UK Foreign Office Revolt Over Gaza

Hundreds of civil servants have written to David Cameron urging the government to publish its legal advice on whether its support to Israel breaches international law, writes Matt Benson, a former aid official.

U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron delivers his foreign policy speech at the National Cyber Security Centre in London on May 9. (Ben Dance / FCDO, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Matt Benson
Declassified UK

Amid Britain’s ongoing complicity and support for Israel’s “plausible genocide” in Gaza, an increasing number of staff in the Foreign Office, I’m told up to 300, have formally raised concerns with ministers, seeking a change of course.

They are questioning ministers’ actions and policy in relation to Gaza and asking to see the legal advice they received that this is based on — advice that they have so far refused to publish, despite calls to do so from some in Parliament.

[See: UK Ignores Its Lawyers’ Warnings on Arms to Israel]

But Foreign Secretary David Cameron has not responded to these concerns directly. Instead, he sent the Foreign Office’s political director, Christian Turner, to have a meeting with a small contingent of those raising concerns about U.K. policy and breaches of international humanitarian law in Gaza.

The meeting, which took place in person at the department’s King Charles Street head office, was not minuted and participants were not allowed to take notes.

This may appear benign, but not having notes of a meeting in the civil service is highly unusual, never mind a senior civil servant telling officials they aren’t allowed to take notes. Notes are taken as a record of decision making and discussions, so it raises concerns that this was actively stopped in this case.

This meeting was part of the effort to silence legitimate concerns from a range of officials from across the department, including any potential individual accountability for civil servants working on issues related to Israel and Palestine. 

Some staff are even rejecting requests to work on the crisis due to concerns of complicity in war crimes.

Raising concerns about policy is a perfectly legitimate role of civil servants. In fact it’s a key part of the job, to ensure the U.K. remains in compliance with its international and domestic obligations when faced with ministers, and now seemingly director-level civil servants, who may be in contravention of these agreements.

The Foreign Office was approached for comment and its spokesperson said: 

“The U.K. wants to see an end to the fighting in Gaza as soon as possible and we continue to call for international humanitarian law (IHL) to be respected and civilians to be protected.

As the Foreign Secretary says, Israel has committed to act within IHL and has the ability to do so, but we are also deeply concerned about the impact on the civilian population in Gaza.” 

Civil Service Code

U.K. Foreign Office in London. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

This blurring of lines between civil servants’ role and political interests adds further to the politicisation of the civil service and should concern the U.K. public. 

It also goes against the values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality embodied in the Civil Service Code. The actions in regard to this meeting alone are worthy of investigation by the Civil Service Commissioners

It puts the U.K. and civil servants in danger of being complicit in war crimes, especially since the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli government leaders being supported by the U.K. government and its officials.

More civil servants need to listen to their conscience, stand up and be counted, otherwise they’ll find themselves on the wrong side of history by enabling the latest attempt at genocide of the Palestinian people.

Foreign Office staff should follow the lead of their colleagues in the Business and Trade department, who last month went public with concerns about their degree of liability in working on arms sales policy towards Israel.

In the U.S., aid officials are resigning amid President Joe Biden’s continued support for Israel, including with the assault on Rafah, which was a self-declared red line

Former State Department official, Josh Paul quit over U.S. support for Israel’s genocide saying: “This is not just turning a blind eye to the man-made starvation of an entire population, it is direct complicity”.

Former U.K. diplomat and whistleblower, Carne Ross urged Foreign Office staff last month to leak the legal advice on international humanitarian law in Gaza. When faced with ministers and senior civil servants who aren’t interested in listening to valid concerns, it’s hard to disagree with this sentiment.

Façade for the Public

The U.K.’s humanitarian aid-dropping effort, Feb. 21. (FCDO, CC BY 2.0 )

Ten years ago, I was working in the Department for International Development (DFID),  now merged with the Foreign Office, as part of a humanitarian response group. I led the U.K.’s emergency response to the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014.

In the latest, even more brutal round of Israeli attacks on Gaza, what we have seen from the foreign secretary in response to the genocide is performatory at best.

Airdropping aid from planes is notoriously known as the least effective method for aid delivery.

It’s costly, can’t be done at scale, is dangerous to people on the ground, can be damaged in delivery, isn’t effectively targeted and should only be considered as a last resort.

Unless it’s merely performative and a way to subsidise the military using aid money, which the U.K. government’s current operation undoubtedly is.

The latest Foreign Office boast claims they’ve delivered “almost 10 double decker buses” worth of aid for a population of 2.2 million people facing starvation.

Putting this into perspective, that’s like saying the U.K. government is delivering three double decker buses of aid each for the populations of Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester combined in a time of crisis.

Do Not Be Fooled

The Foreign Office has been keen to tout its assistance to the people of Gaza as a success story. Do not be fooled by this performative display.

Stopping funding to the main U.N. agency (UNRWA) able to respond in Gaza based on seemingly no evidence, or evidence gathered through torture, adds further to this complicity.

David Cameron has still refused to reinstate funding to UNRWA, despite other countries including Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan and Sweden now having done so.

U.K. aid in its current form is a façade constructed for the public, broadcast on biased U.K. media to pretend the government cares.

Meanwhile the Foreign Office is fully supporting and enabling one of the clearest cases of ethnic cleansing and genocide in modern times in the name of settler colonialism. 

Now, with the Israeli government, in an unprecedented move, set to vote on whether UNRWA is a terrorist organisation, it really calls into question what the U.S., U.K. and its allies supporting Israel are doing to the established international order.

Not the First Time

Cameron visiting the Egyptian Red Crescent’s Gaza aid delivery efforts in El Arish, Egypt, Dec. 21, 2023. (Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This isn’t the first time Cameron has tried to use aid for political purposes using taxpayer money.

During 2014, when he was prime minister, Cameron’s office made a request to find a person to airlift from Gaza to the U.K. for medical treatment. This was to counteract the Scottish government doing the same during the independence referendum campaign.

The person identified, a young mother, would face more complications by being moved, although that didn’t deter officials involved.

What did deter them was being told that the woman in question had some family members still alive, most had been murdered during the bombing that had caused her injuries.

The reason that deterred them? It was because the Home Office would only allow one person to be airlifted to the U.K., not the less injured child of the woman also in hospital at the time, or the remaining member of her family, an uninjured child with no one else to care for them.

The government wanted to keep the immigration numbers down, so on this occasion the idea was dropped and there was no evacuation.

Subsidising the Military

The current foreign secretary has a history of promoting performative aid, while subsidising the Ministry of Defence’s budget, as he is doing now in Gaza.

During the Nepal earthquake in 2015, Cameron tweeted that the U.K. would send Chinook helicopters to assist.

He did this after a conversation with the then head of Save the Children UK, now disgraced CEO Justin Forsyth, a previous special advisor in the Gordon Brown government, that helicopters were needed.

He tweeted without checking with civil servants or those working on the response as to what was needed and why.

He also did so without checking with the Nepalese government. Despite being told this type of helicopter was not required and would be dangerous in rescue efforts, and therefore would not be allowed entry by Nepal as they would pose significant risks, they were sent to northern India anyway.

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This operation cost £3 million and these helicopters were never used in the Nepal earthquake response.

This money was provided by the Department for International Development to the U.K. military, when it could have been more appropriately spent on delivering actual assistance of worth.

At the time, DFID civil servants were told this decision couldn’t be questioned, despite it being very questionable, because the prime minister had tweeted it and it therefore had to happen.

This failure of civil servants to undertake their duty under the civil service code has only intensified, identifiably so related to Gaza this time around.

2014 Attacks

Flares from Israeli forces in night sky over Gaza City in the course of the hostilities in the Gaza Strip, July 28, 2014. (UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan)

When I was working at DFID one day I remember clearly is 24 July 2014.

My boss had come back from a meeting with officials at the office of the then development secretary, Justine Greening. Their words to me were, “We’ll need to do something on Gaza, SoS [secretary of state] just got her arse handed to her at cabinet.”

What they were referring to was Prime Minister David Cameron lambasting Greening in a cabinet meeting.

The reason was she had no answer to what DFID was going to do about Gaza following the Israeli bombardment of an UNRWA school, murdering children and teachers and injuring hundreds of other civilians sheltering there after their homes had already been destroyed by the Israeli military.

A few days later I was sat in the British consulate in Jerusalem leading the U.K. emergency response to the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Our aim was to work with other organisations and allocate U.K. funding to provide urgent medical assistance, water and sanitation services to prevent disease outbreak.

As part of that, we visited Gaza. I will never forget that journey. Seeing the walls of apartheid around what can really only be described as an open air prison, confining 2.2 million people inside. Passing through the four checkpoints: Israeli passport, IDF, Palestinian Authority and finally Hamas.

The latter checkpoint used to contain an office with computer equipment to facilitate faster entry, but had been bombed by the Israelis in the final hours of the latest temporary ceasefire the night before. It was now a pile of rubble and inoperable.

This created hours of delays for entry and exit for aid organisations, and was intentionally done by Israel to hinder access.

What is occurring today, in terms of Israel’s hindering access for aid delivery, is irrefutably worse, on a scale not seen before in the 75-year ongoing colonisation of Palestine.

Aid Access

The first place we wanted to go in 2014 was Al Shifa hospital to assess what the situation was at the largest health care facility there. If they were struggling, the other primary health care facilities would be too.

Upon arrival, we saw three ambulances that had been bombed by Israel, positioned at the entrance to the emergency department, placed there in remembrance of the staff and patients killed in the attack.

After speaking to doctors in Al Shifa and hearing the difficulties they were facing, we decided to provide some of that funding to an organisation we didn’t usually fund, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

We stood and heard from clinicians in the emergency wing of the hospital how MAP had been a long standing partner.

It had not only provided individuals to perform surgeries in times of stress, but also for years helped train staff, building relationships and enabling Palestinian doctors to provide services they might not have been able to otherwise.

I was told by MAP it would be difficult to get the entry visas for their medical staff and their medical equipment they needed quickly, as Israel was purposefully delaying the issuance of visas to all aid workers.

So I took the step of calling the U.K. embassy in Tel Aviv to see if they could assist.

They followed up with their contacts in the airport in Tel Aviv and confirmed that if I was to obtain a long list of requested information, the embassy staff would attend their arrival in Tel Aviv and work with the passport authorities to try to facilitate access without hindrance.

To their credit they achieved this.

Contrast to Today

Cameron meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Jan. 24, 2024. (Rory Arnold/No10 Downing Street, CC BY 2.0)

Contrast that to today, and we have a situation whereby U.K. companies are providing technology for Israeli warplanes being used to bomb MAP and other aid organisations’ guesthouses, warehouses, vehicles and hospitals.

Seeing the latest photos of Al Shifa after the massacre and the discovery of mass graves at a protected building under the Geneva Conventions, it’s completely unrecognisable to the place I walked into 10 years ago.

This purposeful destruction of a protected building and the murder of medical staff and patients by Israel is a clear and obvious war crime. Yet the U.K. government continues to enable and support these violations of international law, silencing their own staff who raise these concerns.

No wonder the government doesn’t want to publish its legal advice concerning Israel’s actions.

It makes me wonder. What is the purpose of the international system established post-1945, because protecting civilians and buildings such as hospitals, universities and schools from genocide is clearly not one of them.

I remember when on 17 0ctober 2023, the world became aware of the attack on Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza. There was fierce rageful debate online and on news channels such as the BBC saying it was a Hamas rocket and that Israel would not attack hospitals.

Aftermath of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital explosion, Oct. 18, 2023. (Tasnim News Agency, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)

Over the coming weeks and months, Israel would drop the pretence and actively target hospitals across Gaza for bombing, ground invasion and destruction.

Coordinated Appeal?

In 2014, DFID’s ministers were interested in enabling the public to be more aware of the crisis, which was the worst in Gaza since 2008, and to be able to donate to charitable organisations in a coordinated way.

At that time, one thing we recommended was matching funding to the Disasters Emergency Committee, more familiarly known as the DEC.

Matching the first £2 million of public donations given in this way is best explained as similar to gift aid, to encourage people to donate as they feel their donation is going further.

We did this, as we were told by the DEC that the reason they weren’t launching an appeal was because broadcasters BBC, ITV and Sky, who were part of the decision making process on whether to launch an appeal, were reluctant to agree to it if there was no matched funding from DFID.

That stands in stark contrast to today. There has been no DEC appeal for Gaza on this occasion despite the situation being catastrophically worse.

It begs the question: why would ministers and civil servants not want to enable public giving and raise awareness of this latest attack by Israel on Gaza?

My assumption is there is no ministerial appetite to do so, as well as media complicity or pressure from ministers on the news agencies to not agree to launch an appeal. 

This is likely supported by the demonising of peaceful protesters calling for an end to the genocide and government attempts to hinder or stop protests relating to Gaza by pressuring the police to make arrests.

Publish the Advice

The best way for the U.K. government to assist the people of Gaza is to publicly stop backing Israel’s genocidal campaign. It should support countries like Egypt joining, rather than opposing, South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. 

The U.K. should recognise the state of Palestine, as Ireland, Spain and Norway have said they will.

It should enact economic and trade sanctions on Israel, not limited to arms sales, and treat this apartheid state as South Africa was treated in the last century.

It could publish the legal advice it has received on the legality or otherwise of Israel’s actions to demonstrate its belief these plausible acts of genocide in fact are not.

Ministers won’t do this without pressure. Publication would either show illegality or, if the advice suggested Israel’s actions are legal, that would likely be easily refutable by evidence already garnered from Gaza of Israeli war crimes and breaches of international law.

Matt Benson is a former British aid worker and civil servant with the Department for International Development, who witnessed the increasing waste and harm of aid spending on those subjected to humanitarian projects.

This article is from Declassified UK.

Views expressed in this article may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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10 comments for “UK Foreign Office Revolt Over Gaza

  1. Chris Cosmos
    June 6, 2024 at 11:49

    The post-WWII era, in a reaction, to the first half of the 20th century’s era of violence and war is over. The idea that powerful interests would agree to agree to “international law” featuring care for civilians, the Geneva Conventions and all that is no longer in force anywhere. We are in an era of might makes right under the Empire’s “rules based order” which meant the Empire decides what’s what. The UK won’t and can’t stop its support of Israel–first because the USA rules the UK and Israel is one of the handful of major lobbies that runs US foreign policy which is one reason Israel won’t change its policy of slow genocide–it would prefer to just expel the Palestinian population from what Israel considers its territory but other forces in the US don’t want any drastic action–it prefers slow torture so that Washington doesn’t look as bad as it actually is.

    In defense of Cameron, he is acting the way any UK politician would act. Labor, when the get in, won’t be any better. As for the bureaucrats, they should resign or be willing to be co-conspirators in genocide.

  2. george carver
    June 6, 2024 at 04:03

    Also, what is that horrid painting behind comboveryahoo’s obviously bald head? Seriously, Zionist Nazis are the worst.

  3. george carver
    June 6, 2024 at 03:33

    In this article’s picture of a forklift loading british crumbs onto a C130 hercules, there is no visible vertical stabilizer/rudder. Was the image doctored, or am I not up to date on janes? Asking for a girlfriend.

  4. Vera Gottlieb
    June 5, 2024 at 11:54

    Anything, anything at all, originating in both the US and the UK must be viewed with great suspicion. It is no wonder these two nefarious birds of a feather get along so well.

  5. Machine Ghost
    June 5, 2024 at 11:11

    Horsepoop from soulless minions trying to CYA.

    Such letters are stupid, ineffective and do nothing to change the course of the nation. They are only written as virtue signalling and the authors trying to make themselves feel better about participating in a horrible, deadly right-wing capitalist government that kills at home and abroad. A recent report about the UK just said that because midwifes are underfunded and in short supply, mothers are dying in childbirth when they don’t need to. Yet, ever signature on this letter is from a person who volunteered to serve this same government, and still does so. If they don’t want to be a part of the death machine, they need to resign. And if they had a functioning soul, they would have done so a long time ago.

  6. Gordon Hastie
    June 5, 2024 at 08:17

    Perhaps they could also raise concerns over the FO’s stupidly reckless policy towards Ukraine. The MSM may not mention it, but we happen to be staring at the gates of Armageddon thanks to these idiots, not to mention their special friend in the White House.

  7. WillD
    June 4, 2024 at 21:35

    “The best way for the U.K. government to assist the people of Gaza…..”. It could but it won’t – because it doesn’t want to. Never mind the insincere statements and rhetoric, it’s their actions that reveal the truth.

    The UK government and the ‘establishment’ do not want to stop the genocide, the slaughter, the butchering of Palestinians. After all, they were responsible for starting this 75 years ago.

    Human lives have never mean anything to them, ever.

    • Gordon Hastie
      June 5, 2024 at 08:33

      They’ve managed to keep it more or less under wraps until now. Perhaps even loyal BBC viewers – or some of them – are beginning to see the state broadcaster’s lies and obfuscations for what they are. A great and illuminating article in any case.

  8. Andrew Nichols
    June 4, 2024 at 19:33

    Its taken this long for brit civil servants to realise they serve crooks…or has it just been the threat at long last of being complicit in the crimes of the British state for them to find their voices? Cowards

    • Rebecca
      June 5, 2024 at 10:57

      This is not new. British governments’ lying about their complicity in serious criminality has been a fact for many decades. Civil servants under the Harold Wilson Labour government during the Biafran starvation atrocity must have known the PM was lying to the public in 1969 about the UK’s supplying weapons to extend the war. There are clear similarities between that crime and that of Gaza in 2024.

      “On 27 March 1969, Prime Minister Harold Wilson lied in a press interview to cover up the huge scale of British arms exports to the Federal Military Government (FMG) of Nigeria, which was waging a war of genocide against the secessionist state of Biafra causing over two million deaths from famine. The preceding year, Chief Allison Ayida, the leader of the FMG delegation at peace talks, had asserted that ‘starvation is a legitimate weapon of war and we have every intention of using it against the rebels.’1

      During the press interview, Wilson insisted that British arms exports to Nigeria were ‘on a limited scale’ and that they didn’t include any bombs. However on the same day he made the statement, the government authorized the export of 19 million rounds of ammunition, ten thousand grenades and 39,000 mortar bombs, and just a day earlier a Foreign Office official had described in an internal memo the shipment as ‘large quantities of arms and ammunition,’ boasting that earlier ammunition for the FMG had been flown out of Manston airport in Kent to avoid ‘unfavourable press comment.’”


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