Palestinian petitions UK for apology over alleged abuses during British rule

Munib al-Masri, who says he was shot and wounded by British troops as a boy in 1944 (Emmanuel Dunand - AFP)

Jamie Grierson

The Guardian  /  October 7, 2022

Munib al-Masri has 300-page dossier of allegations including killings and torture between 1917 and 1948.

A Palestinian businessman and former politician is to petition the UK government for an apology for abuses in the region during the period of British rule in the first half of the 20th century.

Munib al-Masri, 88, a close friend and supporter of the late Palestinian political leader Yasser Arafat, has with two international lawyers drawn up a 300-page dossier of evidence alleging abuses by the British between 1917 and 1948, the BBC reported.

The historical evidence includes details of arbitrary killings, torture, the use of human shields and the introduction of home demolitions as collective punishment, which, according to the BBC, was conducted within formal policy guidelines for UK forces at the time or with the consent of senior officers.

Masri was shot and wounded by British troops as a boy in 1944.

“[Britain’s role] affected me a lot because I saw how people were harassed … we had no protection whatsoever and nobody to defend us,” he told the BBC.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former chief prosecutor at the international criminal court, and the British barrister Ben Emmerson KC, a former UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, are conducting an independent review of the evidence.

Emmerson told the BBC the legal team had unearthed evidence of “shocking crimes committed by certain elements of the British mandatory forces systematically on the Palestinian population”.

“They are some of them of such enormous gravity that they would have been regarded even then as breaches of customary international law,” he said.

Masri is due to present the file to the UK government in London later this year.

The UK Ministry of Defence told the BBC it was aware of historical allegations against armed forces personnel during the period and any evidence provided would be “reviewed thoroughly”.

The move comes at a time of fraught relations between the UK and Palestinian territories after the prime minister, Liz Truss, announced a review of the location of the UK embassy in Israel with a proposal to move it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Critics of such a move have said it would implicitly recognize Israel’s invasion and occupation of East Jerusalem as legitimate, which in turn would be seen by Palestinians as a rejection of Britain’s longstanding endorsement of the two-state solution and its inclusion of a capital in East Jerusalem.

It would bring to an end a policy the UK has held for decades, which has allowed the country to maintain good relations with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Arab ambassadors in London have urged Truss not to go ahead with what they have called an “illegal and ill-judged” plan.

Some Arab diplomats have even said the proposal could jeopardize talks on a highly prized free trade deal between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council due to be completed this year.

Jamie Grierson is a senior news reporter for The Guardian