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However, if it were there, it would be even stevens because it would not be abused and it would be used only when necessary. I shall not move the amendment.

Amendment 63 not moved.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I beg to move that the House do now resume. Before adding the additional comment about when the Committee stage will recommence, and although I do not wish to intrude on the next debate, which is strictly limited to one hour, I want to emphasise to Back-Benchers speaking in that debate that as soon as the clock shows two minutes, they must resume their seats. I suggest that the Committee stage begins again not before 8.37 pm.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.37 pm.

Israel and Palestine: Gaza

Question for Short Debate

7.37 pm

Tabled By Baroness Northover

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Baroness Northover: My Lords, many noble Lords wished to speak in this debate tonight, and I am glad that it has been decided that there will be a second debate on Gaza on 27 January. It seems to me that in this ceasefire we have perhaps even greater dangers. The danger is that we revert to doing little or nothing, with even more devastating consequences. There was international outcry over what happened two years ago in Lebanon. Then attention moved on and other crises became front-page news. How can we sustain international attention?

We have seen the dreadful pictures of what has happened in Gaza. The population had nowhere to run. They could not escape its borders. Even UN buildings where some took refuge received hits. Nowhere was safe. I have just been sent the pictures from the UN school: the white phosphorus raining down, the damaged classrooms, the two little brothers dead. Were these not civilians? Was it not obvious that there would be large numbers of civilian casualties in such a crowded area? Did the Government of Israel think that what they were doing was unwatched, unrecorded, even proportionate to their own experience of violence? Have we let the Israeli Government feel that they are not accountable?

These pictures, and many far worse, have been going around the region and the world. The speed and spread of information is new. We will all have received e-mails ranging from the moderate to the extreme. My son, setting up a discussion on the conflict on Facebook, found that within hours 80 friends of friends had joined from as far afield as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan—within a day. We know that this conflict has long had its radicalising effect. The effect of this can now grow exponentially through the internet. We all know how this conflict is already used and, of course, abused in countries right across the region. We know that it is cited in our own communities. Therefore, if we did not know it before, we should know it now: unless the international community actively takes forward a just solution to this conflict, the world will become an even more dangerous place.

I welcome the brave statements by Jewish leaders, including my noble friend Lady Neuberger, in an open letter to the Government of Israel, saying that they write,

but that the actions of the Government of Israel threaten to destabilise the region and to undermine international support. We have surely reached a point of enormous danger to Israel; that, in its greater military strength, it has meted out such evident injustice to its would-be neighbours that there will be such a reaction that its own future will be undermined. Its window of opportunity to find a settlement is surely small and depends on the position of the United States, not only in terms of its support but also on how long the US is the only superpower.

I can remember when Fatah was not to be supported or negotiated with. But the warnings came that this played into the hands of those who are more radical. Indeed, Hamas was elected in Gaza, and 40 of its MPs were immediately imprisoned by the Israelis. Right now, we hear how no negotiations should occur with

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Hamas, although we also know that this is going on through the Egyptians. Note the viewpoint of Sir Jeremy Greenstock on the “Today” programme on 12 January in relation to Hamas:

“This is a regime about which a lot of inaccurate statements are made, particularly by the Israeli and Washington Governments. It is not beholden to Iran ... They are not trying to set up a Taliban-style Government in Gaza ... They are not intent on the destruction of Israel; that is a rhetorical statement of resistance”.

I am sure that we will hear this evening how Israel should not have to put up with rockets being fired into its territories. Indeed it should not. But also hear what Sir Jeremy Greenstock says:

“The tragedy about what is happening is that the cessation of rocket fire on Israel would have been possible if Israel had lived up to its obligations under the June ceasefire to open the crossings”.

It was of course said that the conflict in Northern Ireland would never be solved; it had lasted 400 years. However, it is amazing what change was brought about with economic progress, north and south, and engaging with all parties. You look at Gaza and the West Bank. How can families get on with their lives in a crushed economy? Olive groves and vegetable gardens are simply sliced through by the wall. Farmers are cut off from their land by settlers’ roads that may not be used by Palestinians. There are checkpoints everywhere. Water is taken by the settlements, which are green and fertile, surrounded by the arid dryness of the Palestinian lands. The current situation in Gaza cannot be separated from the challenges in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Let us look at what has happened. Over 1,300 Palestinians have been killed. Of these, 412 were children. Thirteen Israelis have died, including three civilians and 10 soldiers, four of whom were killed by friendly fire. The BBC reports that 400,000 Gazans are currently without access to running water, while over 50,000 have been made homeless. It has been estimated that more than 4,000 buildings were demolished during the fighting and that it will cost more than $2 billion to repair the damage. Proportionate?

At least three United Nations schools have been targeted, including one where 40 people were killed. Israel has been accused of committing war crimes and breaking international humanitarian law by the ICRC and Amnesty International. The international community clearly has to hold both parties accountable for human rights violations.

Now we hear that efforts to relieve the problems are being hindered by limited access. There surely must be immediate and unrestricted humanitarian access for goods and people. Even more important is complete and even-handed international engagement in the area. To date, the quartet has failed adequately to address the causes of the conflict or successfully pursue peace. Trying to split Hamas and Fatah has been disastrous. The Palestinians need to speak with one voice. All parties should be brought into the negotiations, just as Sinn Fein, as the political wing of the IRA, was brought in. Preconditions which seem designed to thwart negotiations must be set aside. Countries in the region need to be brought in. But when Israel attacks Gaza, how can the Arab leaders answer to their own populations?

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Gaza was in a terrible humanitarian state prior to this latest attack. It has been set back further. Hamas has, if anything, probably been strengthened, Fatah weakened. Is that what was intended?

We should surely urge the UK Government to work with other EU partners such as the French to move negotiations further forward, bringing in Hamas, at least through intermediaries; to use EU economic sanctions if need be to encourage the Israeli Government to lift the blockades and enable people to move through the Palestinian territories; to enable commerce and trade, and the development of political discussion; to engage with moderates on both sides; and to show that the path of dialogue and moderation produces results. In the end, the security and prosperity of both the Palestinians and the Israelis will only result from them viewing each other as neighbours with common aims and interests, working to ensure that their children and their grandchildren have a brighter and more prosperous future than currently seems on the horizon for either side.

7.47 pm

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we all welcome the large increases in aid from the UK, both financial and in kind, that have been announced by HMG over the past days. I also welcome the announcement by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia of $1 billion to help to rebuild the Gaza strip. Would the Minister agree with me that progress in the Middle East peace process depends on more such practical participation by Arab countries? Perhaps he could assure us that Her Majesty’s Government are doing all that they can to encourage humanitarian aid from Arab countries as a first step in their increased practical involvement in the peace process. If that kind of aid and involvement had been made available in 1948 at the beginning of the wretched situation of 250,000 Palestinian refugees being herded into Gaza, then part of Egypt, their now 1.5 million descendents would surely not have been so dependent on the UNRA for food and maintenance, as they are today.

I echo the final hopes of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Let us all hope that, out of the present humanitarian disaster in Gaza, a lasting settlement can emerge to the benefit of both Palestinians and Israelis.

7.48 pm

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I hope that countries outside the immediate area which are giving money for practical humanitarian assistance will now come together and work closely with each other to ensure that there is a co-ordinated effort on the ground. It is, first and foremost, essential that the distribution of and expenditure on aid is effective and provides the immediate help that is so urgently required.

Perhaps Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and France are well placed to come together and help find a solution to this problem. However, the two groups on the ground who can most effectively achieve that are the two separate voices that speak for the Palestinians. To ensure effective distribution of aid, perhaps the PA and Hamas can come together,

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maybe initially with the help of an intermediary, but with the practical work that they might then carry out leading to closer association between the two. I hope that those two points can be borne in mind.

7.50 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, it is hard to see why Israel has got it so wrong again or why it has to make so many enemies in this world. Like others, I am concerned about Hamas too, but I have been appalled at the callous and disproportionate targeting of civilians in Gaza. The attacks on the UN and the terrible loss of Doctor Izeldeen Abuelaish’s family could hardly be called self-defence.

I feel personally the destruction of the Near East Council of Churches clinic that I visited a few years ago. It was an essential service for Palestinian families in Gaza. The idea that Hamas should be hiding there is preposterous. It was just a monstrous crime. War crime seems too polite a phrase for a country which is supposedly democratic and concerned for the rule of law. The rule of war is more like it. Israel has again lost support throughout the world and among many of its own citizens and friends in this country.

It has flagrantly betrayed the second concept of the Balfour declaration, namely, the respect for minorities. Palestinians will soon no longer be a minority. They are a people with an equal right to life, whether in one state or two. Of course, Israel has a right to defend herself and Hamas must stop firing rockets, but that is not the way to stop them. Hamas is a popular movement and an elected party; it will never be bombed out of existence. The people have no alternative to Hamas, and this conflict can only be settled by dialogue.

Surely our own Government can do more than simply condemn the action, send money and call for investigations. Why are we not beside the international community, up there with Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia? Don’t let’s wait for Mr Obama; he will take his time. Let’s do it.

7.52 pm

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, the Council of Christians and Jews, which I chair, has made clear its distress at the desperate suffering of the people of Gaza and of those who have been under rocket attacks in Israel. I join in urging the Government to do all they can to address the tragic humanitarian situation. Providing for the rebuilding of the physical fabric will, I hope, lead to the complex rebuilding of the will for lasting peace and reconciliation.

The Christian and Jewish communities of the council are committed to supporting this huge task and to opposing those whose policies deny the right of Israel to security and peaceful co-existence. There are many excellent examples of faith-based humanitarian assistance in Gaza, and I hope the Minster is aware and supportive of them. Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and Jewish agencies have all stepped up their programmes. The British Jewish community recently organised the “Saving Lives Together” text campaign, raising funds to help hospitalised victims in Gaza and Israel, regardless of faith and politics. The Church of England is working

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with Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities and agencies to provide further funds. The Anglican hospital in Gaza continued, through everything, to provide treatment to all comers. For its part, the Council of Christians and Jews calls on other religious organisations to work tirelessly with it to increase humanitarian support, to oppose both Islamophobia and the backlash from Gaza of the rising level of anti-semitism—in Manchester, 85 incidents were reported within two weeks—and to sustain warm interreligious relationships in this country. We look to the Government for the assurance of their commitment also to each of these interrelated humanitarian issues at this difficult time.

7.54 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, as a former director of Oxfam I thought it would be sensible to seek from it an update of what it is encountering in the humanitarian situation. It is working to provide water to 60,000 to 80,000 people and supply food aid; but the ongoing 19-month blockade is severely hampering the efforts, not only of Oxfam, but of all international agencies trying to bring assistance to the 1.5 million people of Gaza.

Despite the commitments made on 19 January by the Israeli Prime Minster’s spokesman, Mark Regev, that Israel would provide supplies,

Oxfam’s experience is that this is just not yet happening. The UN reported on 18 January that only 97.5 truckloads entered the Kerem Shalom crossing. But Israel continues to refuse fully to open the critical Karni commercial crossing, which, Oxfam understands, has a capacity of up to 1000 truckloads a day, if fully operational. Kerem Shalom is not mechanised and is therefore a slow and costly way—the handling charge is some $1000 per truckload—to move supplies into Gaza. Israel has opened a small grain conveyor at Karni, which provided the equivalent of 38 truckloads; however, according to the UN on 19 January, it has failed to repair a second conveyor.

Israel is still obstructing NGO access to Gaza with only two, both medical, there at the last count. This hardly expedites supplies and access, which, the Israeli Government claim, are a priority. Indeed, one initial report suggests that at least 500 truckloads a day are required.

International humanitarian law is very clear that Israel must allow humanitarian assistance to enter the area. Can my noble friend confirm whether the Prime Minister was able to raise this issue directly with the Israeli Prime Minister and, if so, what commitments he secured and what steps the Government will take immediately to bring an end to the blockade? We must act fast. Every day’s delay causes yet more suffering and undermines the prospect of an enduring ceasefire.

7.57 pm

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, said that Israel would go wild in Gaza. They certainly did that, with the USA turning its usual blind eye. The UK and the European Union have behaved so feebly they were almost colluding in Israel's actions. Israel carefully excluded the press and

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media—evidence of guilt? But the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International all had people watching what was happening, as well as the Al-Jazeera cameras.

One charge I wish to make concerns the use of white phosphorus in residential areas, where many people were injured by this obscene material. It is a crime. The injuries sustained by burning phosphorus are horrible and the suffering is unthinkable. The Israelis also used 155mm shells in residential areas, able to do damage over a range of 300 metres. Yet, the Israelis assured us that they were accurately targeting only those areas with Hamas installations. Really? With a damage range of 300 metres? What lies. Both actions are against international law; they are war crimes. Many innocent civilians, many little children, have been killed by these obscenities.

Will the Minister assure us, therefore, that our Government and the European Union will not be content with Israeli offers of an inquiry into the behaviour of their military? There must be an independent investigation through the United Nations Security Council. Israel stands accused of war crimes, witnessed by the whole world. What hope for Israel’s long-term future now?

7.58 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I care about humanity and I would like to express my serious concern and sense of disturbance at possible breachesof international humanitarian laws by the Israelis. The use of white phosphorus shells by the Israelis against civilians, which is not allowed under the Geneva Convention, has caused horrific injuries the likes of which some doctors have not seen before.

The International Red Cross has strongly condemned the Israelis for neglecting their international obligations and for their lack of care of the sick and wounded. In addition, the Israelis did not allow the Red Cross to provide care for the wounded. In one case, rescuers found four small children lying next to the corpses of their dead mothers. There have been other incidents, but I should like to mention one more where 100 members of an extended family were herded by the Israelis into a house which was subsequently shelled by them, killing 30 people.

Mrs Pillay of the United Nations has said that the violations of international humanitarian laws may constitute war crimes, for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, has condemned Israel’s excessive use of force and has demanded that those responsible for shelling schools and other facilities run by the United Nations be held to account.

My urgent appeal is for us to be actively involved in caring for the injured and providing them with medical care and assistance in every way possible. We should then ensure that investigations are undertaken into the violation of international humanitarian laws and that appropriate action is taken against those who are guilty, whoever they may be.

8.01 pm

Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, the humanitarian cost in Gaza is now clear: more than 1,000 dead; hundreds of homes destroyed; and a near

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collapse of the infrastructure, including hospitals and food and water supplies. There is also the cost to democracy of banning the international free press from reporting the conflict. However, the lasting cost is irredeemable—the cost of the political process.

It is now clear that the humanitarian cost cannot be solved in the long term without addressing the political cost of the conflict. A clear political process is now needed, with possible fresh elections, as the Minister indicated earlier this week. I therefore ask him: if we have fresh elections and Hamas puts up candidates and is successful, will we maintain the policy of no dialogue with that group?

A strong case has been made for stopping rockets being launched into Israel. This is now being achieved. Can the Minister assure the House that opening the crossings will involve not just one or two crossings but a lifting of the blockade, giving unfettered access to Gaza? Without that, the cost in humanitarian terms will only get worse.

There is a saying that goes: if your friends cannot tell you, no one can. I have been privileged to be a member of both Trade Union Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Israel. However, when the methods you use are worse than the evils you are fighting, it is time to examine your morality. Sadly, for Israel, that time has come.

8.03 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I shall not try to equal the heart-rending eloquence of Members of this House on the subject of the disaster in Gaza. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, for pointing out that the Government have given substantial aid. I am glad to see that but the danger is that, in giving aid, we may simply be bringing flowers to the funeral. It is welcome but it goes nowhere near the nature of the real problem.

At present, the biggest donor of aid to Israel is the United States of America; the biggest export market for Israel is the EU; and the money given to help the Palestinian Authority to survive comes from the EU. Quite simply, this means that the weapons and tools to create a better situation are in the hands of the United States and the European Union—two members of the quartet. Therefore, my question to the Minister is very simple: has the time not come when we should make our aid conditional on at least the recognition of the rule of law and basic human rights legislation? Should we not now say that further acts that are in breach of the rule of law cannot be accepted by those who donate to one side or the other, whether it be aid or humanitarian assistance?

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