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Israel and Palestine

Volume 753: debated on Monday 24 March 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Israel about the actions of the Israeli Defence Force towards civilians in the Occupied Territories.

My Lords, we have serious concerns in regard to IDF actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including the killing and injuring of civilians, policing of non-violent demonstrations and treatment of child detainees. We have repeatedly raised cases with the Israeli authorities, including the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, COGAT, and the National Security Council.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that since last July, 44 civilian Palestinians have been killed and many hundreds have been seriously injured? Among them, for example, 12 year-old Attah al Sabbah, now a paraplegic, was shot while collecting his school satchel; and two young footballers, Adam and Johar Halabiyeh, from Abu Dis near Jerusalem, were shot in the legs before being beaten up, one having his knee joint shattered. They were returning from football training. Will the Minister ensure that, as well as the usual ineffectual representations that our Government make to the Israeli Government, they will also ask FIFA to impose penalties on countries which allow young footballers to be treated in this way? Will she also say why it is that we are prepared to impose sanctions on Russia for breaking international law but not upon Israel, which has been breaking international law for decades?

I thank my noble friend for that question. She comes to these matters with great expertise. She has asked a number of questions—not only Oral Questions but Written Questions—on a regular basis. I can assure her that we take these matters incredibly seriously. There has been a worrying increase in violence in the West Bank. In 2012, nine civilians were killed; in 2013, 27 civilians were killed; and the number of civilians who have been injured is also on the increase. Last week I raised these matters with our officials and only yesterday—Sunday— our ambassador spoke with the national security adviser and again put our concerns before him.

My Lords, it is true, is it not, that in recent weeks the international community has taken a dim view of the occupation of one country by a neighbouring country and that this has led, quite properly, to a flurry of international activity, reference and the activation of sanctions? Yet, given that this question quite rightly refers to occupied territories which have been occupied now for more than 40 years, am I right in thinking that that there is no sense whatever of the same level of urgency and commitment being given to liberating these occupied territories as there is when similar events occur in other parts of the world?

It is important that I try to focus on this Question. I understand why people try to read across to other matters, but successive government policies on the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been clear. Successive government policies about the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps and a settlement for refugees in Jerusalem as a shared capital, have been the same. There is a Kerry framework agreement on which we hope progress will be made and we hope that that will be done by around the end of April. We are supporting and continue to support that, and we hope that it will yield some positive results.

My Lords, will the Government continue to raise the use of excessive force, the lack of proportionality and the almost complete impunity of the IDF when operating in occupied zones rather more strongly and effectively than has been the case in the past? There is the particular case of Raed Zeiter, a Palestinian civilian and a Jordanian magistrate, who was killed by the Allenby Bridge. Will the Government insist on a full and independent inquiry into his death?

The views of this House are very clear, and I will certainly make sure that the strength of feeling on this matter is fed back. Officials from our embassy in Tel Aviv have raised with the IDF the issues of the Palestinian-Jordanian judge Raed Zeiter, who was tragically shot. I understand that there has been some progress, and that Prime Minister Netanyahu has issued a public apology and announced a joint Israeli-Jordanian investigation into the incident. Anger about it has been widespread and that has been communicated to the Israeli authorities.

My Lords, bearing in mind the incidents that have been referred to, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the particular importance of the two-state solution should be stressed and that the consequences of not achieving an agreement should be warned against? Whatever the incidents, the only way forward is an agreement on peace and I hope that the Government will support that.

My Lords, the bad behaviour of soldiers from any country is inexcusable, but is the noble Baroness aware of the many efforts made by Israel to support the Palestinians on the other side? These efforts relate to the economy, where the GDP in the West Bank is rising by about 7% a year, to the number of Arabs in East Jerusalem and Jerusalem, which is increasing at a greater rate than that of the Jewish population, and to the large numbers of Palestinians who are being treated in Israeli hospitals across the country, as well, incidentally, as those wounded from Syria. Should the UK not be concentrating on pressure on Mr Abbas to continue negotiations so that we can get to a two-state solution that the vast majority of the population in Israel supports?

The Government have always been quick to recognise the progress that has been made on positive action by the Israeli Government. However, that does not take away from the real and serious concerns that we have in relation to child detainees, for example, that I know the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, was trying to get in on. We have concerns about IDF actions and continue to raise them at the highest level.

Does my noble friend agree that Israel is a great country with a great people, but unfortunately with a very narrow-minded and reactionary Government? Will our Government specifically seek out meetings with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which has recently made strong representations to the Israeli Government about these unacceptable Palestinian casualties?

I am not familiar with that particular human rights group but I will certainly ensure that officials are aware of the work that it is doing.