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Noble Lords may know that the fighting in Gaza has had a most worrying effect on the level of anti-Semitism in this country. The Community Security Trust received reports of more than 250 incidents during the conflict. One was reported today in the Jewish Chronicle. It involved a 12 year-old Jewish girl surrounded by 20 young people shouting, “Death to Jews”. There is an overflow that requires watching. This, of course, is inexcusable. I know that our Government, particularly the Department for Communities and Local Government, are working closely with the Jewish community to ensure that conflict in the Middle East does not result in anti-Semitic attacks here in Britain. I also welcome statements made by prominent British Muslims denouncing the serious rise in anti-Semitism. Noble Lords may know of the growth of a recent organisation called the Coexistence Trust, which consists entirely of Muslim and Jewish members of different Parliaments. My noble friend Lord Mitchell is the chairman.

The situation is bad. We all wish to see a peaceful settlement in the Middle East—that is what all Israelis and Palestinians desperately deserve. There must, first, be an end to rocket fire into southern Israel of the kind from which I suffered, which traumatises its citizens and makes their lives unliveable. Secondly, there must be an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza and the network of tunnels that makes that possible. Thirdly, there must be an end to Iran’s financial, moral and political support for Hamas and its equipping of Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the region. Ultimately, there must be an end to the refusal of Hamas to recognise Israel's right to exist. Until Hamas grants that recognition, renewed conflict will sadly never be far away.

As many Israeli leaders and ordinary citizens told me, Israel deeply regrets having to take military action that inflicts suffering on ordinary Palestinians. In my view, Israel had no choice. It had to intervene in Gaza in self-defence to bring an end to this barrage of rockets; I understand that 8,000 rockets have been sent over in the past eight years. But I know the country and I know its leaders. They are ready and willing to live in peace. I have met the leaders of Fatah and talked to and listened to them. There must be a relationship between the two sides. They must get together, otherwise the deaths on both sides will continue. Israel remains ready and willing to make peace and is

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working to do so with Fatah on the West Bank. Its enemies must be willing to do the same. We must hope that that happens soon.

11.44 am

Lord Kalms: My Lords, nobody in this House supports the death of innocents. Nobody in this House feels anything but sadness over the death of children. But in the debate over Israel's defensive actions in the Gaza in recent weeks, a terrible misapportionment of blame has occurred. We have witnessed a widespread moral inversion, and not only in this House, in which victims have been painted as aggressors and aggressors as victims.

Israel has the same right as all nation states to defend herself and her people against attack. Israel has in recent weeks been forced, once again, to exercise that sovereign right. It has done so in response to years of sustained rocket attacks by Islamist militants in the Gaza—a barrage that no other nation state has to put up with, or should have to put up with. Hamas fired rockets from territory that Israel completely withdrew from four years ago. Hamas fired those rockets, not into disputed territory, but into Israel proper, which was agreed and mandated more than 60 years ago at the UN. Hamas did so, not because it disputes this or that piece or territory, or because it disagrees with this or that policy of this or that Israeli Government, but because it seeks the annihilation of Israel.

For instance, at the opening of its document, Hamas quotes the Islamist Hassan al-Banna. It states:

“Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it”.

It has been suggested today that that is rhetoric; an extraordinary explanation.

Sometimes, the Islamists of Hamas talk of “abolishing” Israel. Sometimes they talk of “annihilating” it. What they never do is talk of living with it. That is the cause of the continuing tragedy—a tragedy for Palestinians as well as Israelis who wish to live in peace. Hamas is bound not to co-existence with Israel but to ending Israel. Its genocidal ambitions are evident to hear in its words. They are evident to see in its actions.

In debates in this House and elsewhere in recent weeks, observers have compared, critically, Israel's reaction to the terrorists of Hamas with Britain's attitude towards the terrorists of the IRA. But there are huge differences between these situations. Whatever the iniquity of the IRA, that terrorist organisation was never dedicated to the annihilation—the wholesale destruction—of the British state and its people. Its tactic was violence, certainly, but its aims were not fundamentally genocidal. Had we in Britain faced such an existential threat in the IRA, and seen such a force not just supported, but sponsored by, our near neighbours—as Hamas is supported by Iran—then I am by no means certain that this state would have been as restrained as Israel has been in response to the repeated assaults of recent years.

Hamas has chosen to make human shields of Palestinians in the Gaza. Hamas chooses to use schools, places of worship and hospitals as missile dumps. Hamas chooses to use such sites as launch-pads for its missiles. During the recent operation, Israel did everything possible to limit the number of Palestinian victims. It

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has never been in Israel's intent or interest to cause unnecessary suffering. Israel fires rockets targeted at known missile sites in Gaza, desperately trying to avoid hitting civilians. Hamas fires rockets into Israel hoping to hit civilians. For Israel, the hitting of innocent civilians is always the result of error. For Hamas it is its hope. Israel sent text-messages to Palestinian civilians in the first hours of the conflict warning them to keep clear of sites about to be hit. Hamas hits Israel with no warning. Israel builds bunkers to shelter its population. Hamas builds bunkers to shelter its weapons.

Finally, what this so-called “liberation” movement of Hamas does to fellow Palestinians must not be forgotten. When Hamas seized power in the Gaza, its first action was to kill members of the rival Fatah party. When Israel began the land invasion of Gaza a few weeks ago, the first response by Hamas was to execute and kneecap members of Fatah. Such barbarity continues to be visited by Hamas on its fellow Palestinians.

On 12 January, Hamas seized 100 aid trucks which Israel had allowed through to alleviate Palestinian suffering. Hamas stole the contents and sold them to the highest bidders. It is an organisation which has no respect for Israeli lives, and no respect for Palestinian lives.

Israel’s actions are in defence of her people. Any Government who do not protect their people from assault are not worthy of the task of governance. The terrorist group lamentably now in charge in Gaza not only fails to protect its people, it deliberately puts them in harm's way, all the time feeding them the false and wicked hope that the existence of Israel is up for negotiation.

The attacks in this House and elsewhere are a sad case of people failing to notice the difference between the regional fire-fighter and the regional arsonist. Israel is still doing what it can, under terrible pressure, to add a new state to the United Nations. Hamas is more interested in taking away a state from the UN than in adding one to it. This remains just one of the reasons why Israel must be supported in her war against the terrorists. It remains just one of the reasons why Israel's fight is a fight not just for the people of Israel but for all people who value freedom and life over terrorism and destruction. It is just one of the reasons why Israel’s fight is also our fight.

11.51 am

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, in the weeks after Christmas we were all horrified to witness Israel’s action in Gaza. However that country may plead that it was justified, at the very least the action was, to put it at its most polite, disproportionate—a word that I hate.

Other noble Lords have described the conditions afterwards and the deaths and injuries sustained. I am not going to do that. This debate should not just be about Gaza but about the right of Palestinians to a homeland. We cannot make progress on this unless we engage Hamas in the fullest possible way in negotiations, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, has said. Hamas was legitimately elected by the Palestinian people and has not been destroyed by the recent attacks on Gaza. In fact, it is strengthened: it is more popular than ever. The people of Gaza are resolute.

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I had an e-mail yesterday from a young student in Gaza who I met when I was out there. He says that,

This is his English, not mine.

“In this hardship, you can see how people help each other, they may host the destroyed-home-people in their own houses, or they can offer food or money from the first day after the seasefire, you can see the police doing their jobs I feel a little bit safer, although, at the time being there are many shelling from the Israeli army in many areas”.

That was yesterday.

Our party of European parliamentarians met Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, and found him and his colleagues not at all what we had been led to believe by our Government, by others and the noble Lord, Lord Kalms, who spoke before me. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and I also met Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader in Damascus, two weeks later. Hamas will recognise Israel. It does not like the term “right” to exist, but it will recognise it. But it needs the borders to be defined. What “Israel”, exactly? The Israel that is now? It would prefer the Israel that was before 1967.

Hamas also talks of a “two-state situation” rather than a solution—surely words that we can negotiate with. It has offered a 10-year truce, and in fact kept one for nearly six month last year until, last December, Israel killed six Palestinians in one of its incursions into Gaza. During those six months the siege was not lifted by Israel. Incursions into the West Bank continued and, perhaps the most contentious action of all, the settlements, illegal under international law, continued to expand. Israel never keeps its part of the bargain.

We were also told that Hamas would honour agreements signed by the PLO but reserved the right to negotiate them if possible. I refer to agreements such as the US/UK-brokered gas deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the involvement of BG International. We do not hear much about that, but it is understandable that they should want to know where the profits will go and who will benefit from these huge reserves of natural gas in Gazan waters. This is just one example.

This is, perhaps, not what Israel and her friends want to hear, but these are perfectly sane and reasonable points for debate and negotiation, if only Israel truly wanted peace. We asked ourselves that many times while we were there.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wright, mentioned, even Tony Blair, in an amazing volte-face, said, in an interview with the Sunday Times last week, that Hamas must be brought into the peace process, as isolating it would not work. He criticized the Bush Administration and Israel for focusing efforts on the West Bank only. He said:

“It was half of what we needed”.

Over the past few decades Israel stands accused of breaking international law, Geneva conventions and abusing the human rights of Palestinians, and never more so than in these past few weeks in Gaza. Indeed, there have been allegations and-counter-allegations of serious crimes being committed by both parties to the

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dispute in Gaza, and it is essential to ensure justice for the victims of the conflict. Boycotts are called for, and spreading. I heard yesterday from the students of the University of Strathclyde who had organised a sit-in that the university authorities had agreed to suspend their contract with Eden Springs Water—an Israeli company.

This sort of thing is spreading. It is damaging for Israel. Dockers in Australia and South Africa are refusing to unload ships. However, I should like to see a more international solution. As I remember well from when I was in the other place, when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was concluded in 1998, it was agreed that the UN Security Council would need to have power to refer cases to the International Criminal Court, especially when suspects were not from states party to the Rome Statute. It is therefore essential that the Security Council be requested with the utmost urgency to launch an investigation into all the allegations of wrongdoing in Gaza on both sides since 27 December. Noble Lords will recently have received a letter from Clare Short and me on this subject.

It is very unlikely that Israel will investigate fairly and robustly the actions of its own armed forces. A resolution is needed at the Security Council. It is hoped that the new American Administration will want to be seen to be fair and support the investigation of alleged crimes on both sides of the conflict. Even if, heaven forbid, the USA did continue to exercise its veto, at least the United Kingdom Government could hold their head high because they would have tried.

I am aware and have been told, not least by a former member of the Knesset only last week, that this sort of international action will only increase Israel’s sensitivity and isolation. However, it is no good us in the Western democracies using the Security Council and ICC process just to get at third-world dictators and despots if we are not prepared to be fair and use it on our own friends and ourselves where necessary. World order depends on international law being upheld and the United Kingdom should take the lead.


Lord Weidenfeld:My Lords, the failure to resolve the Gaza crisis by the road map of the quartet bars the road to peace and makes the map irrelevant. More and more voices counsel direct contact between the quartet, Israel and Hamas, for it has been said that this, more than any other, crisis in the Middle East is not resolvable by military means alone. Be that as it may, I submit that psychological warfare is certainly a vital ingredient, and here I cannot absolve the unhelpful attitude of some weighty European, but also many British, media which refuse to distinguish between cause and effect and err in their judgment of what is and is not proportionality in attack and defence. I regret to say that the course of the present debate has been, with its display of good will and compassionate understanding, very one sided and condemnatory of Israel.

I was in Israel the week before the Israeli entry into Gaza and sensed the bitterness of a population being continuously and evermore extensively harassed by

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rockets, which paralyse civilian life. After Sderot, Ashdod and Ashkelon, Beersheba has now become a prime target, a city whose university, incidentally, boasts exemplary relations with Arab and Bedouin students. I was for 10 years chairman of its board of governors, so I observed that at first hand. The number of missiles fired from Gaza has risen fivefold since 2001 and now reach within 40 kilometres of one of Israel's most important airports.

What is cause and what is effect in this tragic situation? General Sharon made Israel withdraw its last soldier from the Gaza strip, together with 8,000 settlers, but the rockets continued to fly. The Hamas Government in Gaza refuse recognition of Israel's right to exist and agrees to only temporary ceasefires, which they use for replenishment of weaponry before they resume launching rockets, which are financed, refined and increased in numbers by their Iranian taskmasters.

There is no more thankless task than to have to remind people again and again that, in keeping with the age-old tradition of guerrilla warfare, Hamas stores its weapons in tenement buildings, schools and even mosques and holds conclaves of its military leaders in civilian clothes in private homes and in the basement of Gaza central hospital. Students of history can cite similar situations in the Peninsular War against Napoleon in Spain and in the battles of the partisans against the Germans in Greece, France and Yugoslavia in the Second World War. However, what makes the fanatical Islamic terrorism of al-Qaeda or the military wings of Hamas and Hezbollah unique is not only its contempt for the life of the enemy or the innocent bystander, but its contempt for the life of its own kith and kin. Nothing is more moving than the image of a mother grieving with a dead child in her arms or of a heap of mutilated corpses, but if you sample terrorist literature, whether it comes from the caves of Bin Laden or the more pretentiously sophisticated desks of journalists in the Yemen, Syria or Saudi Arabia, you may find that it justifies the killing of hostile infidels, whether man, woman or child. Pamphlets argue that children, though innocent today, may grow up to seek revenge. I am afraid I cannot help remembering one of the most satanic documents of the Second World War, Heinrich Himmler’s speech to the gauleiters and SS commanders in Poznan in 1943, which argued in exactly the same words.

Have we become so inured to the crime of sending young people to their deaths as living suicide bombs? Where are the letters to the editor, protest marches, torchlight processions against Governments or forces advocating this kind of death? Why are they missing? What is the attitude to the evil planners of martyrdom meriting rewards both in this world and the next? If this is not infanticide, what is? Why have the media simply accepted, with very little question, any facts and figures issued by Hamas? In 2008, the reputableReporters Without Frontiers listed the Palestinian Territories as number 163 out of 173 countries on its yearly worldwide press freedom index. Very little has been written about Hamas's attempts to liquidate its political opponents during the first week of the recent fighting. Last week, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency in Ramallah published a detailed list of 181 names

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and locations of members of Fatah in Gaza who were executed, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Kalms, explained, wounded or imprisoned. All this needs considering too. To those who wish to arraign Israeli leaders for war crimes, I submit that Hamas is culpable of a double war crime against Israeli as well as against Palestinian civilians, and especially young children.

As for Israel, public opinion surveys consistently show that 80 per cent of the electorates longs for a durable peace—the two-state solution—yet the barrage of anti-Israel propaganda coming from European media can only help those who believe that their hatred of Israel is incurable and that there is bile and bias in Europe and in this country. It can only encourage Israelis to elect a Government of robust, intransigent politicians who may claim that there is no acceptable peace-loving Palestinian partner, and therefore no peaceful solution in hand. That must be avoided. Therefore, this is the moment, perhaps the eleventh hour, for a compassionate understanding of both sides.

12.07 pm

Lord Turnberg: My Lords, no one can fail to be moved by the scenes of devastation in Gaza. I am far from alone in feeling deeply distressed. But no one—not Israel, not Hamas and, I am afraid, not the EU, Britain or America—can avoid a sense of ownership for the death and destruction in Gaza. We in the West have ignored for far too long the deadly game that Hamas has been playing in firing its thousands of missiles when it was absolutely clear that Israel would have to respond at some point. Of course, accusations have flown back and forth about the behaviour of Israel and Hamas, but we in the West are also culpable for not recognising the danger to Israel and to the Palestinians in Gaza of the smuggling of missiles for Hamas. Everyone, including Mahmoud Abbas and President Mubarek of Egypt, knew. Indeed accusations have recently been reiterated that Hamas was the root cause of the disaster. Even the West Bank Palestinians, although obviously very distressed by the fate of their brothers in Gaza, recognise the role of Hamas, as do many people in Gaza itself, where they have been able to speak out, usually anonymously.

I really was not going to get into the blame game today but, since so much has been made in the media to demonise Israel's role in the conflict, I want to say a few words about where I think the responsibility really lies for these terrible events. My question now is whether there are any grounds for believing that something positive might emerge from all this turmoil because that is where I believe we should be focusing our efforts now and pressing as hard as we can for a two-state solution. The tragedy is that everyone, not least the Israelis and Palestinians, knows what shape an agreement should be and what compromises will be needed: withdrawal of the settlements from the West Bank; a deal on some sort of sharing of Jerusalem on Israel's part; and a compromise on the right of return together with serious security arrangements by the Palestinians. All these must have been discussed ad nauseam, and only weak political wills and the extremists on both sides have delayed their implementation. I say “delayed” because they have to happen at some point.

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Are there any grounds now for even a glimmer of hope? I believe there are. First, whatever it might say, Hamas has undoubtedly been weakened by the conflict. Of course, it has not been eliminated, nor could it be. But a large number of its missiles have been destroyed, and its supply of more has been seriously compromised. Thank goodness, there is now a belated but almost universal recognition that more must be done to prevent the smuggling of arms from Egypt and the sea. If—it is a big if, I know—Egypt does stop the smuggling, Israel will feel less threatened by a Hamas without missiles.

As Hamas has been weakened, Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority may have gained some strength. There is some evidence of movement in the West Bank. All the economic aid which is being put in is having an impact. The unemployment rate is falling, average wages are rising and 150 or so checkpoints have been removed. A visit now to Nablus and Jenin sees cities busily getting on with life, no longer under curfew and with the Palestinian Authority police having successfully taken over control from the IDF. Of course, there is an enormous amount more that needs doing and conditions remain very difficult, but these are steps in the right direction. Tony Blair can take at least some of the credit for his quiet, patient, behind-the-scenes work to facilitate these changes.

So there is an opportunity to build on this and for the EU and the US to give Mahmoud Abbas much-needed support, so that he is strengthened in his ability to negotiate. We should be focusing on that. In Israel, despite the misgivings of many about the scenes from Gaza and differing views of the conflict, the vast majority of the population, sick and tired of their people in the south rushing to the shelters every day, were right behind the Government and their actions. Incidentally, I do not recognise the Israel described by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, as being brutalised. When I go there, I see a community that is very worried, concerned and desperate for peace and security.

The leadership, which for once was united, has been strengthened, and whoever wins the coming election will be in a stronger position and will have more popular support than many previous Administrations. Of course, Israeli politics are never predictable, so who knows who will have the leadership next week. A lurch to the right might be seen as unhelpful, especially if the extreme right gains some influence. It is worth remembering, however, that it has usually been a right-wing Likud Government who have been able to do a land-for-peace deal in the past. We have a situation in which the leaders in both Israel and the PA are either in a better position to negotiate a two-state solution or could be helped to get into that position. I will come back to Hamas in a moment.

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