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Alastair McPhail

British Consul General to Jerusalem

Part of UK in Israel

18th June 2015 Jerusalem, Israel

A Palestinian Magna Carta

What should be in a Palestinian Magna Carta or bill of rights?

I asked this question earlier this week to twenty young Palestinians, during a discussion to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Two things struck me about their answers.

Firstly, most of the participants wanted one freedom above all others. They wanted freedom of movement. Freedom to move around the West Bank without checkpoints. Freedom to visit family and friends in Jerusalem and Gaza. Freedom to travel to the UK and other countries.

This freedom is something their peers in the UK take for granted. Young people in the UK can travel from Exeter to Inverness without needing a permit. They can visit family in Cardiff or Belfast without queuing at a checkpoint. Such restrictions on movement are a particularly Palestinian experience.

The group of young people we held the Magna Carta discussion with.

Secondly, most of the participants wanted greater freedom of expression. In this, they were not too dissimilar to their peers elsewhere. They wanted to be able to hold their leadership to account and criticise them if they disagreed. They wanted accurate and unbiased information from the media. They were well aware of the limits that society and culture place on free expression but wanted an honest conversation about whether these limits were justifiable.

The participants were not shy in challenging us on what the international community is doing to transform this situation for young Palestinians. Honestly, we should be doing much more. But we are trying to help. On freedom of movement, we support NGOs monitoring movement and access restrictions on Palestinians. We support organisations helping Palestinians stay on their land and develop it in Area C and East Jerusalem. We regularly push for restrictions on movement and access to be lifted.

We are helping young people hold Palestinian decision makers to account through the Sharek Youth Forum’s YouKnow programme [insert link]. We recently helped to launch the ‘Tajaawob on Wheels’ bus [insert link], which brings together leaders and local communities. We hope this will strengthen freedom of expression and accountability.

And of course, this vision of a Palestine without checkpoints also requires action by others. The Palestinian and Israeli authorities, as well as the international community, have the responsibility to make the Palestinian Magna Cartas we discussed a reality.

About Alastair McPhail

Dr Alastair McPhail CMG OBE was appointed Her Majesty’s British Consul General to Jerusalem in January 2014. Dr McPhail has worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 19 years.…

Dr Alastair McPhail CMG OBE was appointed Her Majesty’s British
Consul General to Jerusalem in January 2014. Dr McPhail has worked in
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 19 years. He was HM Ambassador
to South Sudan from independence on 9 July 2011 until his departure in
March 2013. Prior to becoming Ambassador to South Sudan he was HM Consul
General in Juba from March 2011 until South Sudan became independent
and the Consulate General was upgraded to a sovereign Embassy.
From 1996-2000 he worked on the northern Iraqi Kurdish peace process.
He worked on Sudan from 2000-2005, first as Head of the Egypt, Libya
and Sudan Section in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, then as Head
of the Sudan Unit – the UK’s international team charged with supporting
the Sudan peace process – and finally as the UK Special Representative
for Sudan. Dr McPhail attended every round of the negotiations on the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement from the first session at Machakos to the
final session at Naivasha. After that he took up overseas roles such as
Minister and Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Rome,
Italy and as the UK Special Envoy to Mali during a hostage crisis.