UK diplomats in event against Israel’s ‘apartheid wall’

Team led by Deputy Consul General in Jerusalem wore T-shirts for fun run which ‘erased Israel’, say campaigners


A leading diplomat at the British Consulate General in Jerusalem, together with Foreign Office colleagues, took part in a West Bank running event “in defiance of the Israeli foreign occupation” and in protest against the “apartheid wall”, the JC can reveal.

Wearing T-shirts showing a map which campaigners claimed “erases Israel”, the team was headed by the UK’s Deputy Consul General Alison McEwen last Friday.

Based in Jerusalem, McEwen, along with the Consul General Diane Corner, plays a critical role in Britain’s efforts to encourage the stalled Middle East peace process.

Despite this McEwen, 42, a former deputy head of mission in Nepal, was part of a UK team that took part in this year’s “Palestine Marathon” event organised by the Palestinian Olympic Committee. A statement on the official website of the marathon says that the run follows the route of the “apartheid wall”.  

The event is actively promoted by a group called “Right to Movement”, which campaigns against “the many obstacles that we live daily under fascist racist occupation” and organised the marathon for four years until 2017 when the Palestinian IOC took over.

Stephen Crabb MP, the parliamentary chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, told the JC: “It is deeply troubling that British diplomats have been happily photographed with maps appearing to replace Israel with a Palestinian state.

“The UK Foreign Office often asserts that it challenges the Palestinian Authority over its denial of Israel’s existence.

“I trust that the Foreign Secretary will now make clear to his own officials how incredibly ill-judged it was for them to seemingly endorse the removal of one of our closest allies, Israel, from the map.”

A picture of eight of the British runners, described as “Team UK”, was posted on the Consulate General’s official Twitter account and Facebook page.

Most of the runners pictured were wearing T-shirts which depicted a map of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea with the caption “Palestine Marathon, Freedom of Movement”. Israel’s borders were not included.

The UK tweet, which said the marathon was “incredible”, included the race’s hashtag #FREEDOMOFMOVEMENT, adding there was “great energy from participating runners” and it was “an important message to highlight”.

Among the serving and former diplomats involved — identified by their runner numbers on the event’s website — were Sean Hilhorst, Team Leader in Politics and Governance at the British Embassy in Amman, Jordan, and Kirsty Ryan, who served at the Consulate General until early last year.

She now works for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Gaza, which receives about £2 million a year of British taxpayers’ money.

While working for the Foreign Office, Ryan was Deputy Head of Programmes for the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, the body that supports and trains the Palestinian security forces. Last year, the JC revealed that officers from this organisation were involved in the allegedly brutal murder of the West Bank’s leading democracy activist, Nizar Banat.

The race began outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The starting orders were given by Palestinian political leader Jibril Rajoub, who was jailed in 1970 for throwing a grenade at an Israeli army bus.

He was released as part of a prisoner swap in 1985. Later a general in the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, he went on to become the general secretary of Fatah, the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, and now heads the Palestinian Olympic Committee, which sponsored the marathon.

Rajoub told the Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa that the race would, “convey the message that the Palestinian people remain steadfast in their homeland in defiance of the Israeli foreign occupation that seeks to restrict the Palestinians’ free movement and displace them.”

He later awarded finishers their medals and certificates.

In a statement, a spokesman for Rajoub’s Olympic Committee said it was an opportunity for athletes to “hit Israel’s apartheid wall”.

The wall, or separation barrier, which was erected between the West Bank and Israel following a series of terror attacks, and which successfully reduced suicide bombings, “prevents Palestinians from exercising their basic human right to freedom of movement,” it claimed.

Maurice Hirsch, the former Israeli prosecutor who is now the legal director of NGO Palestinian Media Watch, which first discovered the social media posts, called the British diplomats’ role in the race “grotesque”.

He said: “There is clearly no possible justification for wearing and publishing tweets about a T-shirt that erases Israel and Israel’s right to exist.

“That does not promote peace, tolerance or the two-state solution. It emboldens the Palestinians to seek Israel’s destruction, and amounts to a betrayal of Israel.”
Joan Ryan, the former Labour MP, who now head of pro-Israel advocacy group Elnet UK, said: “Peace cannot be built in belligerence and rejection.

“Unfortunately, this seems to be the message of the race logo map.”

The Foreign Office refused to comment on the specific issues. It said: “The UK’s position is long-standing — we wish to see a viable two-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace, prosperity and security.”

A request to interview McEwen went unanswered.

A previous version of this story incorrectly said that the Right to Movement organises this year’s marathon. Although RTM was the organiser of the event for four years and continues to promote it, the Palestinian Olympic Committee took over the running of the event in 2017. The headline has also been changed to reflect a statement on the official Palestine Marathon website.

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