Israel's case ignored in secret government memo

By Leon Symons, February 5, 2009

An internal UK government briefing note on Israel’s recent action in Gaza is written almost entirely from the Palestinian perspective.

The two-and-a-half page private memo was prepared by the Foreign Office and the Home Office’s research and information unit. It is headed: “The British government position on the situation in Gaza”. It contains only two mentions of Hamas and gives no explanation or context as to how or why Israel launched its operation on December 27.

The first highlighted point of the advice note states: “The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have called publicly and privately for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. Israel’s military action is not proportionate.”

It continues: “The killing of 30 innocent civilians in a UN school on Tuesday is a devastating reminder of the urgency of our responsibilities.”

A later paragraph quotes Foreign Secretary David Miliband in an interview with Sky News: “...We’ve said from the beginning, the European Union said right at the beginning on behalf of all 27 member countries that it [the Israeli action] wasn’t proportionate.”

Mr Miliband is then quoted again from an interview with Channel 4:

“We supported the EU statement that said [Israeli action] was disproportionate, we can’t be clearer than that.”

The guidance was sent to chief probation officers, governors and directors of contracted prisons by Michael Spurr, deputy director-general of the Justice Ministry’s National Offender Management Service (NOMS), at the height of Israel’s action in Gaza. In a covering letter, dated January 14, Mr Spurr wrote that “anecdotal reports suggest that the situation in Gaza has been raised by some offenders and so the material may be of some use in this context”.

A member of the Probation Service who did not want to be identified, but had seen the letter, said: “We were handed the document after a meeting and were concerned that prison and probation staff had been sent — for the first time anyone could remember — a political directive of this nature. Anyone reading it would note the selective phrases highlighted in bold, which seem designed to reassure anti-Israeli elements among offenders.”

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: “The briefing note restates comments made by the government, but does not acknowledge that it is also the government’s view that Israel has the right to defend itself. As a resource for informing the uninformed, it is therefore incomplete and less than balanced.”

Mr Spurr said: “The information was purely factual and was not intended to be skewed in any direction. I don’t know when it went out, what was highlighted or, indeed, if anything was highlighted.

“I would need to check who sent it out. All I was doing was being a conduit, putting out information.”

He said there were around 13,000 foreign nationals in Britain’s prisons and that NOMS had sent out such guidance previously “where we have incidents in other parts of the world which may impact on prisoners”.

    Last updated: 5:05pm, February 5 2009