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10.35 am

Lord Luce: My Lords, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I want to view Gaza against the wider background, because there cannot be stability in that area until there is a long-term comprehensive settlement. Only that settlement can stop this endless cycle of destruction followed by reconstruction.

I first visited the Middle East aged 11, in 1947, and have revisited the area many times since, the most recent being last week as a guest of the Government of Kuwait. It is sobering to think that throughout the lifetime of all of us we have witnessed the steady and almost ineluctable deterioration in Palestine. It is worth reminding ourselves that it was 100 years ago that the early Jewish settlements served as a warning signal of the land disputes to come. The Balfour Declaration then followed, which referred to the creation of a Jewish homeland but also said that,

It was possibly a rather careless declaration.

In 1937, a year after my birth, a royal commission in this country concluded:

“An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country”.

We are familiar with the steady deterioration since then: the end of the British mandate in 1948; the war in 1956; the war in 1967; and all that followed, with the illegal Jewish settlements in occupied territory, the intifadas and the ever-increasing cycle of destruction and extremism.

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The result, it seems to me, is that endeavouring to satisfy a gross injustice done to the Jews in Europe, and elsewhere for that matter, has in itself resulted in a gross injustice to Palestinians over a relatively tiny area of land. It has created a kind of cancer, which is spreading outwards, destabilising the Middle East and affecting Europe too, with, for example, the Muslim outrage that we now see and the deplorable anti-Semitism that we have seen in recent times.

Nobody comes out of this well. First, the Israelis, with their aggressive form of self-defence, grabbing land illegally and not appearing to care for Palestinians, take a very self-defeating approach. Secondly, the Palestinians themselves, as Abba Eban said, never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity: there has been no leadership—no Mandela in that area—and they are as divided as ever. Then there is the wider Arab world, which is divided, destabilised, often radicalised and lacking in leadership. Lastly, there is the international community. We do not escape criticism, of course, because we have played a major part in this issue, but the lack of even-handedness on the part of the United States has had disastrous consequences. Now we have a new challenging opportunity, provided by President Obama, to move forward, and in a region that Prince Turki al-Faisal recently described as a “basket full of snakes”.

Vision, courage and determination are now required from all parties to work tirelessly towards a comprehensive settlement in a two-state solution. From the United States, unprecedented leadership is needed to bring Israel to understand that its security and its future depend on recognising and dealing with the injustices done to the Palestinians, and that an alternative to a two-state solution could be much worse for it. The United States must be prepared to use what influence it has with Israel—$3 billion a year is not a puny sum—to try to influence it and lead Congress in the right direction. The European Union at the moment needs to be out front while the United States works out its policies, led particularly by the United Kingdom and France in taking whatever initiatives are necessary and particularly in working with our Arab friends and the Palestinians to create a more positive climate.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the Arab world must respond to President Obama’s new approach by working together to influence the Palestinians. In Kuwait, which held the economic summit the week before last, there was a massive effort by our friends in the Gulf to create unity about the Arab peace plan of 2002, which some want to drop. They only just managed to keep unity among the Arab states on that plan.

The United Kingdom and Her Majesty’s Government must not underestimate the value of our long-standing links with our friends not only in Egypt and Saudi Arabia but particularly in the Gulf states. We must work vigorously with them. I agree with the view expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Howell, that we must also work with Syria and Turkey and talk to Iran to strengthen the forces of moderation. However, the pressure on the Palestinians to unite must come from the leaders of the Arab world. If the Palestinians want a future at all, they must be persuaded

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to unite to work through collective leadership; at the moment, they are bitterly divided between Hamas and Fatah. Obviously the main ingredients must be a two-state solution, borders that are broadly in line with the pre-1967 war borders, compensation for refugees in one form or another, stopping new settlements and removing all existing settlements as part of the eventual settlement. Jerusalem must be divided or become an international city.

We in Parliament are entitled to demand a vigorous lead from Her Majesty’s Government, remembering that we played a major role in creating this problem. Her Majesty’s Government must speak frankly and openly to our friends in the United States about what we believe is needed. The alternatives are too terrible to contemplate. Jews and Palestinians must be persuaded that there is a better and more secure future for them, and we must do our utmost to help them to create trust between the two parties.

I end by quoting the words of Martti Ahtisaari, who recently achieved the Nobel Peace Prize. On 10 December, he said:

“Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal”.

It will be a long hard haul, but I hope and pray that in my lifetime we will make some progress.

10.44 am

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I was enormously grateful to the Minister for beginning by talking about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It underlines for me, as a former chair of Christian Aid, the universal importance in our country of the DEC appeal and the need for it to be properly publicised. This is urgent. May I also say that I am president of the English Friends of Sabeel, which is a Christian organisation in the Holy Land that is working on the issues of Palestinian liberation?

I shall pick up where the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, left off towards the end of his speech. Those of us who have been to the Holy Land will know the experience of passing through checkpoints on the West Bank that are staffed by young Israeli men and women who are barely out of school and controlling people old enough to be their grandparents. It makes you wonder what we are doing to the next generation of people and what people are thinking who have been involved in firing from tanks into Gaza, which has left young children and women dead or injured for life. There is a brutalising effect in all this. Then I think of the 1.5 million people on the Gaza Strip, half of whom are under the age of 21, I guess. What has happened to them now that thousands of their children have been traumatised by violence and brutality? Is the Minister aware of anything that is being done to help that generation with the anger and the trauma that they have experienced?

Every situation is different—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell—but I am reminded of what we experienced in the north of Ireland during the days of the Troubles. We are bound to say, are we not, that no one can win? Both sides may have claimed to have won this conflict, but in fact both have lost. In the midst are millions of people across the community who long for

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peace but who are locked in conflict. Do not many of us around this House have Jewish friends in Israel and friends among Palestinians? We know that both sides take a totally different view, and that millions of people long for peace on both sides. That means, as noble Lords have said, that we have to return to a political process that must include all parties.

Diplomacy is clearly the starting point, and is surely geared to turning diversity and difference to the task of peace with justice. Ways must be found to bring to the table all, including those to whom some say they will never speak. Diplomacy behind the scenes, whatever the rhetoric up front, clears the ground to make that possible, and I wonder how the international community is thinking of strategies for enabling that diplomatic task to succeed.

Clearly we must use all the strength of our present international community to insist that the parties negotiate a solution. Whatever is said about the wider international community, we all know that the behaviour of the new American Administration will be critical in all this. The friend of Israel must now become an honest broker in this dispute. There are some promising signals, not least the difficult agenda that Barack Obama has opened up in carrying forward his desire to open up negotiations with Tehran. By crossing these divides, the international community can begin to pull the parties to the table. We know that that will sometimes involve them coming kicking and screaming to the table, but the international community must use its influence and power to achieve that task.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for saying this from these Benches, but alongside and within this process it is vital that the powerful voice of the faith traditions in the Middle East are brought to bear on this task. Again, when I was last in the region, everyone said that one of the problems with the Oslo accords in the 1990s was that they excluded the faith traditions, which was a mistake. We must mount ourselves over the fantasies that many have that all religious Jews in Israel are fanatical right wingers, that all leaders of Islam are potential terrorists and that the leaders of the Christian Church spend their time arguing about who controls the holy sites. It is time we got out of this mode and got to the substance of the contribution that they and other people behind the political leaders can contribute as community leaders in creating a climate which encourages the process to peace.

Fourthly, everyone must insist that progress towards a just solution can happen only when the missiles remain on the ground and the tanks remain silent. Of course, we have to be patient and not allow those who want to use violence to knock us off course from doing so in the task of bringing peace. The appalling scenes that we have witnessed in Gaza bring an urgency to the task. It is made the more vital by the growing disenchantment among Palestinian people with the two-state solution. That adds an urgency to recovering some sense of hopefulness. A vacuum could open up in the political process, which, to use the biblical New Testament metaphor, if it is not filled, seven worse devils could enter it quite quickly and we could find ourselves worse off. Only the international community can bring hope into all of this. Not only do the people

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of Gaza need their lives and homes rebuilt, confidence needs patiently to be rebuilt. With it, there needs to be a focus on peace and justice, from which all of us should refuse to be diverted.

10.51 am

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, when speaking about Gaza too many people—although, this morning, with the very notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Luce—speak as though history began in 1967. But under the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 1947, which set out the partition of mandated Palestine, Gaza was given to the proposed Arab state. Although not giving either side all that it wanted, the Jewish Agency accepted the resolution and partition, the Arab League rejected it.

On 14 May 1948, the mandate ended and the state of Israel was proclaimed. On 15 May, the regular armies of Syria, Transjordan, Iraq and Egypt crossed the Palestine boundaries to attack the Jewish forces. At the end of the fighting, Israel had established sovereignty over 8,000 square miles of mandated Palestine west of the Jordan. The remaining 2,000 square miles were divided between Transjordan and Egypt.

I shall concentrate on Gaza, our interest today. Egypt took control, but did not annex Gaza, and ruled it harshly. Some 250,000 Palestinian refugees herded into Gaza were kept stateless. Egypt did not give them citizenship, nor did it allow them free entry into Egypt proper. Most of them lived in refugee camps run by UNRWA and their 1.5 million descendants are still largely dependent on UNRWA for food.

I first visited Gaza in August 1967, when Israel had taken control only a few weeks before. As I have said before in this House, I found Gaza an absolute hellhole. It is not easy to understand, and it is even more difficult to forgive, how prosperous Arab countries allowed their Palestinian brethren to live in such wretched conditions from 1948 to 1967. While we all welcome the current pledge of $1 billion from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to help rebuild the Gaza Strip, as mentioned by the Minister, does he agree that progress in the Middle East peace process depends now on much more practical and active participation from Arab countries, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Howell? There needs to be more humanitarian aid and more active political support for the Palestinian Authority.

There have been many and varied charges levied against Israel over the most recent conflict in Gaza, and the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe. Before dealing with some of the specifics, I should like to echo the wise words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who I hope will forgive me for paraphrasing him. On 21 January, he advised against using words like condemnation without investigation and proof. He also explained that bad experiences had made Israel sceptical of international opinion, since unfounded allegations were given maximum publicity, which, when they were refuted were not given the same kind of publicity.

An example that illustrates perfectly both of those points is the alleged Israeli rocket attack on the UNRWA school, which killed 43 civilians who had taken refuge in the school compound—that was the story. As the

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Canadian Globe and Mail has reported—but very few other newspapers have—physical evidence and interviews with several eye witnesses, including a teacher who was in the school yard at the time of the shelling, made clear that all three mortar shells landed in the street outside the quite large compound of the school. Indeed, 43 people were killed, but that did not include anyone who was inside the UNRWA school compound.

One of the UN officers got the story right very briefly when he said that,

But the correct version did not last long. It appeared never to have reached the international media. So is it any wonder that Israelis do not trust it?

I have a lot of detailed briefing and notes on white phosphorus. But time—perhaps to the relief of your Lordships—means that I cannot read them all and I will not try. Let me just say that Israel denies any illegal use of white phosphorous. On 13 January, the International Red Cross said that Israel was firing white phosphorus shells during its operations in the Gaza Strip, but had no evidence to suggest that the incendiary agent was used improperly or illegally. Peter Herby, the head of the Red Cross mines-arms unit, told the Associated Press:

“In some of the strikes in Gaza it’s pretty clear that phosphorus was used ... But it’s not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it’s being used in any other way”.

Mr Herby also said that using phosphorus to illuminate a target or create smoke is legitimate under international law and that there was no evidence that Israel was intentionally using phosphorus in a questionable way, such as burning down buildings or consciously putting civilians at risk.

No civilised army ever wants civilian casualties. From our experience in Afghanistan, we should know the problems for a disciplined army which is trying its best to avoid civilian casualties, against an enemy which deliberately uses its own people as human shields. British and American forces often abort operations, but still cause civilian casualties. Israelis also abort, but in Gaza, Israel is often in the position where, unlike in Afghanistan, it must take the target and does not have the choice of returning to it on another day.

A leading expert in international law who visited the Gaza region on 13 January said that Hamas is a “case study par excellence” of a systematic violation of international humanitarian law. Irwin Cotler, a Canadian former justice Minister, a Canadian MP and a law professor at McGill University, said:

“What is happening in Gaza is a tragedy. But there has to be moral and legal clarity as to responsibility. When Israel responds and civilians are killed because Israel is targeting an area from which rockets were launched, then it is Hamas which bears responsibility for the deaths, and not Israel, according to international law”.

Over eight years, Israel warned again and again, with 5,000 rockets raining down on its civilians in south Israel—what some people have called an ugly game of Iranian roulette—to no avail. How long is any country, let alone a democracy, expected to let its civilian population suffer that? Just over a year ago, I visited Sderot, which was the victim of so many of

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those rockets. A scheduled meeting with some of the leaders of mothers’ organisations was cancelled because they were off on buses to Jerusalem. They went to demonstrate outside the Prime Minister’s office, telling him what they thought of him for allowing their children to be subjected to the stress, strain and threat of death almost every day, and to demand of him: where was their army? A senior Israeli politician from the area said to me, “I can’t look these people in the eye, especially the mothers. Some of them were settlers removed forcibly by our army, and I promised them that it was to bring peace to the area. What can I say to them now?”.

I finish by saying that the Palestinian population of Gaza has been exploited since 1948. It is hardly to be wondered that in desperation the people have allowed the monster of Hamas, funded by Iran, to emerge. Let us hope that out of this latest humanitarian tragedy to befall them, a good future can emerge with everyone, including moderate Arab countries, contributing to their success.

11 am

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, like the noble Baroness who has just spoken and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, I begin with a brief personal observation. Fairly recently, I had the great privilege of serving for eight years as chairman of the British Lebanese Association, and in that time I had the opportunity to meet many people from the countries of the Middle East, including distinguished leaders and opinion formers. It was a very worthwhile experience. Long before that, more than 50 years ago, I visited Israel as a guest of the Government. I had the experience of staying in a kibbutz and saw the wonderful programme of the greening of the desert, including the planting of thousands and thousands of trees, and imaginative irrigation schemes. Hopes were then high for the future of the state of Israel, but today one may be forgiven for feeling deeply despondent.

Speaking on 4 November 2006 in Tel Aviv, David Grossman recalled the work of Yitzhak Rabin, who came so close to agreeing a settlement with the Palestinians. David Grossman explained how, in his view, the state of Israel had wasted,

a point made by the right reverend Prelate—

“And look what has happened”.

It is difficult to speak in moderate terms about the horrendous events in Gaza, and frankly I do not think that we should speak in moderate terms because they were horrendous and totally unjustifiable actions by Israel. It is claimed that what was done was a justified response to the very real suffering inflicted by years of mindless assault from Hamas rockets and suicide bombers. It is also argued that if, after repeated warnings from Israel, the rockets continued, revenge would be swift and terrible. But that was not the only course open to Israel; the sword could have stayed in the scabbard.

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There could have been a major effort to engage in diplomacy and negotiation. There should certainly have been some understanding of the enormous sense of frustration felt on the part of the Palestinians, who for years have been the victims of Israeli encroachment and who have experienced little but humiliation at the hands of their neighbours. This has resulted in a steady escalation of violence.

The timing of the Israeli action was no accident. The Israeli Government knew that they were free to act because they had the tacit consent of the United States Administration. The assault on Gaza was, I believe, seen in the USA to be a necessary step in America’s world-wide war on terror. Neither Israel nor America seems to have learnt anything from the disastrous Israeli incursions into Lebanon in 2006. That resulted in the rise of Hezbollah and a heavy loss of civilian life. As the Minister referred to the injuries still being inflicted by mines and unexploded artillery in Gaza, he should know that the same is still happening in Lebanon today, where unexploded mines and cluster bombs are causing deaths and injuries to civilians. To our shame, the British Government were as complicit as that of America in letting the Israeli attack on Lebanon proceed without check and without criticism. This time, in Gaza, America has also been silent as women and children have been slaughtered, and hospitals and safe havens destroyed. Both the US President and the then President-elect kept quiet. It is deeply worrying that the pro-Israel lobby has such a stranglehold on US policy. American leaders appear unwilling to give voice to the smallest note of criticism lest they be accused of anti-Semitism and risk losing valuable electoral support.

In the case of the latest Gaza war, the US actually went beyond just being a passive observer. It was probably Israel’s major source of military materiel. Even at the height of the assault on Gaza, America was supplying Israel with deadly weapons from its arsenal, some of them stored at Lakenheath. Reference has already been made to the white phosphorous shells used, but also used were flechette shells which disperse thousands of darts, causing horrendous injuries. Together they burnt and decimated indiscriminately. Also widely used by Israel in heavily populated areas was a bomb called the Dime. As the Independent on Sunday of 25 January made clear, dense inert metal explosives are designed to spray superheated micro-shrapnel comprised of powdered heavy metal tungsten alloy. That substance, HMTA, is chemically toxic; it damages the immune system, rapidly causes cancer, and is genotoxic in that it attacks the DNA. Dime bombs appear to have their roots in depleted uranium research. I find that extremely worrying. Their deployment in the conditions of Gaza should be universally and unequivocally condemned. As Professor Avi Shlaim of Oxford University wrote on 26 January in a letter to the Guardian:

“Gaza was not even a war in the conventional sense of the word; it was one-sided carnage”.

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