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The third fact that needs to be recognised is that if Israel is attacked, and it constantly is, it will defend itself; it will defend its citizens with force. It is all very well for the international community to criticise Israel for an allegedly disproportionate response, but that same international community did nothing effective to address and to prevent the constant attacks on Israel from the rockets fired from Gaza.

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Israel tolerated those attacks, with the resulting deaths and injuries both physical and psychological, and the destruction of property for much longer than any outsider has the right to demand. Those who criticise Israel's response to attacks from Gaza as disproportionate really need to identify what lesser and effective steps Israel could have taken to prevent the constant shelling of its towns and cities. It is no answer to say that Israel should have talked to Hamas. The international community is not talking to Hamas, and understandably so while Hamas remains dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel.

It is, of course, much easier for leaders in Gaza to endanger their own civilian population by encouraging futile assaults on Israel than it is for them to work hard at planning and developing a civil society in which there is a free press, an independent judiciary, and the spending of aid from abroad on schools, hospitals and sanitation rather than on bombs and, too often, on lining the pockets of the elite. The real tragedy of the Palestinian people, a tragedy that many speakers today choose to ignore, is that Palestinians have yet to find a leader who is honest and brave enough to tell his or her people these basic and obvious truths. Indeed, there is no freedom of expression in Gaza for anyone who wishes to express such views. I therefore ask the Minister whether the British Government will now recognise that the best service they can perform for the beleaguered Palestinian people in Gaza is to tell them, politely but bluntly, that their lives will improve immeasurably but only once they and their leaders accept the existence of the state of Israel and resolve to live with it in peace.

1.18 pm

Lord Stone of Blackheath: My Lords, I am pleased to hear all these views. Last Saturday, I watched a play at the Barbican created by a team made up of Jewish, Arab and Palestinian actors, and directed by Yael Ronen from the Cameri theatre of Tel Aviv. The play was called “Plonter”, a Hebrew word that means tangle; but it involves no ordinary tangle. A “plonter” is more like a Gordian knot that gets tighter and tighter as you try to unwind it. The vibrant cast in this excellent piece showed that the conflict is so complex and the individuals caught up in it so emotionally and psychologically intertwined, that any attempt to depict it in a speech here lasting eight minutes is to do it a disservice. The play also demonstrated that biased headlines, sensationalist soundbites, the instant apportionment of blame and suggested quick fixes are not only unhelpful and insulting but may even be harmful. So I am not going to offer another narrative of the conflict, argue about the apportionment of blame, or suggest any quick fixes.

I decided some time ago to spend my energy in the region trying to move forward with projects and processes that bring the parties together in the same mindset. One way is to create a similar political mindset.

Some noble Lords will know that four years ago the Arab peace initiative was revisited and revised in your Lordships’ House. In 2001, the original Abdullah plan was a good initiative but later the signatories wanted to develop a new plan that was easier for all Arab

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states to sign and wanted to amend some of the language in the original plan to make it more acceptable to Israel. They wanted to meet on neutral territory and they needed time to talk in safety, comfort and confidence. I was honoured to be asked, through a circuitous route, to host the Arab ambassadors here in the House of Lords for two days when the House was not sitting. The result was that 22 Arab countries agreed to sign the new plan and that the wording is more acceptable to Israel because it avoids certain sensitive issues.

The plan is not a diktat but a statement of principles, and now is the time for Israel to offer its own positive and pragmatic statement to match that of the Arab peace initiative; it is not a critique of the Arab plan but an equally constructive plan. The mindset could then receive a strategy to be put forward to actualise the two-state solution. We spent 30 years arguing about this destination and we now have it; a two-state solution, or situation, and a comprehensive regional peace as envisaged by the Arab peace initiative. The road map is not enough. A map can show where a destination is and where we are now, but it is not a strategy of how to get there.

Tony Klug, an academic with 40 years' experience in this field, has worked out the bones of just such a strategy; it includes effective enforcement mechanisms. The international community must now pledge itself to agree a strategy and I ask the Minister for help in getting this done now, within the first term of the US presidency, while hopes and expectations are high and the president's influence is still potent. If we fail within this time frame, we could be looking at a future of perpetual conflict that is not confined only to the Middle East.

Another way to connect mindsets is through trade. While I was at Marks & Spencer we encouraged our suppliers to try to work across borders to encourage people to come together and combine to create work for people and bring affluence to those who had been excluded. We were able to link Israel with Egypt and produce the finest knickers on the planet. In 2009 we celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the peace deal between Egypt and Israel. A few years later, we were able to develop a business in Irbid in Jordan and now we are 15 years away from the peace deal with Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

This can be done now in Gaza and the West Bank. They possess sweet water, good soil, agricultural expertise and an able workforce. They can grow succulent tomatoes and peppers for salads, cucumbers and onions for pickling, and 27 different varieties of the most aromatic and delicious herbs for flavouring, including basil, thyme, sage, coriander, and, of course, olives, olive oil and olive oil soaps.

In the past few weeks, since returning from the region and in the face of this crisis, I have received the most generous and courageous agreements from the chairmen of four of the biggest and best retailers in the UK to help the Palestinian farmers to raise standards, add innovative product development, provide technical assistance and arrange logistics to produce, package and transport their desirable goods

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to be sold in the UK. We are receiving a great deal of support from Paul Taylor of UK Trade & Investment, the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, the new Palestine British Business Council and, after already having received advice and wisdom from Adam Leach and the team from the International Business Leaders Forum, I am hoping that they can bring their strength to bear on the project. We will work with a company called TechnoServe to ensure that it is the farmers of small and medium-sized businesses who profit from this. I know that the Minister will back this project.

There is also the final mindset that we are all one.

Last month, while I was in the greenhouses of these Palestinian farmers and listening to the issues with which they were contending—politics and war, credit crunch and recession, climate change and water shortages—I realised that just doing things better in a fragmented, compartmentalised way is also not going to work on its own. Plonter showed that this is not just about politics, strategy and business; this is a tangle of individual souls.

The late Lord Sieff of Brimpton, my mentor at M&S, would have said that if people were helped to gain trust in an organisation or indeed a community of people from many different religions, regions and cultures who were working together to give everyone a profit and improve the quality of life, they would lift their thoughts to a higher level of consciousness. Then, rather than their anxieties creating a reaction of “us or them” or “fight or flight”, people, particularly in that region, would see that we are all one and their behaviour would change.

I will conclude by giving an example of a series of events that I hope connect people in this way. It is a story of optimism and imagination. Six years ago, Ann McPherson and Andrew Herxheimer set up in Oxford a research-based website and a charity called Healthtalkonline. I now chair it. It allows people with life-threatening illnesses who are scared and do not know what choices to make to hear and see the stories of other patients, and know what choices they made and what then happened, and they share their experiences.

Completely separately, five years ago, the Olive Tree Trust was formed in City University in London by Sheik Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber and Derek Tullett. It has for four years granted scholarships to Israeli and Palestinian students to study here in London any course they choose, but the students must live together and involve themselves in learning about and discussing together the issues of the Middle East. They are able, tortuously, to change their internal narrative and their views of the other. They then spend a year creating some positive project in the region.

Yael Litmanovitz, one of the group's alumni from the first year of the Olive Tree at City, is now working back in Israel to set up a branch of Healthtalkonline that will allow Israelis, Jews and Arabs to share personal experiences of illnesses with each other: the cancers, the heart diseases and the mental illnesses. There are 60 different conditions. She is working with Ben Gurion University in Israel but, because of the experience of

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Olive Tree, she insisted that as this is now in English, Hebrew and Arabic, we should also make it available to the Bedouin, the Druze and the Palestinians.

While I was in Bethlehem last month, I found another great connection with Stephanie Safdi, a Fulbright scholar from America, who is doing similar work with USAID and Al-Quds University in the West Bank. She is helping to set up a parallel programme for the population there and in Gaza. We are all now working together with the same mindset.

Plonter will unwind only if we all realise that this is all part of the same piece of twine and stop pulling in different directions.

1.27 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I venture into this debate with the story of the visitor lost in our Welsh hills. He came across one of the local people and said, “Excuse me, how do I get to Ysbyty Ifan?”. The answer was, “If I were you, I wouldn’t have started from here”. It is a story often repeated. We would not have started from here, because we are all the victims of history. Some say that this has been going on for 100 years. It has been going on for 3,000 years. We have all received something from that history; we are indebted to it and sometimes we are the victims of it.

It is wonderful to look at the story of the Middle East in hindsight, but then you see the great mistakes that we have made, when France and Britain, mainly, divided the spoils between them. We drew lines, often the wrong lines, and the people of that area had to live within those lines. We talk of the land that makes up the nation of Israel, some of which was bought perfectly legitimately by organisations such as the Jewish National Fund. However, at other times, land, as with the settlements, was not acquired very honourably. We have a history that we have to live with.

Let us look at the history of the Jewish people. I was in the Polish Parliament only a little while ago. I saw there the plaque which describes what happened to the people at the start of the 1939-45 war. I read the names and the places where parliamentarians had died: Dachau, Belsen and Mauthausen. My heart bled for them. That is why I look at history and say that we can never reject the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 after what the Jewish people have suffered century after century, such as the pogroms and especially the Holocaust. Who in 1917 would have imagined the horrors of 30 years on, when 6 million Jewish people were exterminated in Hitler’s era?

We must therefore somehow accept the Israeli State but also, in so doing, support the national home. We should remember also the guarantee that nothing would be done that would be intrusive on the rights of the Palestinian people who were already there. How do you achieve this balance between the Israelis who are settling in and the Palestinians who were already there? This is history. We do not choose our own moment in it. We have to accept the history and make sure that it is honourable for all who are part of it. In Gaza today are not only the victims of history but those who are hostages to it. They need a wisdom and understanding that do not seem to be forthcoming.

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Where are the Gandhis or the Nelson Mandelas? One name that has been mentioned in speech after speech today is that of the new President of the United States. We expect so much of him. If any person in the world deserves our prayers at the present, whatever our faith might be, it is Barack Obama. He has so much to contend with. He has a first-class band of people around him. We hope that things will work out.

With Hamas rockets and Israeli bulldozers and tanks, it is a period that we would prefer to forget. It is a terrible scar on the nation of Israel. Between 3,000 years ago and today, there was one who came and he said, “If you cause harm to a child, it is better if a millstone is tied around your neck and you are thrown into the depths of the oceans”. In the Bible, there is forgiveness for everything, except for harming children. Whether they are Palestinian or Israeli children, we look at them and say that we have somehow to create a world that is fit for children such as them, a world in which they can live at peace and in understanding.

Let us contrast life in Gaza with that in Israel—I have been to both places in happier times. In Gaza, the annual income per head is under $3,000; in Israel, it is 10 times more. Unemployment in Gaza touches nearly 50 per cent of the people and probably more than that at present; in Israel, it is under 7 per cent. In Israel, the infant mortality rate is four children in 1,000; in Gaza, it is 24 in 1,000. As people are not allowed to leave Gaza, it is like a massive prison camp. There are 1.5 million people there, which is 2,930 people per square kilometre. Israel has 292 people per square kilometre, the West Bank has 342 and Egypt has 70. Children are brought up in Gaza. How traumatised they must be, as a noble Lord said.

We have heard of the dreams of other nations. What can those little children dream of? What can the youngsters dream of? They have so much to offer to the world. They are being suffocated. Somehow, we must make it possible for each of those children to dream and then to reach out to fulfil their aspirations.

The time has come—I am not sure whether I am on message with the Liberal Democrats on this—to look at the future of Gaza. The people of Gaza themselves must wonder whether the territory within can support 1.5 million people. We know what happened when the Israelis took over in other places: the desert bloomed. Is there a way that understanding between Israel and Palestine—and Egypt—can help the desert, which is difficult territory now, to become alive and helpful in fulfilling the dreams of those people? When things change, people will need to be able to travel out of Palestine to other places. This is where our own immigration and borders legislation needs to be generous and compassionate. We cannot close the borders to people from the oppressed places. We must help them, as I have said previously, to fulfil their dreams.

I will not say any more. I have probably flown some kites; we shall see. Of course, we need immediate action to ease the suffering of Gaza. Unless history is to claim new victims, the long-term future of Gaza must also be very high up on the agenda.

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1.36 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I turn immediately to my noble friend Lord Stone whom all of us wish was the leader of the world. All the problems of the Middle East would be solved if his trade plans were followed. Although I applaud his optimism, I do not think that he has all the answers to our present problems.

The situation in Gaza is indeed tragic and complex. No civilised person could fail to be moved by the pictures on our television screens of dying and maimed women and children. But the firing of rockets, some 9,000 of them, into Israel scarcely helps the people of Gaza. Nor does it help for many members of Hamas to proclaim the annihilation of Israel as their goal—an aim that they refuse to retreat from or retract at the present time.

What is Israel expected to do in the face of such intimidation? Should Israel take it bravely on the chin? I do not think that its citizens would stand for that. No wonder a Palestinian in Gaza, someone who lost his father and son, who fears, like so many, being beaten by Hamas, had to say:

“No one from Hamas has come to offer us help. None of the leaders has been here. We were farmers, not fighters with a militant faction. ... After what happened to us here, I hate the name Hamas”.

That is what he had to say as a result of his personal experience.

Of course, war is ugly. We saw it here in England in the last war. We saw it in Germany in many cities there. More recently, we saw it in Sri Lanka with its Government against the Tamil Tigers. We could go on and on. The voices of hate have to be stilled. Tragically, they can be heard from extremists on both sides of the divide. But from Gaza they are accompanied by a desire to kill. The rockets are not aimed in fun; they are intended to kill as many people as possible. The fact that the rockets are in some cases old fashioned does not really matter. They will be secured in the future by Iranian arms, which are not old fashioned at all. Many of them hope that Israel will be extinguished. However, they do not claim that only Israel should be extinguished, but that all Jews should be wiped off the face of the earth. Should the Israelis take no notice of that?

This fundamentalism is echoed by a small minority of Jews, who respect no opinions other than their own and plan for a greater Israel. However, it is utterly false to liken them to extremists in the Hamas movement. There can be little hope of reconciling these two extremes, but it is not impossible that both will come to their senses. Regrettably, I would not like to bet on that.

Within a few days, Israel will hold a general election. Netanyahu may win. I hope not. But, if he becomes Prime Minister, is it likely that this would herald a change of heart? There is little evidence of that. However, it is extremely misleading to compare his opinions with those of Hamas. In my more optimistic moments, I like to believe that the majority on both sides, albeit currently silent, yearn for a peaceful, two-state solution. Who really believes that Hamas speaks with a single

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voice? Equally, I hope that the majority of Israelis reflect opinions rejected by the bellowing of the extreme right.

Egypt’s role is pivotal. The Government there confronts extremists daily. They know only too well what is at stake, as do the majority in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arab word. They live with and understand the problems, which would account for their present refusal to condemn Israel. The overriding issue to be confronted is how the present, not very firm, ceasefire can be converted into a permanent peace. Or is it all just a pipe dream?

The initial problem is how the two sides can come together and canvass the possibilities of an enduring peace. Can a sizeable majority of Hamas surrender its notion of driving Israel into the sea? How can one take a chance on that?

The constructive promise from Hamas has to be clear and specific. There is at present absolutely no evidence of that. Nor is the fact that members of Hamas were elected relevant. It is true—but Hitler was elected, too. We have seen how undemocratic forces can condemn a whole nation, as happened in Germany. The fundamentalism, homophobia, suppression of opponents, recourse to torture and hurling of rockets at Ashkelon and elsewhere in Israel in a clear intention to kill and main as many as they can illustrate the true credentials of the members of Hamas at present. No wonder Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, could say on 25 January that the Palestinian Authority must end its peace talks and security co-ordination with Israel if it ever expects to reconsider with Hamas the possibilities that exist. I hope he does not speak for all members of Hamas.

Alas, I have some personal experience of what has gone on. My granddaughter and step-grandchild, aged 14, were in Ashkelon on holiday when a rocket landed a few feet away. They were terrified but, happily, they survived. It is abundantly clear that Israel cannot take a chance on survival. I end where I began in the hope that more sensible people can prevail at this important juncture, which tragically can end in even further war, and is equally a tragedy that can be converted into a lasting peace.

1.46 pm

Baroness Deech: My Lord, I recently heard a speech by President Peres of Israel. He said that if we look back 50 years, who would have imagined then that the Soviet Empire would have ended, that the South African system of apartheid would have been dismantled and Mandela would have become president, that the Berlin Wall would have come down and that there would be a black president of America? He said that we should look forward 50 years from now in the same spirit. I want to start on that optimistic note because I believe that if we wait that long—no doubt beyond our lifetimes—there will be change for the better. I want to emphasise that because inevitably much of my speech will be rather gloomy.

No one can accuse this House of not focusing on the distressing situation in Gaza. In the past 12 months, there have been 161 Questions and Statements about Israel, Gaza and the Palestinians compared with, for

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example, 33 on Sri Lanka and 24 on Tibet. I mention Sri Lanka in particular because noble Lords will be aware that recently there was a well attended protest in Parliament Square about the terrible attacks on the Tamils, the hospitals under siege, the killing of 70,000 people and the many more thousands who are trapped and displaced from their homes. This has attracted little opprobrium and no calls for the obliteration of Sri Lanka or talk of its brutalisation.

I raise that because I am interested in the particular focus on the Middle East that is expressed in this country. Part of the reason is that the war in Gaza has not been seen in perspective, but only as a minute fragment of what is, in truth, a larger picture. There is a wider war, of which Israel and Gaza are figureheads, and there is also a civil war. The talk about what is proportionate—I prefer the word “necessary”—has to be seen in the context of a response to an attack from Hamas designed not just to launch rockets at Israel—5,000 rockets deliberately aimed at Israeli civilians and schoolchildren at 7.45 in the morning—but to end the state of Israel.

Hamas has vowed to have an Islamic state over Gaza, the West Bank and Israel as part of a wider Islamic empire. Israel has a 20 per cent Arab population, but not one Jew is to be allowed to live in this Islamic state. We can well imagine the fate planned for the millions of Israelis were this to come about. The response from Israel was, if anything, as restrained as it possibly could be. We should recall the detailed precautions taken by the Israeli army to avoid wherever possible harm to civilians, bearing in mind the use of mosques, schools and hospitals, as has been referred to earlier today.

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