Middle East Eye / August 19, 2021
Millions of pounds worth of aid raised in Ramadan stuck in Egypt, with Britain telling charity it will not help grant it access.
The British government has snubbed a plea for help from a UK Muslim organization trying to send urgently needed humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Last month, the Foreign Office (FCDO) rejected a request from charity Miles of Smiles for diplomatic assistance in sending an aid convoy to the Palestinian territory in the wake of the devastation caused by the nine-day war in May. It is currently awaiting clearance by Egypt, which neighbours Gaza.
The aid includes hospital equipment, ambulances, mobility wheelchairs, food supplies and fresh water – all in short supply in the besieged coastal enclave.
A tranche of aide was given clearance by Egyptian authorities to travel to Gaza via the Rafah crossing on 19 July.
But so far clearance is still being awaited for ambulances and other equipment, including wheelchairs for the disabled, with no assistance from the UK government.
Miles of Smiles has told MEE that it wrote to the FCDO consular service in Cairo asking it to “use its best devices to assist in negotiations” with the Egyptian authorities in order to allow supplies and UK delegates to be transported into Gaza.
The charity wants to send aid through the Rafah crossing, along with delegates representing the UK donor Muslim community.
It says that the request was greeted on 26 July, six weeks after being submitted, by a “cut and paste” negative response that went no further than a restatement of official travel advice.
The FCDO told Miles of Smiles: “Entry to the occupied Palestinian territories, including by sea to Gaza, is controlled by the Israeli authorities” and “The FCDO is not able to support individuals applying for entry or exit permits for Gaza.”
It added: “Short-notice requests for humanitarian access and those made in Egypt are unlikely to be considered.”
Dr Essam Mustafa, chief coordinator at Miles of Smiles, described the FCDO response as “disturbing”, noting that the UK “has a rich history of providing humanitarian and development assistance to the occupied territories”.
“It is hugely disappointing that the British government has declined to provide consular assistance to legitimate attempts made by UK-based NGOs to deliver aid to the people of Gaza at this time of great need.
“The government must ask itself what kind of a message this will send to the many thousands of UK Muslims who made huge sacrifices during the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, to donate an estimated £40m specifically to help the beleaguered Palestinians?”
In contrast, a Malaysian aid delegation that entered Gaza via Egypt in June is believed to have done so with the backing of the Malaysian government.
The assault on Gaza took place during Ramadan, traditionally a time of generous charitable giving by Muslims.
Around £100m ($137m) is given by British Muslims to charitable causes during Ramadan every year. This year, it’s estimated that approximately 30 percent of all donations were designated for Gaza – approximately $55m.
In May, the UK announced that it is providing an initial £3.2m ($4.38m) of aid to UNRWA’s emergency flash appeal, focusing on the immediate humanitarian needs of vulnerable Palestinians living in Gaza.
The British government has previously been accused of a pattern of systematic neglect of Muslim causes.
Opposition Labour MP Andy Slaughter warned that this latest snub appeared to fall into that pattern.
“The UK government took no effective action to restrain Israeli forces from the recent brutal attack on Gaza. Now they are compounding this callousness by ignoring the efforts of Britain’s Muslim communities to send vital aid to those who have suffered,” he told MEE.
“Not only has the Johnson government cut development aid, it appears to be blocking those who wish to step in and help.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismayed many through his lack of condemnation of Israel’s actions during the May war and his government’s publicly stated support of the Israeli bombardment.
Middle East minister James Cleverly told MPs that the actions of the Israeli government were “proportionate”.
The May conflict was sparked by a series of inflammatory Israeli moves in Jerusalem that ratcheted up tensions across Israel and Palestine, including the attempted expulsions of families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and repeated violent raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque that wounded hundreds.
In response, the Hamas movement fired a salvo of rockets towards Jerusalem, prompting Israel to launch an 11-day bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip.
Israeli bombing killed 248 Palestinian deaths, including 66 children. Hamas rocket fire killed 13 people in Israel, including two children.
The air assault on Gaza began on 10 May, just as Ramadan entered its final week.
As the war intensified, Ramadan charity appeals hosted on South Asian and Muslim TV networks in the UK switched their focus to raising money to assist Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Such was the strength of feeling that several of these channels recorded donations in excess of £1m in just one night – with donors pledging to sell jewelry and furniture in order to raise money to help.
Authorities in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, say 2,200 homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling and estimate that rebuilding will cost some $500m. Sewage systems have been destroyed with many hospitals, schools and clinics wrecked.
An FCDO spokesperson told MEE: “The UK remains highly concerned about the ongoing humanitarian situation in Gaza, further exacerbated by the recent conflict.
“The UK is providing life-saving aid to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region. We recently provided further funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency’s emergency appeal to help provide basic services, such as healthcare and clean water.”
Fadi Itani, chief executive of the Muslim Charities Forum, called for all humanitarian workers to be given access to Gaza.
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is quite dire and one that requires urgent attention from the international community and, at the same time, the support and facilitation of access to all humanitarian actors to help ease the suffering of the civilian population,” he told MEE.
Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye
Additional research by Mahdi Mustafa