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  • Writer's pictureRihab Azar

Urgent Appeal for Immediate Action on Gaza Crisis

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

As Chevening alumni, my Syrian colleagues and I wrote this letter to Foreign Secretary David Cameron.

Chevening is an academic award funded by the FCDO, so as alumni we sent the letter to call out the UK government on its stance regarding the ongoing vicious war on Gaza.

The Right Honourable David Cameron,

Secretary of State for Foreign,

Commonwealth and Development Affairs


Dear Secretary Cameron,

We, the Chevening Syria alumni, write to you again with a heavy heart to express our profound concern about the ongoing situation in Gaza. Having observed decades of international law violations by Israel, we are now more alarmed than ever by the increasing scale of these violations in our region which have happened under international cover and the excuse of self-defence for the last six weeks. We are deeply troubled by the escalating violence, particularly the Israeli airstrikes (not only on Gaza but in Lebanon, Syria, and the Egyptian border) that have resulted in the tragic loss of thousands of innocent lives, including those of our fellow Chevening alumnus, Dr. Maisara Al-Rayyes and his entire family, as well as over 23 family members of our colleague Ahmed El Naouq.

Today, we would also like to express our disapproval of the UK government’s approach of strategic narrativization around the Israeli-Palestinian issue. We believe this policy encapsulates a deliberate use of biased messaging, misinformation, and denial of the glaringly obvious dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians taking place since 1948. Our position is aligned with the UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 250 that called on Israel to withdraw its armed forces from territories occupied in 1967 (including Gaza and the West Bank) and asked Israel not to hold a military parade in Jerusalem. These resolutions are yet to be applied by Israel which remains the root of the crisis. We are also yet to observe any pressure on Israel by the UK government as a leading international actor to comply with these resolutions and secure the Palestinians some of their rights. For us, it is unjustifiable and extremely alarming that a state internationally recognised as an illegal occupier is given impunity as it systematically kills and ethnically cleanses thousands of civilians and is treated as if it is above international law.

We’ve witnessed the dangerous silencing tool of conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism used against people calling for Palestinians’ rights which amongst other strategies undermines the freedom of speech that is considered a crucial part of UK values. This weaponization has led to a dangerous increase in hate crimes in the UK, the targeted vilification of Palestinians and their supporters, and global warmongering. This all has allowed Israel to commit further human rights violations under the narrative of self-defence no matter how disproportionate its reaction is. We believe what is happening has grave implications for our region, the UK’s relations with the actors in that region, and the UK society’s cohesion and sense of inclusion, respect, and equality across its different communities. The UK public understands the struggle of Palestinians now better than ever and is more knowledgeable about its history. It is our belief that the UK’s official stance needs to reflect this increased public awareness and its demands for a ceasefire, the upholding of international law and pursuing diplomatic resolutions instead of enabling the violence to continue.

As academic scholars who have studied in the UK and proudly represent its values, we have a moral duty to advise the UK Government and we are deeply troubled by its stance on the Gaza crisis. We are disappointed by the FCDO’s and Chevening Secretariat’s failure to provide truthful accounts of events

contextualising the murder of Dr. Al-Rayyes and his family members by an Israeli airstrike, instead preferring to refer to it as “death”. We perceive this as a dangerous fact omission, silencing of the truth, and an expression of a continued strategy of absolving Israel of responsibility for the massacres of thousands of civilians. This has created mistrust on our part and has made us question how valued our very own lives are, how safe our very own existence is under that kind of bias, and how our association with the Chevening program can be exploited and misused, which is something we strongly reject.

On a humanitarian level, we, as leaders, are appalled by the scale of human suffering that has been inflicted upon the people in Gaza, who have endured the harsh realities of the Israeli blockade for over 15 years, only for them to reach further unimaginable levels over the last six weeks. “Civilians are facing the immediate possibility of starvation”, the World Food Programme has warned.

The Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip has exceeded 13,000 since the 7th of October. One out of every 200 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 30,000 people have been injured. The devastating humanitarian crisis screams tragedy and horror, with innocent lives lost every day, a child being killed in Gaza every ten minutes, and 1,800 children are missing under the rubble, most of them presumed dead. A further 9,000 children have been injured, many with life-changing consequences. It's our shared moral responsibility, our humanity at stake. We must unite and demand an immediate ceasefire, a desperate plea to save the lives of countless children at risk in this relentless war.

International human rights organisations have documented significant human rights violations committed by Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both before and since October 7th. It is noteworthy that Hamas has no presence in these areas. We are here sharing some documented violations, so you are informed about them:

  • Amnesty International reported that Israeli forces detained over 2,200 Palestinian individuals including 147 children from the West Bank between October 1st and November 1st, increasing the total from 1,319 to 2,070.

  • EuroMed Human Rights Monitor reported that Israeli authorities employ administrative detention, a form of arbitrary detention without charge or trial, holding individuals for months or years without allowing their lawyers access to clients' indictment files, citing the need for secrecy due to classified intelligence information. This practice violates Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel ratified in 1991, prohibiting arbitrary arrest or detention.

  • EuroMed Human Rights Monitor further reported that Israel has a prolonged history of employing widespread torture and abuse tactics in detention facilities located in the West Bank. This occurs with complete impunity, providing tacit approval for further violations against Palestinian detainees.

In addition to these well-documented human rights violations, Israel has been displacing thousands of Palestinians from their lands, unlawfully replacing them with settlements exclusively inhabited by Israeli settlers. Over the past five decades, Israel has demolished 50,000 houses and appropriated 100,000 hectares of land from Palestinians. According to Amnesty International, 600,000 Israeli settlers reside on occupied Palestinian land, while 4.9 million Palestinians endure daily restrictions on their movement.

As Chevening Syria Alumni, we stand with the global voices demanding the application of international human rights law, calling for an immediate ceasefire. We do not tolerate complicity in human rights violations, whether they occur in our country or elsewhere. Israel has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of Syria through numerous attacks targeting different areas, including the two main civil airports. It has engaged in destructive actions such as burning down over 40,000 olive trees and farms in South Lebanon using white phosphorus, a substance banned by international law, and it continues to use it on civilians in Gaza. Gaza’s University has been bombed, journalists have been targeted, hospitals put completely out of service and evacuated of

patients and families seeking safety, UNRWA schools, solar panels, water tanks, fishing boats, bakeries, and the list is long. All these violations are still not being addressed or condemned by UK government officials, the constant calls for a ceasefire by the UK public, the United Nations and the warnings from over 800 scholars on genocide continue to be ignored. All indiscriminate targeting of civilians is a war crime. Hamas’s attack which killed 1200 Israelis on the 7th of October has been condemned strongly and repeatedly by UK government officials and yet they continue to fail to condemn the killing of over 13,000 Palestinians, almost half of whom are children.

We are deeply concerned about the UK parliament’s decision to vote against a ceasefire in Gaza. This decision is inconsistent with the UK's stated public diplomacy objectives, including those embedded within the Chevening Awards program. We would like to remind you that the events in Gaza are not isolated and are part of a larger, long-standing illegal occupation that has been ongoing for over 75 years. We are deeply troubled by the exclusivity of condemning Hamas in the FCDO's replies and communications without any acknowledgement or mention of the numerous documented violations the Israeli army has committed. This biased stance raises serious concerns on our part.

We have also observed an alarming bias against the Palestinian plight by many UK academic institutions and in the FCDO reply to our first letter, a reply that failed to address any of our concerns. Furthermore, we have learned from this year's Chevening cohort that it took them serious efforts during orientation day to get something as small as a symbolic gesture of respect by holding a minute’s silence. Global leadership is at the core of our vision as Chevening alumni; the type of leadership that is rightly characterised in the words of Chevening itself by empathy, resilience, and determination.

At the Chevening level, we call for a clear condemnation of Israel’s aggression that took the life of our fellow alumnus, Dr. Maisara Al-Rayyes, and the acknowledgement of Israel’s responsibility.

The 40-year legacy of Chevening, which we have considered to be a platform for fostering global leadership, is now at risk due to the conflicting values we are witnessing. When we applied for Chevening, we were told that as ambassadors of the UK, we would uphold its politics and values. However, we find it impossible to align ourselves with a foreign policy that fails to halt the tragic deaths of innocent civilians. We adamantly refuse for our photos and stories to be used to promote the Chevening programme whilst it conveys bias against the lives of Palestinians and the injustices they continue to endure.

As academic scholars and global leaders, we believe it is our moral duty to advise the UK Government on its stance, especially when it is deemed inadequate and not in line with upholding international law.

In light of the deeply concerning developments, we urge you to take immediate and decisive action to:

  • Unequivocally condemn the Israeli war on Gaza as a clear violation of international law and fundamental human rights.

  • Collaborate earnestly with the international community to facilitate an immediate ceasefire and guarantee unobstructed access to medical and humanitarian aid, food, water, and electricity for people in Gaza.

  • Suspend all forms of military and financial support to the Israeli army and halt the supply of arms to Israel as a measure to mitigate the ongoing violence.

  • Demand that Israel immediately cease all its violations of Palestinians’ rights to live in freedom and safety and that it commits to abide by international law going forward.

  • Join the international efforts to bring war criminals to justice and commit to supporting diplomatic resolutions in the region that are rooted in justice, equality, and the rule of law.

We firmly believe that the UK government has a moral and ethical obligation to do everything in its power to achieve a just resolution that values all the lives and freedoms of people equally. We implore you to use your considerable influence to bring an end to the ongoing massacres, uphold international law, and work towards a peace that is rooted in justice and freedom for all. The continued strategic narrativization of the Israel-Palestine issue is very dangerous; so is the failure to openly acknowledge the history and the reality of the occupation and apartheid, and the ongoing episode of further ethnic cleansing. The remaining prospects of peace and stability in the region are under threat, and we strongly believe the UK Government must do everything in its power to change course urgently to save these prospects and stop the bloodshed.

Until we observe serious efforts along these lines, we refuse to be used as materials for the FCDO and Chevening to promote foreign policies that put us and the people in our region at existential risk. We stand in solidarity with all our fellow Chevening Alumni associations, partners, scholars, and FCDO staff who oppose the current government's stance on Gaza, and we demand that our voices are respected and represented in urgently needed new courses of action.


The Chevening Syria alumni



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