Israel-Palestine war: UK charity is fundraising for Israeli soldiers fighting in Gaza
The charity, the UK Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers (UK-AWIS), is asking for donations to support forces taking part in Operation Swords of Iron, the Israeli military’s codename for its war against Hamas.
In a post on its Facebook page on 17 November, UK-AWIS said: “Each generous donation allows us to better provide essentials for our frontline soldiers in Operation Swords of Iron.”
But pro-Palestinian campaign groups and charities fundraising to support humanitarian efforts in Gaza questioned whether that cause could be considered a charitable endeavour given the scale of civilian casualties inflicted by Israeli forces.
The United Nations Security Council last week heard that more than two-thirds of the 14,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza were women and children.
The current death toll, as fighting resumed on Friday following a week-long truce, stands at more than 15,000, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Tayab Ali, director of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, told Middle East Eye: "It is imperative for the Charity Commission to investigate a charity that supports members of a foreign military force where there is significant evidence its military personnel may be engaged in serious violations of international law.
“British public money should not be collected or used to support soldiers where doing so may make the charity complicit in war crimes which in itself cannot be considered to be in line with its charitable purposes.”
UK AWIS had not responded to MEE’s questions about how its donations to the IDF were being used, or to requests for comment at the time of publication.
MEE called the charity's London office. But the call was ended when MEE identified itself and before any questions could be asked.
A Charity Commission spokesperson told MEE: “Concerns have been raised with us regarding fundraising activities by the UK Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers and we are currently assessing information to determine any next steps.”
UK AWIS is the British arm of an Israeli organisation, the Association for Israeli Soldiers, which is funded by the Israeli Defence Ministry and works closely with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
It describes itself as the “sole avenue through which donations can be made directly to IDF soldiers and IDF units”.
Its main objective, according to its website, is "to promote the wellbeing of Israel’s sons and daughters in uniform. UK AWIS is one of many branches around the world that actively raise funds for the wide range of projects and facilities that enhance the wellbeing of Israel’s soldiers".
Options for donors on UK AWIS’s website include a three-year sponsorship package priced at £75,000 ($95,000) to “adopt an IDF combat unit”.
It also funds projects in support of Israel’s “lone soldiers”, many of whom are recruits from abroad including the UK who volunteer to fight for the country’s military.
According to its most recent annual report, last year it provided funding totalling more than £110,000 ($139,000) for projects to help with the well-being of soldiers, to provide scholarships to underprivileged former soldiers, and to refurbish leisure facilities for recreational purposes.
Charities in the UK are required to serve a purpose that fulfils a public benefit and are regulated by the Charity Commission.
Guidance published by the commission states that it is a legal requirement that “any detriment or harm that results from this purpose must not outweigh the benefit”.
Israeli forces in Gaza have been accused of war crimes by rights organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has noted that the court has jurisdiction over current events in Gaza and the West Bank and has reminded Israel of its legal obligations.
Nur Choudhury, the chair of Human Aid and Advocacy, a humanitarian charity with teams on the ground in Gaza, told MEE: “It is deeply worrying that a UK-regulated charity is permitted to openly raise funds for the military wing of an apartheid state, facilitating its genocidal actions in Palestine.
“The Charity Commission must fulfil its role in safeguarding charities from complicity in war crimes.”
Choudhury noted remarks made last month by Orlando Fraser, the chair of the Charity Commission, in which he said the regulator would not allow charities to become “forums for hate speech or unlawful extremism” and pledged to “deal robustly with those who intentionally or recklessly abuse their charities”.
“We await information on the steps taken in this regard,” Choudhury said.
UK AWIS has also faced scrutiny over media appearances by one of its trustees, Colonel Richard Kemp, a former British soldier who has been a prominent commentator on the war in Gaza.
Last month, the BBC was criticised for interviewing Kemp without reference to his role as a UK-AWIS trustee.
In one recent interview with a pro-Israel blog, Kemp was quoted as describing the killing of civilians in Gaza as “necessary”.
Commenting on widespread calls for a ceasefire, Kemp was reported to have said: “People have been watching a large number of civilians getting killed and the destruction inside Gaza. Many people don't understand why that is necessary and are determined it should end.”
Addressing IDF recruits in a video posted on UK AWIS’s YouTube channel earlier this year, Kemp said: “Your fight is a fight for the survival of the state of Israel but it is also a fight for the survival of western civilisation which today faces an onslaught from the same enemy that you face.”
Kemp had not responded to MEE's questions about his comments and request for comment at the time of publication.
Choudhury told MEE that Kemp’s role as a trustee of the charity was “cause for serious concern”.