Previous Section Index Home Page

4 July 2006 : Column 209WH—continued

11.25 am

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing this debate. However, what he said bears scant relationship to what is in fact happening in the world. He condemns Iran, whose odious regime certainly challenges the balance of power and peace in the world, for sending killers all over the world. Of course, Israel, which is a nuclear power that refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty, has sent killers all over the world. One can see in the film “Munich” by the American Jew Steven Spielberg, who also was the director of “Schindler’s List”, how the Israeli Government sent killers out after the Munich massacre at the Olympic games. They killed innocent people in many parts of the world.

The reflection of reality that the hon. Gentleman offers is in stark contrast with what was written recently by the Israeli Jew Gideon Levy in the respected Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz about what is taking place in Israel and the Palestinian territories now. He stated:

Michael Fabricant: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Kaufman: Let me proceed a little.

The hon. Gentleman rightly condemns Hamas, which is a terrorist organisation that is responsible for the death of innocent people. He implicitly condemned the kidnapping of the teenage Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit but seems to imagine that somehow or other such events are peculiar to Palestinian terrorists. He does not refer to the fact that before Israel gained independence, Jewish terrorists led by two future Prime Ministers of Israel, Begin and Shamir, one of whom was a murderer and an assassin, kidnapped two British sergeants, hanged them and booby-trapped their bodies. Hamas has learned well from Jewish terrorists.

If the hon. Gentleman believes that the explosion at the King David hotel can somehow be legitimised, he ought to pay attention to the fact that not only 200 non-Jews but 19 Jews were killed there, and if he goes on about terrorism, let him somehow justify more than 200 innocent Palestinians being murdered by Begin and Shamir in the village of Deir Yassin. There are no clean hands on either side of this conflict.

I condemn Hamas. The party includes murderers, killers and terrorists, but it won a democratic election. President Bush, whose first election was not a democratic victory but a fiddled election that resulted in his appointment by the Supreme Court, seems to imagine that not only do we require democratic elections in the middle east but those elections can be accepted as democratic only if the people vote in the way we want. I did not want the Palestinians to vote for Hamas—I was there leading an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation before that election—but they did so. The more the Israelis go on oppressing and killing Palestinians, the more support for Hamas will grow.

The father of Gilad Shalit is quoted in The Daily Telegraph today as regarding the Israeli Government’s action, allegedly to free his son, as “delusional”. Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel, is quoted in the same article as having issued orders to the army to

That is collective punishment. It is in direct violation of every canon of international law; yet the hon. Gentleman says that it is all right because Israel is a democracy. However, Hamas was elected by a democratic vote—hon. Friends of mine went to see that election, and saw that it was democratically conducted.

Let us be clear: terrorists are murdering Israeli citizens. That is culpable to the nth degree, but at the same time, the Israelis have killed 4,000 Palestinians since the second intifada began, including hundreds of children. The hon. Gentleman says that children are
4 July 2006 : Column 211WH
not targeted—but they are dead just the same. As long as we go on tolerating such unacceptable breaches of law by the Israeli Government, the more terrorism and support for it among the Palestinians will be fostered.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I have a brief question for the right hon. Gentleman. He has correctly pointed out that Hamas was elected democratically, but is it appropriate for the Foreign Minister of a democratically elected Government to say, as was said three months ago, that Hamas will not hesitate to kidnap Israeli soldiers

That was said by the Hamas Foreign Minister, Mahmud al-Zahar, on 7 March 2006.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: Of course that is wrong, but equally wrong is the President of the United States kidnapping people and holding them in an illegal prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, which has just been condemned by the United States Supreme Court. As I have said before, there are no clean hands in this situation, but simply to target the evils of Hamas, which exist and must be condemned, is not enough if we are to see the whole spectrum of what is taking place in the middle east, and between the Israelis and the Palestinians today.

I quote again from the article by the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

Michael Fabricant: The right hon. Gentleman has quoted from Ha’aretz in Israel, where people are quite free, but I should like to point out that I have not condoned terrorism on either side. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman listened to my speech, which was all about the global fight against terror, not the present Israeli situation, as I made clear early on. Does he think that there is a newspaper in Gaza or on the west bank that would publish criticism of its own Government on the same lines as the criticism against the Israeli Government that has been made in Ha’aretz and other Israeli newspapers? The answer is clearly no.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: The answer is not clearly no. However, it is of course a bit difficult to publish newspapers in the Palestinian territories at the moment, particularly in Gaza, since Israel has destroyed the power supply, taking away air conditioning and water supplies in the most densely populated area on the face of the earth, in the heat of the middle east mid-summer.

4 July 2006 : Column 212WH

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a personal regard for him, but I recommend that he study the situation a little more, instead of trotting out a few statistics and believing that if he does that and says that Israel is a democracy, everything is all right. Yes, Israel is a democracy, but democracies make mistakes, as this country did when it elected Margaret Thatcher three times running. To be a democracy does not necessarily involve total wisdom on the part of the electors—apart from the electors in the Gorton division of Manchester, who have an unrivalled record on these matters.

Richard Burden: Following on from the intervention by the hon. Member for Lichfield, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would like to comment on the case of al-Haq, the respected Palestinian human rights organisation? Only yesterday it was circulating press releases that were critical of the actions of terrorist groups inside Palestine and of any support that they receive from the Palestinian Government. However, they also pointed out that 756 Palestinians are imprisoned in Israeli jails without trial.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: My hon. Friend is a great expert on such issues and makes a valid point. I do not claim for one second that Palestinian democracy has produced a satisfactory outcome. It has not. On the other hand, however, to my mind Israeli democracy has not produced a very satisfactory outcome either. I am particularly sad that a Nobel peace prize winner such as Shimon Peres, in the vanity of his old age and for the sake of holding office, is colluding in such actions. I am also sad that a man whom I particularly admire—Amir Peretz, the leader of the Israeli Labour party—not only is a party to such violations of international law, but is inflicting them.

Our Government have been right all along in saying that the only way the issue can be solved is through direct negotiation based on the road map. As long as we continue as we are, more innocent Israelis will be killed, more innocent Palestinians will be killed and there will be no way out.

11.38 am

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing this debate. I wish to focus on the subject of the debate. It is all too easy to be partisan in looking at the details of the situation in Israel at present, but we should seek consensus on Israel as the focal point in the fight against terror. This country and others that have been victims of terror can join in that, but at the same time we should recognise that Israel is the focus of terrorist organisations. That must concern us all and we should all take action to deal with it.

I visited Israel in January, courtesy of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and have three abiding images that are relevant to this debate. The first memory is of going to northern Israel, to the southern Lebanese border, and seeing an armed Hezbollah terrorist standing 50 yards away on the border. That reminded me all too clearly of the presence of terrorist organisations. That needs to be tackled. As my hon. Friend said, it needs to be tackled by this Government
4 July 2006 : Column 213WH
as well through the way in which we deal with Hezbollah. As hon. Members will know, Hezbollah was established by Iran and Syria as a proxy for attacking Israel—as the spearhead for Iran’s export of terrorism. It seeks the destruction of the state of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon.

We need to recognise that Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, the United States and, indeed, the entire western world and we need to tackle it seriously. As the Foreign Secretary said in reply to a written question from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), we need to do that by calling on Hezbollah

We can all unite on the response to that question, but we need to go further. As other countries, such as the US, Australia, Canada, Israel and, recently, Holland, have done, we need to recognise that Hezbollah is a terror organisation and to treat it accordingly. We cannot go along with the European Union in seeking artificially to differentiate between the political and military wings of Hezbollah.

I saw the situation for myself when I saw the terrorist standing there armed, guarding the border. I ask the Minister to respond on this particular point: Hezbollah is a terror organisation and we cannot separate the political side and what is called the external security organisation. We need to join the countries that I mentioned and recognise Hezbollah as an organ of terror.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield said, we need to recognise properly that Hezbollah is engaged in activities that are causing great damage to the region and instability beyond. It is threatening Lebanon’s own fragile democracy and independence from the Syrian occupation and it is causing instability and conflict to cross the UN-drawn Israeli-Lebanese border. It is a cause of instability in Israel and further afield.

We also need to recognise the activities of al-Qaeda in the region. I am referring not only to activities that we can see, but to the words of the al-Qaeda leaders bin Laden and Zawahiri. They have mentioned not so much Afghanistan or Iraq but Palestine as a higher priority. In recent times, they have carried through phases of operations in Afghanistan and beyond. Now we are seeing, particularly in Israel, the results of their activities.

In August 2005, the Syrian citizen Louai Sakra was arrested while planning to blow up cruise ships containing Israeli tourists. On 27 December 2005, nine rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that attack. On 2 March 2006, Palestinian security forces caught al-Qaeda operatives in Gaza and the west bank, and the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, admitted that there was proof of the infiltration of al-Qaeda into the west bank and Gaza.

We need to consider more broadly the war against terror, but inevitably the focus is Israel and the Jewish
4 July 2006 : Column 214WH
people. My second abiding memory is of Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial. When I visited it, I was reminded that even when the war was over and Jewish people were going out of the camps, the killing of the Jewish people continued relentlessly. That reminds me and should remind us all that anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish people continue to this day. We can see that in the words coming from Iran. As has been said, the Iranian President said that he wished to wipe Israel off the map. We should remember the words that have often gone in tandem with an attack on Israel and the Jewish people—words that constitute a denial of the holocaust, in which more than 6 million Jews were murdered.

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Would the hon. Gentleman like to speculate on this issue in the context of what he has been saying and of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman)—who, it is fair to say, is a political hero of mine, so I do not disagree with him—on the behaviour of the Israeli Government? My right hon. Friend is the last person among us who needs a lesson in the history and travails of the Jewish people and the Israeli nation. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to speculate on whether the current behaviour of the Israeli Government, rather than merely being dismissed as terrorist behaviour, should be put in the context of the recent and longer history of the Israeli state and the Jewish people and the current situation, which the hon. Gentleman is discussing.

Mr. Burrowes: I am grateful for that intervention. It is important to put these issues in the proper context, which is why this debate is so important and welcome. We need to consider the context of the fight against global terrorism and the context that I am seeking to draw out, which is the battle and the need for the Jewish people to have a safe place to go. That context is important and we should never dismiss it, because it is constantly under attack from terrorists. Indeed, it is constantly under attack in broadcasts of hate on the airwaves. That hate goes to the heart of the concerns for the Jewish people. It is anti-Semitic filth. We need to ask the Minister to consider how we can seek to tackle the funding for those broadcasts. We need to cut that funding off at supply, because it supports terrorist organisations. There are physical attacks on Israel and there are verbal attacks. We are dealing not just with a strategic battle, a battle of war, but with a state of mind that is built on hatred and evil. We need to ensure that the Government are at the forefront of tackling that.

That brings me to my third abiding memory from my visit to Israel, which is the words of Tommy Lapid, who was the last surviving victim of the holocaust who was a member of the Knesset. He gave an account of his experiences and what he saw as the rationale for the state of Israel. He sought to caution us about focusing only on the everyday occurrences and concerns in Israel and about the need to look more broadly at what Israel is about. He recounted how his family had in effect left him on his own when he was fleeing the ghetto, because they wanted him to run for it. He was completely isolated, fleeing from the ghetto, a place where the Star of David had to be worn and a place of
4 July 2006 : Column 215WH
great vulnerability. At the very moment when he was seeking a hiding place in a closet, he realised that a place was needed for him and the Jewish people to go. He reminded us that that need still exists today.

That is why we need to condemn properly the words of, for example, Mohammad Samadi, a spokesman for the committee for the commemoration of martyrs of the global Islamic campaign, who was seeking to recruit suicide bombers to the terrorist cause. His words in that recruitment drive are very pertinent:

In relation to the fight against terrorism, we need to recognise that, at present, the first target is, sadly, always Israel. We need to hear the concerns of Tommy Lapid and others that they need a place to go. We need to stand four-square behind them to protect that place to go, so that we can tackle terrorism properly and support Israel and the fight for freedom and democracy.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. I hope to start the winding-up speeches at 12 o’clock.

11.48 am

Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for securing this important and timely debate. In recent weeks and months, there have been several Westminster Hall debates on matters relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wider middle east regional context. I was fortunate to secure a debate a couple of weeks ago on the prospects for peace in the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) initiated a debate on the subject a couple of months ago, and I seem to remember that the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) introduced a debate on Iran in recent months. I hope that this debate adds further strength to a request that I made to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House a couple of weeks ago in business questions for a debate of a similar nature but much longer on the Floor of the House in Government time to discuss these vital issues.

The hon. Member for Lichfield raised some important points and I think that what he said about terrorism in Britain being similar to terrorism in Israel was accurate and appropriate. I also agree with him that there is no international terrorism without state support, and that is something that I want to discuss. Paying attention to the question of state-sponsored terrorism rightly puts the debate on Israel and the Palestinians in a regional context, which is necessary to understand the conflict properly. The conflict does not exist in a vacuum. It is played out on a regional stage, with global repercussions; the hon. Member for Lichfield and other hon. Members mentioned the role of Iran and Syria, and their contribution to the conflict through sponsorship and funding of terrorism, and it is right to raise those matters.

Next Section Index Home Page