LONDON (Jan. 5)
A British diplomat who visited the Gaza Strip on Monday has created a stir here and in Israel by remarking that conditions in the territory are “appalling” and an “an affront to civilized values.”
The remarks were made by David Mellor, minister of state for foreign affairs, who arrived in Israel on Sunday and took a “private” tour of the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday, before commencing his official visit that evening by meeting with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
The British Foreign Office, which sent him on the trip, seemed embarrassed by Mellor’s public description of conditions at the Jabalya refugee camp as “shocking and inhuman” and his harassment of an Israel Defense Force officer before television cameras.
Speaking to reporters in Gaza, Mellor said, “It is appalling that a few miles up the coast (in Israel) there is prosperity, and here there is misery on a scale that rivals anything anywhere in the world.” He urged that “something has got to be done.”
“The Israeli authorities cannot duck their responsibility to these people,” Mellor said, referring to the Palestinians.
“It is shaming that money is flowing out of this area into Israel but money is not being put back in,” he added.
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His harsh, outspoken criticism of Israel was a lead item Tuesday in British radio, television and newspaper reports. Pro-Israel members of Parliament, such as the Labor Party’s Douglas Hoyle, plan to question Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe as to what extent Mellor’s views reflect government thinking.
A Foreign Office spokesman said Tuesday, “It is not for us to comment on what Mr. Mellor says. We are not going to get into a public debate with the Israelis.”
It was pointed out, nevertheless, that Mellor’s remarks were in full accord with the foreign secretary’s view that Israel’s reputation was damaged by “repressive” actions in the territories.
Lord Immanuel Jakobovitz, chief rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, said Monday night that Jews and Israelis all over the world were “agonizing over the situation no less than Mr. Mellor.”
But Jakobovitz, in his first public statement since he was elevated to the House of Lords on Jan. 1, questioned whether Mellor had been fair or helpful in the way he described the problem confronting Israel in the territories.
Mellor, 38, moved to the Foreign Office after serving as minister of state at the Home Office, where, according to British observers, he showed a flair for publicity and a knack for antagonizing people.
Before leaving for Israel last week, he said on BBC radio that “the time is right for there to be an international conference, under the aegis of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to try to thrash out, once and for all, the future of the occupied territories.”
(Jerusalem correspondent David Landau contributed to this report.)