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Perhaps I may put it very bluntly. We know perfectly well that at present the international community, which so far has escaped without much criticism in this short debate, has in its hands the ability to change the situation dramatically on both sides—Palestinian and Israeli. The Minister has presented in the most humane and understanding way the case for doing something about the disastrous situation in Gaza that will be lasting and not simply temporary. It is in our hands and we have the capacity to bring it about.

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8.05 pm

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, even the horrific pictures from Gaza and the terror imposed on the children of Palestine by the modern day Pharaohs of the Holy Land have not been enough for the Bush Administration to call for an end to the brutality by the Israeli Defence Force. Moses did not turn up to rescue the children of Palestine as he was caught up in the bureaucratic red tape and the veto of the United States. The UN is too weak and the European leaders were pathetic in Jerusalem. They did not mention occupation; they did not mention condemnation; and they did not mention war crimes or the breach of international law.

It was Israel that broke the ceasefire on 4 November last year, when the Israeli Government ordered the bombing of the Gaza Strip, killing six people. There were 22 days of cold-blooded murder of 1,300 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, and injuring more than 5,000, with 26,000 buildings either damaged or destroyed. Can the Minister say—this has already been asked—whether Her Majesty’s Government will support a UN-led investigation into the apparent illegal use of white phosphorous and uranium against children and therefore urge the ICC to indict the Israeli Prime Minister and others for war crimes? Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the EU to suspend Israel’s special economic and political status in the light of the reckless and arrogant aggression displayed by the IDF, despite pleas from the international community?

During the Israeli army’s assault on Gaza, many UN buildings, such as storage compounds and schools, have been destroyed. Will Her Majesty’s Government ask Israel to pay for the damage? Will they support an investigation into the cost of rebuilding Gaza and, more specifically, make an assessment of how many buildings—schools, hospitals, airports and ambulances—donated by the EU taxpayer have been obliterated by the IDF?

8.07 pm

Lord Steinberg: My Lords, when I spoke on the Statement on Gaza on Monday, I may inadvertently have said something that could be construed in a number of ways. I therefore wish to be unambiguous when I talk about opening the crossings from Gaza into Israel. An international peacekeeping force should check the Gaza population and the goods going out of Gaza, and it is Israel’s right to protect the safety and security of those coming into Israel. In other words, Gazans wishing to work in Israel should be checked so that they do not cause a security problem for Israel.

Turning to the fragile ceasefire, remarks from Hamas about restocking its weapons and rockets are distinctly unhelpful in this very emotive situation. I am very glad that there is a ceasefire, but nothing—absolutely nothing—must happen in the way of firing rockets, and noble Lords can be sure that Israel will keep its side of the bargain. I worry that Hamas is a disorganised body of terrorists and thugs, and if anything goes amiss—if any rockets are fired—I am certain that the rocket launchers will be attacked.

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There is a further debate next Tuesday, when I shall speak in more detail on the situation, but I sincerely hope that, with the huge good will that Barack Obama has, we can reach a peaceful solution, which, of course, will mean Hamas removing from its charter the desire to destroy Israel.

8.09 pm

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I deeply regret the suffering of so many ordinary Gazans, and I greatly hope that the situation can be speedily improved. The increase in humanitarian aid by our Government is very welcome. We must recognise that as a result of this conflict, Hamas terrorists deeply exacerbated the misery of the people of Gaza. They stored weapons in public buildings; they fired rockets from within the civilian population; and they set traps in civilian institutions. In particular, their use of their civilians as human shields is absolutely disgraceful and demonstrates a complete disregard for and systematic violation of international humanitarian law by which, regrettably, as a non-state actor, they are not bound.

The Israeli defence forces were operating in an extraordinarily difficult environment. Just a few weeks ago, I was in southern Israel when bombs were dropping. Each time I had 15 seconds to get down into a shelter, and that was before this war began. There came a time when the Israelis found that they could no longer agree with their own population being stormed in that way. It is absolutely plain that, by firing over 8,500 rockets into Israel over eight years, Hamas bears direct responsibility for causing this war, for the sad humanitarian situation that they now face, and for costing the lives of so many of its people.

8.11 pm

Lord Woolf: My Lords, I commence by declaring an interest as a member or officer of a number of organisations, both in this country and in Israel, that support Israel, including the Open University of Israel and the British section of the Israeli MDA, which is the equivalent of the Red Cross, both of which serve Arabs and Jews alike.

I echo what has been said already about deploring the suffering that has taken place. I am very conscious that in answering a Question earlier this week about the Government’s policy, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, cautioned first against condemning and secondly against holding a trial—I paraphrase what he was saying. As I understood him, he was emphasising that it is important that one does not jump to conclusions until one has found out the facts.

One thing that causes Israel to be doubtful about the support of the international community is that, as history has shown again and again, allegations are made and then reported in the media in very colourful terms, but when those allegations are subsequently found not to be based on the truth it receives no publicity at all. That undermines the ability of the international community to bring pressure to bear on Israel in the way that it should. I am rather disappointed this evening to find that the same thing is happening again in this House. One will not get progress in that

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part of the world, which I visited during the period of the fighting, by hurling accusations without knowing the facts.

8.13 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, the military operation has had a devastating impact on the children of Gaza. Hundreds are dead, and thousands more are injured, orphaned or homeless—in many cases, all three. Those who still have homes are often sleeping in the cold because windows have been blown out. According to UNICEF—I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK—many children are displaying severe anxiety, bed wetting, loss of appetite and general malaise. Doctors can mend broken and bruised bodies but the deep mental wounds will take much longer.

Life was hard in Gaza before 27 December. The blockades had caused fuel shortages, shutting down the only power station, and there was a chronic shortage of clean water. But children were still turned out clean and fresh to go to school. Education is important to Palestinians. Eyad el-Sarraj, in a moving article in the Herald Tribune, describes how when an unknown fanatical Islamist group accused the American International School of promoting western culture and assaulted the principal, the whole community of Gaza came to the support of the school, making it clear that education is the path to development and nation building. But today there is significant damage to many of Gaza's schools and great loss of equipment and books. The resumption of education is a vital priority to help put back some normal rhythm into the life of these traumatised children. An important part of re-establishing the rhythm of life for all ordinary people in Gaza must be to give them hope of a better future, with proper access to goods and services.

I am a trustee of the Disability Partnership, and we are currently running a project in the West Bank to help disabled children. It is our intention to work in Gaza, and the need for our programme has never been greater, yet we cannot get even our equipment into the West Bank. We have been waiting six months simply to get four small children's walking frames through, so what hope do we have in Gaza unless the decencies of normal life are observed? Israel has a right to live and to raise its children in peace and prosperity, but so, too, do the proud people of Palestine.

8.15 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe—1,300 dead, a third of them children, only one in 25 a Hamas fighter. That is the extent to which the assault on Gaza was indiscriminate, whatever the Israeli Government may say. Of course Israel has a right to defend its citizens, but who will defend the citizens of Gaza? The citizens of Gaza have elected representatives. That is not to say that I support the firing of rockets into Israel—of course I do not—but I can understand it. If the international community will not defend Gazans, who will?

We also have to understand, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said, that war crimes might have been committed. That has to be investigated. However, Israel has certainly committed gross violations of

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international humanitarian law, and that is totally unacceptable. The brazen cynicism of the attacks is also unacceptable. Is anyone convinced that the timing of these attacks is coincidental—that they just happen to have occurred in the last three weeks of the Bush Administration, an Administration who have given Israel a blank cheque for eight years? But we know at least one thing. This is the last time that that cheque will be honoured, because President Obama will not honour it.

I finish where I started. Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe. The BBC reports that 400,000 people are without water and 50,000 people without homes. The borders into Egypt and Israel must be unblocked and reopened as a matter of urgency. I welcome what our Government have done on humanitarian aid, but I urge the Minister to tell us what action the Government are taking to speed up the opening of the borders to ensure that some of this catastrophe can be dealt with as soon as is humanly possible.

8.17 pm

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I do not think that anyone who looks at what has happened in Gaza over the past few weeks—seeing hundreds of thousands of people herded into a territory where they do not particularly want to be, with traditional weapons, white phosphorus and so on showered around them; children and women damaged not just in the short term but permanently with psychological and physical scars—will not feel distressed, unless they have themselves begun to lose something of their humanity.

The last time that I was in Israel I spoke to an Israeli mother. She said to me, “I desperately hope that my son in the IDF does not kill a Palestinian, because it will not help the Palestinian to be killed, and it will also damage my son”. She understood that the obvious humanitarian disaster of somewhere like Gaza destroys not only the Palestinian people but also terribly damages those who inflict the wounds, whatever they think they may be doing to help themselves or their state. It also means that the rest of us who stand by wringing our hands—or wearily, hopelessly shaking our heads when we could be doing something such as throwing in a few million pounds which we know will be destroyed again quickly—will also have lost some of our humanity.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said that it is important to be objective and humane. I ask the Minister whether he will look at one objective report, not of this particular crisis but of the cost of the Middle East conflict since the failure of Oslo, a report which was launched today in your Lordships’ House. This report shows the loss in human, environmental, psychological, political, cultural and economic terms—costs which are eye-watering in every way that one means that term—so that all of us can objectively but humanely shoulder our responsibility in making a difference for good.

8.19 pm

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, last week over 20 prominent Muslims denounced recent anti-Semitic attacks in Britain and called on Muslims to prevent attacks on Jews predicated by the Gaza conflict. I know that I speak

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on behalf of the Jewish community in this country when I express my heartfelt thanks for that unambiguous and very welcome statement. No one can ignore or not be moved by the terrible deaths that have occurred in Gaza, not just those of children but of the adults as well. It is simply too ghastly for words.

The population of the UK is 10 times that of Israel. Israel has had 60 rockets a day raining down on it; our equivalent would be 600 per day every day for three years. How would we react if 600 rockets were falling on Kent or Sussex? As each day passed by, the rockets would fly further; they would become more accurate and their effect would be more deadly. There would be sirens constantly wailing, and children would be running for cover. Life would be coming to a total standstill. What if those rockets were being fired from the cover of mosques, blocks of flats, schools or hospitals? What would we do? How would we respond? How would we get the balance right? There is not a nation on this earth that would not defend its people in such circumstances and attack the attackers.

Israel is a nation under threat. It has shown patience and restraint for three years. But once it commits, it commits hard, particularly when under attack by a terrorist organisation dedicated to its obliteration. So when we debate the humanitarian situation in Gaza, can we also give equivalent attention to the bombings and terror in and around Sderot?

8.21 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, next Tuesday we will debate the wider issues but tonight we are here to debate the humanitarian questions. I hope the Minister will focus his reply on how Her Majesty's Government will contribute to humanitarian assistance and how they will work with others to make sure that it gets through fast.

The crucial question is how are we going to get the crossings opened; or are we going to support Israel in keeping those crossing at least half-closed because the prevention of any smuggling of arms is given a higher priority than getting humanitarian assistance in? We must press the Israeli Government to open the crossings fully. We will have to hold them responsible if a further humanitarian catastrophe follows the conflict.

Our message to the Israeli Government must be to think not of their anger but of their enlightened, long-term interest. I suggest to the Government that we highlight to the Israelis a hard comparison: the impact on a defeated Germany of how the victorious allies behaved after 1918 and then after 1945. After 1918, anger, hatred and a determination to make them suffer as we had brought about the collapse of the German economy and German society. Out of that grew a much more embittered Germany and the Nazi movement, a movement from which came the Holocaust. We learnt that lesson. After 1945 we went in with food and helped to rebuild Germany despite our anger and hatred of everything that happened in the Second World War. Out of that has grown a peaceful Germany in a peaceful and democratic Europe. That is a hard comparison that the Israelis now have to think about. I call on all members of all communities in this country to say that as critical friends of Israel today.

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8.23 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the number of speakers from all sides of the House tonight reflects the depth of real concern about the tragic events in Gaza. I join other noble Lords in expressing my feelings of relief that a ceasefire was called at the weekend. However, as several noble Lords have said, it is a very fragile ceasefire with both sides claiming victories. We all want to see a lasting solution and a permanent peace.

The terrible nature of this conflict has been made all the more tragic by the enormity of the humanitarian crisis associated with it. More than 80 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza rely on humanitarian assistance. This is unsurprising when the number of households earning less than $1.20 per person per day has increased from 55 to 70 per cent. As the report The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion states:

“In the last 6 months, the majority of private businesses have shut down and 95% of Gaza’s industrial operations are suspended”.

This is an impossible situation. The head of UNRWA has declared:

“Hungry, unhealthy, angry communities do not make good partners for peace”.

Like other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to step up humanitarian relief to Gaza. I hope that he will be able to provide fuller and happier information in the debate in this House next week.

8.25 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, like all noble Lords, I rise to my feet with a sense of sadness and tragedy about what has happened. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for obtaining this debate. We will obviously have to return to this at greater length next week, and I therefore apologise to noble Lords who feel that I do not fully answer their points tonight.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, we are here primarily to discuss the humanitarian situation. In that sense, the fact that Israel halted its military operations last Saturday night and that on Sunday Hamas stopped its rocket fire is, in its way, a glimmer of good news because after 22 days of terrifying violence and tragic loss of life, the people of Gaza have finally been able to emerge on to the streets and be reunited with friends and family. I will come to the huge humanitarian tasks that lie ahead.

To hear the anger expressed from all sides of the House tonight about what has taken place gives us all pause for thought. All of us in this House recognise and accept that Israel is an astonishing creation. It is a democratic country built around values of liberty and freedom and the experience of a people who suffered centuries of persecution. However, that is what makes us all so saddened to see what has happened in Gaza in recent weeks. Of course, there is a right of self-protection. We have made that point repeatedly from all sides of this House. The rockets launched against Israeli civilians are never justified, but when 1,300 Palestinians have died against the 13 Israelis who have lost their lives, we are forced again to think: is this proportionate?

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Noble Lords asked whether there will be international investigations and whether the UK Government will support them. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that we must make sure that the facts are established. We must move beyond the reiteration of newspaper reports to establish once and for all what did or did not happen. We will support fully the efforts to establish independent international investigation of this.

It was particularly poignant for me to see the UN Secretary-General speaking from Gaza yesterday. He said:

“It is particularly significant for me as Secretary-General of the United Nations to stand in front of this bombed site of the United Nations ... compound. I am just appalled. I am not able to describe how I am feeling, having seen this site of the bombing of the United Nations compound ... I have protested many times, and am today protesting in the strongest terms, and am condemning it. I have asked for a full investigation and to make those responsible people accountable”.

Her Majesty's Government support fully the demand of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for a full investigation of what has happened.

The use of white phosphorus has been condemned in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. We want to understand exactly how it was used. As I have said before, in certain cases, it is a legitimate weapon of war used to create a smokescreen to allow troops to advance. However, it appears to have been used in very different ways here to burn and maim civilians. If that is established, it is clearly a breach of the rules of war and must be exposed as such.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, reminded us that this debate is on the humanitarian situation. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to brief them on what is going on. As has been said, 400,000 people are living without water. Even before the current military operation, 80 per cent of drinking water in Gaza did not meet international standards for human consumption. Since 17 January, UNRWA has been able to resume deliveries of diesel, but fuel remains in very short supply. Most of Gaza’s mills and bakeries, on which so many depend for their daily bread, are no longer operating. In many areas, sewage has spilled onto the streets.

Movement is now possible between the north and south of Gaza, but the destruction of critical infrastructure continues to make it particularly difficult to get supplies to those who need them most. As I have reported to this House, DfID has pledged nearly £27 million since the conflict started. An additional £20 million pledge, as part of that, was made earlier this week. The £27 million includes £4 million to the ICRC to help it save lives and provide medical treatment to the injured. A total of £4 million will go to UNRWA for the provision of basic fuel and food supplies, including cash assistance for up to 2,500 families. The sum of £1 million has gone to the World Food Programme to co-ordinate relief items. A further £1 million will go to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, which will enable local UN humanitarian co-ordinators to allocate funds quickly and flexibly to emerging priorities, and also to make moneys available to NGOs and other organisations with staff on the ground, to meet emergency humanitarian needs.

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