By Daphne Anson
On 7 June members of the House of Lords had four minutes each to address the chamber on the subject of Israel’s response to outrages from Gaza on its border, although as Lord Steel’s opening remarks (below) show, the sublect up for debate was not phrased that way.
The toxic Baroness Tonge was among the speakers, and the heinous Peter Hain was flexing his anti-Israel muscles again, while pretending to have that country’s best interests in mind.
Even some of the more sensible speakers, apparently assuming that the Palestinians are genuine partners for peace, forgetting their history of rejectionism, and the malign influence of Iran’s proxies, seemed to think that the fault for the violence lies with Netanyahu and Trump.
Take a look at my post here regarding Hain’s history of anti-Israel activity, his espousal of a “secular democratic state” in the 1970s, and his recent return to that position, his chances of becoming Labour Party leader and subsequently prime minister having passed the former Young Liberal firebrand and general pain in the tuchus by.
And then take a look at Hansard for 7 June:
Lord Steel of Aikwood (LibDem; formerly Liberal party leader David Steel)
My Lords, I put in for the ballot for today’s debate just after the terrible slaughter of 62 Palestinians inside the Gaza fence, which included eight children. I should at the outset declare a former interest. I served for seven years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians—and I am delighted to see that the current president, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, is to speak in this debate. During that time I visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza several times, once touring Gaza just after the Cast Lead operation, when I saw for myself the wanton destruction of hospitals, schools and factories in what was described by David Cameron as one vast prison camp.
Before anyone accuses me of being one-sided, let me also say that I spent an afternoon with the local Israeli MP in the Ashkelon area in the south of that country and fully understand the intolerable life of citizens there threatened by rockets fired by Hamas from inside Gaza.
In fact, long before I got involved with MAP, back in 1981, I first met Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, at a time when our Government would not speak to him on the grounds that the PLO was a terrorist organisation refusing to recognise Israel, a mistake that we have repeated with Hamas. As I got to know Arafat over the years, I recognised that he was a brilliant liberation leader but a disappointing failure as head of the Palestinian Administration. Indeed, it was the incompetence and even corruption of that Administration which led to the success of Hamas in the election in Gaza. But those of us who pride ourselves in democracy cannot just give them the cold shoulder because we did not like the result, and yet that is what happened. The lesson of the successful peace process in Northern Ireland should surely have taught us that the only route to peace has to be through dialogue with those we may not like, rather than confrontation.
That brings me to the policy of the current Israeli Government, backed by the United States of America and, sadly, by our own Government. Israel’s great tragedy was the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, who had been relentless in his pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians. The current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is very different. I met him once at a breakfast meeting in Tel Aviv. I admired his obvious ability and indeed swagger. He could, had he so wished, have gone down in history by heading an Administration to pursue a legitimate settlement with the Palestinians based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative, when every member state of the Arab League had offered to recognise Israel and host her embassies in their countries in return for the establishment of a proper Palestinian state. Instead, he has allied himself to the most reactionary forces in the Knesset and come close to destroying any hopes of such an outcome with the growing illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the construction of the wall, routed in places condemned even by the Israeli courts, and the encouragement of Donald Trump’s opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.
It was that last event that provoked the mass demonstration at the Gaza fence, dealt with not by water cannon but with live ammunition from the Israel Defense Forces. That resulted not only in the deaths that I mentioned but in over 3,600 people being injured. One Israeli soldier was wounded. According to the World Health Organization, 245 health personnel were injured and 40 ambulances were hit. Last week, Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female volunteer first responder, was killed while carrying out her work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was clearly wearing first-responder clothing at the time. In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, one of the reactionaries to whom I referred a moment ago, has declared that there are “no innocent people” in Gaza, while an UNRWA report declares that the blockade situation is so bad that Gaza is becoming unliveable in.
I do not know whether the Israeli Government know or care about how low they have sunk in world esteem. When I was a student in the 1950s, many of my friends, not just Jewish ones, spent their vacations doing voluntary work in a kibbutz, such was the idealism surrounding the birth of the Israeli state, but that is no longer the case.
The reason I joined the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group was that I got fed up with being blamed, as Liberal leader, for the then Government’s Balfour Declaration encouraging the establishment of that state, people forgetting that the famous letter included the words,
“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
The conduct of its present Government is a clear betrayal of the basis on which the Lloyd George Government welcomed a state of Israel.
I spent some years active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Only much later did I realise one noted fact about those who had led the white population’s opposition to apartheid—my dear friend Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Harry Oppenheimer, Hilda Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and so many others were predominantly Jewish—which was that they knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led. I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza will awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.
The Israeli Government hate that comparison, pointing to the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or sit in the Knesset, but on visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank which are usable only by Israelis, just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.
Recently some of us met a couple of Israeli professors in one of our committee rooms. They stressed to us the urgency of staying with UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed as recently as December 2016, which roundly condemns all the illegal activities of the current Administration. It is worth reminding the House of just three of its 13 clauses, beginning with this one:
“Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law”.
A second clause reads:
“Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”.
A third reads:
“Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the grounds that they are imperilling the two-State solution”.
Those are not my words: they are taken from the UN Security Council. My mind went back to 1967 when, as a young MP, I was present when our then UK representative at the United Nations, Lord Caradon, led the drafting of Resolution 242 which was supposed to be the building block for peace after the Arab/Israeli war. My complaint is that the international community, including successive British Governments, have paid only lip service to that and allowed Israel to defy the United Nations and trample on the rights of the Palestinians.
But there are signs of hope. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, knows how high he is held in the opinion of the House and we cannot expect him as the Minister of State to change United Kingdom policy, but when the Statement on Gaza was made in the other place, two senior and respected Conservative ex-Ministers gave strong voice objecting to our current stance. Sir Nicholas Soames (pictured, Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, pompous, pro-Arab, and notorious for sexist behaviour towards female MPs) hoped that our Foreign Office would,
“indulge in a little less limp response”,
“wholly unacceptable and excessive use of force”,
while Sir Hugo Swire said that,
“one reason it is a festering hellhole and a breeding ground for terrorists is that each and every time there has been an attempt to improve the livelihoods of the Gazans, by doing something about their water … or about their quality of life, Israel has blockaded it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/18; cols. 140-41.]
We are entitled to ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister that she needs to be more forceful, honest and frank when she next meets Mr Netanyahu. Yesterday’s Downing Street briefing said she had,
“been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives”,
which surely falls into the description of a continuing limp response.
We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do. That is why our Government should not only support the two-state solution, but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both Houses of our Parliament and indeed the European Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.
Lord Hain (Lab. If you can’t be bothered to click on that aforementioned post of mine, here’s a summary: former Young Liberal anti-apartheid South Africa activist and rabid anti-Israel activist, who didn’t even concede that persecuted Soviet Jews should have the opportunity to emigrate there. He advocated the abolition of Israel into a “secular democratic state”. Hain later aspired to lead the Labour Party, and was spoken of as a future British prime minister. But with the scuppering of that chance he’s come out again since 2014 in favour of the eradication of Israel.)
My Lords, I am both a long-standing supporter of the Palestinian cause and a friend of Israel. [Ahem!] As a British Minister for the Middle East from 1999 to 2001, I worked closely with both Israeli Government Ministers and Palestinian leaders. My background of fighting apartheid, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is recorded. For decades I have favoured the internationally supported two-state solution as the best plan for peace and the fairest outcome, but is this now in any way feasible? Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of his Government and MPs have recently spoken out against it, endorsed by the renewed “Greater Israel” discourse of the growing Israeli right calling for the annexation of Palestinian territories. Negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders have failed, as has a reliance on the US to deliver Israeli co-operation. Europeans, meanwhile, have been unable to deliver the settlement freeze they advocate.
Today, the situation of Palestinians living on their own land resembles a harsh civil rights struggle. Gaza is under Israeli siege. Palestinian life in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is untenable because they have little or no say over the running of a land that has increasingly become an archipelago of isolated Palestinian territorial islands in a sea of Israeli-controlled land, checkpoints, bases and settlements. If Israel’s relentless expansion into Palestinian territories cannot be stopped, we face one of two possible outcomes. The first is that all Palestinian presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem remains in a permanent and ever more formalised “Bantustan” status; islands of minimal self-governance with the continued denial of basic rights, facing perpetual insecurity and possible future physical removal, deprived of full access to water and subject to all manner of restrictions on land rights and free transport across their own territory. The second is that they are absorbed into a common Israeli-Palestinian state with the opportunity for pluralism and human rights advancement.
Tense and difficult though the current standoff may be for Israel, it is not going to be defeated and therefore holds the stronger hand. Would Palestinians, absorbed into their traditional homeland, albeit alongside Jewish citizens with a narrow majority over them, drop their historic grievance and quickly adjust to the new reality? That is optimistic to say the least. But if the window for the two-state solution has indeed closed, should the EU, the US and the UK make it plain to Israel that a one-state alternative may be the only one available to ensure its own security? If so, what guarantees might there be for Jewish citizens both within Israel and worldwide if they agree to this merger? Could the Arab nations join those in the West like the US and the UK to provide the post-World War Two guarantee of “never again”? Could a federal or confederal state provide a way forward, with common security, a unified economy, common civil rights and guarantees of religious freedom for Jews and Muslims, but considerable political autonomy for the territories within it of “Israel” and “Palestine”?
Is it not the blunt truth that we must either undertake a massive social and geographical reverse engineering to re-enable a genuine two-state outcome, with two sovereign independent states based on 1967 lines with equal land swaps—and without all the unreasonable Israeli caveats that drain the Palestinian state of any real meaning—or recognise a common-state reality and make it truly democratic, with enfranchisement and rights for all?
I am making a plea for honesty because it seems that the international community is publicly sheltering behind the policy of a two-state solution, while privately knowing that it has become a convenient mantra rather than a deliverable policy.
Baroness Tonge (Independent Liberal Democrat; Independent because the Lib Dems expelled her for perceived antisemitism)
My Lords I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on obtaining this debate, but sadly it gives me no pleasure to take part because this matter has gone on for far too long.
It is some 50 years since the Six Day War, when the intentions of the Zionist movement became clear: to carry on expelling and killing Palestinians, and grabbing their land and their homes until the ambition of a greater Israel is achieved from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. It is not fooling us any longer. Our Government have stood by feebly, often abstaining on UN resolutions while slaughter and dispossession continue, bleating about a two-state solution and refusing to recognise the state of Palestine. We recognise Israel, of course we do, but which Israel is that? Where are its borders? What are we recognising? If that is the excuse for not recognising the state of Palestine, it applies to both states, and both states should be recognised as soon as possible, as many noble Lords have said.
The most recent excuse given by the Government for abstaining from UN resolutions and taking no action against the Israeli Government is, of course, the activities of Hamas. Most recently, our Government would not condemn Israel for the killings during the “Great March of Return” in Gaza because Hamas might have had a hand in it. Slings and stones were used against one of the strongest armies in the world with a nuclear arsenal. The Israel Defense Forces were shooting indiscriminately at children and medical personnel, as well as other Gazan people. Shame on them and shame on us for not reacting.
What if Hamas did have a hand in it? What if it did? I would remind this House that the Government of Israel helped to create Hamas. It is the product of Israeli Government policies, not the cause of them. A legitimately elected Hamas Government were prevented from taking office in 2006—never forget that—and we are supposed to be democrats.
Gaza, as we have heard, is a toxic slum and will be uninhabitable by 2020, according to the United Nations. Nearly 2 million people, over half of them youngsters, are being slowly squeezed to death, with no prospects of a future. Of course they protest, and they do so as violently as they are able. Many of them would rather die than continue as they are.
But we say, “It’s not our fault. Balfour was a long time ago. We have to have the international community with us. We cannot do anything”. We listen to the Government of Israel trying to make Iran the object of our attention. We obey our masters in the United States of America, who obey the Israel lobby, as I suggest we do here. Of course, we must listen to the trade gods of Brexit.
For the sake of Jewish people who do not support the present Government in Israel, for the sake of the Palestinians, for the sake of the wider Middle East and for the conscience of our nation, I beg this Government of ours to take action, stop selling arms to Israel, impose sanctions and support justice for Palestine.
More speeches at link.