Middle East

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 31st March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour 6:00 pm, 31st March 2004

My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, both for introducing this subject so that we can discuss it and for giving her views on it, albeit I did not agree with many of them. However, she and I have been friends for so many years without agreeing on everything that I am sure that friendship will continue.

I was fascinated to hear the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I managed to agree with one-half of one sentence when he referred to what had happened since the start of the intifada. We should not forget that the intifada started after Arafat turned down the chance of peace. He did not say merely, "I do not accept what Barak has put forward. I do not simply leave Camp David saying that I shall come back with other suggestions". He said, "No", and he started the intifada. He started the terror.

When that happens we have to think how we would react. I thought about that when listening to Sir John Stevens saying how inevitable it was in his view that we in the UK would be subject to attack and how we would have to be prepared to deal with it. Governments have a responsibility to their own people to save their lives and to protect them. That which we expect our Government to do is what the Israeli people expect their Government to do. Whether we would agree with the steps that they have taken is not totally relevant because we do not elect that government. The extraordinary thing about the Israelis is that they elect their government. They are the only democracy in the area. As I used to say during 18 years sitting on the opposition Benches, the problem with democracies is that they so often elect the wrong people. But eventually, of course, we got it right. Sharon, whether we like it or like him or not, is Israel's elected Prime Minister. I do not think that it helps at all to try to demonise the man. What we must do is to try to help the parties to get together.

That is a job that I have been doing for a very long time. It started with my trying to learn the Arabic language, which I do not recommend to anyone other than a total masochist. However, I learnt a little and it has helped during visits to most of the Arab countries on the trail of seeking common ground. I have been to the Yemen, Syria, the Gulf, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. I have just come back from a visit to Jordan where I had the opportunity to meet the King, Prince Hassan and other leaders. I went on to the Territories and to Israel.

We have to keep doors open. The verbal attacks on other people that we have heard today will not help. They will not advance the cause of peace. The constant attacks on Sharon will not help him to do what he has to do. Whether he gets it right or wrong is a different question. In the view of my family who live in Israel, Sharon's job is to try to save their lives. They believe that he should try to prevent their children from being murdered on the school bus and to ensure that when the children go off to school in the morning they come back home alive in the evening. That is his job.

Did Sharon get it right with Sheikh Yassin? It seems to me that a majority of noble Lords consider that he did not. However, the majority of Israelis who elected him think that he got it right. They reckon that you cannot deal with these people. They reckon that Sheikh Yassin was not just a murderer but the organiser of murderers. He was not a man who would commit suicide himself, but one who would send others to do it. He has killed, and been responsible for the murder of, hundreds of people. Most Israelis took the view that that man should be taken out. We took that view with the sons of Saddam Hussein. I am sure that we would take that view if we managed to get hold of Osama bin Laden's people. That is a case of double standards. We would take out bin Laden's people to try to save the lives of hundreds of people—British people and others. That is what the Israelis believed that their taking out of Sheikh Yassin achieved and will achieve. That is how they have to handle the matter. It is not what they want to achieve in the long run. They know that they want peace.

The Israelis do not like the security fence. I have visited it with them. I visited the wall in Jerusalem with an Israeli soldier. It is a most unpleasant place. I asked the soldier how the wall could be justified. He replied, "Easily. Nineteen terrorist suicide bombers came through this exit within the past 12 months and killed and maimed hundreds of people. Since the wall has been built, there have been none. That is what we have to do. We do not like it either". That is their view—that if they need to have a fence in order to protect the lives of their people, they as the elected government will do that, just as we would if we had to protect our people.

I hope that we shall not be faced with that kind of problem. However, the question is: how do the Israelis move towards peace? To suggest that the Israelis do not want peace shows a total, absolute, abject lack of understanding of the Middle East and of the Israeli people. To suggest that they are a bunch of sadists who want to cause harm to the people who live next door to them is rubbish. What they want to do is to have safety, security and peace. They want safety and security for themselves and their children, and, ultimately, to be able to live in peace with their neighbours. The problem concerns how we can help them to achieve that. How can our Government help to create peace between these peoples? How can the international community work to achieve that? How can we as individuals help? Some of us have very good contacts. Indeed, I suspect that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has much better contacts than I. He probably has contacts with people with whom I have none. But each in our own way must do what we can. We must try to help to get peace.

Meanwhile, we should understand what is happening. Today I asked the Library staff for a list of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in the past year. There were 44, some in Israel, others in Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Iraq, Chechnya, Morocco, Bogota, Kirkuk and south Russia. That is what is happening in our world. I believe that we in this place should do everything in our power first to recognise the reality as it affects others, and, secondly, to understand that it is flowing over into our world. As regards the Middle East, we should strive for understanding.

A little while ago I wrote a book entitled, One Hand Alone Cannot Clap. That is an Arabic proverb. One hand alone cannot clap and one people alone cannot get peace. I submit that our task should be to try to bring people together so that both hands can clap and we can help the people in that area to achieve peace for themselves and for others.