Text size
related tags

Israel has paid the U.K. $145,000 for damaging a British war cemetery in the Gaza Strip during an Israel Defense Forces operation in the summer of 2006. Israel initially resisted accepting responsibility for the damages sustained.

The IDF launched the operation in July 2006 after Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas militants.

IDF forces entered the Gaza Strip and reached the British war cemetery on the outskirts of Gaza City. Bulldozers, tanks and helicopters used in the operation damaged cemetery structures, gravestones and shrubbery.

Some 3,500 soldiers from the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India, who were killed fighting the Ottoman army during the conquest of the area in 1917, are buried in the cemetery. Some 200 World War II fatalities are also buried there.

British diplomatic sources say the Gaza war cemetery contains graves of British and other foreign soldiers who were killed in conflicts in the region from as early as World War I.

Many tombstones in the graveyard are marked with a cross or Star of David, indicating that both Christians and Jews were buried there.

A few local gardeners tend the cemetery for the British government, and it is considered an especially beautiful site.

A few weeks after the incident, the British embassy in Tel Aviv lodged an official complaint with the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and IDF for damages in the cemetery as well as a demand for compensation. Despite the complaints, Israel refused to discuss the issue or accept responsibility for the damages for some time.

The affair, exposed by the Daily Telegraph, raised a furor in Britain, since it touched thousands of families. The British media said the IDF had desecrated a sacred place.

Finally, following repeated requests by British ambassador Tom Phillips, Israel agreed to discuss the issue. Although the debate took a long time to come to fruition, British officials said it was held in a positive atmosphere and they were pleased with the outcome.

Ironically, some two weeks ago, a day after receiving the compensation from Israel, Palestinian gunmen blew up the two-meter-high stone monument in the British cemetery, causing serious damage.

Mohammed Awaja, the cemetery's caretaker, said he heard the explosion. "We had no idea it was in the cemetery until two hours later when we discovered the explosion had blown up the monument," he said.

British officials rarely visit the area since Hamas' take over of the Gaza Strip and only local gardeners take care of the cemetery. This makes it difficult to repair the damages at the site.