Skip to main content

Gaza: Operation “Cast Lead”

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to Amnesty International’s recent report Operation “Cast Lead”: 22 Days of Death and Destruction, on the conflict in Gaza.

My Lords, we are concerned by the findings of the recent Amnesty report. We take seriously any allegations of violations of international humanitarian law made by credible organisations during the Gaza conflict. We have consistently stated that they should be properly investigated. In that regard, we urge all parties involved to co-operate with the Human Rights Council fact-finding mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone, and will carefully consider the findings of that report once released.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am sure that he would agree that Amnesty International’s report was very balanced, acknowledging war crimes on both sides. However, the scale and intensity of Israel’s attack on Gaza was unprecedented. Not many of the 1,400 Palestinians killed were killed as a result of collateral damage, the report said; they were killed by high-precision weapons targeting civilians, many of them children. What action—I mean action, not talking any longer—will the Government take with our partners in the European Union to impose arms embargoes and trade sanctions on Israel to ensure that it complies with the UN fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone and stops disobeying international law?

My Lords, Justice Goldstone has now been able to visit Gaza for two rounds of hearings, without the co-operation of Israel, unfortunately; he has therefore had to enter by the Rafah crossing. The importance of Justice Goldstone’s inquiry is that it is an official one, authorised and voted for by the Human Rights Council, so we continue to believe that action should follow that report, not precede it.

My Lords, my noble friend has truly surprised me with that question. I am not sure whether he is referring to the ship that was trying to enter, with some British nationals on it who have just been returned to the UK. In general, the blockade of Gaza is not justified. We are down to less than 20 per cent of the normal trucks available to enter the territory—I am now talking land vehicles—and there has been a huge cut in oil and other basic commodities necessary for the life of people in Gaza.

My Lords, did the report by Amnesty International comment on the tactics of Hamas? Colonel Richard Kemp, formerly of the British Army, recently said, describing them:

“Not only was Hamas’s military capability deliberately positioned behind the human shield of the civilian population … They also ordered, forced when necessary, men, women and children, from their own population to stay put in places they knew were about to be attacked by the IDF”.

My Lords, the Amnesty report did not actually agree with that; it concluded that there had not been actions of that kind. Again, that is why we need to wait for the official report of Judge Goldstone. He has deliberately set out to investigate allegations on both sides. We need a balanced report before action follows.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the Minister to a very moving article in yesterday’s Guardian, describing the extent to which the life and access for Palestinians in other parts of the Occupied Territories are being eroded by continuing expansion of settlements. What action are the British Government taking to support President Obama’s very firm insistence that all expansion of settlements should stop immediately?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has again made it clear in evidence that he gave to the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as in recent questions in the other place, that we continue to remain utterly opposed to settlement activity and fully support the US position on that. He has also, in meetings with Israeli Ministers—most recently yesterday with the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak—again reconfirmed the British position, which is that we are opposed to any expansion of settlements.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that on all occasions of this sort, with claim and counterclaim of responsibility and degrees of suffering, the one constant throughout has been the unremitting suffering and humiliation of the Palestinian people of Gaza, and that their suffering, as measured by the most recent conflict includes, on most estimates, more than 400 children killed? Does he agree with me in the calmness of a debate of this sort, that, sooner or later, the international community—whatever its misgivings—must engage with the leadership in Gaza, as we have learnt previously in so many conflicts, and that, sooner or later, that kind of discussion has to take place?

My Lords, the lead in negotiations at the moment clearly rests with the United States and the mission of Senator George Mitchell. The United States is fully committed to a two-state solution. It is our role to try to encourage that process and support the US in any way we can with contacts with all parties in the region; but it is very much up to the United States to determine when it is appropriate to speak to the political leadership in Gaza.