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Gaza

Volume 755: debated on Thursday 17 July 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the consequences of Israel’s recent campaign in Gaza.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned by the continuing violence in Gaza and Israel and call on all sides to de-escalate to avoid further civilian casualties. The Israeli people have the right to live without constant fear for their security and Gazans have the right to live with dignity and peace. We are concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that according to this morning’s figures—the latest I can get—more than 200 people have been killed in Gaza, nearly half of them women and children; four children have been killed on a beach, nowhere near rocket launchers; nearly 1,400 people have been seriously injured and the same sort of number of homes have been totally destroyed, together with water supplies, power supplies and sewage installations? The chief executive of UNICEF predicts that a generation of young people—

You do not want to hear it: you are going to—young people traumatised and sick and hell-bent on revenge.

Does the Minister agree that we should help Israel to accept the Hamas offer of a ceasefire on condition that both Israel and Egypt open the crossings and the borders are supervised by the United Nations? Does she also agree that by allowing Israel to constantly break international law and act with impunity, we—all of us in this House, present and absent—are implicit in the destruction and suffering of the people of Gaza?

My Lords, I understand the strength of feeling about this matter not just in this House but across the country. It is for that reason that we have been asking for a de-escalation. There is, of course, some hope this morning. Noble Lords will be aware that there has been a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire which was negotiated by the United Nations. We hope that that will form the basis of further discussions later today.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, has been asking her Question and the Minister has replied a precious five-hour ceasefire has been in force. Many noble Lords will have seen the video recording of the unspeakable deaths of the four innocent Palestinian boys playing on a beach. They will also have seen the human misery at the funeral of a 37 year-old Israeli who was, equally unspeakably, killed by a Hamas rocket. Does the Minister agree that the world will find it difficult to understand how a five-hour ceasefire can be agreed, but not a longer and stronger ceasefire that stops this horror?

Of course, my Lords; unfortunately that is the complexity of the Middle East peace process, and of the situation that has existed there for many, many decades. There is nobody in this country who could be unmoved by the tragic deaths that we are seeing as a result of this conflict. As a mother, of course I feel for the death of any child. As I have said before at this Dispatch Box, it is not the natural order to bury your children; the natural order is for our children to bury us. The deaths on both sides are of course tragic events. It is for that reason that this matter has to be de-escalated, and we have to get back to the negotiating table.

Would my noble friend accept that there are many who entirely support Israel’s right to continue as an independent nation and to defend its borders, but at the same time believe that there is no hope for peace as long as Israel continues its illegal settlement policy? Does my noble friend accept that Israel is the only so-called liberal democracy that believes that colonisation should be part of its programme?

The noble Lord of course makes strong points. I said at this Dispatch Box only earlier this week that when we have these discussions it is important to emphasise the values upon which countries seek to operate. Regarding the ceasefire, I can say that last night delegations from both Israel and Hamas arrived in Cairo for discussions on the Egyptian initiative which is currently on the table. I understand that President Abbas is in Cairo and is due to meet General Sisi. It may well be that these latest tragic deaths have finally made people stop and think.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that the Israeli Government’s long-standing oppression of the people of Gaza, where 50% of the population are children, can only serve to undermine the long-term security of Israel and its people?

The Government have said on a number of occasions that it is of course in the interests of the Palestinians and, indeed, the Israelis for this matter to be resolved. As long as the underlying issues are not resolved, then neither people in neither country can be safe.

My Lords, will HMG work really hard from now on to ensure that the United States stops automatically vetoing UN Security Council resolutions which bring peace in the Middle East? This allows Israel to disobey international law, as was also said by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. This is absolutely essential, because there have been nearly 40 vetoes since 1968, allowing Israel just to flout international law. I speak as a long-standing admirer of the country of Israel, but not of the present Government’s policies.

My Lords, we felt that progress was being made. Secretary Kerry took a huge initiative in the latest talks. Of course the US wants what we want, which is for this matter to be resolved and for the peace process to be effected.