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9.52 am

Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): I will seek to be succinct, but I must respond to one or two of the comments that have been made. I must congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on winning the debate, although I regret the rather intemperate tone of some of his comments. I would be prepared to concede his case that there is a connection between the extremists in the UK who engage in criminal acts of terrorism, and those who engage in such acts elsewhere in the world, but I would argue that that is precisely why it is vital that members of the international community stand together and that the UK work with the United States, the United Nations and Europe to ensure a united response to what is, in reality, a war that is being waged against our way of life. I agree with that element of what the hon. Gentleman said, but I hope that his hon. Friend who visited Lebanon—I hope that he will forgive me, but I have forgotten his constituency.

Mr. Blunt: Reigate.

Jane Kennedy: Of course. I should remember, having worked with the hon. Gentleman in Northern Ireland. I hope, however, that he will challenge people in Lebanon who say that our Prime Minister is personally responsible for the war having been prolonged for two or three months. Had there been a Conservative Prime Minister, and had I been in the hon. Gentleman’s position, I would have challenged such an extreme depiction of what had happened. Those responsible for prolonging the war were the two sides in the conflict—Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Israel. We needed to find a solution to bring about a ceasefire.

Mr. Blunt: The perception in Lebanon is that the Prime Minister is responsible, and the international community’s failure to call for a ceasefire was seen very much as the responsibility of the British. One would have expected the United States not to call for a ceasefire, but the fact that the United Kingdom did not do so and did not lead the rest of the international community in putting pressure on Israel has properly fingered the Prime Minister as one of the leading actors in failing to put sufficient pressure on Israel to desist when it became clear that its action was not only criminal under international law, but a disastrous policy for the state of Israel and the people of the Lebanon.

Jane Kennedy: I am very sorry and disappointed to hear the hon. Gentleman come out with that point of view. He is entitled to his view, but he is fundamentally wrong.

I want to talk about the situation in Lebanon because so much has happened since we last debated it elsewhere in this place, and it is a pleasure to be back in Westminster Hall debating it this morning. I also took the opportunity during September to visit Israel and Palestine, and I hope that those elsewhere in this place will note that September is an important month for those of us with other things to do than meet permanently in this place—the Leader of the House please note. I went there with Labour Friends of Israel as part of a large delegation, and we listened to people
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who were directly involved in what was going on, as the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and other hon. Members will have done. During September, there was much debate in this country about what had happened, and the Prime Minister himself said that the conflict in August

I invite my hon. Friend the Minister to consider why that is so and perhaps to give us his views on the issue.

It is important to remember that the north of Israel contains Israel’s industrial zone, and Haifa university is extraordinarily important to Israel. The region is a centre for heavy industry and its development. Between May 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon, and June 2006, Hezbollah carried out more than 217 attacks on the north of Israel. There were 111 anti-aircraft attacks and a long list of other types of attack, involving various missiles and shooting incidents.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): If I am able to catch your eye later, Mr. Weir, I might expand on this point, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the statistics on Hezbollah attacks on northern Israel in the months leading up to the war, rather than in the period since 2000?

Jane Kennedy: I do not have the exact statistics month by month, but I am sure that they will be available. None the less, many families in the north of Israel had to spend significant parts of their daily lives in bomb shelters during the conflict. Israel faced a serious problem that required it to respond, and I should like the Minister to concentrate on the way in which that problem developed. I say that because, in playing its future role, the UN will be crucial in helping to move forward positively with a progressive solution to that problem.

As a result of the blanket media coverage of the Lebanese side, we know of the huge number of victims of the war on that side. There were more than 1,000 dead, and many more were injured and maimed for life. We know less about the dead and injured on the Israeli side because there was not the same coverage, but there were dead and many hundreds of injured. More than 800 people suffered shock and 300,0000 were displaced from their homes in northern Israel. We therefore know that there was suffering on both sides, and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight acknowledged that.

Let us look at how the situation developed. We know the history of Hezbollah, how the organisation developed and what its purpose is, and we know that Israel withdrew in 2000. Organisations such as the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have openly acknowledged, as late as March 2006, that they receive funding, arms, training and support from Hezbollah. If the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are not on the UK’s list of proscribed terrorist organisations, why are they not? Are the Government considering proscribing them?

I turn now to the role of the UN in Lebanon. When it was created in 1978, its role was to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security and assist the Lebanese Government in restoring their authority in southern Lebanon. In 2000, the UN was able to confirm that it had carried out the first of those three roles, but it failed singularly to carry
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out the other two. That failure enabled Hezbollah to grow and develop, and to take such a deep hold in the community in south Lebanon that it was effectively a state within a state, operating its own social security system and almost its own system of taxation. That was a problem for Lebanon as much as for Israel. We now have a United Nations force with a new mandate, which has been enhanced. The force has been enhanced, but the new mandate, which includes monitoring the cessation of hostilities, also includes accompanying and supporting Lebanese armed forces as they deploy into south Lebanon.

The delegation of which I was a member met officers of the Israel defence forces who were responsible for part of the border area and had been involved in the conflict. We were taken to see the border and we listened to both Palestinian and Israeli voices about the conflict. The officers told us that they could see the development of Hezbollah positions on the northern side of the Israeli border. They could see arms being cached in those positions and the training that was going on across the border. In some instances they could observe that with the naked eye, because the positions were only yards from the border. When they drew those things to the attention of the United Nations patrols they were told, “We know. We see it too, but there is nothing that we can do. All that we can do is watch and monitor.”

It cannot be imagined that a British Government, in a similar situation, with a similar direct threat to their people, would not feel the same tremendous degree of threat that Israel felt in those circumstances. We have seen the conflict, and we all have our views about how it arose. We must accept that, the conflict having taken place, the best way forward now is to discuss how the UN role should develop. In future years will there be a UN force that performs a similar mandate? If that happens, it will lead to the risk of exactly the same circumstances developing in the future.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Would not my right hon. Friend also consider the necessity of de-escalating the level of armament in the region, and the fact that neighbouring countries feel concerned about the fact that Israel has such a vast army, such a huge arms industry, and nuclear weapons? Does she consider that that could be seen as intimidating to Israel’s neighbours, also?

Jane Kennedy: I am happy to accept that there is that concern. We need not only an understanding of why Israel feels that threat, but an appreciation of the role that the UN could play. I think that the international community is united in wanting progress in the region. We are looking for a role that the UN could play, through its forces on the ground, that would materially assist the Lebanese Government to step into the void that Hezbollah filled, and to take over and bring the rule of law to the area, so that Israel could feel confident that there was security to the north of Israel, which would allow its people there to live the kind of lives that we live here.

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10.4 am

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): I shall be brief and discuss just four or five points. First, as to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, although I was not a Member of the House when it was decided that our troops should go to war, I believe that we should fully support everything that our troops do, because we sent them there. We must remember who sent our troops to war, and give them our utmost support. That should be the loud message that goes out from here today. I believe that most hon. Members, if not all, would agree with that.

I now want to move on to discuss Hamas. As I pointed out earlier, it is quite unusual when Hamas, Hezbollah and, indeed, Iran call for the destruction of the sovereign state of Israel. That must be put in context. The people who are in fear are, indeed, the Israelis. On many visits to the middle east, I have not once heard Israel make threats to destroy another country, or about that country not existing. That is not reciprocated. The soldiers who were kidnapped are still being held illegally. Governments of any political persuasion are duty bound to protect their people. In response to thousands of missiles—and we can argue about how many, but I do not think that there is any dispute about hundreds of missiles landing on Merom Hagalil, northern Israel, Haifa and beyond—the Prime Minister is duty bound to protect his people, regardless of political persuasion.

No sane person wants human life to be lost. It is precious, whether it is Palestinian or Israeli. However, the matter must be taken in context and we must look at what happened. I am delighted that there is a ceasefire. I hope and pray that peace can come to that troubled region. Visiting the House today is my brother-in-law, who lives in Israel, where there is a call-up every year into the army. For him, his children and my relatives, I hope that there is peace for everyone.

Mr. Blunt: I want to pose my hon. Friend a question about what he called the destruction of the state of Israel. He implies that that means the destruction of all the people of Israel. The Iranian leader was pressed on precisely what he meant, and he was talking about the political end of the state of Israel. Are Hamas or Palestinian representatives allowed to have a negotiating position that holds that the state of Israel, as a political entity, should cease to exist? Obviously, if we are talking about people and the consequences for people, that is a different issue, but are they entitled to that as a negotiating position?

Mr. Scott: If the context and the text of what the Iranian Prime Minister said is read, it referred to the people of Israel—not the state of Israel or a political system: he referred to Jews and Israel. That was in his speech and was published in many middle eastern newspapers, so I do not think that there is any right in that. Anyone can, as a negotiating position, disagree with a political entity, but not recognising the state of Israel—if it is not allowed even to exist in school atlases that are given to children—is heading for trouble. That, in my view, is to call for the destruction of the state and people of Israel. Perhaps there is the interpretation that my hon. Friend gave, but the words
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that were published in English are not quite the same as what was said in some middle eastern newspapers.

I want to move on to talk about terrorism. I have worked closely for many years with the Muslim community of this country, and I passionately believe that most Muslim people in our country want peaceful co-existence with us. I think that in my constituency we are a beacon of light. We work together. We have a joint Christmas, Eid, Diwali and Hanukkah party every year and have worked in that way for many years. I pray that we shall do so for years to come, and I honour what Muslims have done for our community, but I do not believe that, whatever the figure for how many Muslims in Britain support terrorism, this country’s foreign policy should be dictated by terrorists. It is not the way forward for anyone. Appeasement has never worked in the past and it will not work in the future. The way to overcome it is to look at some of the difficulties.

It is easy to say that all the problems derive from the middle east, but I do not believe that to be the only issue. Many other social and economic issues are at stake, which drive people to certain ways. We must also look closely at indoctrination, and at what people are being told. However, I reiterate that I have not experienced any problem with most, if not all, of the Muslim people with whom I have personally come into contact, who, I believe, do not have a bad thought in them. It is always a minority who spoil it for the majority. That should not be forgotten.

I want briefly to mention one thing that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) said. I accept that when he spoke about the Nazis, he was not referring to Israel as doing anything equivalent to the holocaust. However, linking the word “Nazi” to Israel is unfortunately offensive. I have to say it openly: I have a personal difficulty with that on the ground that Israel has never and would never have concentration camps and would never do everything else that the Nazis did. I know that he did not mean that, but it can be interpreted in that way, and I would not want that to happen.

Finally, I turn to Iran. The biggest threat to the middle east, whether Israel or the other middle eastern countries, is Iran. I am not convinced that the daily sabre-rattling and the stage-managed street protests of hatred, not only for Israel but for Britain and America, would be any different if other regimes were in place in those other countries. We must be mindful of the real threat; perhaps others in this debate will talk of some of the other issues regarding Iran.

10.10 am

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I too was able to spend a little time in Israel and Palestine in September. I shall speak on three subjects—first, a couple of reflections on the Lebanon war; secondly, on the situation of Arab communities within Israel; and, thirdly, some observations on where the peace process is going.

I said quite a lot over the summer condemning what Israel did in Lebanon, and I do not resile from that. Israel’s action there was immoral, illegal and
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unacceptable. Although I understood that, I thought it was important for me to go to northern Israel to see what was being and had been experienced there. I went to a village called Shlomi, and I have seen the communities living there; it is unacceptable for families to have to live in bomb shelters for extended periods.

Deaths are unacceptable, on whichever side. It is important that we all acknowledge it. If we are to draw conclusions for the future, however, it is important that we understand what happened and cut though some of the spin, some of which we have heard today. The impression has been given here, and I know it is given over there that somehow, before the conflict started, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) said, hundreds of Hezbollah rockets were raining down on Israel.

The Sunday Times said in its editorial of 6 August:

If we go back to 2000 to the present day, we find about 200 rockets coming down. It is difficult to find evidence of that in the period leading up to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In July, I tabled questions to the Foreign Secretary asking how many incidents there were, and when and where, in the year leading up to the Lebanon war. I am still waiting for a reply.

I asked the Library to investigate; it checked in journals such as those on the Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre. As far as I can tell, in August last year there was one mortar attack on a northern Israeli town, which caused no injury and it is thought that Hezbollah may not have been responsible. There also appear to have been two attacks from Lebanon on Israeli military positions in the Shebaa farms area. There is disagreement about whether that territory is Lebanese or Syrian, but it is not part of Israel. However, it has been under Israeli military occupation for decades. A couple of Hezbollah attacks have been made with small arms on Israeli military positions. In all, however, there were two Israeli military fatalities and no civilian ones.

The death of anyone from armed conflict is tragic, whether soldier or civilian, but it tells a rather different story from what we sometimes hear, so I went to Shlomi and asked the villagers how many attacks there had been. They said that there had been loads, and that they had presented evidence. They said that since 2004 there have been a couple of Katyusha rocket attacks on an industrial area, but no casualties were suffered.

I cite the evidence given by the town council of Shlomi. On 22 February 2005, it said:

I thought that that was pretty serious, but I had not heard about it—

I do not know who that was, but to describe it as an attempted Syrian invasion is pushing it a bit.

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