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I wish to make three points to which I hope the Minister will respond. First, after the ceasefire—we all hope that it will be immediate, although we have been saying that for rather longer than we ought to have to—it is absolutely imperative that measures are put in
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place to stop the previous cycle. In that cycle there has been a ceasefire, then measures put in place that create a period of quiet, during which the underlying cause of all the problems, which is the Israeli occupation, is deepened, not lightened. The violence then breaks out again and we go through the cycle for the nth time.

The conditions that are put in place after the ceasefire, with international observers, must protect not just the rights and security of the Israelis by preventing armaments from being smuggled for use against civilians, but the rights and security of Palestinians. Thus far, all agreements have failed to respect and protect their rights and security, and the Israelis have no interest in doing so—quite the reverse. The international monitors, observers, forces or whatever they are must protect the rights and security of the Palestinians not just in Gaza but in the west bank and East Jerusalem: only then will we stop the continuous expansion of settlements, the roadblocks and the Israelis’ ability to nip in any time they fancy and assassinate somebody whom they think might be about to threaten them.

My second point is about the serious allegations of human rights abuses, which have been detailed by a number of hon. Members. They have been made by the UN, which we have a duty to support, not by some tin-pot reporter from The New York Times. They have been made also by the International Committee of the Red Cross and a variety of human rights organisations, including Israeli ones. There have been attacks on a United Nations Relief and Works Agency convoy and on UNRWA schools. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) is no longer in his place, because UNRWA was there at the time and states categorically that there were no militants in that school or anywhere near it. I really do not know how some reporter from The New York Times coming in afterwards, presumably embedded with the Israeli troops, has anything to offer.

There have also been attacks on ICRC and UN personnel and ambulances. Children and other civilians have been shot in the chest and head. There was the white phosphorus attack on the UNRWA headquarters, which halted all aid, as well as attacks on a media building and a wing of the Shifa hospital. The most sickening thing was that at the very moment today when the Israeli Defence Minister was at last admitting that Israel did hit the UNRWA site and that it was a “grave error”, the Israeli spokesperson Mr. Regev was still on television saying, “Oh, well, it wasn’t us. It was probably Hamas. How do you know it wasn’t them who were dropping phosphorus?” I hope that that destroys his credibility, if he had any, once and for all.

The Israelis have a stated policy of what they regard as acceptable civilian deaths. It was printed in the Washington Post in 2006. At that time, the agreed Israeli policy was that it was okay to attack militants, as long as only up to 3.14 innocent civilians—a precise little figure—were killed for every terrorist killed. If children were killed, the number was a bit more stringent. The exact figure was not given, but it was fewer than three civilian deaths allowed. That was the Israelis’ policy, in writing, in 2006. I have no idea what it is now, but it seems to have been multiplied by about 100. The UK Government must support independent investigations into the abuses and make sure that Israel is held accountable.

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My final point is about the EU trade agreement. I am glad that the European Parliament has held back from ratifying it and that the European Commission has stopped all discussion. The trade agreement is a privilege, not a right. It for us in the European Union to give, not for Israel to demand. It has human rights clauses, and when it was introduced in Parliament, the then Conservative Minister William Waldegrave gave Members clear assurances that if those clauses were breached, the agreement could be suspended. That is what we should do now, as they have clearly been breached. Israel has breached and effectively suspended the agreement by breaking its part of the bargain.

I want our Government to insist that the EU convoke the responsible human rights sub-committee to examine the evidence of human rights abuses. It should examine not just those in Gaza but, for example, the fact that Israel has just banned the two Arab parties in Israel from participating in the elections, thus effectively disfranchising the one fifth of the Israeli population who are Arab-Israelis. That is not in line with EU principles of human rights and democracy. Such actions have disqualified seven elected Members of the Knesset from standing again. All the examples that I have outlined are unacceptable and contrary to Israel’s claims to be a beacon of democracy. The human rights abuses have breached the agreement, and we must work in the EU to suspend it; otherwise, all our human rights clauses become dead letters and the EU will be unable to uphold its intrinsic values of human rights and democracy.

5.30 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): I say to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who is not in his place, that the international community is not impotent, but merely feigns impotence as an excuse for its failure to carry out its duties. Although the Minister’s words were more robust, he essentially masked the same inaction as the languid and complacent Foreign Secretary, who performed in front of us on Monday.

Compare and contrast British diplomacy on the subject that we are discussing with our response to Zimbabwe or, more particularly, the Russian conflict with Georgia. The Foreign Secretary was everywhere then, lecturing the Russians on what they must do. He even flew to Kiev, stood on the dividing line, and told Russia what the international community required of it.

On Gaza, our Ministers boast of writing a UN resolution, which has been completely ignored. I would be embarrassed to say that I was the author of a resolution—which passed, not with international consensus, as the Minister claimed, but with the abstention of the United States, the only vote that mattered—if it were then ignored and the Government had no intention of doing anything to make its terms effective. That is what we have.

The Foreign Secretary says that he does not want what he calls gesture politics, which were supported widely in the House today, such as an arms embargo, recalling ambassadors and requiring the withdrawal of Israeli ambassadors, because he does not want to isolate Israel. However, he and the Government were at the
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forefront of those who isolated the elected Government of Palestine, which was Hamas. They do not like to talk about it now. They prefer to talk about President Abbas, who illegally occupies the presidential seat in Ramallah. They refuse to acknowledge that the Palestinian people voted for Hamas.

I have never been a supporter of Hamas. Like the noble and right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), I was, all my life, a supporter and friend of the late President Arafat. The Israeli attitude to President Arafat and Fatah when they were in power was exactly the same as their attitude to the Palestinian Administration of Hamas. Israel drowned Arafat’s Administration in blood through a policy of assassination, settlement, wall building and economic embargo. The British Government wholeheartedly supported the embargo on Gaza to punish the Palestinian people for voting for a Hamas Administration.

The Government’s double standards in this affair are so brazen that people outside are boiling with rage. If that is not so clear in this building, people outside are furious. The danger of radicalisation, especially of the Muslim youth in this country, is clear and present. The Government are always looking for some cleric to whom to refuse a visa, or some Islamic organisation to proscribe to try to curb radicalisation. How radical does the Minister believe that British Muslims feel now, as they watch on the news the bombing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the slaughter of children that has been adumbrated here today? The Government’s policy of tackling extremism and radicalisation has been set back by their complacency and ineffectual policy on Gaza, especially when compared with their militancy on subjects such as Russia and Georgia.

I do not have time to say all that I have to say, but I want to say something to those who have been boasting about going to Sderot. I am amazed at how many Members of Parliament have been to Sderot. Did any of them see the ruins of the Palestinian villages on which Sderot is built or the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from Sderot and the south of Israel? Did any of them know that the refugee camps of Gaza are filled with the people who used to live in the villages on which Sderot is built?

This did not start on 27 December. With respect to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), who made a great speech, it did not even start in 1967, when Sderot and other places were cleared. It started in this building, when Arthur Balfour, on behalf of one people, promised a second people the land that belonged to a third people. We are the authors of this tragedy.

Everything that has flowed has flowed as a result of that declaration. For that reason, if for no other, the British Foreign Office needs to pull its finger out and stand up and be counted, alongside the British people demonstrating on the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere. Let us see some urgency from the Minister. Action speaks louder than words. So far, we have had no action from this Government at all.

5.36 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): The sustained acts of brutal aggression to which the inhabitants of Gaza are being subjected at the hands of
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the Israeli Government are simply unacceptable and must be condemned. Such acts of aggression are not just disproportionate; they are outrageously disproportionate.

In its heavy-handed approach, the Israeli military has given a terrifying display of its military might, killing more than 1,000 people, including 300 children. Does the Israeli Government truly believe that those innocent young children were terrorists firing rockets? The Israeli Government are also responsible for injuring more than 4,000 people, destroying thousands of homes and reducing countless buildings to their foundations. In doing so, not only have they broken established rules of international law, but they have brought shame on humanity and the entire world.

The brutal scenes that we have witnessed on our television screens and read about in our newspapers have horrified the vast majority of the British public, including in my constituency, who support the Palestinian cause and feel strongly that we have so far failed the Palestinians in the current crisis. I pay tribute to the tens of thousands of people who have peacefully marched and demonstrated throughout the UK to show their solidarity with the people of Gaza at this difficult time and to demand an end to the bloody violence.

The call for peace has come from members of all faith communities. I would like in particular to thank the group Jews for Justice for Palestinians for its recent statement in The Times, which was signed by more than 500 Israeli academics, artists and writers, calling for an immediate end to the slaughter in Gaza. They have asked for an end to the blockade, the opening of dialogue with Hamas, without which there can be no durable peace, an investigation into war crimes that may have been committed by any party to the conflict and the suspension of the EU-Israel association agreement until Israel fulfils the basic human rights conditions on which it is predicated. I congratulate Jews for Justice for Palestinians on issuing that statement.

It is important to stress that the actions of the Israeli Government should not reflect negatively on Britain’s Jewish community. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) pointed out, such acts go completely against the ethos and morals of the Jewish faith. The atrocities being committed by the Israeli Government will do nothing to achieve peace and stability in the region. They will only cause more hatred and suffering, further damage and delay any possible peace process and make the world a more dangerous place, giving a propaganda victory to terrorist groups, which will use them to mobilise more support and radicalise young people around the world. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is now desperately dire as several aid agencies have reported that Gaza’s population of 1.5 million is in urgent need of food, shelter, fuel and basic medical aid. That follows on from months of deprivation arising from Israeli restrictions and the siege.

It is important to clarify a couple of myths put forward by the Israeli Government. This conflict did not begin 19 days ago with the firing of Hamas rockets into Israel. It began 60 years ago with the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. The ceasefire in Gaza was not broken 19 days ago by the firing of Hamas rockets into Israel. It was broken 10 days into an agreement previously made by Israel to end the inhumane siege of Gaza. The Israeli Government have, throughout the current crisis,
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used their military might to cause the relentless destruction of infrastructure and they have inflicted misery on innocent Palestinian people. In their excessive use of military force, they have shown little, if any, restraint while wreaking utter carnage in Gaza. It is time that we began to hold them to account. After 60 years of waiting for peace and justice—60 failed years—we owe it to the people of Palestine to find a lasting solution to this conflict.

5.40 pm

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): As a number of hon. Members have said, this has been an excellent debate. There have been somewhere in the region of 20 speeches, many of which were made with great passion. In the two years in which I have been a member of the shadow foreign affairs team, I have attended many debates on the middle east, and I recognise that many hon. Members who speak in these debates often take one side or another, but they usually speak with a great deal of generosity. This week we have debated the tragic subject of Gaza three times: after the statement on Monday, during Foreign Office questions on Tuesday and in this debate.

I shall touch briefly on the contributions of five of my right hon. and hon. Friends. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) spoke with a great deal of knowledge not only of the middle east, but of the difficult task of trying to negotiate between two groups of people whose policies and views it is almost impossible to reconcile. He has done that in Northern Ireland, and he is doing it now in the middle east. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has always been a staunch supporter of the state of Israel, and is a pragmatist in many respects. He argued strongly that whatever immediate solution came about, we needed to move beyond a ceasefire.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, is a firm supporter of the state of Israel, and he spoke in a considered, sympathetic and balanced way. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) spoke with great conviction and knowledge about the situation in Palestine, and emphasised the point that, in many respects, the situation among the Palestinians in Gaza was more representative and democratic than that in the west bank. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is also proudly a keen supporter of the state of Israel and—I say this in the best possible way—a true Christian gentleman, argued about the almost conflicting situation of bringing together an independent state of Israel and a truly independent state of Palestine.

I want to touch on three or four themes. Hon. Members quite rightly emphasised the impact of the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians under the assault of the Israeli defence forces. I recognise that most hon. Members have accepted that that is perhaps down to the law of unintended consequences, and that those civilians were not directly targeted. Hon. Members on both sides know, however, that fighting in built-up areas with a civilian population will lead to civilian casualties. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and the Minister said, if accusations are made about war crimes or the breaking of the rule of the law of war, they should be fully investigated and, if necessary, charges should be brought.

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One of the problems in this debate is how, if we are to hold Israel to account, we are to hold to account a political party such as Hamas, which might also break the laws and rules of war. How are we to bring to account people who use civilian sites and use weapons against civilians? That is much more difficult to achieve, and we should not resile from that point of view.

The Minister and others argued about how to establish a ceasefire. I am with the majority of colleagues who spoke in today’s debate in saying that a ceasefire or truce will once again be only a temporary band aid for the problem. In the case of other ceasefires, not only in Gaza but on the border with Lebanon, the problem has merely been freeze-framed for a certain period. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes and others have said, we will succeed only if we involve the international community directly, and it will take many months, if not years, of great commitment.

As several Members have said, without such commitment by a United States Government over a long period, I suspect that we will not get the movement that we want, on either the Israeli or the Palestinian side. It is not just a question of the United States of America bringing pressure to bear on Israel, but of the United States having the political, diplomatic, military and economic clout to bring pressure to bear on other regional powers. Several Members referred to the importance of the role of Egypt and Syria, but countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states must also be directly involved. If we do not do that, we will be back here in a few months’ time, having had a ceasefire or a truce, another international problem will have emerged, while this one will have gone back down the agenda, and we will face another crisis.

I am particularly concerned about the state of public opinion in Israel. As a consequence of any immediate ceasefire, it seems to me that the Israelis will think that they have only bought themselves a temporary truce. They will not have beaten Hamas militarily—they will perhaps have pushed Hamas back through a limited military action. However, as many Members have said, they will have been damaged in world opinion as a result of the images that have been projected of the suffering of the Palestinian people. That will be a political defeat.

What is the role of the United Kingdom? We have diplomatic influence. We have a great commitment to humanitarian aid, which is of fundamental importance and is supported overwhelmingly by the British people, who want to see more of it. We also perhaps have some influence over an Israeli Government, who, I fear, will get into a siege mentality. As several Members have emphasised, our own Jewish and Muslim communities will be continually radicalised by the escalation of the conflict. The blowback from that will affect all of us. Any young Muslim or Jewish person watching the conflict is in danger of bringing it back here on to our streets and into our schools. It is therefore in our most narrow, pragmatic interests to be seen to be doing all that we can to resolve the problem.

My final point is that we have so far been fortunate that the conflict in Gaza has not spread to the west bank, or, apart from a few rockets, to the border with Lebanon. We are always in danger of an outbreak of
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conflict, as we have seen, developing into a regional war. A regional war with missiles, and with at least one country possessing nuclear weapons, and another that might be about to have nuclear weapons, is a frightening prospect.

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