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Is this a religious situation? When I used to go around the Middle East, I would suddenly be locked up practically. I was allowed to go there when we had no diplomatic relations. When we had good relations, the Foreign Office said that it did not need people involved in trade, but as soon as we had the Salman Rushdie problem, I went out on my own, and when we had the super-gun thing, I went out on my own. I went without a visa because if you had one it meant that someone else knew you were goingthey would invite you. Often, I would be sat down and a lecture would begin. In a high-pitched voice, through the interpreter, I would be told, You are a lackey of capitalist American policies which have destroyed the stability of the world and caused the death of many innocent womens and childs. Then I would make my own attack on them.
We have a wonderful opportunity here. Israel, if it could get off its hung-up ideas about everyone wanting to get rid of Israelit is not true at all; it is a political stancehas some of the greatest technology in production and agriculture, and an efficient organisation which could be harnessed and used. The British still have one of the best reputations and the best relationships out there. We are trusted. People there used to say to me of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, Oh, here is Lord Wright. He is always right, but we like his right. Or about Sir Hannay, as the Iraqis called him, they would say, He is British: we can trust him but we cant trust the Americans. The Americans are not untrustworthy; they just do not have the same international requirements that we have. We have to trade, but America is to some extent self-sufficient.
Her Majestys Government should simply get together with the Americans, give the noble Lord, Lord Stone, and me a large sum of money and say, Go out and buy food, and we will produce food throughout Africa. It is a pity that the Israelis were not given some of the countries in Africa, as they have that remarkable ability to produce wealth.
Hamas is a terrorist organisation. By its 1987 charter, it is committed to the destruction of the state of Israel and, for good measure, to the killing of Jews. It has never repudiated its charter, nor has it even considered doing so. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, dismissed that as mere rhetoric. If it were just rhetoric it would be unpleasant but essentially irrelevant.
Unfortunately, Hamas is in a position to put its declared objectives into practice. Although it commands no international recognition, Hamas has de facto control of the Gaza Strip. It has built or adopted complex tunnel systems through which rockets supplied by Iran have been brought into Gaza from Egypt. Noble Lords may have seen a late-night news item shortly after the end of hostilities which showed a reporter being lowered
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Hamass rocket fire has been deliberately aimed at civilian targets in southern Israel. The current capability of those rockets is about 40 kilometres. In a year or twothe precise timing is irrelevantthose rockets will be able to reach Tel Aviv. No Government worth their salt would tolerate such a possibility; to do so would be an abandonment of the duty owed to their citizens.
If a terrorist organisation was in control of territory adjacent to the United Kingdom, from which it fired rockets at the civilian population of, say, Kent, we would not tolerate it. If that territory was part of another country, we would require the Government of that country to do whatever was necessary to stop those attacks. If there were no other Government to do the job, we would undoubtedly do it ourselves.
The Israeli attack was not only foreseeable; it was inevitable. Gaza is densely populated, and innocent people were bound to suffer. This fact is well understood by Hamas, which was storing and firing its weapons in and from the vicinity of mosques, schools and public buildings. The resulting deaths and injuries led to, and were calculated to lead to, a PR success for the Hamas cause as the tragedy unfolded daily and horrifically in our living rooms. This should not blind us to who is responsible for all the suffering. The truth is that Hamas, like the Taliban, has no respect for life, even for the lives of its own innocent people.
It all boils down to a basic issue, which was drawn to the attention of my noble friend Lord Dubs when he met in southern Lebanon the family whom he described to us. If you believe, as I do, that the state of Israel should exist and that its people should be allowed to live their lives in peace, the points that I have been making are obvious and unsurprising. If you believe, as I do, that the Palestinian people should be able to live their lives in peace, what needs to happen is again obvious and unsurprising; if Palestinians want a sovereign state of their own, free from fear of attack from Israel, they must accept that the sovereign state of Israel must be free from fear of attack from the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, as we all know, Hamas will not accept one rather important part of that equation.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I am associated with an Arab organisation that is a shareholder in the Gaza power station, and with the offshore Gaza gas fields; the British company, BG, is the operator. For the avoidance of doubt, however, my remarks are purely personal.
Noble Lords may remember the time when Jew and Arab worked not just side by side but together. That was before regional politics and international engagement. Since then, some suggest that Israel has an eretz Israel, a greater Israel, as the endgame; as the saying goes, From the sea to the river. That agenda must be stopped dead in its tracks.
The world is the loser as a result of this latest incursion. The UN has shown itself to be impotent, the United States has not been exercising its world status with any distinction, and Israel has shown that it cannot win the war or peace on its terms. Israel is not ready for peace, and the US is not ready to pressure for that peace. The biggest factor that is missing is hope; it is lacking throughout the peace process. Everything can be resolved if the will is there.
We await the answer to the question of whether President Obama can or will deliver. The good news is that during his pre-election visit to Ramallah, it was felt that he was at least saying the right things. In addition, Senator Mitchells engagement can be only to the good. Much hinges on his experience. However, the perception hitherto is that the preferred US agenda in the Middle East can be summarised in two words; namely, oil and Israel.
The reality is that nothing has changed since Madrid. Oslo addressed safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, a distance of just 43 kilometres. But what do we have? There is a wall, illegal settlements, a crippled economy and the shut down of movement of the people. Let us be clear, Gaza is a ghetto. To give some idea of the effects of the restrictions, a journey from Bethlehem to Ramallah, that should take 35 minutes with the random checkpoints, can take anywhere from three to four hours.
However, that said, where do we go from here? The short-term goals must be ceasefire first, consolidate the truce and then reconciliation. Beyond that, the breakdown of Fatah and, by extension, the effectiveness of President Abbas; the Fatah/Hamas relationship; the Hamas/Hezbollah question and the Syria/Iran issue all need to be resolved. Let us hope that the reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah with Egypts good offices will bear fruit and a unified approach can be taken to Palestinian affairs.
A thorn in the side of reconciliation is the Hamas Syria/Iran relationship, as is that of Hezbollah. The influence of Syria in Lebanon with the settlement of the Golan Heights question is key, with outstanding matters in relation to the UN court giving the former angst. The effect of Syria in the fold would be to neutralise Hamas and Hezbollah, and isolate a manipulative Iran from this arena. The UK could do much to facilitate an understanding of the importance of this by the US, allowing for the Iran question to be tackled in isolation. I applaud the potential US position of direct dialogue. My visits in the past to Tehran bore out the benefits of such.
It is crucial that the European Union is recognised as a partner for peace, not to replace the US but to work alongside it as equals. Currently, neither the United States nor Israel wish this, but while the Americans demonstrate only blind support for Israel, they cannot be taken seriously as a mediator. The United Nations and Russia are deemed to be contributing nothing, leaving the Palestinians to take on the US/Israel axis alone.
My immediate wish list would be, first, that the US should be more serious and equal-handed in its engagement; secondly, that there should be a recognition
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The future relevance of the nation state is numbered or, at the least, increasingly irrelevant. Why is regionalism not promoted more? By that, I mean the sharing of resources and responsibilities. After all, Israels future and security safety-net are not with the US but with the Arab world, which would allow for two viable neighbouring states to live in harmony.
One of the difficulties that face regional democracies, however, is ever-changing political arenas. Multiple administrations in Israel, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, in one form or another, exercise the minds. What if Hamas won an election, which, again, was deemed free and fair? Would the British Government accept the result? Care has to be taken in professing an agenda for free and fair elections and then expressing concern at the outcome. The effects of the West accepting the Algerian military cancelling pending election results in 1992, favouring the Islamic Front, were a disaster. The reality is that in the future, legitimate Islamic states will be born. Let us hope that there is tolerance of differing ideology. Allow me at this juncture to agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, about the need for dialogue and therefore an understanding of, and the ability to impact, the likes of Hamas. Marginalisation, as we know to our cost, is and will be a root cause of conflict.
In conclusion, I see the final geography of a Palestinian state being that of 1967, free of settlements. That represents just 22 per cent of the original British mandate. Nothing less, in my view, will work. Israel, however, has not signalled its readiness to give up the West Bank, so we live in limbo-land. Until that time, the essence of the problemself-perpetuating hopelessness and despairwill continue.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank the Government Chief Whip for allowing this extra Sitting to debate the situation in Gaza, and I thank Her Majestys Government for sponsoring the ceasefire resolution at the United Nations. I would also like to thank Jews for Justice for Palestinians and those members of the British public who were so moved by the horrific pictures of blood and death on our TV screens that they demonstrated to demand an end to the bombing of civilians in Gaza.
Evidence of Israels indiscriminate bombing and failure to take care to spare civilians is clearly demonstrated by the following statistics. In the three years since the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis have been killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in the two years between 2005 and 2007 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. In the three weeks of this latest Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people, 100 Palestinians have been killed for every one Israeli. Of those, 26 civilians were killed for each Hamas fighter. So if the aim was to eradicate Hamas, you would have had to kill everyone in the whole of Gaza.
Hamas is now stronger than before the attacks in Gaza started. For those who say that Hamas positioned its rockets in residential areas, according to UNICEFs briefing this morning, some 49 UN stores were attacked. Imagine if that had been Saddam Hussein attacking 49 UN buildings. Imagine if that was done by the Taliban. Think of the outcry we would see in our country: Forty-nine UN stores! We must send the armies of the whole world to destroy those evil people. Israel did it, and we remain silent. A cement factory, a Pepsi-Cola factory and even the American school were bombed. Schools, hospitals, ambulances, electricity, water and sanitation systems were all bombed. Please do not tell me that Hamas was hiding its rockets in those places. I am told that even the cemetery for British soldiers in Gaza has been bombed. I wonder when the allegation will be made that even the United Nations is involved in the hiding of arms. I do not know.
It is sad that even in your Lordships House there is deliberate propaganda and misinformation. I know that 12 speeches could have been written by the same person. Time after time we are given the example of Hamas looting hundreds of lorries of food and selling it. When we questioned John Ging, UNRWAs representative in Gaza, he categorically denied this allegation. He is the man on the spot. So either the UN is telling lies or somebody is misinforming us.
Israels three year-old blockade restricted the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking gas, canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants and medical supplies. We have heard a great deal about the tunnels and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, has mentioned that when we went to Gaza we saw them. Yes, there are tunnels, but they are used to bring the essentials such as food and medication. I did not see any evidence of anything else going through. I am not here to defend Iran, but either we are saying that there are tunnels running from Teheran into Gaza or that Israels great friend, Egypt, is allowing the rockets and ammunition to go through into Gaza from Palestine.
At a press conference last week, John Ging revealed that, shamefully, there are thousands of tonnes of aid waiting on the borders of Gaza with only 100 truckloads crossing daily. This compares with the daily average of 130 trucks in the second half of last year when two crossings were open. A minimum of 500 trucks is needed daily, and that does not include trucks for the necessary development work.
I need to ask many questions in a short time. Time after time I hear the screams for Israels security, but what about the security of the Palestinian people? We hear the cry for recognition of Israels right to existence, but what about the rights of the Palestinians and respect for Palestines sovereignty? I hear the demonisation of Hamas linked with Islam. God forbid I should demonise Israel and link it with the Jewish faith. There would be headlines in the Jewish Chronicle and everywhere else and I would be accused of being anti-Semitic on a regular basis. I have the greatest respect for the religion of the Prophet MosesI probably have more in common with the Jewish faith than with some of my own so-called Muslimsbut we have to be careful not to demonise religion when we are talking politics. I do not want to go down that route.
We should not forget the massacres of Sebra and Shetila, and the massacre of Jenine, into which the United Nations ordered an investigation which was never carried out. In Gaza, the killing of Palestinian children continues. We should be demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners-of-war, political prisoners and the fishermen. It is alleged that arms are coming in from the sea, but the Palestinians cannot even go to the sea to bring in their own food, the fish. Under the Oslo agreement the Palestinians were given a 20 mile territorial waters limit; they are allowed to go only five miles and then they are shot at.
Finally, will my noble friend tell the House whether Her Majesty's Government will make any representations to the United Nations regarding an independent international investigation into war crimes committed by the Israel Defence Forces? Will he assure the House that Israel will not be rewarded by upgrading the EU-Israel Association Agreement and that this must now be suspended? While I welcome the Prime Ministers commitment that we must help the Palestinian Authority in providing humanitarian relief, European and British taxpayers should not be made to give money time after time for rebuilding infrastructure, buildings and administration blocks so that the Israelis can destroy them time after time.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, this has been a sombre debate but also one with a lot of passion and distress. I have listened to Peers describe the situation as they see it and it is difficult not to be moved. The eloquent, detailed and emotional descriptions by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, my noble friends Lady Tonge and Lady Northover, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, the clear description from the noble Lords, Lord Janner, Lord Pannick and Lord Kalms, and others of the fears of Israeli people about what might become of them, show that as we speak here in your Lordships' House, part of our responsibility is to express the deep fears, anxieties, angereven hatred, sometimesof those with whom we most closely identify. But we must try to go a little further than that, because if we simply express these things, although we will be doing something very important we will not persuade those who come from another perspective. They will simply feel justified in where they stand.
When I was a little boy, I sometimes did not behave towards my sister quite as well I should have. My mother would sometimes reprove me for these misdemeanours, and I would then proceed to describe how my sister had wronged me first. My mother would say, John, John, two wrongs never made a right. We have heard described a whole series of terrible wrongshistoric, current, deep and distressing. Tragically, some of the things that have been done and experienced are not just wrongs for the here and now. There are young Palestinianschildren, teenagers and those who are a little bit olderwho are now damaged for good, physically and emotionally. Many young men and women in the Israel Defence Force are now damaged because of their experiences. Last time I was in Israel, one of the mothers of a young man in the Israel Defence Force said that she desperately hoped that her son did not kill a Palestinian. She knew, as a mother, what it would do to him in his capacity to relate to his own partner and children and so on.
These are grim and serious matters for all of us. As we try to move our way forward, I fear, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lady Northover said, that this is not just another episode. I think this is a watershed. It is a very dark hour, and it could be a dark hour before an even worse storm. Nothing guarantees that there will not be a more serious conflagration in the wider Middle East. The problems of Israel and the Palestinians are not simply for them; in terms of how we deal with them and what they might lead to, the problem goes much wider.
However, sometimes the darkest hour can be before the dawn. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bew, I was heartened by the appointment of George Mitchell, with whom I have more than a passing acquaintance. He has extraordinary patience, as the noble Lord said, and he has been appointed by a president who is remarkable at this stage of his presidency in the hope and optimism that he has inspired and in the capacity to think when much presses us to act as we feel.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, there are differences despite similarities and similarities despite differences in the experience of George Mitchell in Northern Ireland and other places, including the Middle East and the job he now has. When he came to Northern Ireland there was already an infrastructure; he was asked to chair a process that was in place. There is no process in the Middle East at present. There is no table and no agreement about who should be at the table. I am familiar with that. And I am very familiar with the ideas that some people might not be at the table, that others might walk away and that we might have to have a process to take us to the point where undertakings are given that will enabling us to have a wider conversation.
Some four or more years ago I started to talk to people in Hamas and Hezbollah as well as people in Israel, Jordan, Syria and Egypt. The most difficult thing in my experience was talking to people whom I believed were interested only in the destruction of some of the things that were important to me. I found that in places such as Beirut and Damascus it was exactly the same as at home in Belfast. When you asked people involved in violence, Is there another way in which we could explore our differences?, the
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Our common European home knew much violence and many deaths over many centuries and we have found ways of moving forward. We have become a bit inward-looking and perhaps we have not played the role that we might in some of these ways. As I listened to the noble Lord, I understood clearly the criticisms that were being made and how many times noble Lords have said that this countrythis group of peoplemust do this or that. It is nearly always that somebody else must do something or other. We need to look to ourselves in our own country, and common European home, and ask, What can we do? Are there things that we can take up?. The first thing is to take up our own experience, which is that there is no solution to these problems by the use of force by either side.
I was working with Martin McGuinness and Iraqis in Baghdad recently when he said, We came to the same conclusion as the Brits. They couldnt beat us, and we couldnt beat them. We could keep on sending our young people out to be killed for the next 10 or 15 years, and it wouldnt solve anything. There had to be another way of dealing with the problem.
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