Steve Winston
Executive Director of the Zionist Federation of UK & Ireland

What the UK didn’t say at the UN Security Council

UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Just two weeks ago, on Monday 26th October 2020, Ambassador Jonathan Allen, UK Chargé d’Affaires to the UN, delivered his statement at the UN Security Council (UNSC) briefing on the situation in the Middle East.

I am a proud British Jew who loves his country. I am also proud it was Great Britain that, in 1917, issued a letter for the attention of the Zionist Federation, a letter that since became known as the ‘Balfour Declaration’ and which represented the first show of support from a government for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the Jews’ ancestral homeland.

However, as grateful as I am that the current Conservative government continues to strengthen ties with Israel, I am nonetheless very disappointed with what Britain’s Chargé d’Affaires to the UN failed to say at the UNSC briefing last week. Despite past assurances, such as then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2019 stating that Britain would change tack on UN motions criticising Israel, it seems the UK has a long way to go in bringing some balance to the presentation of the conflict in international forums, especially the UN which is known for its anti-Israel bias.

Addressing the UNSC’s President, Ambassador Jonathan Allen raised his government’s “particular” concern over a recent announcement of almost 5000 new settlement units as well as reminding the UNSC chamber of their illegality under international law. He spoke about “demolitions of Palestinian buildings and evictions of Palestinians from their homes across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem” and he spoke about how “the UK is seriously concerned by the possible demolition by Israeli authorities of a Palestinian school funded by the international community in Ras Al-Tin.” To emphasise that statement even further, Ambassador Allen stressed how “The right to education is basic, and it is essential to have a strong and thriving Palestinian education system in order to provide opportunities for the next generation.”

Ambassador Allen continued to convey the UK’s concern over “the increase in settler violence, the destruction of olive trees and the stealing of projects coinciding with the Palestinian olive harvest” whilst reiterating that “As the occupying power, the Israeli security forces must provide appropriate protection to the Palestinian civilian population.”

Presumably feeling that he had addressed his government’s concerns over the situation in Judea and Samaria / the West Bank, Ambassador Allen then proceeded to speak about Gaza. He mentioned how the Israel Defence Force (IDF) had discovered a tunnel “penetrating dozens of yards into Israeli territory” last month, and that this was “of great concern”. Allen also reminded the UNSC chamber that there had been additional rockets fired into Israel in September and a return to the launching of IED “balloons” by Gaza’s militant groups. By militant, he means the terrorist groups – Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist factions operating in the Strip. Ambassador Allen went on to say that the UK “condemns such indiscriminate attacks against Israeli civilians”, whilst calling upon Hamas and “other terrorist groups” (he used the correct term there – bravo Mr Allen – always best to call a spade a spade) to permanently end their incitement and rocket fire against Israel.

Ambassador Allen ended his statement by calling on all parties “to pursue confidence-building measures to build the foundations of future final status discussions.”

Of course, it should come as no surprise that the UK, the author of the Balfour Declaration, stands resolute in pronouncing the so-called settlements as “illegal under international law”. I say “no surprise” because that has been their stance for decades. It is however a source of continued disappointment that the UK government continues to fail to acknowledge Israel’s legal standing in the disputed territories – the legal ratification of Britain’s Balfour Declaration into international law at San Remo and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, as well as the fact that Article 80 of the United Nations’ Charter implicitly recognises the Mandate for Palestine. The UK’s (and other countries’) failure to acknowledge these facts – this element of international law, certainly contributes to the demonisation of Israel in the international arena, as it suggests that Israel has no respect for international law and has no legal or historical rights in the territories, which is not the case at all. Disappointing but unsurprising.

Whilst Ambassador Allen mentioned demolitions of Palestinian buildings and evictions, what he failed to mention is that those demolitions are often related to properties of those involved in terror attacks whilst others are related to illegal construction in areas of Judea and Samaria / the West Bank that are under full Israeli civil and military control – that is to say Area C. There are of course cases that catch the ‘international eye’ from time to time, leaving readers – including Zionists, aghast that Israel has destroyed “homes and villages”, but all too often, the facts around these situations are misrepresented. Of course, even if all the facts were to be presented, there are still those who will find Israel’s actions less than acceptable, and some of those are those same people who find the mere existence of a Jewish state less than acceptable. However, the issues around Areas A, B and C – those areas which make up Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, are complex issues and Israel’s control of Area C is increasingly challenged by not just NGOs, but also international institutions such as the EU, which together with funding from other countries (including the UK), funds projects of illegal construction in Area C. That’s hardly commendable from such institutions and countries.

Balance Ambassador Allen, balance.

Ambassador Allen condemned the possible demolition of a Palestinian school identified earlier in this article – in Ras Al-Tin. Allen chose – yes chose, to whitewash the UK’s complicity (And the EU’s), in its illegal construction, illegal because it falls within Area C where Israel has full control. The structure itself did not receive a building permit and the site has received multiple stop work orders and even had equipment confiscated. Add to that that it is entirely unclear whether it is safe for use at all, let alone as a school, and a different picture emerges.

As if the withholding of facts surrounding this issue wasn’t galling enough, Ambassador Allen then proceeded to indirectly bash Israel further by saying how “The right to education is basic, and it is essential to have a strong and thriving Palestinian education system”.
Of course, on that statement alone, Ambassador Allen is not wrong at all. Every child has a right to education.

But, facts, Mr Allen, facts.
The children in Raz Al-Tin, who live in the shacks that the building serves, were going to a school in a nearby village. They were certainly not without feasible access to education.

However, whilst saying that “the right to education is basic”, surely Ambassador Allen could have – should have even, used that moment to remind the UNSC chamber that the Palestinian Authority school curriculum remains riddled with anti-Israel incitement, Antisemitic tropes and content which glorifies terrorists and violence. Surely Ambassador Allen should have used that moment to raise this issue, an issue that can very convincingly be argued as as much a threat to peace as he feels the settlements are. It is not that the UK is unaware of this, quite the opposite. In addition to our Lobby Day earlier this year (held in partnership with Christian Friends of Israel) in which we lobbied MPs over the issue of the Palestinian Authority school curriculum, organisations such as IMPACT-se (the organisation which first reviewed the text books), the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel have all been actively lobbying parliament on this issue. The UK is very much aware that entire generations of Palestinian children are being taught to hate Israelis and to aspire to terrorism and ultimately martyrdom. Aside from it being a very obviously major obstacle to peace, it is an absolute violation of a child’s human rights. It is nothing short of child abuse, so why did Ambassador Allen seemingly choose to sweep this issue aside at such an opportune moment in such an important forum? Inexplicable in my opinion.

For the avoidance of doubt, regarding Ambassador Allen’s mention of settler violence, we cannot ignore that this does happen. Meaningful condemnation and action against the perpetrators of this violence must be more forthcoming. Such acts have no place in Israel’s society and Israel’s government and IDF need to root out those Israelis who seek to fan the flames of this conflict. However, perhaps Ambassador Allen could have mentioned the violence perpetrated by Palestinians against not just the so-called settlers, but Israelis in general. Perhaps Ambassador Allen should have seized the moment to speak out against the Palestinian Authority’s insidious ‘Pay for Slay’ policy, its policy which pays salaries to convicted Palestinian terrorists, salaries which are commensurate with the length of their prison term. Basically, the more Israelis they kill, the longer their sentence and the more they’re paid. But no, those pesky settlers…its them and their homes that are the main obstacle to peace, not those Palestinians who, being fed a daily diet of incitement and the promise of financial security for themselves and their families, decide to take to the streets to kill Israelis. Golly no. It’s those settlers only…
Context Ambassador Allen, context.

There is not much to say about Ambassador Allen’s comments regarding Gaza except that he could have seized the opportunity to remind the UNSC chamber that Hamas and the other terrorist factions operating in Gaza are targeting sovereign Israeli territory, territory which is accepted in the international arena as undisputed territory, but that Hamas continues to consider the whole of Israel as occupied (one could convincingly argue that the PA feels the same) and therefore continue to aspire and strive to attacking it all.
Facts, Mr Allen, facts. They’re a very useful and powerful commodity.

Overall, I was disappointed when I read Ambassador Allen’s statement to the UNSC briefing on “Normalising relations between Israel and its neighbours: pushing forward and Israeli-Palestinian peace process”. My disappointment stems not so much from what he did say, but rather from what he didn’t say. The UK must use its standing in international forums constructively and without bias, and that entails condemning, and praising, both sides where necessary.

Please do consider signing this petition created by UN Watch which calls upon the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “End the UK’s Support for UN Singling Out of Israel
Just click here to sign and please share far and wide.

As the great Albert Einstein once said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity

About the Author
Before studying architecture, Steve spent a year living in Israel doing Ulpan on kibbutz Ma’agan Michael where his love for Israel and Zionism grew, a passion which eventually brought him to the ZF. Steve is also an accomplished professional photographer and was previously short-listed for a Travel Photographer of the Year award for his life portraiture of people in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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