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Israel Defence Forces

Volume 707: debated on Monday 26 January 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether any British citizens are serving in the Israeli Defence Force or the Israeli Defence Reserves.

My Lords, other than press reports, the UK Government do not possess information about whom the Israeli Government have called up to serve in the Israel Defence Forces or the Israeli Defence Reserves, including any dual nationals. Only the Israeli Government would have this information.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. He referred to the press reports in the Sun, the Daily Mirror and the Guardian that British citizens have been serving in Gaza. Is he aware that there is a lot of evidence from Amnesty International, UNRWA and many media reports that international law has been broken and war crimes committed in Gaza? Will he assure the House that if British citizens have been involved in breaking the fourth protocol of the Geneva Convention or committing war crimes, they will be prosecuted on their return? Will he also assure the House that no one will escape prosecution if they breach the fourth protocol of the Geneva Convention, as Major-General Doron Almog did in September 2005?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that this House shares the concern that war crimes may have been committed. A number of investigations are now under way. The Human Rights Council last week established different mechanisms to investigate these allegations. We need to wait until these investigations are complete before we can decide what steps, if any, are necessary. I am not sure that it is right to distinguish between British nationals and others. Anybody who has broken the fourth protocol of the Geneva Convention deserves to meet justice in some court or another.

My Lords, is the Minister aware, and is he not concerned, that every summer many Jewish school children from this country go to Israel for military and citizenship training by the Education and Youth Corps of the IDF?

My Lords, I was not aware of that, but those who are dual nationals and who carry Israeli passports—perfectly understandably, given the situation of Israel—do make a commitment to do national service. That is part of the requirement of Israeli citizenship. As to those who are solely UK nationals, it is very unlikely that any of them would have been serving in the recent operations.

My Lords, in certain cases, Britain allows people of dual citizenship and even non-citizens to serve in our forces. Does my noble friend agree that, as Israel is a country with immigrants of many nationalities, it is inevitable that its defence forces will include people who retain the citizenship of their country of origin, including our own? Does he agree that we should be proud of our citizens who fought against the terrorist organisation bent on the destruction of a sovereign and democratic state?

My Lords, as so often with my noble friend, I was with him until half way through the question. There is a marked difference between the Israeli forces undertaking action against a terrorist organisation and action taken against another state. The Act that governs this is the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870, which makes it an offence for a British subject without licence from Her Majesty to enlist in the Armed Forces of a foreign state at war with another foreign state which is at peace with the UK. Clearly, that does not govern this situation. Regarding dual nationals, it has never been suggested that someone who also holds an Israeli passport should not meet the obligations of citizenship in that country, which include military service.

My Lords, do we not need to look again at the 1870 Act? In the light of the huge number of dual citizens in this country, including a great many from Pakistan, and the number of citizens from other Commonwealth countries—3,000 Fijians and 1,000 people from Caribbean countries serving in the British Armed Forces—perhaps we need to look at this sensitive area again.