The UK government refused to condemn Israel's targeted murder of Dr. Maisara Alrayyes, a Palestinian alumnus of the British Foreign Office's prestigious Chevening scholarship. Meanwhile, London has instructed media outlets to keep silent about its direct involvement in the Gaza slaughter.
By Kit KLARENBERG
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Since the beginning of Israel's military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, the British government has remained unflappably silent on the carnage inflicted on Palestinian civilians with one notable exception.
On November 8th, the Foreign Office announced the death of Dr. Maisara Alrayyes, a Palestinian alumnus of its prestigious Chevening scholarship scheme, under which "outstanding emerging leaders from all over the world" can pursue all-expenses-paid master's degrees at prestigious British universities.
The Foreign Office refused to state the cause of Alrayyes' death, provoking a wave of condemnation.
Meanwhile, King's College, where in 2019 Alrayyes studied Women and Children's Health, issued a brief statement stating he and his family were "killed," though it refused to name the perpetrator. The college noted that his work had been published "in a number of high-profile journals... and he was well respected and known among his colleagues for his dedication to improving healthcare for women and children in low-income and war-affected regions."
Colleagues of Alrayyes subsequently revealed that he and his family had been murdered as a result of Israeli airstrikes after spending 30 hours trapped under rubble.
In the days leading up to their deaths, the physician texted his former classmates at King's College, telling them:
"In the last few days, I'm starting to feel more terrified than ever. I imagine myself underneath the rubble, and I have a great fear of staying alive under the rubble."
His worst nightmares were realized thanks in no small part to the British government sponsors of his Chevening Scholarship.
Britain's Cleverly meets Alrayyes, signs off on Israel's killing spree
The Chevening Scholarship is considered something of a crown jewel in Britain's soft power arsenal, and a vital mechanism for promoting her interests abroad. Over 15 Chevening graduates have gone on to become heads of state, and London is keen to promote the success of alumni the world over. A leaked Foreign Office report on improving public perceptions of Britain in the former Yugoslavia found London was "favourably associated with education (universities, schools, the Chevening scholarship programme)."
A Chevening Journalism Scholarship was therefore made available in every country in the region, to "improve the perception of the UK with participants, who are influencers in the Western Balkans."
As Alrayyes met his fiancee, also a Chevening scholar, while studying in Britain, London was particularly enamored with his example. In September, he was among a select group of graduates granted a meeting with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Jerusalem.
These British leaders failed to provide Alrayyes with even the slightest measure of protection when the brutal bombardment of Gaza began this October. While sleeping in his home with his family, he became a target of the Israeli military. In death, he has become a public relations problem for the British Foreign Office that once sponsored him.
Cleverly has repeatedly dismissed calls for a ceasefire in Gaza while insisting Britain fervently supports Israel's right to "defend" itself - a euphemism for backing Israel's crushing assault. When grilled about Alrayyes' murder by ITV, the Foreign Secretary half-heartedly mumbled:
"Every loss of life is heart-breaking. And there are people both Palestinian and Israeli who have lost their lives. That is why we are so focused on getting humanitarian aid into Gaza."
Britain implicated directly in the Gaza slaughter
In every way, Alrayyes' horrific death is a nightmare for London, not least because the British government itself may be somehow implicated. Analysis by Declassified UK indicates that since October 7, 33 military transport flights have traveled to Tel Aviv from Britain's vast airbase in Cyprus. The outlet could not find records of similar journeys before the attack on Gaza began. A Ministry of Defence spokesperson denied the planes were ferrying "lethal aid", but supported "diplomatic engagement."
This explanation is rendered all the more dubious given that in late October, the Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA) Committee wrote to the editors of major British news outlets to demand they not report on British special forces "deployed to sensitive areas of the Middle East."
DSMA is a Ministry of Defence body that imposes a very British form of censorship on the press. It brings together representatives of the intelligence and security services, military veterans, high ranking government officials, press association chiefs, senior editors, and journalists. Together, they decide what issues related to national security can be reported on, and how. It creates a situation in which the overwhelming majority of British national security journalism is directly influenced by the state.
The Committee's recent intervention was spurred by media reports of the SAS being stationed in Cyprus to assist with hostage rescue operations. This was almost certainly designed to explain the presence of British special forces in the region while concealing their involvement in the assault on Gaza, where Alrayyes was murdered.
'Israel controls the Foreign Office'
The Foreign Office's handling of Alrayyes' death reportedly sparked outrage even among its own staff, who were already outraged at Whitehall's refusal to acknowledge, let alone condemn, the spiraling civilian death toll in Gaza. Historically, the department was pro-Arab. Its conversion to the cause of Zionism is a relatively recent development, although sympathy for the Palestinians endures in certain quarters.
This is somewhat remarkable, given British politicians who dare speak up for the Palestinians are routinely targeted for reputational destruction by the Israel lobby. Both Labour and the Conservatives have highly influential "Friends of Israel" clusters within parliament, which operate in close, clandestine concert with Tel Aviv's embassy in London.
In 2017, undercover Al Jazeera journalists caught Israeli embassy representative Shai Masot on tape in meetings with Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), discussing a "hit list" of parliamentarians to "take down" due to their support for Palestine. This included MP Crispin Blunt, a longtime critic of Israel, and Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan. Masot expressed a desire to "destroy" Duncan, to ensure he wouldn't receive a top post within the department.
In response, Duncan telephoned Mark Regev, then-Israeli ambassador to Britain, who alleged Masot was a junior "local hire" with no formal diplomatic status. In reality, Masot was an Israeli Defense Forces veteran who had served as the embassy's senior political officer since November 2014, acting as chief point of contact between the Israeli embassy and the Foreign Office.
Israel returns to kill Alrayyes' family
On November 8, friends of Maisara Alrayyes learned that his two brothers were also murdered by the Israeli military as they dug through the rubble of his home to extract his dead body. They had survived the attack on their home two days prior, but became targets when they returned in an attempt to give their brother a proper burial.
Having whitewashed the murder of Alrayyes, the British Foreign Office has been silent about Israel's targeted killing of Alrayyes' family. Meanwhile, UK Rishi Sunak continues to reject calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza.