Yesterday, Amnesty offices around the world delivered Demolish Apartheid, Not Palestinian Homes petitions - signed by more than 200,000 people from more than 170 countries - to the Israeli authorities calling on them to end the demolition of Palestinian homes as a first step towards dismantling apartheid. The petitions were presented on 21 March, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed annually in commemoration of 69 peaceful anti-apartheid protesters killed by South African police on 21 March 1960.

Also on 21 March, Palestinian activists in the UK attached new Amnesty campaign stickers to more than 1,000 hire bikes in central London bearing the message “You can travel freely, UNLIKE Palestinians: #EndIsraeliApartheid”. The easy-to-remove stickers are part of Amnesty’s ongoing campaign against Israeli apartheid. 

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