Alastair McPhail

Alastair McPhail

British Consul General to Jerusalem

Part of UK in Israel

18th June 2014 Jerusalem, Israel

A life free from fear

Visiting Hebron for the first time reminded me of my childhood in the Scottish city of Glasgow.  The narrow alleyways hung with washing; kids in the street playing football; conversations across garden walls.  A city in which family is everything and privacy is a rare commodity.

But the similarities end when you enter ‘H1’.  This area of Hebron has rightly earned its nickname of ‘Ghost Town’.  Stepping through the checkpoint from the bustling market into an empty Shuhada Street takes you into another world.  The once bustling fruit market lies empty.  Over 1,800 shops are now closed and 1,000 homes abandoned.  The Israeli closures and the presence of illegal settlements has divided a once vibrant old town and made life difficult for those who have chosen to remain.

Walking in the once bustling market.
Walking in the once bustling market.

One such family is led by Mrs Abu Heikel in Tel Rumeida.  An exceptionally brave woman whose steadfastness reminded me of a typical Scottish grandmother.  But these qualities have been tested by the experience of the last few years.  The presence of violent settlers nearby has put her house under siege.  Unable to sit on her balcony for fear of attack with stones, she is trapped in her home and only able to leave under cover of darkness.  We talked about her fears for the safety of her family and the feeling that the Israeli settlers were immune from the law.

Since my arrival in the OPTs as Consul General four months ago, I have visited Palestinian communities all over the West Bank and have seen for myself the impact of an increasing number of violent settler attacks.  There has been welcome widespread condemnation from Israeli politicians. But there is still a lack of convictions for those who commit acts of violence.  This spreads fear amongst Palestinian communities, destroys livelihoods and displaces people from their land.  This takes us further from peace and an end to this conflict.

As our Foreign Minister William Hague said this year at the launch of our human rights report, the UK has a “moral obligation to prevent grave human rights abuses”.  This commitment has been turned into action by our support for NGOs to provide legal support for Palestinian victims of violence and direct assistance to communities vulnerable to settler attacks in the South Hebron Hills.  And we have been encouraging the Government of Israel to do all it can to bring those responsible for these hateful crimes to justice.

This ongoing commitment lies at the heart of our vision for a future Palestinian state, prosperous and independent, living in peace alongside Israel.   This is why we will continue to work for justice and respect for human rights in the West Bank and Gaza.

For me, this vision will be complete when I return to Hebron and meet Mrs Abu Heikel, and thousands like her, living free from fear.

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14 comments on “A life free from fear

  1. Dear Dr. Alastair Mc Phail ,
    thanks for this – to me – very interesting report ´bout the current situation in Hebron. `Though yr. lines made my most horrible sorrows come true. I do mean esp.chapter # 1 ´bout this presence of illegal settlements. For as long as the official Israeli policy is on 1 side a “condemnation” in re. of all these violent willing settlers plus their cruel attacks – but on the other hand ( so far ) not prepared or willing to say “yes” to a 2-states-solution I ´m really doubting of how serious the Israeli – Gov. efforts into a peaceful future for all sides really are. “My” chapter # 2 is just a sad one : if there´s still a “lack of convictions for those who commit acts of violence” it ´s only logical , that this causes more fear amongst the Palestinians. And fear causes sthg. like counter-pressure & finally anger plus in the worsest case a few violence willing Palestinians again. So you ´re totally right by writing that “acts of violence” do only have -once again- 1 result : we ´re moving 1 step further away from a peaceful solution. That ´s why I do wish you luck & success in yr. work for justice, for human rights and respect for each other plus peace for West Bank and Gaza.
    Best wishes & take care , liebe Grüßle, Ingo-Steven , Stuttgart

  2. Do you support the right of Jews to live in Hebron? Back in the 1920s the local arabs massacred the local Jews. Long before anyone could possibly try to blame it on settlements. The palestinian ledaership have stated that they want their future country to be as jew free as nazi germany.

  3. Why dont you even mention the 3 jews kidnapped close to hebron? Your blog is a disgrace that it doesn’t even mention palestinian violence. For goodness sake, they have an islamic terrorist group as part of their government!

  4. Dear Michelle, The reason people have shut off from the violence of a retaliatory people is perhaps best showcased in the 9 different Syrian attacks by Israel in response to the death of 1 teenager. When looked at closely the water shortfalls, energy shortfalls and the current M.E. mess as mentioned clearly on my twitter account have so far not been wrong. How predictable is that? The M.E. mess has been caused largely by outsiders re Syria and Iraq. It is for oil, gas and a train track. Google it all yourself. Turkey-Qatar oil pipeline. And where is the train track headed? Google Turkey High Speed. I mean it is one thing to CLAIM an imbalance, it is another for helicopter gunships to target kids throwing stones. This has all been done in conjunction and with the support of other nations. It is ALL independently verifiable online. Your information is reflective of a one sided perspective fed by the press and does not correlate to anything actually happening in the M.E. Do not complain if people you bomb, starve, under pay for train track building (slave labour), destroy food for Palestinians and limit the depth of their water wells (against UN access rights to natural resources) IF then the people you choose to do that to decide they have had enough and respond – even if aggressively. Must say the arrest of the 5 year old by the IDF you will no doubt justify as being a real threat to Israel. Really? I know you won’t address the attack helicopter gunships versus kids – how could you? Nobody with a conscience could.

  5. Also Michelle, the Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land show that the no jews re Nazis point you make is a falsehood and is erroneous. Of ALL the peoples in the world I do not fathom an intellect that faced the jaws of extinction and now in the southern parts turns on the Bedouin in the desert as it does the Palestinians in the North. Pity only extends when a people are unaware of their actions. However, re water, energy and food blockades – this cannot ever said to be the case with Israel. I will repeat – having faced genocide in Germany how can anyone claim they do not know when their own people are doing it under the legal bindings of the UN Constitution. I note that Israel and a few others do not acknowledge the ICC and its jurisdiction.

    I wonder what is being hidden from voluntary non-participation. Nothing to hide no reason NOT to be a member which the UK currently is.

    Do you not see that ‘terrorism’ is the NEW Inquisition? “Witch” has simply been replaced by “Terrorist.”

  6. Hi Alastair,

    Thousands of miles away sitting safely here in the UK, it’s very very difficult to understand the various tensions being played out in the OPT. It really does seem a million miles away from the rights and justice we take for granted. Blogs like this helps paint a clearer picture and I’m very pleased to see the UK government extending support to people being justice from any side of the debate. From what I’ve seen so far, children being arrested without due process seems an outrageous abuse of “law”.
    I sincerely hope that in the months ahead this will be highlighted further to ensure these backward practices are stopped once and for all. So that blogs like these will be seen as an anolomoly….


  7. Dear Dr. Alastair & all the writers to yr. report ,
    well , I ‘ve made my political point of view already clear. But – and after reading all the comments pls. allow me to add the following facts : late Israeli PM Begin and also the former Israeli PM ‘s Meir & Gurion founded in 1947 the “Hagannah” underground movement organization. Guess, it ‘s a small step from underground to terrorists. Best known terror action : the bomb attack at Jerusalem ‘s King David hotel in 1048 , killing ’bout 60 inncent people. On June 6th, 14, the Israeli “Knesset” elected a new Israeli President , Mr. R. Rivlin , Likud. One of his 1st. statements at all was : ” I ‘m against an own Palestinian state. I ‘m against a 2-States-Solution at all”!.
    This means to me , that he isn ‘t
    not very much interested in peace at the moment. On the other side : it looks to me like a typical, political “Poker-Play” between his own PM Nethanjahu, Likud-Party and himself. For both above mentioned politicians are all ” but no friends or partners “. (BBC Middle East). Last but not least : best wishes & my respect to ALL yr. bloggers of yr. report , liebste
    Grüßle & voller Respekt, Ingo-Steven , Stuttgart

    1. The Hagana was founded in 1920 as the successor of Hashomer (1909) and Bar Giora (1907), which were established for one reason: to defend Jewish communities against Arab attack.

      The King David Hotel bombing was carried out by the Irgun, not the Hagana, and it was in 1946, not 1948.

      The target was the British administrative headquarters that were located in the King David Hotel.

      The warning to evacuate the building was ignored and 17 Palestinian Jews were among those killed, i.e. the Irgun bungled the hit.

      The Jewish Agency and Jewish National Council condemned the attack.

      Had the British fulfilled their obligations under the Mandate rather than pursuing British interests and, inter alia, issuing the 1939 White Paper that condemned the Jews of Europe to their fate under the Nazis, there would have been no Jewish attacks against the British.

  8. Incredible that you talk about peace in the region while so obviously taking one side.

    But then there is a tradition of that.

    We British helped to ethnically cleanse Hebron (and other places) of Jews in the 1920s – following Arab attacks on entirely peaceful “old yishuv” families. The sort of people you could imagine being auld Glesca grannies and grandpas if one were so inclined.

    Then we British commanded the Transjordanian Arab Legion during the 1948 invasion of what had been mandatory Palestine, which led to the complete ethnic cleansing of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the eastern part of Jerusalem, all of which were built on land paid for with hard cash.

    Today all of the supposedly illegal settlements – except San Remo is still in force – are built on privately owned land purchased by Jews or state land, e.g. former military bases.

    Surely the British Consul General in Jerusalem does not object to Jews owning land in Judea and Jerusalem, the homeland of the Jewish people?

    Then again, the British Consul General in Jerusalem is prepared to share the same attire as the the arab rejectionists such as plo and hamass. One wonders the extent to which he shares their views, e.g. on “resistance”…

  9. Dear readers, of Mr. F. Callen 1st comment I just want to corect some facts : ‘ 1 : why do Jewish extremist “defend” communities , located on Arabian / Palestinia ground ? #2: call it Hagannah or Irgun. Fact is that these bomb attacks were carried out by Jewish terrorist killing dozens of innocent victims.’ 3 : there was no warning at all.
    Pls. do 1st. think- before writing!
    Best wishes

  10. Dear readers ,
    next following are just some c o r r e c t facts in re. of Mr.F.Callen ‘s 1st. comment .
    #1 : why for god ‘s sake do “Jewish” extremists feel the need to “defend” communities located on Arabian /Palestinian ground ?#2 : it doesn ‘t matter 1 yota at all if those terrorists used to call ’em “Hagannah” or “Irgun” as long as the tragic fact & “result” is the same: dozens of innocent , civilian & brutish murdered people- in a tourist hotel! #3 : there wasn ‘t no “warning” at all! Otherwise this hotel would have been evacuated immediately – guess it ‘s logical. #4 : sorry – but this so called condemnation by this Jewish Agency was nothing but a cheap trick to wash their dirty hands clean. One of the oldest political tricks of the world at all.
    Millions of peace-willing people ‘cross the entire earth might call it also just disgusting. So- don ‘t get me (pls.) wrong : i ‘m not anti-Israeli not pro Palestinian. I’m just pro peace & justice. Best wishes 6 a peaceful weekend to ALL of you, oin frieliches Wochendle, Ingo-Steven, Stuttgarrt

  11. Hi Friends, Today all of the supposedly illegal settlements – except San Remo is still in force – are built on privately owned land purchased by Jews or state land, e.g. former military bases. Tally Training

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About Alastair McPhail

Dr Alastair McPhail CMG OBE was appointed Her Majesty’s British Consul General to Jerusalem in January 2014. Dr McPhail has worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 19 years.…

Dr Alastair McPhail CMG OBE was appointed Her Majesty’s British
Consul General to Jerusalem in January 2014. Dr McPhail has worked in
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 19 years. He was HM Ambassador
to South Sudan from independence on 9 July 2011 until his departure in
March 2013. Prior to becoming Ambassador to South Sudan he was HM Consul
General in Juba from March 2011 until South Sudan became independent
and the Consulate General was upgraded to a sovereign Embassy.
From 1996-2000 he worked on the northern Iraqi Kurdish peace process.
He worked on Sudan from 2000-2005, first as Head of the Egypt, Libya
and Sudan Section in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, then as Head
of the Sudan Unit – the UK’s international team charged with supporting
the Sudan peace process – and finally as the UK Special Representative
for Sudan. Dr McPhail attended every round of the negotiations on the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement from the first session at Machakos to the
final session at Naivasha. After that he took up overseas roles such as
Minister and Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Rome,
Italy and as the UK Special Envoy to Mali during a hostage crisis.

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