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Uncovered: MI6 in the Palestine Papers

January 28, 2014 at 2:34 am

Activists come together to protest against the crisis in Gaza in Scotland, UK [Keith Alexander/Flickr]

The leaked documents known now as the “Palestine Papers” have been picked over and analysed extensively by Al Jazeera and the Guardian; at least, most of them have. The files relating to the activities of MI6 officials in Jerusalem need a much more thorough investigation. The Middle East Monitor’s (MEMO) review of the documents shows clear meddling by MI6 which resulted in widespread torture and deaths; naturally, this raises questions of criminal culpability.

When MEMO published its first report on European complicity in torture and other human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories in 2009 it was dismissed as propaganda. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) gave the report an official cold shoulder with a generic response: “We are investigating.” Two years on, the Palestinian Papers have revealed that British funds, training and equipment were used to commit the crime of torture against Palestinian civilians.

Despite persistent official denials that torture was conducted, the Palestinian Papers put the truth beyond any doubt, as articulated in the words of the USSC chief, General Keith Dayton. This is what he told Palestinian Authority officials on 24 June 2009: “By the way, the intelligence guys are good. The Israelis like them. They say they are giving as much as they are taking from them – but they are causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people.”

At a meeting in Jericho with David Hale on 17 September 2009, the PLO’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “We have had to kill Palestinians to establish one authority, one gun and the rule of law. We continue to perform our obligations.”

Throughout the dark days of human rights abuse, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has been the main target; consistently portrayed as a terrorist organization, no holds have been barred in dealing with its members and supporters. On 25 August 2008, Erekat told a meeting of Palestinian and US security officials that there are “no limits on cooperating on fighting terror”. The widespread detention, torture and trial of civilians before military courts have been well-documented by human rights organizations. Between 2007 and 2010 at least 8,640 Palestinians were detained; 95% of them were subject to torture. None of the victims, it must be noted, were involved in terrorist acts against Britain. In fact a Palestinian National Authority document summarizing its obligations under Phase I Road Map for the period from February 1, 2008 to May 14, 2009 confirmed that the PA had arrested approximately 3,700 members of ‘armed groups’ and summoned around 4,700 individuals for questioning. The document adds that the, ‘Palestinian security forces coordinated with Israel in 854 instances of transporting forces and weapons for the purpose of imposing law and order, conducting security campaigns and arresting suspects.’

Apart from the intimate working relationship between the PA and Israel, the Palestine Papers further revealed that as early as 2004 British intelligence officials based in Jerusalem had formulated a security coordination plan which was drawn up in conjunction with Whitehall officials. According to the Guardian this plan was passed by an MI6 officer based in the British Consulate in Jerusalem to the senior PA security official at the time, Jibril Rajoub.

In its reference to this particular document the Guardian did not identify the MI6 official, who apparently operated under the diplomatic cover of the British Consulate in Jerusalem. On the other hand, Al Jazeera on 25th January 2011, referred to the MI6 document which outlined the plan to the Palestinian security services on how to “deal with” Hamas.  It pointed out that the document was handed over by David Craig, the British Political Consul in the British Consulate in Jerusalem to Jibril Rajoub. Clearly, both reports in the Guardian and Al Jazeera jointly complete the full story. The same man later met Khaled Meshaal in Damascus in order to seek his assistance for the release of the journalist Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in Gaza in 2007. It was only after the intervention of the Hamas leadership that Mr Johnston was finally released.

Notwithstanding the platitudes about democracy what emerges from the MI6 document is a flagrant intrusion into Palestinian affairs, with the purpose not only to divide, subvert and intern, but also to decide who holds what position. Another interesting document prepared by the UK’s Jerusalem’s Military Liaison Office (MLO) and dated on 18 March 2005 confirms this argument. It was typed on the official letter head of the agency and the name of Lieutenant Colonel David Cooper, it read:

“A subtle approach reaps real dividends when dealing with the current NSF commanders and managing change will be all-important. For example, there may be advantages in keeping the ‘old guard’ in positions of authority whilst decisions are made regarding new structures. Steered towards an option that is workable and fits the equipment that is on offer they will take it. In this way, key decisions can be imposed on them without upsetting sensibilities. With subtle timing, once the decisions are made and the new structures are emerging the ‘old guard’ can be retired with honour. A new command structure can then begin working, with a system in place that Palestinian commanders have planned, directed and thus endorsed.”

The strategy pursued was intended to weaken Hamas and strengthen the PA. The MI6 document proposal was geared to “degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists”. Hamas’s refusal to compromise on national rights was, in itself, enough to legitimise the war against them.

Under the second Blair-led New Labour government (2001-07), Britain accelerated its efforts to bolster Israel’s military occupation and crush any resistance to it. The MI6 document of 2003 confirmed, “The UK is already working with trusted PA contacts to have a security drive drawing on UK input adopted by the PA leadership, and to put in place the structures required for its successful implementation. Details are at Annex A. The Palestinians’ performance would be verified by the US/UK; we would ask Israel to judge it on results.” This last sentence is especially poignant: that the overall master is Israel, and the UK and US are mere servants seeking its approval.

The document makes the interesting point that “the NSF currently lacks the doctrine, command structure and equipment required to be effective”. What doctrine are they speaking of? The practice on the ground provided ample explanation – protect the settlers, defend the occupation and harass the opposition.

In the broader scheme of things, it appears, Britain like the Israelis, believes that the Palestinians are either not entitled to or do not deserve full independence and freedom. Several months later, on 2 May 2005, another report from the UK’s Military Liaison Office (Jerusalem) listed in detail British projects to bolster the Palestinian security forces. It outlined the specific amounts of funds granted to the Palestinian intelligence services, including General Intelligence (GI) and Preventative Security Services (PSS).

When MEMO contacted the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for information on the levels of funding provided to the Palestinian Authority security and intelligence agencies we were told that its work with Palestinian security agencies between 2004-2010 consisted of support to the Palestinian civil police force. While it is all well and good to distinguish between civil and military activities, the Palestine Papers revealed that according to the doctrine which the British adopted, fighting terror requires military and civilian agencies to work together. Although the DFID response claimed that its assistance was limited to the civilian police, it nevertheless confirmed that, “The UK Government supports the development of the Palestinian Authority security agencies through the Conflict Pool (CP), which is governed and jointly managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Ministry of Defence.”

The policy began in earnest after the PA signed up to the Road Map in 2003 which obliged it to meet its security obligations fully under Phase 1 of the agreement. On the other side, the Road Map also set out most of the key requirements from Israel: an end to “deportations, attacks on civilians, confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property… [and] destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure”.
There is nothing to show that any concerted action was taken against Israel even though it breached its side of the agreement, especially on settlements after President Bush capitulated to Sharon in April 2004 and called for Palestinian acceptance of the new realities on the ground.

To absolve the British government from responsibility for the human rights abuses committed by the Palestinian Authority since 2003 would be a travesty. Likewise, it is simply not true to claim that it had no knowledge that the PA security services it was funding were torturing opponents of the Ramallah regime.

It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that Britain, having provided equipment, training and finance for the Palestinian security forces, should share some responsibility for their crimes. Failure to do so, and carry through with the legal consequences, will heap injustice on injustice in the struggle for Palestinian independence. As for the victims of torture in the West Bank, they would find in the Palestine Papers ample evidence to seek legal redress and compensation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.