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Martin Linton: If my right hon. Friend had read the Goldstone report, she would know that many pages are devoted to the violations by Hamas and, indeed, some to the violations by Fatah. Out of the 428 pages, Goldstone devotes perhaps 20 or 30 to Fatah and Hamas, which seems a proportionate approach given that they are responsible for 13 deaths, rather then 1,300.
Martin Linton: I must make progress. Universal jurisdiction is one way in which we can show how we disapprove of what is being done. Frankly, if the two Israeli officers had come to London last week, it would have been a good thing if they had been arrested and, indeed, prosecuted. The Foreign Secretary seems to think that arrest warrants would set the peace process back, but what sets the peace process back is the perception that the UK is applying double standards and enforcing international law against one country, but not against another.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I compliment my hon. Friend on his contribution and on securing the debate. Does he agree that gaining the universal arrest warrant in the wake of the Pinochet arrest was a major step forward for the cause of human rights in this country and around the world? It would be utterly deplorable if legislation were rushed through the House of Commons to remove what was a major advance in human rights law in this country and is held up as an example around the world. Does he agree that that would be a wholly wrong thing to do?
Martin Linton: Indeed, I agree with my hon. Friend. What is more impressive is that Richard Goldstone cannot be dismissed as a friend of Hamas or as being worse than Ahmadinejad, as the Israelis tried to do. He regards himself as a Zionist and considers an independent inquiry into Gaza as being in Israel's interests as well as that of the Palestinians. Goldstone agrees with my hon. Friend's point. He is a veteran of inquiries into Rwanda and Serbia, he speaks with enormous authority on this matter, and he has come to the same conclusion as us.
Mr. Carswell: The Goldstone report was set in motion after a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that stated from the outset that it holds Israel accountable for war crimes and that focused only on Israel. Is this not a case of being literally pre judice-prejudice?
Martin Linton: I did not notice when the hon. Gentleman came in, but I dealt with that very point in my opening comments, when I said that I did not support the original motion before the Human Rights Council because it referred only to Israeli, but that the amended mandate refers to human rights violations by all parties before, during and after the conflict. We should judge the report as it has turned out, rather than by the motion of the Human Rights Council.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab):
I am sure that my hon. Friend is not intentionally misleading the House, but the fact is that when Goldstone considered
his mandate, he decided to go back only six months from the start of Cast Lead, not back over the eight years and 9,000 rocket attacks sent into Gaza by Hamas, which led the Israelis to have the justification of defending their people.
Martin Linton: I assure my hon. Friend that if he reads the full report, Goldstone does go back and interprets before, during and after to mean putting the matter in the context of the whole history and going back over many years. However, the point is that after this exhaustive inquiry, Goldstone was driven to the very important conclusion that a lasting peace settlement will never be achieved unless the culture of impunity is ended and violations of international law are punished.
When an arrest warrant was issued for Tzipi Livni, the Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor was quoted in the papers as demanding a change in our law. Frankly, it is not his place to demand a change in our law; that is up to us. I for one would not support such a change. The Foreign Secretary said at the time that Israel is a strategic partner and a close friend so we should give the power to apply for arrest warrants to the Attorney-General. Is he suggesting that arrest warrants should be denied on the basis of friendship? Surely the Attorney-General is supposed to be entirely impartial in her legal role and changing the law in such a way would just feed the perception that double standards were being applied.
On the main point about the report-I will end my comments as soon as I can-it is a good thing that the Government did not vote against the Goldstone report and try to persuade our European partners not to oppose it. However, I also think that they should have voted in favour. The reason the Government gave for not doing so was that they wanted to give the Israelis and the Palestinians six months to conduct their own inquiries. That seems sensible, but, of course, that is what Goldstone recommends anyway. When the Goldstone report comes back to the General Assembly and goes to the Security Council, I urge strongly the Foreign Secretary to support it.
In conclusion, however much sympathy we have with Israel as a state and as an ideal, we must face the fact that how it behaved in Gaza and how it is behaving in the west bank is cruel, out of order, against international law, jeopardises world peace and is, importantly, against the interest of the Israelis. We have to take our courage in our hands and say that enough is enough. The international community must enforce international law-article 99, chapter 7 or whatever it takes-to make the UN an effective force for world peace.
We have a duty as signatories and guarantors of the Geneva convention, and we have a moral duty having contributed to the problem in the first place. We can no longer close our eyes to the fact that Israel is flagrantly in breach of the convention and of international law.
Mrs. Joan Humble (in the Chair): Order. Several hon. Members wish to speak in this important debate, so I remind them that I hope to call the Front Bench speakers soon after 12 o'clock. Members should therefore keep an eye on the time and limit their contributions to allow as many as possible to speak.
Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be here this morning, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing the debate about British Government policy regarding the report of Judge Richard Goldstone following his investigation into Operation Cast Lead.
Although I concur with my hon. Friend on his description of the eminence of Judge Goldstone and his team, I will say that Judge Goldstone is not omnipotent and that there were flaws in his report. I support the view taken by Ministers here that his report is unjust in implying a moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. He failed adequately to recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens from murderous attacks and paid insufficient attention to Hamas's acts of terrorism.
Judge Goldstone's mission was limited by the mandate of the UN Human Rights Council, which was for an investigation of the military operations conducted in Gaza, excluding from his remit the seven years of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) has mentioned. Israel estimates that, since October 2001, 9,000 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza into its southern towns by Hamas. It is not good enough for Judge Goldstone to characterise those as acts by "Palestinian armed groups". He was also mistaken when he decided to consider only actions in the entire occupied Palestinian territory and Israel from 19 June 2008.
Estimates vary, but I know that up to 1,380 people were killed during Operation Cast Lead, which is a shocking number of deaths. Many more were injured and made homeless and workless. However, the responsibility for those deaths lies at the door of Hamas. There is no Government represented at the UN that would tolerate a sustained and murderous attack on its citizens for a period of seven years such as that carried out by Hamas on Israel.
There are victims on Israel's side, too. I must at this point declare an interest, regarding a visit I made to Israel with Labour Friends of Israel in September, when the Judge's report was published. During that visit I was fortunate to meet around 20 young men and women who lived in Sterodt, in the south of Israel. They had seen their classmates killed, blown up in the streets by Hamas rockets. Many had been injured, but they were stoic in their determination not to be driven out of their homes by terrorism.
They were without doubt traumatised. Their families were forced to adopt tactics that might seem almost comical: not being able to take a shower because for some families the shower was the bomb shelter and they might find themselves wet and without clothes in the
presence of their entire family. Football can only be played under a protective shield mounted over a small piece of land. There are regular air raid warnings and drills to practise how to stay safe and minimise the risk of injury and death. That is no way to live. I repeat, which Government represented at the UN would tolerate such a threat to its citizens?
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I, too, have visited Sterodt, and the fear of the people there that my right hon. Friend has described is absolutely genuine. However, if she is saying that the flaw in the Goldstone report was the time limit placed on the date from which it inquired, and she has talked about other things that should be looked at, why has she failed to mention the existence of the Hamas ceasefire long before Operation Cast Lead, or the blockade that existed in an extreme form since Hamas was elected to Government and in one form or other for a long time before that? If she wants to be balanced, why does she not mentioned those things?
Jane Kennedy: It is precisely those sort of issues that could have been looked at had the Goldstone report's remit not been so narrowly drawn by the UN Human Rights Council. The hon. Gentleman is my hon. Friend, but I disagree profoundly with him on this. I agree with the US Assistant Secretary of State, Michael Posner, who has accused the Human Rights Council of
"paying grossly disproportionate attention to one country, Israel. In the last five years the Council and its predecessor have commissioned more than 20 reports on Israel-far more than any other country in the world. Since its creation in 2006 it has passed 20 resolutions on Israel-more than the number of resolutions for all 191 other members combined."
More should be done to help ease the situation in Gaza. The EU announced last January its willingness to reactivate its border assistance mission at the Rafah crossing, but conditions have militated against that. Instead of admonishing Israel for seeking to protect its citizens from attack, will our Government work with EU partners to agree a substantial offer of assistance to facilitate the opening and operation of crossings into Gaza? What discussions has my hon. Friend the Minister had within the EU to bring that about? I am pleased to see him here this morning and am sure that he can shed light on the matter.
I have one final point, on universal jurisdiction. It is important that we bring to justice those guilty of crimes committed during warfare, but we should be ashamed of the fact that our judicial system can be manipulated so that a magistrate in a junior court can issue a warrant for the arrest of representatives of both Governments and the military from countries with whom we are friends and allies.-[Interruption.] I will explain. I am ashamed of the fact that Tzipi Livni, a woman of great
stature and courage and a leader of her people, cannot come freely to Britain. It is nonsense that US and UK Ministers and generals might find themselves under similar restrictions in other countries. That area of law needs urgent review, and I ask the Minister what steps are being taken to correct that legal nonsense.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I will be brief so that other Members can speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing the debate, on what he said and the way in which he said it. This is a debate in the British Parliament about accountability, and I have some specific points, which I would like the Minister to respond to when he replies, concerning the Goldstone report, the attitude taken at the UN Human Rights Council and the question of universal jurisdiction.
After the Gaza bombing had ceased and a ceasefire of a sort was in place, the Goldstone commission was set up, and it went into enormous detail to look at what was going on. He gave a comprehensive report, which is not, in my view, unbalanced or one-sided, because it makes criticisms of all parties. When the report was finally delivered to the UN Human Rights Council, the British Government's representative, although not abstaining, extraordinarily did not participate in the discussion or vote at the end of the deliberations in Geneva. I would be grateful if the Minister explained exactly what the British Government's representatives were doing at the time, because it seems to me that if we send representatives to the Human Rights Council in Geneva we expect them to be there, to participate in the discussions. If the British Government are not prepared to support the referral of the Goldstone commission's report to the Security Council, they should do us the courtesy of explaining why. There appears to have been further obfuscation later on when it got to the UN Security Council.
I think Goldstone is a brave man. He stood out against apartheid. He is not an enemy of Israel. Indeed, he has quite strongly Zionist views, which many of us in this Chamber might or might not agree with. The fact is that he is a respected jurist around the world who has delivered an important report, and maybe we should treat it with some respect and have the matter dealt with properly by the Security Council.
Mr. Carswell: The hon. Gentleman cites the authority of the UN Human Rights Council and its resolution as a source of legitimacy in the matter. Does he not recognise that some countries that voted in favour of the resolution and that have seats on the UN Human Rights Council have themselves grotesquely poor human rights records, such as Syria, Cuba and Saudi Arabia? To cite that as the authority on which to judge a liberal democracy is perhaps to apply double standards.
Most countries that are represented on the UN Human Rights Council have difficult human rights records, including the United States over Guantanamo Bay and this country over extraordinary rendition and the imprisonment of child asylum seekers. Many other countries have serious human rights questions to be asked of them. I do not resile from that, and I understand the points that are being made. None the
less, the Minister must explain why the British Government representative could not bring themselves to take part in the decision to refer the matter to the Security Council. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harwich will agree with me on that point, if not on the other points that I have made concerning the matter.
The Goldstone report goes into a lot of detail about the destruction of economic and civilian life in Gaza. It mentions the deliberate destruction of houses, water tanks and centres of employment and economic life. It was not just a retaliatory attack, but an intention to destroy the very economic fibre of Gaza and reduce its people to the misery and poverty with which they are forced to survive at the present time. It was a wanton act of destruction that was disproportionate to the alleged threat that Israel was facing at the time because a ceasefire was already in operation.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): One of the things that struck me about Operation Cast Lead was how Israel, which prides itself on being a democracy, kept all foreign journalists on a hill outside the Gaza strip so that they could not witness what was taking place. Does my hon. Friend agree that such behaviour is not the way in which a democracy operates?
Jeremy Corbyn: Absolutely. The whole point about a democracy is that it opens itself up to accountability and observation. Israel made very sure that journalists could not get into Gaza. We should be grateful to al-Jazeera and others that remained in Gaza throughout the conflict for sending live footage of what was going on. Such action probably helped to hasten the end of the conflict rather than prolong it, which is what would have happened had they not been there.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Those of us who visited Gaza before the conflict and Operation Cast Lead are aware that the economic damage to which my hon. Friend refers was being inflicted even then and is still being inflicted now by the blockade. I am sure that we all welcomed the Prime Minister's support for an end to the blockade in Prime Minister's questions last week, but does my hon. Friend agree that we need action and not words on this?
Jeremy Corbyn: Absolutely. I first visited Gaza in 1998 post-Oslo. There was an amazing air of optimism around. Developments were under way and farming, education and employment were all growing; it was a great time. Go there now, and one will see the horrors, destruction and misery of life for ordinary people. In effect, the people of Gaza are imprisoned. Let us put that in a wider context. When the police in this country decide to surround a demonstration and perform a "kettling" operation, people quite quickly become angry, annoyed and distressed. They either turn on each other or on the police, and very quickly a nasty conflict develops. Think of the people of Gaza who are under occupation. They cannot travel, move, work or live a normal life. Those who have managed to develop industries and employment or who have tried to create a sense of community saw it all destroyed in Operation Cast Lead.
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