Over 100 Britons Among Israeli Soldiers & Settlers

The disclosure by the foreign secretary’s staff — in response to Declassified UK’s freedom of information request — suggests Parliament was misled, Phil Miller reports.

U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron, right, on Oct. 7 aftermath tour with Israeli officials in the Be’eri Kibbutz, Nov. 23, 2023. (Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing, Flickr)

By Phil Miller
Declassified UK

At least 80 British nationals were serving in Israel’s military a month before Oct. 7, the U.K. Foreign Office has confirmed.

The department also holds records on “approximately 20-30 British Citizens residing in illegal settlements in the West Bank.”

Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s staff released the data this month in response to a freedom of information request filed by Declassified UK in November.

They took so long to answer that the information commissioner threatened to have the High Court hold them in contempt.

The request was sensitive because the government had previously told Parliament it does not track the number of Britons serving in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) or living in illegal settlements.

The disclosure suggests Parliament was misled. It will put pressure on Lord Cameron to take action against more than 100 Britons likely to be violating international law.

Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank contravene Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states: 

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Last month, the U.K. government sanctioned four “extremist Israeli settlers,” but declined to clarify whether they were U.K. passport holders.

Service in the IDF carries its own legal complications, especially while Israel is under investigation for genocide at the International Court of Justice.

Misleading Parliament

Parliament in session on March 20. (UK Parliament, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cameron’s deputy, Andrew Mitchell, told Parliament just before Christmas: 

“We are aware of reports of UK citizens travelling to fight for the Israel Defence Force (IDF), but the Government does not estimate the numbers of those who have done so.”

Mitchell made the same statement twice, while answering two questions from Labour’s Afzal Khan MP.

The government has made similar denials in respect of settlers. Junior foreign minister David Rutley was asked last April by Kenny MacAskill MP “what estimate he has made of the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank who hold British citizenship.”

Rutley replied: “The Foreign Secretary has made no such assessment.”

The freedom of information response to Declassified seems to contradict these claims. 

In it, the Foreign Office said:

“We hold a record of British National lone soldiers in Israel, which according to the Israeli MFA [foreign ministry] as of September 2023, was 80. 

However, this is not the number of British Nationals serving in the IDF, this is the number of British Nationals who immigrated on their own, in order to serve.”

It added: “We have records of approximately 20-30 British Citizens residing in illegal settlements in the West Bank.” 

Both figures are likely to be under estimates, as “British Nationals residing in Israel are not required to register with the British Embassy. Israelis are also not required to notify the Israeli Authorities if they hold a foreign passport.”


Israeli soldiers during attacks on targets in Syria belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian Army, Nov. 17, 2020. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Israel’s definition of a “lone soldier” refers to anyone in the army who lacks parents living in Israel. Around half are volunteers from overseas, while others may be orphans. 

The concept is closely linked to Israel’s Mahal scheme, which allows foreign nationals to serve in the IDF without permanently emigrating to Israel.

According to an archived version of the programme’s official website, they are initially classed as “tourists” and receive residence permits. 

Around 50 percent choose to stay on in Israel after their military service and acquire citizenship.

The Mahal scheme is supported by various agencies such as Garin Tzabar, which has an office in London. 

It advertises how immigrants who join the IDF can earn almost twice as much as their domestic counterparts, partly due to grants from Israeli government departments. 

A charity in Israel, the Lone Soldiers Center, provides further support to the volunteers. Its office in Jerusalem was visited by Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, in November, when he praised their work.

The center states: 

“Most lone soldiers are placed in combat units and come highly motivated to serve in the Israeli army. At any given time, these soldiers are awake and aware, guarding Israel’s borders by land, air and sea.”

Among those met by Johnson was paratrooper Sam Sank, who emigrated to Israel in 2009 to serve in the IDF, shortly after Operation Cast Lead — an assault on Gaza in which the U.N. found Israel deliberately targeted civilians.

Sank has fought in the current conflict in Gaza, and told The Times that hundreds if not thousands of fellow Brits are currently serving in the IDF.

His estimate reflects the Foreign Office’s view that the 80 British lone soldiers in Israel is not the total number of U.K. nationals in the IDF, but only those without parents in the country.


Britain has no effective anti-mercenary legislation to stop U.K. nationals fighting for foreign powers. 

When the most relevant law, the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870, was reviewed in Parliament in 1976, it emerged that no one had been convicted under it.

Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson noted that a number of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s constituents in Finchley “went to fight for Israel, either because they were Israeli students in Britain — perhaps on the reserve list — or because they wanted to go to the land which is the foundation of their faith. That, I am sure, is understood by everyone.”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former Conservative cabinet minister, has previously said: “The only reason we allow the loophole to exist is because of the IDF.”

Britain has never signed the United Nations convention against mercenaries, and lobbied to weaken the treaty so recruitment of Nepalese citizens into the British army’s Gurkha brigade would not be jeopardised. 

The IDF is not a proscribed organisation under the Terrorism Act, unlike several Palestinian armed groups. However the Met Police war crimes unit could still investigate individuals suspected of breaching the Geneva conventions.


Israeli settlers’ “march of the flags” parade through Old Jerusalem in 2018. (Nettadi, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0) 

Around 700,000 people live in illegal settlements on the West Bank — Palestinian land which Israel conquered in 1967 and continues to occupy militarily.

The U.K. government has always regarded these settlements as a violation of international law, although it has done little to stop them.

British-Israeli sisters Maia and Rina Dee were murdered by Palestinians in the West Bank last April.

Their father, Rabbi Leo Dee, moved the family from London to Israel in 2014, when the youngest girl was just 6 or 7 years old.

Their funeral was attended by Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who leads the far-right Jewish Power party and has been convicted of inciting racism.

The U.K. government’s counter-terrorism Prevent programme, which is accused of disproportionately targeting Muslims, identifies the “important” role family members can play in radicalisation.

By contrast, Jewish parents in Britain who move their families to Israeli settlements that are in violation of international law are not typically stopped from leaving the U.K.

The Foreign Office was asked to comment on what action, if any, would be taken against the 100 British nationals referred to in the freedom of information response.

It had not commented at the time of publication.

Phil Miller is Declassified UK’s chief reporter. He is the author of Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away With War Crimes. Follow him on Twitter at @pmillerinfo

This article is from Declassified UK.

5 comments for “Over 100 Britons Among Israeli Soldiers & Settlers

  1. Curmudgeon
    April 4, 2024 at 13:07

    Revoke their citizenship. Clearly they have no use for the UK, other than being a host to a parasite.

  2. WillD
    April 4, 2024 at 01:36

    UK – a state sponsor of terrorism, and now genocide. And the government tries to criminalise protesters and demonstrators.

    How does David Cameron sleep at night knowing he is complicit in Israel’s atrocities?

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      April 4, 2024 at 11:57

      The Camerons of this world sleep very well. They have no humanity or morals.

  3. Carolyn L Zaremba
    April 3, 2024 at 15:50

    The Britons who served in the IDF should be arrested for war crimes as soon as they return to the UK. That goes for anyone from any country who serves as a genocider. End of.

    • Em
      April 4, 2024 at 10:42

      Can’t recall any U.S. International genociders who have even been arrested for the war crimes they have committed.
      Just a couple of prominent names come to mind, beginning with the latest first:
      Joe Biden
      Donald Trump
      Barack Obama
      George W Bush
      First Lady genocider first, and Bill Clinton
      George H.W. Bush
      Ronald Reagan
      In pre historic daze, Genocide was not appropriately, and as widely applied, as it is today, despite the nature of their crimes not having changed one iota.
      Now that’s progress — in terminology!

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