Thursday, January 22, 2009

Debate on Gaza - The British House of Lords

Parliament web site, January 21, 2009 -7:37 pm

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Baroness Northover: ....We have seen the dreadful pictures of what has happened in Gaza. The population had nowhere to run. They could not escape its borders. Even UN buildings where some took refuge received hits. Nowhere was safe. I have just been sent the pictures from the UN school: the white phosphorus raining down, the damaged classrooms, the two little brothers dead. Were these not civilians? Was it not obvious that there would be large numbers of civilian casualties in such a crowded area? Did the Government of Israel think that what they were doing was unwatched, unrecorded, even proportionate to their own experience of violence? Have we let the Israeli Government feel that they are not accountable?

These pictures, and many far worse, have been going around the region and the world. The speed and spread of information is new. We will all have received e-mails ranging from the moderate to the extreme. My son, setting up a discussion on the conflict on Facebook, found that within hours 80 friends of friends had joined from as far afield as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan—within a day. We know that this conflict has long had its radicalising effect. The effect of this can now grow exponentially through the internet. We all know how this conflict is already used and, of course, abused in countries right across the region. We know that it is cited in our own communities. Therefore, if we did not know it before, we should know it now: unless the international community actively takes forward a just solution to this conflict, the world will become an even more dangerous place.

I welcome the brave statements by Jewish leaders, including my noble friend Lady Neuberger, in an open letter to the Government of Israel, saying that they write,

    “as profound and passionate supporters of Israel”,

but that the actions of the Government of Israel threaten to destabilise the region and to undermine international support. We have surely reached a point of enormous danger to Israel; that, in its greater military strength, it has meted out such evident injustice to its would-be neighbours that there will be such a reaction that its own future will be undermined. Its window of opportunity to find a settlement is surely small and depends on the position of the United States, not only in terms of its support but also on how long the US is the only superpower.

I can remember when Fatah was not to be supported or negotiated with. But the warnings came that this played into the hands of those who are more radical. Indeed, Hamas was elected in Gaza, and 40 of its MPs were immediately imprisoned by the Israelis. Right now, we hear how no negotiations should occur with Hamas, although we also know that this is going on through the Egyptians. Note the viewpoint of Sir Jeremy Greenstock on the “Today” programme on 12 January in relation to Hamas:

“This is a regime about which a lot of inaccurate statements are made, particularly by the Israeli and Washington Governments. It is not beholden to Iran ... They are not trying to set up a Taliban-style Government in Gaza ... They are not intent on the destruction of Israel; that is a rhetorical statement of resistance”....

Baronness William of Crosby: At present, the biggest donor of aid to Israel is the United States of America; the biggest export market for Israel is the EU; and the money given to help the Palestinian Authority to survive comes from the EU. Quite simply, this means that the weapons and tools to create a better situation are in the hands of the United States and the European Union—two members of the quartet. Therefore, my question to the Minister is very simple: has the time not come when we should make our aid conditional on at least the recognition of the rule of law and basic human rights legislation? Should we not now say that further acts that are in breach of the rule of law cannot be accepted by those who donate to one side or the other, whether it be aid or humanitarian assistance?

Debate is scheduled to continue on January 27.

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