Chris Mullin (Sunderland South, Labour)
Clare Short has put some valuable first-hand information on the record this afternoon in what has been a pretty good debate. Alistair Burt asked what Israel was to do in response to the rockets fired at it. In the 1970s and 1980s in this country, we suffered a number of terrorist atrocities that killed large numbers of our citizens and were indiscriminate and absolutely unforgivable, but we did not go and level west Belfast in response. Governments of both persuasions looked for a way of establishing contact with the perpetrators and at seeing what could be done to engage with them. Ultimately, after 20 patient years, we achieved peace.
I hold no brief for Hamas, but I am sorry to say that Israel has only itself to blame for the rise of Hamas. If Israel had made more effort to engage with moderate Palestinians and dealt with its own fundamentalists, the extremist virus, if that is what it is, would have never have taken hold in Gaza.
I shall make three points. The word "unacceptable" has been used by spokesmen on all three Front Benches this afternoon. In the circumstances, the word "unacceptable" is not wrong, but it is wholly inadequate, given what we have witnessed in the past few weeks. I, like others who have spoken, believe that what we have witnessed are war crimes. They are out of proportion to the undoubted provocation that has occurred.
The use of white phosphorous flares has been mentioned. Those are imported from the United States, incidentally. The other day the Israelis dropped a 1 tonne bomb on the house of a Hamas leader in a crowded residential area. They killed him, they killed his family and they killed many of his neighbours. Anyone who drops a 1 tonne bomb on a crowded residential area is not entitled to be surprised by the consequences. Today, I gather, they have been shelling multi-storey housing blocks, in addition to the UN compound. I accept that they do not target civilians, as Israeli spokesmen repeatedly say, but they do not care whether they hit civilians or not. That has been clear. I also agree with those who said that it is utterly counter-productive from the point of view of Israel to proceed in this way. It will not stop the rockets and it will recruit a new generation of young men and women to extremist causes because of the experience that they are undergoing now.
My second point is that I do not believe that, under its current management, Israel has any intention of allowing a viable Palestinian state to be built. One has only to look at the advance of the settlements across the west bank—330,000 people are living there at the moment, and 12,000 came immediately after Israel pulled 8,000 people out of Gaza. It has been importing zealots from all over the world. They are not the original citizens of Israel or their heirs; people from comfortable addresses in Brooklyn have been brought in to colonise the west bank—and those people have a fall-back position if it all goes wrong.
A while ago in my constituency, I attended a talk given by a Christian woman from Bethlehem. She brought slides that showed how this accursed wall that Israel has built surrounds the city and described the humiliation that its citizens, Christian and Muslim, have to go through to get in and out. She told of how the situation has collapsed the economy. The wall appears to be in large part about stealing Palestinian land, because it separated a lot of farmers from their olive groves. The wall diverts to take in places of historic interest and goes right up against people's houses. It may be about defence in part, but I believe that it is also to a large extent about stealing land. I do not believe that the people who built the wall are fundamentally interested in achieving a two-state settlement.
I understand the position of Her Majesty's Government. They have tried to adopt a balanced and restrained approach. I commend their efforts to achieve a ceasefire, but it is time to recognise that we and the European Union have no influence whatever on the current Israeli Government. The only country in the world with such influence is the United States, which has chosen consistently and over a long period not to use it.