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Alastair McPhail

British Consul General to Jerusalem

Part of UK in Israel

21st August 2015 Jerusalem, Israel

Extremist Ideology and Settlers

As I saw the charred remains of the house in Douma where young Ali Dawabsheh and his father lost their lives, and listened to a community still struggling to come to terms with what had happened, I was forcibly reminded of the death of another young boy a little over a year ago – Mohammed Abu Khdeir. These boys, and others like the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered last summer exemplify the tragic human cost of the ongoing violence in the West Bank. And they have led my colleagues and I to visit three very different communities in support. Different, but all grieving and mourning the needless loss of innocent young lives.

The recent burning of Ali Dawabsheh and his family was a shocking act of cruelty.  But just as shocking is the daily catalogue of violence at the hands of extremist settlers that Palestinians face. I have visited communities the length and breadth of the West Bank which face the daily terror of this threat.  Communities whose property has been burnt, olive trees uprooted and children exposed to intimidation.  Israeli settlers have carried out at least 120 attacks on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the start of 2015, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).  Those statistics are deeply disturbing.

The remains of the Dawabsheh family home in Douma.

Prime Minister David Cameron recently said: “You don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish. Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality. Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation. Ideas… which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.” The ideology of those settlers who refuse to accept the freedom and right of Palestinians to live on their land in peace is clearly extremist. So too are the acts being committed by settlers against Palestinian communities – intimidating and killing Palestinian families. The UK is determined to fight this extremism, just as we do all other forms of extremism – whether Islamist or neo-Nazi.

But how can we fight settler extremism?  First, by calling it what it is.  The burning of Ali Dawabsheh was a shocking act of terrorism. It was rightly condemned as such by our government and others in the international community as well as the Palestinian and Israeli authorities including President Abbas and PM Netanyahu.  These crimes, motivated by extremist ideology, are no different from extremism elsewhere and are designed to terrorise and intimidate.

Secondly, through pushing for accountability for crimes committed.  Israeli rights group Yesh Din calculated in May that a Palestinian who files a complaint against Israeli settlers has a “1.9 percent chance that his or her complaint will lead to an effective investigation that result in the identification of a suspect and followed by indictment, trial and conviction”.  This must change if we are to break the cycle of violence.  Any party which is involved in acts of violence, against Palestinians as well as against Israelis, should be swiftly brought to justice.

Thirdly, by continuing to make clear our opposition to settlements.  The UK government is clear that settlements are illegal under international law.  They are an obstacle to peace and the creation of a Palestinian state which can live in peace and security, side by side with Israel.

Israeli settlers cut down Olive trees near Turmusaya

Let me finish by describing what the UK is doing on the ground.  We are supporting Palestinian communities to protect their land and limit settlement expansion, through the work of several NGOs.  Our NGO partners do excellent work monitoring settlement activities, supporting Palestinian citizens, and offering legal assistance.  We also prioritise support to communities facing settler violence through our Bilateral Programme Budget, aiming to help communities develop sustainably.  Through those projects we will continue to address the short term effects of conflict. Alongside this, we also continue our work to build the political, economic and security institutions of a future Palestinian state that will bring enduring stability.

I never want to see a scene or hear a story like the one I saw at Douma ever again.

And by holding the perpetrators, whoever they are, to account for their crimes; by community and political leaders on all sides promoting calm and the rule of law; and by challenging the intolerance that allows extremism to flourish we can ensure that people from all backgrounds are able to sleep in peace- knowing that their families are safe in their beds.

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.