Cleverly had planned to visit the West Bank village of Ein Samiya during his three-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories in September, but multiple sources told MEE that Israeli authorities blocked the request, with Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt and Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin also prevented from travelling to the stricken village.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman told MEE on Tuesday that Israeli authorities “did not enable the British foreign minister to enter Ein Samiya, as well as the foreign minister of Norway and the foreign minister of Ireland.”
He explained that “the decision was made in consultation with security figures and it was decided not to permit them to arrive at these points”.
“There are specific points they asked to visit and we thought this would lead to escalation,” he stated.
When asked what he meant by escalation, the spokesman replied “violence”.
Later, when questioned whether there were any changes to policy surrounding diplomatic visits to the West Bank, the spokesman replied: “we will look at each visit specifically.”
“They [the ministers] visited Ramallah and so forth. At these specific points and at that specific time we thought it could lead to escalation,” he added.
Following his return to the UK, Cleverly made no reference to Israel’s restrictions to his itinerary despite the British government pouring taxpayer money into the West Bank, including an elementary school in Ein Samiya.
The school was destroyed in mid-August, shortly after more than 170 of Ein Samiya’s Palestinian residents fled following heightened settler attacks.
The residents are currently scattered across the West Bank, with many residing in an open mountainous area near Ramallah.
At the time of their displacement, Yvonne Helle, the UN’s acting humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said that the “families are not leaving by choice; the Israeli authorities have repeatedly demolished homes and other structures they own and have threatened to destroy their only school”.
“We are witnessing the tragic consequences of longstanding Israeli practices and settler violence.”
For many Palestinians, the decision to flee their ancestral homes is emblematic of a new stage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where Israeli settlers are usually flanked by Israeli soldiers when they launch their rampage through Palestinian villages, towns and neighbourhoods.
It’s estimated that between 650,000 and 700,000 Israeli settlers live in hundreds of illegal settlements and outposts across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which has been militarily occupied by Israel since 1967.
The majority of settlers are armed and Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem suffer from hundreds of Israeli settler attacks each year, including beatings, stabbings, shootings and arson.
Following Israel’s decision to block Cleverly’s visit to Ein Samiya, MEE was told that the foreign secretary invited representatives from the stricken village to Ramallah.
Abu Najih Kaa’bniy, who was among those invited, stated that he spoke with Cleverly about “the eviction and the destruction of our community and [increasing] settler violence”.
However, speaking to MEE on Tuesday, he added he didn’t see any real value in his meeting with the British envoy.
“I don’t know if he will do anything for us,” he lamented.
Hazem, another villager, said that the restrictions imposed on Cleverly were not surprising and that Israeli authorities had repeatedly banned foreign officials visiting Ein Samiya.
“We have been told several times about delegations that were cancelled [a] few days before they were supposed to take place,” Hazem added.
“In January and February, we had some international formal delegations, mainly ambassadors who came to the school. But after that the [Israeli] army started to block any formal delegations from abroad.”
Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CABU), criticised Cleverly for not raising the restriction publicly and for the UK failing to hold Israel accountable.
“Once again, Israeli authorities show total contempt for those countries who claim to be their friends. But more alarmingly these friends, especially Britain, refuse to hold Israel to account,” he said.
“Cleverly should have spoken out. To remain silent in the face of such injustice is inexcusable. It has happened all too often.”
Meanwhile Sarit Michaeli, international advocacy lead for Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, challenged the security narrative as a “false explanation”.
“I was actually there last Saturday – we got there easily, it’s not a problem,” Michaeli told MEE, adding, “There’s plenty of options to guarantee to safeguard the ability of internationals to visit these places.”
She also criticised Cleverly’s silence which prevented British taxpayers from hearing of the rubble that remains from the school that was partly funded by them.
“Israel is allowed to get away with prohibiting visiting ministers from seeing the reality that Israel inflicts on Palestinians because these visiting ministers refuse to take the action necessary to demand that they are allowed to visit,” she continued.
“Obviously, the responsibility is with Israeli authorities, but there’s also partial responsibility with the international community that acquiesces, that accepts this policy, that doesn’t take action to demand a change.”