Westminster Hall Debate
Wednesday 8th July
It is a year to the day that Israel launched its 51 day assault on the Gaza Strip and those of us who watched the carnage unfold on our television screens will not easily forget the images.
One need only look at the information detailed in the United Nations in order to gather a sense of the scale and disproportionality of last summer’s assault and invasion.
Israel used 20,000 tons of explosives in Gaza, 500 times more than was used by Hamas. 18,000 Palestinian houses were made uninhabitable compared to just one Israeli and the most striking figures of all are, of course, the civilian mortality figures: 1,462 Palestinian dead and six Israelis.
But figures and statistics are unable to convey the personal tragedies which lie behind them. Over one thousand children were disabled for life, one and a half thousand children have been orphaned and one hundred thousand people remain displaced.
Gaza has one of the youngest populations on earth. 43% of its inhabitants are 14 years of age or younger. These children have been forced to endure things no child should: the United Nations estimates two hundred thousand children in the Strip are in need of counselling.
Those effected by the war will be bare their scares, both mental and physical, for the rest of their lives.
Hon. Members have rightly highlighted the urgent and desperate need of humanitarian aid in Gaza. The current situation is bleak and desperate.
A May report by the World Bank states that 80% of Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on aid, unemployment stands at 43%, and Gaza’s population lives without adequate access to healthcare and education, never mind electricity or sewage. It is, to quote the report, “on the verge of collapse”.
Eight years of a cruel and illegal blockade and three brutal air campaigns and ground invasions have left Gaza’s young, captive population of 1.8million without a present and without a future, condemned to a fate by Israel that no people anywhere in the world would tolerate.
As it stands there is little prospect on the horizon of the situation in Gaza improving, and by forcing a people to live under occupation and blockade, cut off from the rest of the world and in a state of hopelessness and desperation, the next war seems to be an inevitability.
In this context our aid will be little more than a sticking plaster. We fund UNRWA and pledge money towards Gaza’s reconstruction only for schools, homes and hospitals to be destroyed by Israeli munitions during the next assault.
Indeed, the routine and indiscriminate nature of these attacks are encapsulated in Israeli military strategy parlance, which terms its strategy as “mowing the law”.
So long as the culture of impunity continues the Gazan lawn will continue to be mowed. It is precisely because Israel suffered no consequences for its crimes committed during its operations in 2008 and 2012 that she was able to commit even greater atrocities a year ago today.
International Law is only as strong as the parties which are willing to inforce it, and we have witnessed generations of failure due to the lack of political will to not only to acknowledge but take action against Israel’s violations.
Over the last half century, Israel has placed itself above international law, breaching human rights and failing or refusing to adhere to the duties and obligations placed upon them as an occupying power.
Their position has been strengthened by an International Community who to varying degree have acknowledged significant and persistent violation of international law, whether that be human rights abuses during military conflicts as we saw last year, or the prolonged injustice of Israel’s illegal occupation and settlement policy.
If the Government is sincere when it claims that we, as a nation, support the rule of law and wish to see a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, then we should expect that we should support Israel being held accountable for its litany of crimes under international law.
I was therefore happy to see the Government give its support to the UN Human Rights Council resolution backing last week’s report which called on the international community to support the work of the International Criminal Court who are currently conducting a preliminary examination into the war.
The British government has said many times that it is a strong supporter of international justice and the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is why I was so outraged by the hypocrisy of the former Foreign Secretary when the rt. Hon. William Hague stated his opposition to Palestine’s intention to accede to the International Criminal Court. I hope this Government will now match its rhetoric with action and support efforts to hold all parties accountable under International Law.
We are all well aware that talk can often come cheap in politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict generates more empty clichés than any other. If there is to be any hope of conflict resolution then we must close the gap between action and rhetoric.
One such gap that must be closed is our stated opposition to but practical support of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
There are few clearer examples of a breach in international law than Israel’s illegal settlements. They constitute a grave breach of article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention. Our Government and EU Ministers regularly decry Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise as the greatest barrier to peace and say, quite rightly, that the settlements threaten the viability of the two-state solution.
However, the 2012 “Trading Away Peace” report states that the EU imports 15 times more goods from illegal Israeli settlements than from Palestinian enterprises. We have reached a contradictory situation in which we economically sustain the very obstacles to peace—the illegal settlements—that we so often condemn as individuals in government.
The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, recently addressed the UK-Israeli Business awards dinner promising that his department “will be working hard to boost Anglo-Israeli trade and investment, and I as Business Secretary will do anything I can to support and promote it”.
The Secretary of State did not acknowledge any human rights concerns, he overlooked the illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, and he refused to explicitly exclude the UK from trade and investment in Israel, or Israeli companies operating from the occupied territories.
Settlement products are the proceeds of crime. They are illicit goods. By trading with those who produce them, we financially encourage them – we make the illegal settlement enterprise profitable for the occupying power. This is a gross injustice that is entirely at odds with our stated support for international law and resolution of the conflict.
I do not want nor should I have to boycott products and services emanating from the settlements. I should not be able to buy them in the first place and if the Government’s protestations are more than mere rhetoric then they should work at EU level to ensure that products of criminal exploitation are banned.
We require a new “ethical” foreign policy that refuses to profit from the illegal activities of others. Without such a commitment we will forever stand on the wrong side of history in prolonging injustice and undermining international law.
This is the position we find ourselves in today.
If international and human rights law is to be effective or have any meaning it must be universal, not a system to be used by politicians when it is politically expedient in justifying a political cause. Continuing to do so, undermines and erodes any moral authority we seek to obtain from International and human rights law.
Israel’s failure to recognise or accept the illegality of settlements are the principal road block to peace undermining any viable Palestinian State.
These issues are intensified and reinforced by an Israel Prime Minister who was unequivocal prior to the election in Israel stating that there would be no Palestinian State under his watch.
It is clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not and has never been a partner in peace.
Due to his entrenched views there is little to no scope for negations while Israel are allowed to act with impunity, with an international community failing to address Israel’s belligerent attitude to the Palestinian people, the international community and the rule of law.
There is little prospect for a long term sustainable peace while countries like the UK continue to placate Israel’s repeated breaches of international law.
A two state solution is an empty motto, used as a crutch by political leaders at a time of conflict and concern.
If a two state solution is to mean anything and become a reality the international community must be willing to take practical action to end the illegal behaviour of the Israel Government.
I believe the only way to bring Israel to the negotiation table as an honest partner in peace would be to show that their actions have consequences, and nations with a degree of influence must use it, without which Israel will continue to ignore the rightful claim of the Palestinian people.
In his final letter before his death the eminent Nobel Prize winning philosopher Bertrand Russell asked:
How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty?
That was 45 years ago. The real tragedy is that 45 years on the question still remains.