Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10.10 pm

Mr. Michael: I have time only to make one point, and I must combat the message given by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)--the shadow Home Secretary--and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), that we shall somehow tackle problems by throwing money at them. The Audit Commission report demonstrated the need for efficiency and effectiveness. The Government have given an increase in resources of 3.7 per cent. to the police this year--that money must be used effectively. The police know that, by co-ordinating the resources of local authorities--

It being six hours and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Order [22 June], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair:--

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 952

Israeli-occupied Territories

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Jane Kennedy.]

10.11 pm

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in the west bank and the Gaza strip with a number of colleagues from the Labour middle east council. I am grateful for this opportunity to describe some of the things that we witnessed and what we were told about the way in which international law operates in that part of the world.

Today, I and others met and put our concerns to the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom. The meeting was private, so it would be wrong to discuss in detail what was said. However, the Israeli ambassador asked me to say tonight that I recognised the real concerns of the Israeli people to live in peace and security, and the personal tragedies and losses that so many Israeli families have suffered in the past 50 years of conflict. I willingly do so, and I say without doubt or hesitation that Israel has a right to exist within secure and recognised borders. I accept that--those borders have been internationally recognised since 1948.

I want tonight to address not the position inside those borders, but the position outside them, in those territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967 and which remain under occupation to this day. Those territories are covered by numerous United Nations resolutions, by the provisions of the internationally ratified Oslo accords and, as occupied territories, by the provisions of the fourth Geneva convention. The people who live there, like people in every part of the world, have a right to expect that they will be protected by the universal declaration of human rights. From our experience in the occupied territories only a few weeks ago, however, I must tell the House that there are considerable causes for concern on each of those grounds.

At the heart of the Oslo process is the principle of land for peace. Both sides agreed that they would not take actions that would pre-empt the results of negotiation. We still do not know exactly what Israel's final response will be to the United States proposals for a withdrawal from a further 13 per cent. of the occupied land. However, as we travelled round the west bank, we could see that the illegal settlement building was continuing and we witnessed roads being built. The roads criss-cross the west bank--bypass roads built for the most part on confiscated Arab land.

It is also becoming clear to the local population that that road building seems to be part of a long-term plan to pre-empt the results of the final negotiations. The maps show a pattern developing--a pattern of settlement blocks and bypass roads that reflect political and not natural boundaries and are designed to take in precious water resources. They appear to be splitting the Palestinian centres of population into many small islands, each detached from the others and permanently dislocated from east Jerusalem. When put together with the daily restrictions that Palestinians face on movement, many people have being saying--I think that they can legitimately suggest this--that what appears to be being created on the west bank today is a series of Palestinian Bantustans. Settlement building is not merely illegal; it is a threat to the peace process itself.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 953

During our recent visit, we were shown around the site of Har Homa at Jabal Abu Ghneim. We could see for ourselves how Israeli plans to develop that prime site in the heart of Palestinian territory on the south-eastern corner of Jerusalem, overlooking the hills that lead to Bethlehem, should have caused such outrage and fear among the Palestinian population.

During our tour of that area, we were also taken to a point in the north-east part of the city, looking toward the settlement of Maale Adumim and shown an area of open land that has been earmarked for what has become known in the area as the E1 project, which is designed to expand the boundaries of the settlement and create a territorial link between Jewish settlements beyond the green line and the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem. A decision to go ahead with that development could be made at any time and would almost certainly lead to the same sort of disastrous political consequences that accompanied the decision to go ahead with building the settlement at Har Homa. That was three weeks ago, and a potentially explosive situation is now being compounded further by the Israeli Cabinet's decision on Sunday to extend further the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and, apparently, annex the land on which a number of settlements have already been built in occupied areas.

I hope that the Minister will agree with me and use this opportunity to condemn unreservedly that latest illegal act in defiance of the Oslo peace agreement and the provisions of international law that remain applicable to the occupied west bank. I also hope that my hon. Friend will be able to reassure me that the Israeli ambassador has been reminded of the commitment of the United Kingdom and our European partners to a peace process that is based on international law and the protection of human rights.

I hope also that the Israeli Government have been reminded that the United Kingdom and the international community regard east Jerusalem and the west bank as occupied territory and that any changes made to the status of the city of Jerusalem and any borders redefined unilaterally by the Israeli Government are absolutely prohibited under international law.

Jerusalem is one of the most difficult issues of the peace process. That is why Oslo stipulated that it should be left to final status negotiations and why the architects of Oslo--Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat--wanted to build confidence-building measures that could lead that way. Developments in Jerusalem today are undermining that process and pre-empting those final status negotiations.

Housing laws operate in a discriminatory way. Homes are scheduled for demolition on the Palestinian side, while we are informed that less than 8 per cent. of east Jerusalem is available for Palestinian development. It is difficult for a Palestinian to get planning permission to extend his or her home. Whole areas of east Jerusalem are being designated as green zones, which apparently has less to do with environmental protection than with preventing building to house the Palestinian people of the area. As their families expand, and their population expands, all too many Palestinian families feel that they have to move out.

Only 7 per cent. of public services in the municipality are made available to the residents of east Jerusalem. I interviewed Naela Zaru, who is aged 40 and who was recently evicted from her home at 60 Rehov Hasaraya,

23 Jun 1998 : Column 954

also known as Diskin house, in east Jerusalem. Eviction followed a dispute with a family of settlers over ownership of the apartment. It had been through the Israeli courts twice. Once, the Palestinian woman won, and on the other occasion the Israeli family won. What was interesting was that after the Palestinian woman won, it took no less than nine months to ensure that the court's decisions were implemented and the Israeli family evicted. When it worked the other way round and the Israeli family won, eviction took place within 10 days, and was supervised by both the police and the military.

When I interviewed Naela, she was sitting on the steps outside a neighbour's house. Her possessions were in a storeroom, having been put out on the streets a few days before. The consequence of her eviction may be the loss not only of her home, but of her very right to live in Jerusalem. One of the most insidious developments is what appears to be a deliberate attempt to alter the demographic character of Jerusalem by denying more and more Palestinians the identity cards that they need to live in east Jerusalem.

Palestinians in Jerusalem face several inter-related problems. Identity cards can be withdrawn if they cannot prove to the satisfaction of the Israeli authorities that their "centre of life" is in Jerusalem. Withdrawal of an ID card can lead to problems in other areas, such as an inability to register the birth of a child. Anyone who seeks to marry a non-Jerusalemite must apply for a family reunification permit, and the chances are that it will be refused. If so, the person would have to live outside Jerusalem, and living outside Jerusalem for only a limited period means that the chances are that an ID will be withdrawn.

According the Centre for the Study of Civil and Social Rights, in the period from 1 January 1996 to 24 November 1997, a total of 63 ID cards were confiscated, 313 family reunification requests were pending, 194 had been turned down and 208 cases had been deleted from the computer of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, so that those Palestinian families had simply disappeared. There had been 130 deportation orders during that period, and 23 cases of lack of permits or tourist visas for Palestinians. There were seven cases of lack of laissez- passers, 16 of inability to register the birth of children and 49 in which Palestinians were unable to replace lost ID cards. In the period between November 1997 and May 1998, there were 425 new cases in those categories.

There is a way round all that for the Palestinian. He or she can swear allegiance to the state of Israel, gaining permanent status. However, to make fundamental rights conditional on swearing allegiance contravenes article 45 of the Hague regulations, which stipulate that

All this is not only illegal. It creates a climate in which Jerusalem Day, on the 31st anniversary of the occupation of east Jerusalem, was marked by a militaristic parade of armed settlers into the east. It creates a climate in which settlers from the Ateret Cohanim group felt able to move into east Jerusalem with Israeli troops to guard them. When they were eventually told to leave, they secured a deal to be able to guard the area.

I ask the Minister to agree that all that is contrary to the peace process, and to international law. I hope that he will agree that Britain should join moves at the United Nations to ensure that the fourth Geneva convention is

23 Jun 1998 : Column 955

implemented more thoroughly, that Israel is reminded of its obligations under UN resolutions--particularly 242 and 298--and that the European Union-Israel trade agreement will not be used to allow importation to the EU on preferential terms of produce from illegal settlements in occupied land. I also ask the Minister to agree that peace will come only when all sides in the middle east recognise that all sides have rights, and that those rights must be protected. That is not what is happening now.

I close with a short, anonymous poem by a Palestinian that talks about the situation in the occupied territories much more graphically than I could. It says:

Next Section

IndexHome Page