British citizens are killed by Israel, but the UK does nothing – Ben White

Pluto author Ben White (Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, 2009; Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy, 2011) has written a piece for Middle East Monitor (MEMO) in the aftermath of the civil lawsuit brought upon the Israeli state by the family of Rachel Corrie. Corrie, an American peace activist, was killed by the IDF in 2003 after being run over by a bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza. The civil suit culminated at the end of August, in a Haifa judge ruling that the State of Israel bore no responsibility for her death. Despite the judge’s decision, as White observes, the case – including key testimonies – was widely believed to have “shed light on Israel’s grave breaches of human rights and the impunity enjoyed by its military”.

Rachel Corrie, 1979-2003

Rachel Corrie is not the only international to have been killed by Israel since the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. Three British citizens were shot dead by Israeli soldiers over a six month period in 2002-2003, crimes that almost a decade on are a reminder of the UK government’s reluctance to hold its ally to account.

The rest of the article, copied below, sheds light on those who haven’t received the same press attention as the case of Rachel Corrie, though it is worth pointing out that even the pale imitations of justice brought to bear in the cases White describes, go far beyond what many Palestinian activists and civilians have experienced or have reason to expect.


Iain Hook

Iain Hook was working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Jenin when he was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in November 2002. Israeli sources initially spread doubt over who had shot Hook, with British media citing officials who “stressed that it was not known if he was killed by Israeli or Palestinian fire”. IDF Spokesperson Olivier Rafowicz said, “Palestinians should check their own ammunition”.

Israeli authorities also claimed that Hook “was shot outside the compound while standing among Palestinians”, before the story was changed to the sniper mistaking the UN worker for a Palestinian fighter and “his mobile phone for a gun or grenade”.

The then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and International Development Secretary Clare Short issued a jointstatement in which they promised to “do everything possible to ensure that there is a full investigation”. Six months later, it already appeared that the UK was letting the matter slide.

In December 2005, a UK inquest found that Hook was unlawfully killed. The BBC reported that “jurors unanimously agreed” the UN worker “had been the victim of a ‘deliberate’ killing”. It was confirmed in 2007 that the Israeli government had “agreed a financial settlement with members of Mr Hook’s family”, but with the IDF emphasising that “no criminal act had been committed”.

Tom Hurndall

Tom Hurndall was a photography student and activist when he was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper in April 2003 while volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip. As describedby Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “the original IDF Southern Command inquiry did not identify soldiers responsible for the shooting”, and it was only after “pressure exerted by Hurndall’s family” that the IDF agreed “to open a new inquiry into the shooting”.

The soldier in question, Taysir Hayb, testified initially that “he had shot at a man in military fatigues who was firing at the soldiers with a pistol”, a story he subsequently changed in the face of incontrovertible evidence. Hayb was convicted of manslaughter and jailed (he ended up serving six years of an eight year sentence). During the trial, Hayb had told the court that he only did what he was “supposed to”, adding: “They tell us all the time to fire; that there is approval.” The jury in a subsequent inquest in London ruled that Hurndall had been “intentionally killed”.

Tom’s father, Anthony Hurndall, was angered by the British response to the killing: “The government viewed Israel as a close ally who they did not want to put out in any way.”

James Miller

James Miller, a successful and well-respected cameraman, was shot dead by an Israeli soldier while filming a documentary in Rafah in May 2003. Miller was hit in the front of the neck from 200m while standing with two colleagues. The Israeli military made out at the beginning that Miller had been “shot in the back during crossfire”.

Almost two years later, Israel announced that there would be no prosecution for the killing of Miller – only“disciplinary measures against the officer for misuse of firearms”. A Foreign Office Minister at the time, Baroness Symons, said she was “dismayed” with the decision, committing the British government to “continu[ing] to raise James’ case with the Government of Israel”. Before the disciplinary hearing took place, the soldier wasacquitted by the IDF’s head of southern command.

In April 2006, a UK inquest jury found Miller had been murdered. The family alleged “that Foreign Office officials had tried to pressure them into giving in to Israeli demands”, and Miller’s father described the British government as “totally supine and ineffective”.

Following pressure in the light of the inquest verdict, there were signs that the government would take seriously the need to secure a criminal investigation by the Israeli authorities. This came to nothing. In February 2009, Miller’s family “accepted a reported £1.5m payout from Israel”, which, in their words, was “probably the closest (we) will get to an admission of guilt”.

In an article for The Guardian in July 2003, Chris McGreal interviewed Israeli military officials about the killing of civilians. At the end, he wrote:

I ask to be able to name the commander in Gaza. The army refuses. ‘He has admitted his soldiers were responsible for at least some of those killings,’ says an army spokesman who sat in on the interview. ‘In this day and age that raises the prospect of war crimes, not here but if he travels abroad he could be arrested some time in the future. Some people might think there is something wrong here.’

That commander was (the now retired) Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz, in charge in Gaza when James Miller, Tom Hurndall and Rachel Corrie were killed. The fear expressed of future prosecution is a reminder that the British government has tried to make it harder for suspected war criminals to be detained in the UK – a change brought about purely because of pressure from Israel.

The message is as clear as it is disturbing: not only are there no serious consequences for killing British citizens, but the government will also change legislation to protect Israelis with a case to answer for war crimes. It is a microcosm of the UK approach, where routine breaches of international law are criticised in statements, but without any kind of enforcement or sanction.

The deaths of Iain Hook, Tom Hurndall and James Miller, terrible as they were, reflect Israeli policies that have created thousands of Palestinian victims and bereaved families; as Miller’s mother said, “We’ve managed to rally enough resources to fight this, but Palestinians can’t fight this, and there’ve been hundreds of Palestinian deaths.” This is all the motivation we need to fight for our own government to treat Israel’s routine criminality appropriately.


To read the full article, or to access MEMO‘s great range of content, click here. Rachel Corrie‘s powerful and essential book, Let Me Stand Alone, a posthumous collection of her journals, is published by Granta Books in the UK.

Palestinians in Israel

Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy

Ben White. Foreword by Haneen Zoabi

Argues that Israel’s insistence on declaring itself a Jewish state leads to discrimination, segregation and a guarantee of continued conflict.

“This book debunks convincingly and forcefully the myth of Israel being ‘the only democracy’ in the Middle East. As this book shows, the treatment of the Palestinians in Israel is the ultimate proof that the Jewish State is anything but democratic.” – Professor Ilan Pappe, University of Exeter and author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and Out of the Frame

“Essential reading to understand why there can never be peace unless Palestinian citizens of Israel are granted full equality, something they are systematically denied by Israel’s aggressive, and increasingly unrestrained Zionist ethnocracy.” – Ali Abunimah, Co-founder of Electronic Intifada, author of One Country

£14.99 only £13.00 on the Pluto site

Israeli Apartheid

A Beginner’s Guide

Ben White

Indispensable introduction to the Israel/Palestine conflict, examining the current structures of Israeli domination.

“A very strong and clear voice that does not shun from exposing in full, and in a most accessible manner, the essence of Zionism and Israeli policies in Palestine. In a world confused by competing narratives, disinformation and fabrication, this book is an excellent guide for understanding the magnitude of the crimes committed against the Palestinians and the nature of their present suffering and oppression.” – Professor Ilan Pappe, University of Exeter, Israeli historian and author of ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ (2007)

“This book deals rationally and cogently with a topic that almost always generates considerable heat even just with book titles. The reader may not agree with everything that White asserts but it is a highly commendable effort to throw light on a fraught subject.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

£9.99 only £8.50 on the Pluto site

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