A 300-page dossier of evidence of crimes and atrocities carried out by British soldiers in historic Palestine has been sent to the UK government. The dossier is part of a petition seeking formal acknowledgment of historical crimes that were committed during the period of British rule in Palestine from 1917 until 1948 and an apology from the government.
A BBC review of the historical evidence includes details of inhuman practices that continue to be practiced by Israeli occupation forces. They include arbitrary killings, torture, the use of human shields and the introduction of home demolitions as collective punishment. According to the BBC much of it was conducted within formal policy guidelines for UK forces at the time or with the consent of senior officers.
Among the atrocities included in the dossier is the brutal killing of Palestinians in the village of Al-Bassa, north of historic Palestine, situated close to the Lebanese border. In 1938, during the height of Palestinian revolt against British rule, villagers were rounded up while troops later herded men onto a bus and forced them to drive over a landmine which blew up, killing everyone on board. A British policeman photographed the scene as women tended to the remains of their dead, before maimed body parts were buried in a pit.
A second atrocity shows Palestinian villagers placed inside a barbed wire fence and denied food and water. Multiple accounts from both residents and British soldiers detailed how homes were raided and villagers rounded up at gunpoint, before up to 150 men were herded into a space behind a mosque and many forced into barbed wire cages. Many died as a result.
Military historian Professor Matthew Hughes described Britain's atrocities in Palestine as being "violent and sensational". Britain introduced a system of "daily pacification" that was "much more fundamental, cumulative and attritional in wearing down the Palestinians," Hughes is reported saying citing measures including restrictions on movement, curfews, seizure of property or crops as punitive measures, arbitrary detention and using forced labour to build roads and military bases.
"The whole country became something of a prison," says Hughes, author of Britain's Pacification of Palestine.
The request for an apology is being brought by Munib Al-Masri, 88, a well-known Palestinian business owner and former politician, who 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," Al-Masri told the BBC at his home in Nablus in the occupied West Bank.
Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the British barrister Ben Emmerson KC, former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, have been appointed by Al-Masri to review the evidence.