In letter to activists, UK foreign office blames Palestinians in Gaza for bringing suffering on themselves

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has this week exposed once again its one-sided view of relations between Gaza and Israel.

In identical letters sent to Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and PSC members, the FCO reiterated its belief that Israel’s assault on Gaza in November 2012 was a response to rocket attacks into Israel.

The letter came from Barry Griffiths of the Near East Department of the FCO, and was in response to emails sent in November asking for factual evidence for claims made by Foreign Secretary William Hague that “… it is Hamas that bears principal responsibility for starting all of this.”

Hague was speaking on 15 November, a day after the assault began, on Sky News’ Murnaghan program, a weekly news show.

Specious arguments

After apologizing for the delay in replying to emails about Hague’s statement, Griffiths wrote: “I would like to reassure you that the UK in no way seeks to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

His next paragraph then began: “We made clear that Hamas bore principal responsibility for the start of the current crisis, because the conflict would not have happened without the significant increase in rocket attacks in 2012, and particularly in the latter months, including Hamas ending its own ceasefire.”

As with all people, governments and institutions that side with Israel, Griffiths gave the specious “rockets” argument which is propagated by Israeli politicians and PR chiefs, while ignoring the root cause of the “conflict” – decades of occupation and more than six years of siege.

In truth, “the conflict would not have happened,” as Griffiths puts it, if Israel paid heed to international law, ended its occupation of Palestinian land, lifted the blockade of Gaza and allowed the Palestinian people their right to self-determination.

Without specifying what ceasefire Hamas had allegedly broken and when, Griffiths also chose to ignore the documented fact that Israel violated an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on 14 November, when it carried out the extra-judicial assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari – the signal to its consequent onslaught on Gaza.

And, although he bemoaned a “significant increase in rocket attacks in 2012,” without providing any figures, Griffiths saw no reason to consider that the besieged people of Gaza might also be unhappy with living under near-constant Israeli bombing, shelling and artillery attack.

According to figures from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 99 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by Israeli armed forces between 1 January and 14 November 2012. There were no Israeli fatalities caused by Palestinian rockets during this period. However, according to Griffiths’ fallacious argument, the deaths of nearly 100 Palestinians, including children, warranted no justified response from Gaza. Israel, on the other hand, was understandably provoked by the crude rockets being launched from the territory it lays siege to and could not, in any way, be blamed for the “current crisis.”

Tragic irony

Further highlighting the skewed FCO notion that only Palestinian violence is to be denounced, while Israeli state violence has its justifications and need only be toned down, Griffiths continued: “We have consistently condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel which are contrary to international humanitarian law and do nothing to help the people of Gaza. At the same time, we called on Israel to seek every opportunity to de-escalate their military response, and to observe international humanitarian law and avoid civilian casualties.”

The tragic irony of asking a state whose collective punishment of the people of Gaza through siege is a breach of the Geneva Conventions, and whose health officials have calculated exactly how much food to let in to avoid starvation while they “put the Palestinians on a diet“ (Dov Weisglass, 2005), to “observe international humanitarian law” appeared to be lost on Griffiths.

His letter continued: “The priority now must be to address the underlying causes of the conflict, including more open access to and from Gaza for people and goods, and an end to the smuggling of weapons. It is important that momentum towards finding a solution to the problems of Gaza is maintained. We are also working with humanitarian agencies to address the needs of the civilian population of Gaza.”

There it is. The UK Foreign Office isn’t calling for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza which has reduced 80 percent of households in the territory to aid dependency, but merely for some increased entry and exit of people and goods. Griffiths, it would appear, is content to let the Palestinians remain living under a medieval siege which, through its restrictions on the free movement of people and its collective punishment of children, women and men, is in breach of international law.

He talks about the “problems of Gaza,” but completely fails to address them. The words “occupation,” “blockade” and “siege” are not mentioned in this letter. There is no condemnation of Israel’s total control over an entire population which, according to the UN, equates to occupation.

The Palestinians are blamed for bringing their suffering on themselves – earlier in the letter for firing rockets which “do nothing to help the people of Gaza,” and then for smuggling weapons. Israel is absolved of responsibility. This is highlighted again when Griffiths says the FCO is working with humanitarian agencies to address the needs of Gaza’s civilian population.

No amount of humanitarian aid will bring a “solution to the problems of Gaza.” The situation in Gaza is political and the people of Gaza need a political solution — at the very least, sanctions against the state which so wilfully abuses their human rights. They also need genuine impartiality from countries like the UK, which are members of the UN Security Council, a body which has the power to approve or sanction any decisions made about Israel by the UN General Assembly. As this letter shows, that impartiality appears to be a long way off.




I have just sent a long letter to the FCO asking that they reconsider their position and using information from EI in this and previous posts to make my point. Will update when, and if, I get a reply.

Frankly I think that Barry Griffiths is an idiot - how can he not think that the asassination of Ahmed al-Jabari was a contributory factor? I suspect he hasn't actually spoke to any Palestinians, let alone Gazans, to hear their side of the story. But then, that's probably not his job, all he has to do is report what his bosses tell him to say, and they all "know" that israel is the one in the right, that Palestine is the aggressor!


Yes, that's important to bring to those officials in UK government the reality of Israeli crimes. We, the civil society, are better informed than the government officials! How can those people in charge do good work for world peace, when they are miles away from justice and peace? We have to send thousends of letters. I will do it straight away and hope that hundreds of letters will show them the right way to justice and peace. Their incompetence is claring and I will invite them to resign for their false appraisal. I do not want to give my tax money to the EU commission for their wrongdoing. I would not like to support criminal actions of the EU commission members, one of those is the British Foreign Office. No tax money for criminal politics.
The moral basis in the EU is still international law and the Geneva Conventions. I do not want that barbarity jumps back into the face of humanity after all the struggle and consciousness for a civilised world. Let's confront the western barbarity by the people's power! After all we are in so called democracies!


"In identical letters sent to Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and PSC members, the FCO reiterated its belief that Israel’s assault on Gaza in November 2012 was a response to rocket attacks into Israel."

This argument is completely inane, not just for the reasons listed in the article, but also because anyone who takes a glance at the statistics can clearly see that assaults like 'Pillar of Cloud' cause a significant increase in the amount of rockets fired from Gaza. In other words: if the concern is over rockets fired from Gaza, and the aim is to minimize them, the obvious thing to do would be to *not* initiate deadly large-scale assaults that lead to Hamas launching thousands more of them. Such assaults *increase* rocket fire from Gaza, so clearly the rocket fire can't possibly be the reason for why the latest slaughter of Palestinians occurred.

Besides that, there's a moral question too. Why is it that people demand of the Palestinians that they acquiesce in their destruction and give up their ability to fight back against an occupying force? I won't even bother pointing out the double standard, but I'll note that it seems people's latent racism against Arabs is what's fueling the image of the Palestinians as irrational, bloodthirsty killers who fire rockets just for the heck of it. That's easy—if you dehumanize the enemy, it's easier to accede to their large-scale murder. That's what's happening here, right in front of our eyes. The FCO is helping perpetuate a belief steeped in racism that the wrongdoers are always the Arabs, and never the Israelis.


One can hardly expect object perception of fact or clear analysis of issues from the Conservative Cameron government now ruling the U.K. This blind opinion is a disgrace but not a surprise.

Amena Saleem

Amena Saleem's picture

Amena Saleem is a journalist and activist. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza and spent seven years working for Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK.