My Lords, I have recently returned from leading a pilgrimage of 200 people from my diocese to Israel and Palestine. It was primarily a spiritual pilgrimage to the holy sites, and we were able to visit two Palestinian cities: Bethlehem and Jericho. In addition, in the evening we were addressed on contemporary issues by senior members of the Israeli, Palestinian, Arab and indigenous Christian populations.
A new visitor to Israel and Palestine is struck by the contrast between the communities. Israel is a first-world country in every sense, with excellent industry, agriculture, infrastructure and amenities, including education. By contrast, the Palestinian areas appear third-world, and I suspect that this would be even more apparent in the overcrowded Gaza Strip.
The security measures which Israel has taken in recent years have made this contrast worse. One has to acknowledge the horrible nature of suicide bombings, and, in its own way, the security wall has stopped this form of terrorism in Israel. But the price has been great—not least for those from the Palestinian areas who worked or studied in Israel. A sort of de facto apartheid has emerged, with severe restrictions on movement across the security line in either direction.
I entirely share the view that boycotts will be either ineffective or counter-productive, and we are nowhere near a situation where that would be helpful. But, as things stand, young Palestinians in particular are greatly disadvantaged—even more so now than in the recent past. My question to the Minister is this: should the Government not consider facilitating a more proactive scholarship programme to enable Palestinian students to study at our universities? I refer to paragraph 24 of the Government's response: the discussions which are encouraged there need the participation of Palestinians if they are to be truly authentic. What better way to facilitate those discussions than to involve those who are most directly affected by the situation? However, the last thing that is needed is a boycott. The situation needs greater exchange, interaction and mutual conversation by those most involved in it. In this way, indeed, there will be hope in dialogue.