House of Lords debate, 6th February 2009
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat): ...Last week Ha'aretz published a survey of settlement on the West Bank, which stated that 75 per cent of settlements are built illegally on Palestinian-owned land. Yet the Israeli Government demolish Palestinian houses for which there is no permission. Is that acceptable within the best of the Jewish tradition, which many of us cherish so much? There are rumours about troop behaviour towards the Palestinians both in Gaza and on the West Bank, some of which are sadly likely to be true, and very hard evidence of fundamentalist settlers behaving in a totally unacceptable fashion towards their Palestinian neighbours. We have the rise of Netanyahu and Lieberman. It was Netanyahu who made that dreadful Faustian pact with the nastiest version of Christian fundamentalism in the United States in order that they could avoid facing up to the need for withdrawal from what right-wing Israelis call Judea and Samaria and what we like to call the West Bank and Palestine....
Baroness Tonge (Liberal Democrat):...Our party of European parliamentarians met Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, and found him and his colleagues not at all what we had been led to believe by our Government, by others and the noble Lord, Lord Kalms, who spoke before me. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and I also met Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader in Damascus, two weeks later. Hamas will recognise Israel. It does not like the term "right" to exist, but it will recognise it. But it needs the borders to be defined. What "Israel", exactly? The Israel that is now? It would prefer the Israel that was before 1967...
Lord Luce:...We are familiar with the steady deterioration since then: the end of the British mandate in 1948; the war in 1956; the war in 1967; and all that followed, with the illegal Jewish settlements in occupied territory, the intifadas and the ever-increasing cycle of destruction and extremism.. The result, it seems to me, is that endeavouring to satisfy a gross injustice done to the Jews in Europe, and elsewhere for that matter, has in itself resulted in a gross injustice to Palestinians over a relatively tiny area of land. It has created a kind of cancer, which is spreading outwards, destabilising the Middle East and affecting Europe too, with, for example, the Muslim outrage that we now see and the deplorable anti-Semitism that we have seen in recent times....
Lord Eden of Winton: ... The timing of the Israeli action was no accident. The Israeli Government knew that they were free to act because they had the tacit consent of the United States Administration. The assault on Gaza was, I believe, seen in the USA to be a necessary step in America's world-wide war on terror. Neither Israel nor America seems to have learnt anything from the disastrous Israeli incursions into Lebanon in 2006. That resulted in the rise of Hezbollah and a heavy loss of civilian life. As the Minister referred to the injuries still being inflicted by mines and unexploded artillery in Gaza, he should know that the same is still happening in Lebanon today, where unexploded mines and cluster bombs are causing deaths and injuries to civilians. To our shame, the British Government were as complicit as that of America in letting the Israeli attack on Lebanon proceed without check and without criticism. This time, in Gaza, America has also been silent as women and children have been slaughtered, and hospitals and safe havens destroyed. Both the US President and the then President-elect kept quiet. It is deeply worrying that the pro-Israel lobby has such a stranglehold on US policy. American leaders appear unwilling to give voice to the smallest note of criticism lest they be accused of anti-Semitism and risk losing valuable electoral support....
In the case of the latest Gaza war, the US actually went beyond just being a passive observer. It was probably Israel's major source of military materiel. Even at the height of the assault on Gaza, America was supplying Israel with deadly weapons from its arsenal, some of them stored at Lakenheath. Reference has already been made to the white phosphorous shells used, but also used were flechette shells which disperse thousands of darts, causing horrendous injuries. Together they burnt and decimated indiscriminately. Also widely used by Israel in heavily populated areas was a bomb called the Dime. As the Independent on Sunday of 25 January made clear, dense inert metal explosives are designed to spray superheated micro-shrapnel comprised of powdered heavy metal tungsten alloy. That substance, HMTA, is chemically toxic; it damages the immune system, rapidly causes cancer, and is genotoxic in that it attacks the DNA. Dime bombs appear to have their roots in depleted uranium research. I find that extremely worrying. Their deployment in the conditions of Gaza should be universally and unequivocally condemned. As Professor Avi Shlaim of Oxford University wrote on 26 January in a letter to the Guardian: "Gaza was not even a war in the conventional sense of the word; it was one-sided carnage".....
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I am the president of Medical Aid for Palestinians. I took over the role from the noble Lord, Lord Steel; it is a role that has circulated between persons in the different political parties. MAP enjoys the support of many people in this country and many within the Jewish community. I, too, have a long and deep relationship with Israelis. I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, in her interpretation of history but I believe in the right of Israel to exist.... The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, raised the issue of whether white phosphorous was used in ways that contravene international law. Again, there has to be an inquiry and investigation into how it was used and whether there is any question of contravention.
The massive bombardment continued and intensified over the three weeks. The Israeli military seemed to widen the range of what it described as a legitimate target. According to one senior Israeli official:
"There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel".
Although it is absolutely right that Israel was being bombarded with these weapons by Hamas, we should always bear in mind the question of proportionality. Any investigation will have to address the issue of what is proportionate and right in self-defence....
Lord Wright of Richmond:... It is high time that we recognise Hamas for what it is: a democratically elected resistance movement, with a readiness to talk, which draws its popular support from deep resentment, not only of the continued and expanding occupation of Palestinian territory but also of the appalling conditions under which the populations of both Gaza and the West Bank are forced to live....
Lord Sheikh:... I regret that Israel chose to use its troops to inflict one of the most disproportionate and excessive deployments that we have seen in the world. The alleged use of white phosphorous and DIME weapons is disgusting and outrageous; to use this material against civilians is against international law. There have been other alleged abuses of international law, and I hope that the Minister can confirm that these will be investigated and that those responsible-if there is evidence to prove the allegations-will be pursued and prosecuted. They must be held to account for their decisions and their actions. Those allegations need to be investigated thoroughly, and I understand that the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Government of Israel will be leading that activity. The Government have confirmed that they are in contact with all three bodies, and I hope that the Minister will provide the House with an update on those investigations.
Israel refused to permit the world media to go to Gaza. We could understand perhaps that the reason could be that they did not want the world to know what was happening...
Baroness Afshar: ...My Lords, as a member of the Coexistence Trust led by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, and as a teacher of Islam and the Middle East at the University of York, I thought that one of my major functions as both a teacher and a participant is to avoid labelling and stereotypes. Just as we feel that anti-Semitism is unacceptable, we must also think that Islamophobia is unacceptable. I worry about terminology about Middle Eastern barbarism, Islamic extremism, taking al-Qaeda, bin Laden and the entire Muslim community as a single cohort, or even saying that my natal country, Iran, is involved in everything. That gives Iran disproportionate power, which it does not have-fortunately. First, I ask for clear thinking about who we are talking about, what we are saying and for us not to demonise anyone in this whole affair.
In my capacity as chair of the Muslim Women's Network, we have already written to the Foreign Office and had meetings about the plight of women and children. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for raising the problem of women and children. The most important thing that we have left in Palestine is its people. We know that more than half of the population of Gaza are children. We also know that more than one third of those who were injured in the conflict were women and children....
I had a student who was doing her PhD studying the rise of Hezbollah. Sitting in England, she could not quite work out why Hezbollah was so successful. She was in Lebanon at the border areas when they were being bombed. She sent me a text saying: "Haleh, why is nobody reporting what is happening to us?". That arrived the day before my daughter's wedding, and we were knee-deep in flowers and organising. I sat in my office and e-mailed 55 journalists whom I knew personally, asking "Why is this not being reported?". One journalist, from BBC World Service, reported it.
There are silences that need to be broken. What is more, my student who was still in Lebanon said that afterwards only Hezbollah helped everybody; regardless of religion or affiliation, Hezbollah was in there building. Perhaps I may suggest that Hamas is experiencing a similar legitimacy. I agree completely with noble Lords that it is the group on the ground. The only way forward is to accept that, if the people in the Middle East, including Palestinians, elect people as we wish them to, they have a right to expect their elected representatives to represent them. If the West thinks that it can bomb Iraq into democracy, surely we can talk Palestine into democracy; and if they do it, we should respect it.
Unless and until we speak the same language to both sides, until we use the same definitions for each side, and unless and until one dead body is as important as another, we will not have peace in the region.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I declare an interest as a past director of Oxfam and I am able to continue drawing on its insight and experience, based on its direct field experience.
The firing of missiles by Hamas into Israel was wrong. It provoked the massive retaliation by Israel. For Hamas to target civilians indiscriminately in any form cannot be justified. The response by Israel was, nevertheless, out of all proportion. Indiscriminately to kill, maim and bereave such large numbers of innocent people and children was unforgivable, whatever the provocation. It was also counterproductive. It inevitably strengthened the political significance of Hamas.
However, it was not just the military action; it came on top of the prolonged and ruthless stranglehold by Israel on Gaza's economy, with all its consequent hardship and suffering, not least acute food shortages and ruined agricultural production. The military action was also preceded by repeated attempts by Israel to destabilise and undermine the Administration of Gaza and to destroy its infrastructure. That came against the background of illegal settlements on Palestinian land, harsh imprisonments and allegations of torture....
Lord Ahmed: ...Evidence of Israel's indiscriminate bombing and failure to take care to spare civilians is clearly demonstrated by the following statistics. In the three years since the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis have been killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in the two years between 2005 and 2007 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. In the three weeks of this latest Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people, 100 Palestinians have been killed for every one Israeli. Of those, 26 civilians were killed for each Hamas fighter. So if the aim was to eradicate Hamas, you would have had to kill everyone in the whole of Gaza.
Hamas is now stronger than before the attacks in Gaza started. For those who say that Hamas positioned its rockets in residential areas, according to UNICEF's briefing this morning, some 49 UN stores were attacked. Imagine if that had been Saddam Hussein attacking 49 UN buildings. Imagine if that was done by the Taliban. Think of the outcry we would see in our country: "Forty-nine UN stores! We must send the armies of the whole world to destroy those evil people". Israel did it, and we remain silent. A cement factory, a Pepsi-Cola factory and even the American school were bombed. Schools, hospitals, ambulances, electricity, water and sanitation systems were all bombed. Please do not tell me that Hamas was hiding its rockets in those places. I am told that even the cemetery for British soldiers in Gaza has been bombed. I wonder when the allegation will be made that even the United Nations is involved in the hiding of arms. I do not know.
It is sad that even in your Lordships' House there is deliberate propaganda and misinformation. I know that 12 speeches could have been written by the same person. Time after time we are given the example of Hamas looting hundreds of lorries of food and selling it. When we questioned John Ging, UNRWA's representative in Gaza, he categorically denied this allegation. He is the man on the spot. So either the UN is telling lies or somebody is misinforming us.
Israel's three year-old blockade restricted the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking gas, canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants and medical supplies. We have heard a great deal about the tunnels and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, has mentioned that when we went to Gaza we saw them. Yes, there are tunnels, but they are used to bring the essentials such as food and medication. I did not see any evidence of anything else going through. I am not here to defend Iran, but either we are saying that there are tunnels running from Teheran into Gaza or that Israel's great friend, Egypt, is allowing the rockets and ammunition to go through into Gaza from Palestine.
I need to ask many questions in a short time. Time after time I hear the screams for Israel's security, but what about the security of the Palestinian people? We hear the cry for recognition of Israel's right to existence, but what about the rights of the Palestinians and respect for Palestine's sovereignty? I hear the demonisation of Hamas linked with Islam. God forbid I should demonise Israel and link it with the Jewish faith. There would be headlines in the Jewish Chronicle and everywhere else and I would be accused of being anti-Semitic on a regular basis. I have the greatest respect for the religion of the Prophet Moses-I probably have more in common with the Jewish faith than with some of my own so-called Muslims-but we have to be careful not to demonise religion when we are talking politics. I do not want to go down that route.
We should not forget the massacres of Sebra and Shetila, and the massacre of Jenine, into which the United Nations ordered an investigation which was never carried out. In Gaza, the killing of Palestinian children continues. We should be demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners-of-war, political prisoners and the fishermen. It is alleged that arms are coming in from the sea, but the Palestinians cannot even go to the sea to bring in their own food, the fish. Under the Oslo agreement the Palestinians were given a 20 mile territorial waters limit; they are allowed to go only five miles and then they are shot at.
Finally, will my noble friend tell the House whether Her Majesty's Government will make any representations to the United Nations regarding an independent international investigation into war crimes committed by the Israel Defence Forces? Will he assure the House that Israel will not be rewarded by upgrading the EU-Israel Association Agreement and that this must now be suspended
House of Commons debate, 21st January 2009
Clare Short (Ind., Ladywell): ...if Gaza is a prison. It is a large, crowded Bantustan of 1.5 million people on a strip of land 25 miles by six or seven. Seventy per cent. of them are refugees who were ethnically cleansed by the Israelis from other parts of Palestine. Half of them are children. Israel withdrew its settlements in September 2005, but it controls the borders and access to the sea and air. It has bombed the airfield, which therefore cannot be used. Young people with scholarships cannot get out to take up their places, and sick people who cannot be treated locally cannot get out for medical care.
Gaza is a prison—and that, of course, is why the tunnels exist. We went to Rafah to see them. Yes, some explosives may come through, but mostly what comes through are the necessities of life. British prisoners in Nazi prisoner-of-war camps built tunnels; Sarajevo built a tunnel—imprisoned people build tunnels. Now Israel has destroyed Rafah and the tunnels. It wants complete control of Gaza and for the people to lie down abjectly and accept their imprisonment.
We are told that the bombardment of Gaza was necessary because Israel has a right of defence against Hamas rockets. That justification of the attack is deeply dishonest. It is as big an untruth as were the claims about the need for war in Iraq. Two sets of facts are important when we assess Israel's excuse for its attack. For the past seven years, from when rocket attacks began up to 27 December when Israel attacked Gaza, those rockets killed 13 innocent Israelis and one foreigner. In that time, Israel killed 2,990 Palestinians in the Gaza strip, 634 of them children. Large numbers of those killed were innocent civilians, including many women and children. Those figures are provided by the Israeli human rights organisation, B'Tselem. There is no possible justification for us to say that Gaza was attacking Israel and Israel was not doing anything. The balance of attack and killing was that Israel was doing more harm to Gaza than the other way around.
...the two-states idea is the answer, but it is eroding on the ground and no one is doing anything—including our Government and the hon. Gentleman's party's Front Bench. No one is standing by international law, which says that the lands occupied in 1967 cannot be incorporated in Israel and should be the basis for a Palestinian state. That is the answer, but it is disappearing. The world should be more troubled by that and should take more action to restrain Israel. That is the argument that I am trying to make....Those who are briefed by Israeli sources tell us, as do the Government and the Opposition Front Benches, that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that refuses to recognise Israel, refuses to accept previous agreements that have been negotiated and refuses to end violence. Our delegation met Prime Minister Haniya when we were in Gaza and he said that Hamas had answered each of those demands. It had ended violence by agreeing to and standing by the ceasefire, as I have described. It recognises that the Palestine Liberation Organisation had made agreements—notably, Oslo—and thought that, although it was a bad agreement, it was properly made. I agree that that is a bad agreement and that the Palestinians have lost out on it, because it has not been completed. Hamas also said that it would recognise a long-term peace if Israel would recognise a Palestinian state on 1967 boundaries. It has met the demands of the international community, but the international community is not interested, will not meet and discuss the matter, and will do nothing to restrain Israel and hold it to account under international law.
the Government have said that the allegations of war crimes during the attack on Gaza must be investigated. There are serious allegations from very authoritative sources. I have taken legal advice on this matter, along with Baroness Tonge in the other place, which I am sending to all Members of Parliament in the UK. We will also circulate it across Europe. Briefly, that advice is that, because Israel did not sign up to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, it is necessary for the Security Council to fulfil the role envisaged for it when the Rome statute of the ICC was concluded in 1998. That statute provided that, when some suspects were not from states that were parties to the treaty, instead of a special ad hoc tribunal, as in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, the Security Council should refer the case to the ICC, as in the case of Darfur.
...There have been serious allegations of war crimes, so it is right that all such allegations against all sides should be thoroughly investigated. I challenge the Government to refer the case to the ICC through the Security Council....
House of Commons Debate, 19th January 2009
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague: ...Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): ...While it is alleged that Hamas may often have used civilians as human shields and fired rockets from civilian areas, it is also clear that the civilian toll in Gaza and the number of attacks on United Nations-run schools and compounds, which have yet to be explained, have caused damage to the reputation of Israel in the wider world. The Foreign Secretary did not tell us in his statement—I hope he will do so now—whether the Government believe that these incidents should be investigated, by whom they think they should be investigated, and whether the issue was discussed at the summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh at the weekend.[Response from David Miliband: he referred to the investigation of serious allegations of war crimes and other misdemeanours, and he will know that I said very clearly in my statement last week that those allegations must be closely and speedily investigated. Obviously, the three key parties to that investigation are the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Government of Israel, and we are in touch with all of them. I should also point out that however heinous is the crime of using people as 'human shields'—a terrible phrase—that does not change the responsibilities of parties to the conflict to spare the lives of civilians; it is important not to forget that.]
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that investigations take place immediately into the use of illegal weapons by Israel, with reports of re-bombing of places that it has already bombed with white phosphorus to try to destroy the evidence, and that all evidence will be collected, collated and put before the International Criminal Court so that these war crimes can be properly investigated and the perpetrators, be they Ministers or not, brought to justice? [Response from David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will know that there are detailed applications of the law on conventional weapons in respect of white phosphorus and it is important that they are followed absolutely and clearly. Certainly, the practice in respect of avoiding its use on populations is very clear and needs to be followed]
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Who does the Foreign Secretary expect to pay for the reconstruction of the non-military targets that were either destroyed or severely damaged in the recent bombardment, and does he expect the Government of Israel to make a contribution towards those costs?
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): In welcoming the increased aid from the UK to Gaza, may I ask my right hon. Friend to clarify the logic whereby we can send the Royal Navy to enforce an arms ban on Hamas while continuing to sell arms to Israel, after a conflict in which 1,200 Palestinians were slaughtered and four Israelis were killed by Hamas rockets? That is an exchange rate of one Israeli life for 300 Palestinian lives.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s efforts to achieve a ceasefire, and I hope that he will put equal effort into reopening the crossings and lifting the blockade if the ceasefire is to last. Although specific allegations of war crimes must be investigated, does he not agree with the thousands of people who have marched or written to newspapers that Israel’s conduct of the war has been not only excessive and disproportionate but inhumane, both in scale and method, and an abuse of human rights?
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Surely, it is not by casualty figures but by the scale of the force that we determine whether action has been disproportionate; but by either yardstick, the Israeli actions in Gaza have been wholly disproportionate. Surely, in the circumstances, it is unthinkable that we should issue export licences to Israel until we have what is not just a ceasefire but a peace deal.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): When I was in the Gaza strip on 14 April last year, the first thing that we came across, just inside the Erez crossing, was a large lagoon of sewage, in which a five-year-old boy had already died. Raw sewage was pouring into the sea 24/7, and there were piles of rotting rubbish lying in all the streets because the refuse vehicles could not function. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the public health situation in Gaza is now even more urgent than it was then, because the population is so traumatised that disease will spread if it takes hold?
Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): First, may I remind the Foreign Secretary that there was a ceasefire before, and the consequence was that Israel tightened and tightened the siege, then it started the bombing in early November that broke the ceasefire? Secondly, there is no peace process, because Israel keeps breaking the Geneva convention, building more settlements and the wall, and the roads are subject to closure. We will not achieve progress without action on Israel, requiring it to comply with international law. We need action in the Security Council to set up a war crimes tribunal—that is how we can get action. So what action will the Foreign Secretary take to ensure that Israel is held to account under the Geneva convention? Otherwise, there will be no progress.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that the people of Gaza made Hamas their elected choice in what were described as free and fair elections. The Israelis have locked up 45 Hamas MPs, and some Fatah MPs as well. What can my right hon. Friend do to secure the release of the properly elected representatives, either to stand trial or to be let go?
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): In answering questions, the Foreign Secretary has spoken with confidence to suggest that the strong restriction on the export of weapons to Israel means that they have not been used to repress the Palestinian people. Will he clarify whether he feels that some of the weapons that had been given licences have been used to kill Palestinians? If that is true, is there a case for further restricting the export of such weapons?
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary will be aware that of the 1,200 Palestinians killed in the recent conflict, a third were women and children. It is useful of him to keep repeating the British arms export criteria, but I ask him, once again, whether he is confident that no British arms—including those produced by an Israeli-owned arms manufacturer—have been used to repress the people of Gaza.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab):...How can we possibly justify allowing the Israelis preferential access to European markets, in view of the enormity of what they have done in Gaza and the relentless advance of the settlements across the west bank? [Response: My hon. Friend will know that the EU-Israel trade agreement is matched by an EU-Palestine trade agreement. It is vital that the access that the Palestinians are guaranteed under that agreement is fulfilled. It is also important that the produce from settlements does not get the benefit of the EU-Israel trade agreement, which was designed to ensure preferential access for Israel and not for the settlements, which we recognise as occupied Palestinian territory. It is for the benefit of both that the agreements that were last signed in 2004 are followed through.]
House of Commons Debate, 12th January 2009, Following Foreign Secretary David Miliband's statement
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I note the rather cosy consensus between the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), but I can assure the Foreign Secretary that it is not shared by all of us. On armaments for Israel, he said just a moment ago that he would very much like to see the prevention of arms going to terrorist organisations. That is the case for everybody in this House, and on the basis of what we have just heard and what he himself just said, will he undertake to ensure that no arms at all go to Israel at the moment, given that it is guilty in many people’s eyes of state-sponsored terrorism with its activities in the Gaza strip?
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): But is not the blunt truth that while we discuss this the Israeli Government persist in disproportionate military action, using F-15s, F-16s, Apache helicopters and tanks at a terrible cost to human life? If any other democratic state were behaving in that way, would we not by now be considering what other economic and diplomatic steps were available to us? Are the Government considering any such steps?
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): ...The Foreign Secretary must be aware that many in this House and across Britain believe that the UK and the international community have failed the people of Gaza over the past two weeks. In trying to be balanced and rightly condemning Hamas for the rocket attacks, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have at times seemed unbalanced in the face of a truly unacceptable level of Israeli military might. Indeed, in trying to be balanced the British Government have at times fallen off the tightrope of truth—when the Foreign Secretary initially refused, unlike the French President, to call this Israeli action disproportionate.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I was present some years ago in Jenin, during the siege of Jenin. I saw then the refusal of the Israelis to allow humanitarian aid to be provided to those who were injured and sick. Now we see that yet again. It is an absolute disgrace that any country that calls itself a democracy refuses to allow the humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to those who are desperately in need. I also think that the exclusion of journalists from the area is totally unacceptable. Were it not for al-Jazeera, we would see no pictures on television of the suffering and destruction taking place in Gaza at present. Will my right hon. Friend make the point that it is essential to allow journalists access?
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): In congratulating my right hon. Friend on steering resolution 1860 through the United Nations Security Council, may I ask him what the international reaction would be if Hamas had slaughtered nearly 900 Israelis and subjected nearly 1.5 million Israelis to degradation and deprivation? Is it not an incontrovertible fact that Olmert, Livni and Barak are mass-murderers and war criminals— [ Interruption. ] Yes. And they bring shame on the Jewish people whose star of David they use as a flag in Gaza, but whose ethos and morals go completely against what this Israeli Government are doing.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Has the Foreign Secretary warned the Government of Israel that despite the very grave provocation they have suffered, they are acting contrary to the laws of war?
Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend accept that condemnation has brought no relief to the people of Gaza? The killing goes on. Is it not time for stronger action? Is it not time that we expelled the ambassador of Israel and brought our ambassador back from Israel? Is it not time that we called for international sanctions against Israel?
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): If and when the terrible bombing of Gaza ever finishes, what hope does the Foreign Secretary have for the reconstruction of Gaza? It is all very well international Governments pledging aid to the Palestinian people, but if there is still an embargo on concrete and construction materials crossing from Israel to Gaza, we shall not be able to do the rebuilding that those people desperately need.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Would the Foreign Secretary agree that the terrible horror unleashed in and around Gaza represents an epic failure of foreign policy on all sides and that we need a new approach? The messages coming from President-elect Obama’s team, reported at the end of last week—making direct contact with opponents, including Hamas and seeking to negotiate an end to the conflict—stand a much better prospect of succeeding, because in the end we do not solve conflicts such as this by military means, as we learned in Northern Ireland. We solve them politically.
Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): The Foreign Secretary is not in favour of the isolation of Israel but he was in favour of the isolation of the Government elected in Palestine, in the only free parliamentary election ever held in any Arab country, because the people voted the wrong way. He joined the siege of the Hamas Government and helped create the desperation that led to the barrage of rockets—largely ineffectual, as he has conceded. Action speaks louder than words. The resolution he boasts of drafting is an ineffectual section 6—
Mr. Speaker: Order. I must stop the hon. Gentleman. He must ask a question. He is up there making a speech but he has not asked a question. He knows the rules of the House well enough. Ask a question.
Mr. Galloway: I will, Mr. Speaker. Why will the Government not recall our ambassador from Tel Aviv, ask the Israeli ambassador to leave, and, above all, stop selling British weapons to the mass-murderers who are taking so many lives and limbs in Palestine today?
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): That there are two sides to the escalation of the conflict is beyond doubt, but the appalling disproportion in the civilian casualties demonstrates that there is collective punishment of the civilian population of Gaza; that is what is shocking people around the world. My right hon. Friend rightly stressed the importance of a unified voice for the Palestinian people, but does he agree—and can he convey the fact—that that has been fatally undermined by the failure to ensure that the Palestinian people are incentivised and rewarded for pragmatic negotiation? In particular, illegal settlement building has been a major contributory factor. Can he convey that message to the Israeli Government?
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Would my right hon. Friend accept that the reason why there is such strong emotion in the House of Commons today is that, in the past week, the Israelis have shown total indifference to the suffering and lives of Palestinian civilians, and that some of the Israelis’ actions amount to war crimes against humanity? In those circumstances, is it not clear that a stronger approach is required by Britain, and that it should tell the Israelis that what they are doing is totally unacceptable and an affront to humanity?
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): In the early hours of the morning of 30 December, the Gibraltar cargo ship, the Dignity, was rammed by an Israeli gunboat. It was carrying aid and three doctors to Gaza, one of whom was my constituent, David Halpin, who has a proud record of trying to take aid to those beleaguered people. In response to that attack, a Foreign Office spokesman said that "we told the Israeli Government that we take the safety of our nationals seriously". Can the Secretary of State say what that means, and what action he will take to ensure that a ship sailing under British protection is protected? Will he make sure that that crime on the high seas is brought firmly to the attention of the Israeli ambassador?
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Has not the time come to recognise that neither the British Government nor other EU Governments have any serious influence at all over the Israelis? We should recognise, as other Members have suggested, that these are war crimes that we are witnessing in Gaza, and start talking with our EU allies about organising sanctions and, at the very least, stop selling weapons to the Israelis, and perhaps about the withdrawal of our ambassador, because those are the only things that will make any impression on the people currently running Israel.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): In agreeing particularly with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, may I ask that after he leaves the House and goes back to the Foreign Office he will summon the Israeli ambassador and say to him calmly but clearly that many of us who have been in this House for a very long time and who have been proud to call ourselves friends of Israel now feel ashamed because Israel is not behaving as a civilised state should behave?
Parliamentarians statement in The Guardian, 31st December 2008
"Israel's continuing massive military strikes on Gaza are an outrage that the international community must not allow to continue (Reports, 30 December). Palestinian rocket attacks that traumatise the lives of communities in southern Israel are also utterly unacceptable. Both sides must cease fire. Israel's actions are disproportionate and counterproductive to achieving either security for the people of Israel or peace in the Middle East. Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) have warned that "targeting of civilians and of medical facilities is a breach of international humanitarian law. The targets chosen by the Israeli military include also clearly civilian installations..."
Richard Burden MP, Lyn Brown MP, Peter Bottomley MP, Sir Gerard Kaufman MP, John Hemming MP, Martin Linton MP, Karen Buck MP, Nia Griffith MP, Natascha Engel MP, Martin Salter MP, Paul Flynn MP, Rob Marris MP, Andy Love MP, David Drew MP, Neil Gerrard MP, Hywel Francis MP, Clive Efford MP, Ian Taylor MP, Phyllis Starkey MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Jim Devine MP, John McDonnell MP, Frank Cook MP, Tom Levitt MP, Michael Connarty MP, Chris McCafferty MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, Simon Hughes MP, Danny Alexander MP, Sarah Teather MP, Madeleine Moon MP
"...We call on the Scottish and UK governments to do all they can to pressure the Israeli government to halt attacks on the Gazan people who are being collectively punished for the actions of a minority...We believe that a strong statement of condemnation of Israel's actions must be forthcoming from world leaders and political institutions before the air attacks escalate and ground troops sent into Gaza.
We urge our leaders to do all they can to halt the killing of innocent lives and send a strong message of condemnation to the Israelis for their current attacks.
Mohammad Sarwar MP, Katy Clark MP, Angus Robertson MP (Westminster SNP Leader), Jim McGovern MP, Jim Sheridan MP, Russell Brown MP, Mike Weir MP, Angus MacNeil MP, Anne Moffat MP, Tom Clarke MP, Mark Lazarowicz MP, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Alyn Smith MEP, Pauline McNeill MSP, Sandra White MSP, Jamie Hepburn MSP and 23 others
Andrew Smith MP (Labour, Oxford East) email to concerned constituent, 8th Jan 2009
"Thank you for writing to me regarding the appalling situation in Gaza,
and for drawing to my attention the appalling impact and injustice of
the attack on the university.
I absolutely share your horror at the carnage in Gaza, resulting from the
Israeli attacks on the territory. Nobody following the news or print
media, or reading contemporary accounts from Gaza on the internet, can
fail to be appalled at the impact of current atrocities.
Along with a number of other parliamentarians, I have signed a statement
(put together by Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine
Group), condemning the attacks and pressing the government and the
international community to bring the conflict to an immediate end, with
progress towards a lasting settlement."