Israel-Palestine war: Legal centre pushes UK to clarify if Brits who fight will be prosecuted
The request, made by a UK-based Palestinian legal centre in a letter on Friday, comes as reports suggest hundreds of British citizens, possibly thousands, maybe fighting with the Israeli army as reservists and volunteers.
“Many of these Brits may already be complicit in potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, and could face future prosecution should these matters go to trial,” the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) said on Friday.
Given the catastrophic situation unfolding in Gaza, evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity already committed in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territory and the risk of further mass atrocities, the ICJP asked the Foreign Office to "urgently" clarify the legality of Brits going to fight.
The centre also asked the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) whether its advice for British citizens travelling to fight in Israel would be similar to what it advises nationals regarding Ukraine.
That advice states: "If you travel to Ukraine to fight, or to assist others engaged in the war, your activities may amount to offences under UK legislation and you could be prosecuted on your return to the UK."
It follows, the ICJP told the FCDO, that British citizens travelling to Israel to fight on behalf of the Israeli military "may also be committing offences under UK law and that they could also be prosecuted".
The ICJP also asked if the UK government has communicated advisories to British citizens or dual nationals likely to be serving or volunteering in the Israeli army on the potential legal consequences and criminal liability that "could arise from their conduct".
Clear and consistent
The FCDO did not comment on the record, but MEE understands that, in the case of British dual nationals, the government recognises their right to serve in the armed forces in the country of their other nationality.
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the government's policy should be clear and consistent across conflicts.
"It warned against British nationals fighting in the Ukraine so why should it be looking the other way if British nationals go fight with Israel, particularly in a situation where there may be gross breaches of international law involved?" he said.
Doyle said the British government draws a distinction between British citizens fighting for state military forces which have rules of combat, and groups which may operate outside the boundaries of legality.
But sometimes, he said, that distinction would seem to be inconsistent with broader British foreign policy objectives, particularly in Ukraine or in Syria.
'As a British national, you fight for Britain or you fight for no one'
- Baroness Warsi
"That's very hard to see in Ukraine, given the praise that was heaped on Ukrainians for resisting the Russian invasion and occupation," he said. "Also, for those who went to Syria to fight against the Syrian regime. It doesn't really totally line up."
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who resigned over the UK government's policy on Gaza during the 2014 war with Israel, has long urged the government to simplify its policy, a call she repeated on Friday.
"As a British national, you fight for Britain or you fight for no one," the former foreign office minister and former Conservative Party chair tweeted on X.
"Huge concerns about human rights abuses and breaches of the Geneva Convention in Gaza and West Bank - need to be sure that our citizens are not partaking in this."
It is not clear exactly how many British citizens and nationals may be fighting in the war.
A British-Israeli reservist deployed on 7 October told The Times last week that he believes "hundreds, if not thousands" of British citizens and nationals are fighting in Israel.
MEE asked Mahal, the Israeli army's volunteer programme, whether the reservist's estimates were credible, but it did not respond by the time of publication.