My Lords, we each come to debates such as this with our own personal stories. Mine begins with my father who served with the British Mandate force, and I grew up with his memories and photographs, and a strong sense of the historical and moral responsibility that the UK still carries for where Israelis and Palestinians find themselves today. More directly, I have visited the area regularly for the past 35 years, as a one-time trustee of Christian Aid, as a patron of a range of Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations and also of BibleLands-now Embrace the Middle East. Additionally, my diocese has a companion link with the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. I have met many people of all communities on the ground, and over the years have witnessed a radical change in the composition and culture of Israeli society, with one element of this being increased inequality and discrimination faced by Israel's Arab citizens. However, I have also seen directly, and wish publicly to affirm, the work of those organisations, including those that are Israeli, working to combat such discrimination and inequality. A wish to highlight both the problem and the work of those seeking to address it are among the reasons I sought this debate, but there are further reasons for having it now.
All the signs are that we may be reaching the end of any realistic prospect of a genuine two-state solution: the past assumption that progress in the peace process would help improve Arab-Jewish relations within Israel no longer holds. Addressing Israeli-Arab discrimination needs now to be seen as a justice issue in its own right and very much framed within a discourse of civil rights. In 2011, the EU acknowledged that Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens was a core issue that could not be postponed until the peace process is revived.
Secondly, this debate needs to be set within the context of a mood of democratic awakening across the Middle East. Last year, Israel experienced its own democratic awakening with the
My third reason for requesting this debate now is that next year is the 10th anniversary of Justice Theodore Or's inquiry into Israeli Arab support for the second intifada which concluded that,
"successive generations of Israel's government have failed to address in a comprehensive and deep fashion the difficult problems created by the existence of a large Arab minority inside the Jewish state. Government handling of the Arab sector has been primarily neglectful and discriminatory".
They have not shown,
"sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the Arab sector, nor done enough to give this sector its equal share of state resource. The state did not try hard enough to create equality for its Arab citizens or to uproot discriminatory or unjust practices".
The nature of such discrimination is well documented. Your Lordships will have seen the excellent briefing pack produced by the Library, and I am grateful for briefings not only from various human rights groups but from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the UK Task Force on issues facing Arab citizens of Israel, whose work I warmly commend, and the Jerusalem-based Jewish Centre for Jewish-Christian Understanding.
In many ways, this debate merely surfaces an ongoing debate in many Jewish circles, in Israel and here. That debate concerns a widening gap in Israeli society between law and practice. In law, Israeli Arabs enjoy full equality and are endowed with the full spectrum of democratic rights. It is also the case that Israeli Arab citizens have made considerable social and economic progress in recent years. Mortality rates have fallen by nearly two-thirds over the past few decades, while life expectancy has risen and infant mortality rates have been slashed.
However, in practice there are many areas of life where Israeli Arabs are systematically disadvantaged. While Israel's declaration of independence and basic laws purport to enshrine certain rights for Israel's non-Jewish citizens, there is no explicit constitutional right to equality. Israel is yet to reconcile the tension between its identity as a Jewish state and its claim to be a democracy with equal rights for all. This means that non-Jews are effectively, in many respects, second-class citizens, denied the full rights which their Jewish co-citizens enjoy. As the Association of Civil Rights in Israel has pointed out,
"this is reflected in discriminatory policies in the areas of citizenship rights, economic and social welfare, employment, education and (most crucially) land ownership and development".
So, Jewish and Arab Israelis have different citizenship rights and constraints in relation to marriage and family reunification. Their economic and social circumstances differ. Despite a legal ban on employment discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion, Arab citizens face significant disadvantages in the labour force. The most recent official Israeli survey to look at income differentials between individual employees suggested that the gross monthly income among Arab citizens of Israel was 32% lower than the comparative figure among Jewish citizens. There is, according to Israel's own National Insurance Institute, a 53.5% incidence of poverty among non-Jewish families compared with 15.2% among Jewish families. Also, Arab communities are among the poorest in Israel. Almost nine in 10 of the localities in the lowest three socio-economic groups are Arab. Arab Bedouin are particularly disadvantaged, with up to 90,000 Bedouin deprived of their ancestral lands and living in what the Israeli Government call "illegally constructed villages" in the Negev where there are virtually no public utilities or government services.
According to the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adalah, the starkest area of inequality and discrimination relates to land holding and planning. It states:
"Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel have unequal access to land resources, land rights, and the ability to use the resource of land to develop their communities".
A UN report in 2003 suggested that Arab citizens, despite their 20%-plus population share, privately own just 3.5% of the state's total land, while Arab municipalities had jurisdiction over only 2.5% of the total area of the state. In Galilee, despite a 72% share of the population, just 16% of the land is owned by Arab municipalities. Since 1961, there have been 291 new Jewish localities compared with, at most, 25 new non-Jewish ones. It is estimated that Arab citizens of Israel are, in practice, blocked from purchasing or leasing land on around 80% of the land in Israel on the basis of their ethnic identity. The way in which the 2011 admissions law is being used adds to the issue of discrimination a concern about further segregation.
Yet it did not have to be like this, and some of the early aspirations of the founders of the State of Israel were clearly very different. Indeed, the principles of equality and non-discrimination were enshrined in Israel's declaration of independence of
"uphold absolute social and political equality of rights for all citizens, without distinction of religion, race or sex".
Twenty years ago, there were some grounds for optimism. It is important to remember the constructive work that Yitzhak Rabin did in his second term as Prime Minister to address these issues of inequality in Israel's life. However, he was probably the last Israeli Prime Minister to do so.
In recent years, the Knesset has passed a raft of discriminatory legislation. In 2009, Avigdo Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party became the second largest coalition partner, after an election campaign during which he repeatedly attacked Israel's Arab minority. Since then, each Knesset session has been replete with overtly racist Bills that have helped further to alienate Israel's non-Jewish citizens. Together they seem to be forming a pattern whereby extreme back-bench proposals become watered down to form a steady drip of government initiatives that are slowly eroding minority rights.
This seems to be backed by changes in Jewish Israeli public opinion, with both the FCO and the US Department of State noting a growing and disturbing climate of intolerance, with an increasing desire among a majority of the Jewish public to see preference for Jews over Arabs in various areas of public life and a willingness to see the two communities reducing contact and moving further apart.
Some have suggested that this debate should not be taking place as it colludes with hostility towards Israel rather than offering it a hand of friendship. Nothing could be further from the truth. A peaceful and prosperous Middle East needs a strong and secure Israel. However, threats to Israel's security come not only from without but also from within. Increased discrimination so easily leads to radicalisation of those discriminated against, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Frustration fermenting beneath the surface could yet bubble over into societal conflict. Should current trends continue unabated, localised intercommunal violence should come as no surprise.
There is the further concern, raised by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a debate in your Lordships' House a year ago, that discrimination and inequality contribute to the emigration of indigenous Christians from Israel, a further cause of polarisation and loss of community cohesion. By contrast, addressing the discrimination and inequality experienced by Israel's Arab citizens, and so building community cohesion, could have positive implications both for the State of Israel and for the wider peace process. It would strengthen Israel's democratic credentials by inviting more participatory models of citizenship, so enhancing a sense of community and belonging. Rehumanising the "other" within Israel might encourage a reframing of the way that Israel negotiates with its Arab neighbours.
The anniversary of the Or report next year offers an important occasion to take stock of the steps and measures that have been taken by the Israeli Government to address the levels of discrimination and inequality faced by Israel's Arab citizens. Looking back nine years on, there is a widespread feeling that the institutional changes put forward by the Or Commission have not been whole-heartedly adopted. When I tabled a Written Question on the Or report a few months back, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, responded on
"few of Or's recommendations on the socio-economic causes of Israeli Arab frustration have been addressed. We continue to urge the Israeli Government to implement the recommendations made by the 2003 Or Commission, specifically to address (i) economic disparities; and (ii) unequal access to land and housing. In general we condemn all instances of inequality and discrimination against individuals and groups because of their faith, ethnicity or nationality".-[Official Report, 24/9/12; col. WA 265.]
At the heart of this Motion is an understanding of human dignity and well-being. I am sure that all would agree that inequality and discrimination impair human dignity and flourishing. So I note with pleasure the strong interest shown by Her Majesty's ambassador to Israel in supporting Israel's minorities. Speaking at the Israeli Equal Opportunities Commission's 2011 conference, Ambassador Matthew Gould said:
"Israel enjoys the most extraordinary diversity in its population", and that the,
"diversity of Israel's population is something that should be celebrated".
However, if that diversity is allowed to lead to increasing division, then the fabric of Israel's society could be fatally damaged. For that to be avoided, the UK and the EU need to continue to press Israeli Governments for the realisation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in which Jews and Arabs live together with full and equal human dignity and civil rights.
Ultimately this is a question about the character of the Israeli state, the answer to which must have buy-in from all the communities of which it is composed.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the right reverend Prelate for obtaining this debate and for his constructive, excellent and robust introduction. I should declare my interest at the outset as a trustee of the Council for European Palestinian Relations, an organisation that facilitates visits by European parliamentarians to see at first hand the circumstances in which Palestinians live, in Israel, the Occupied Territories and, indeed, in the external refugee camps. The circumstances in which thousands of Palestinian women, children and vulnerable older people live in many of these areas are, frankly, an international disgrace.
Those of us who regularly raise our concerns about the treatment of Palestinians within Israel and the Occupied Territories are regularly accused of a lack of balance, or told of Israel's right to defend itself, or reminded of the firing of rockets by Hamas into civilian areas. The disproportionately high levels of Palestinian deaths and casualties, compared with those suffered by Israelis, are consistently and conveniently overlooked. There is always another side to the stories: the Palestinians cannot unite, Hamas is formed of terrorists-even though, somewhat inconveniently, Hamas won a fair and democratic election with international observers in 2006. It is Israel that is the real democracy-an island of democracy in a sea of Arab autocracy. We must not be too hard on Israel, if we want the virtually non-existent peace process to achieve progress and to keep alive the seriously damaged two-state solution. That is the context in which we have come to this kind of debate. Yet year after year, the Palestinians living in this shining example of democracy are seeing their already modest human and civic rights eroded further and further. They are supposed to put up with this without protest. The international community continues to accumulate more and more documents setting out the abuses of Palestinian human rights undertaken by, or at least with the collusion of, the Israeli Government. These catalogues of abuse are simply ignored by Israel, despite strenuous diplomatic efforts on the part of the UK and other Governments to bring them to the attention of Israel's Government.
The Library's excellent briefing for this debate identified some of the documentary evidence of Israeli abuses of civic rights and protection of its own citizens. The variety of the sources-UN, US state department, FCO, international human rights organisations, and brave Israeli internal organisations ashamed of their own Government's behaviour-all lend testimony to the same set of messages, which were extremely well set out by the right reverend Prelate. We are spoilt for choice as to which pieces of documentary evidence we want to alight on. It is striking how little independent counterevidence the Library has been able to find in assembling its excellent briefing.
I want to pick on one document in particular from the Library's briefing, from the FCO. It quotes from page 206 of the FCO's April 2012 report to Parliament on human rights and democracy in different countries. In that document the Government drew attention to their continued concerns on Israel and the occupied territories. I quote:
"Our particular concerns included Israeli demolitions and evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; the human rights effects of restrictions on Gaza; the increase in the number of attacks by extremist Israeli settlers; the treatment of Palestinian suspects within the Israel justice system; the high proportion of civilian casualties and fatalities resulting from Israeli airstrikes on Gaza".
By comparison, they did identify abuses of human rights within Gaza and the Palestinian authorities, but these abuses were modest by comparison with this particular catalogue. I ask the Minister to look at what the FCO, her own department, is citing: the concerns are not the kind of concerns that most British Governments have had with so-called allies and friends. They are on a scale which is fundamentally different in terms of the human rights concerns. Many of the discriminatory actions set out in the various reports are of long standing; but some are more recent, as the right reverend Prelate identified.
I have another example. In March 2011, the Knesset passed laws that authorised rural Jewish and majority communities to reject Palestinian Arab citizens and other "unsuitable" applicants from residency and imposed fines on any government-funded institution, including municipalities, which provide health and education for those commemorating Nakba, the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of their residents, after Israel's declaration of independence. That is a recent example of the kind of discriminatory behaviour that is being passed through the Israeli Parliament.
The heart of the problem of Palestinian discrimination is that the status of Palestinians under international human rights instruments, to which Israel is a state party, is that of a national, ethnic, linguistic and religious minority. But the basic laws of Israel do not recognise them as a national minority within the protections that flow from that position. The definition of Israel as a Jewish state makes inequality a continuing practical reality for Israel's Palestinian citizens. Worse still, they are frequently-and increasingly-seen as a "fifth column", simply because they are Palestinians.
I do not want to extend this catalogue of discrimination in the remainder of my time, because other speakers will no doubt do some of that. The question is-what should the UK, as part of the international community, do about this established and continuing pattern of behaviour and discrimination? It is a pattern of illegal, inhumane and abusive behaviour. When South Africa was engaged in this kind of behaviour, the international community was so shocked that it imposed sanctions of various kinds to try to change that behaviour. We have tried to brush this issue aside, but we cannot go on finger wagging at the Israeli Government and getting very little in the way of response. The time has come for the UK and its EU partners to start thinking about something else, which is assembling a graduated set of economic and other sanctions to try to encourage the Israeli Government to attend to their duties as a democratic state in terms of removing some of the discrimination against many of their non-Jewish citizens.
Much of the argument in this House in recent times was that we needed to wait for the American presidential elections and get the Americans to help us take this forward. If you listened carefully to the Obama presidential campaign, the speeches made in that campaign made it clear that the time had come for America to do nation-building at home, not abroad. We have to understand that we cannot necessarily rely on activity on the part of the US in terms of pressure on Israel to change some of its behaviour. We have to be a bit more grown-up, work with our EU partners, and think about what we as Europeans want to do in trying to encourage Israel to reverse the trend of discrimination against its Arab citizens.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and I want to pick up on his last point at the end of my speech. However, I begin by thanking the right reverend Prelate for introducing this debate so comprehensively. I am often under attack by some of my Palestinian friends for being a paid-up member of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. I want to make it clear to them and to the House that there is a clear distinction between being a friend of Israel, which I am, and a friend of the present Government of Israel, which I am certainly not. That is an important distinction which we ought to keep in mind throughout the debate.
My experience of the area goes back to when I was a very young MP. In 1967 I happened to be with a parliamentary delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations. I remember with pleasure the spirit of optimism in the British delegation. Lord Caradon was the British representative and a key figure in the formulation of UN Resolution 242, which was supposed to be the basis for peace in that part of the world. However, it is a very sad fact that the optimistic mood of 45 years ago has disappeared.
After I became the leader of the Liberal Party, I took a delegation around the Middle East to see for myself what the situation was on the ground. We went to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt and were received by the heads of government of all those countries. Four of us wrote a report while sitting in the garden of the embassy in Cairo. The report bears examination today because it was a prelude to the two-state solution. The only member of that group who is still with us is the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. But on that visit there was one head of government who did not meet us, and that was the Prime Minister of Israel. Why was that? It was because we had talked to Yasser Arafat in Damascus. Our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, was the young ambassador in Syria at the time, and in those days no British Minister would talk to a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation because it was a terrorist organisation. Officials could talk to its representatives, but I was the first party leader to talk to Yasser Arafat, whom I met over many years. I had great regard for his capacity as the leader of the PLO, but as the head of the administration, he was an absolute disaster-although that is another story. But not talking to the PLO was simply daft. Today we have come full circle because we do not talk to representatives of Hamas. Why is that? It is even worse now because, like Arafat at that time, while Hamas does not recognise Israel, it has actually been elected in Gaza. We do not like it, but Hamas is there. I do not see any point in continuing a policy of failing to speak to its representatives.
Against that background, it is not surprising that we have seen the appalling launching of rockets against the southern part of Israel, where I have also been. I feel great sympathy for what the population has had to endure. But there is no substitute for talking to people with whom you disagree. The latest threat from the Netanyahu Government to create 3,000 new settlement residences on the West Bank has sounded for the first time a long overdue note of alarm from our own Foreign Office. As described, these settlements would isolate Ramallah and Bethlehem from East Jerusalem and from each other, and would make a complete mockery of any possibility of the two-state solution. That should be deeply alarming not just to this House and the Foreign Office, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has just said, it ought to be of deep concern to the United States, a keen supporter of Israel, as well.
The right reverend Prelate gave us many statistics to illustrate the discrimination between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel. These statistics are agonisingly familiar to those of us who have followed events in South Africa over many years. Because of my background as a boy in Africa, I was always a keen member of the Anti-apartheid Movement. During my time as president of that movement I visited South Africa a great deal. One thing that strikes me is the comparison between what is happening to the Arab citizens of Israel today and what happened to the non-white citizens of South Africa then. For example, the resettlement of some Arab citizens from Jerusalem to the West Bank is reminiscent of the Group Areas Act of the apartheid regime. The separate roads in the West Bank used by Israelis and Palestinians to travel are a reminder of the public transport arrangements in apartheid South Africa. What I remember now but which did not strike me at the time concerns the work I did for the AAM with people in South Africa and over here. When one looks at the names of friends of mine from that time-Helen Suzman and Zach de Beer, and others who were not Liberals but perhaps members of the South African Communist Party such as Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Hilda Bernstein, Helen Josephs, Albie Sachs and Ronnie Kasrils-the extraordinary thing was that the leadership of the white resistance to apartheid came from the Jewish community. Why was that? It was because in the decades after the Holocaust there was a deep-seated revulsion against any idea of racial superiority. That is what the right reverend Prelate reminded us of in his remarks. The founding charter of Israel is quite clear on the issue and the present Government have departed very far from it.
I am not naïve enough to think that if there was a settlement between Israel and Palestine, international terrorism would disappear, but there is no doubt in my mind that our failure to deal properly and independently with this dispute is breeding Islamic extremism and terrorism around the world. I would therefore argue that it is in our own interests to adopt a far more equable policy.
I want to end on an optimistic note. A couple of weeks ago some of us attended a meeting upstairs with a group of Israeli businessmen who have formed the Israeli Peace Initiative to mirror the Arab Peace Initiative. That is a hopeful sign. They are not politicians but businessmen in Israel who are fed up with the intransigence of their own politicians and who are promoting peace with the Arab world. It is in that context that the end of discrimination against Arab citizens can become a real possibility. I shall finish by making the same point as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I believe that as long as Israel consistently flouts international law, it is quite wrong that we in Europe should maintain a beneficial trade association with a country that is behaving in this way. We have got leverage and it is time that we used it.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for securing this important debate. I start by conceding his critical point that precisely because, in the terms of the overall resolution of the problems of the Middle East, we are, unfortunately, in a period of conflict management rather than conflict resolution, the question of Israel's minority becomes, in a way, even more important. I declare an interest as chairman of the Anglo-Israel Association and, as the function of that body is to promote understanding between the United Kingdom and Israel, this debate provides an excellent opportunity to do just that.
I want to step back and take a historical perspective before returning to the nub of the debate as it has been defined thus far. Going back to the early part of the last century, school textbooks in the United Kingdom said to young readers that we are a mongrel people and that this was a matter to be proud of. In the United Kingdom it is now accepted that all people, no matter what their colour, background or class, have a right to equality of treatment, and it is one of our most profound defining features as a liberal democracy that we attempt to deliver equality of treatment for all our citizens. Even so, it has to be accepted that even in the United Kingdom at this time we sometimes fail quite markedly in the achievement of that objective. In Northern Ireland, where I come from, the watchword for United Kingdom government policy for several decades was, "equality of esteem for both traditions", but we can see, even in the past fortnight or so in Belfast, in the riots that have occurred, how difficult it can be to achieve that objective of equality of traditions where these disputes of ethnic, national and religious identity exist.
Israel, however, is a state that exists in quite a different context. Like another liberal, democratic state, the Republic of Ireland, its existence significantly reflects the trauma of one particular ethnic and religious group. In the Republic of Ireland's case, the brutal trauma is the Great Famine. In Israel's case it is the Holocaust, a far worse example of trauma than the Great Famine because it was a deliberate, intentional genocide characterised by repeated actions by human individuals-human agency-on a large scale. The Jewish state, like the Irish Catholic state, accepts and has always accepted, as noble Lords have conceded, a responsibility towards its minorities; but as both states have shown, given the importance of one group in the raison d'être of the state, it is a responsibility which is not always easy to discharge. Indeed, it is particularly difficult to discharge. In the first several decades of the history of the Irish Republic the Protestant population dropped markedly and radically. The Irish Republic has much liberalised in recent years, but the tragic death of a young Indian woman in hospital in Galway is a reminder of the continuing existence of the outlook of one religious tradition in the practices of that society.
When we talk about the case of Israel it is widely accepted that by certain criteria which are supposed to be important to us in the West-freedom of speech, women's rights, gay rights, the protection of educational opportunity-Israel is a beacon in the region, far ahead of any other country. For example, and on a difficult point, in recent days there have been pro-Assad demonstrations in different parts of Israel and they have gone ahead peacefully. These are difficult questions for Israeli society but it seems to be rather better at handling them than many other countries in the region. It is said by some that that is only to be expected of Israel, though it is apparently not expected by all in the West of its neighbours.
Then one must look at the role of Israeli Arabs in the Knesset, the Parliament of Israel. To take one important and dramatic example, George Karra, a Christian Arab, was the presiding judge in the trial of a former Israeli President. It is inconceivable in any other country in the region that a member of a religious minority could play such a role. Mention has been made of Christian Arabs, but there is no doubt that by every known statistic Christian Arabs are a very successful and vital group, a spectacularly successful group, it could be said, in the society of Israel. Again, it is sometimes said with judicial appointments in Israel, in the United States and in this country, that there is an element of tokenism. Perhaps, but even so, it seems a pretty striking example.
Mention has already been made of Israel's declaration of independence and its promise of political, economic and social equality to all citizens, as well as the fact that Israel has laws against discrimination in employment. Is this just empty rhetoric? Taking it broadly, Israeli Arabs have an employment rate of 72.2% as against 77.7% for the rest of society. There is a disadvantage there in absolute terms of numbers; it is not a particularly startling or spectacular disadvantage. It is probably the case, I would accept, that Israeli Arabs have less well paid jobs-the point has already been made-but in terms of absolute figures in employment, it is not a dramatic disadvantage.
Let me take another figure-I often think it is the most important figure, and it is the one I always ask about; it is the figure that gives, for example, the proof of the advance of Northern Irish Catholics over the past 20 years-and that is the figure for medical students in university. This tells us a lot about the educational opportunities of relative communities and a lot about the possible future life chances of the brighter children in those communities. It is a good, simple way of looking at the problem. In the case of Israeli Arabs, they are 20% of the population of Israel and 19% of the students in Israeli medical schools. This seems a very significant fact to me. Mention has been made of South Africa and apartheid: does any noble Lord recall any figure remotely like that in the case of South Africa? I cannot.
So there are important considerations. There is not absolute equality of opportunity in Israel, I am very clear in my mind about that. There is a fundamental problem and a difficult problem to resolve. Some of the successes of the Israeli state in this respect should perhaps be recorded and acknowledged more fully than they have been.
Let me take one other very significant aspect of Israeli reality which I think that everyone who knows anything about the country is aware of. At the beginning of this century the magazine Kul Al-Arab carried out a survey of Israeli Arabs in towns adjacent to the West Bank and, consistently and by a large majority, those people resisted transfer to Arab rule. What is that telling us? Is it a meaningless finding? It cannot be; it tells us something about what life is like, for all its difficulties, in being an Arab under Israeli rule. Only last year the Council on Foreign Relations-a distinguished body in New York-and Princeton University carried out a poll in Jerusalem which asked its Arabs how they would stand on this matter. They discovered that a large slice of the Arabs in Jerusalem would prefer to remain in Israel. These findings, which are not seriously disputed, tell us what it is like to be an Arab in Israel despite there being many difficulties in that and they ought to be more respected than they have been thus far in this debate.
Finally, I hope that I have said enough to indicate that the problem is complex and that the implementation of liberal ideals is not always easy. At the moment, the Israeli press is full of considerable concern about racist chanting at football matches. If you read our own press in the past few weeks, you will also see considerable concern about racist chanting at football matches in this country. Reference has been made throughout this debate to the tradition in the Jewish community of support for human rights. I hope that I have said enough to suggest that this tradition is not yet extinguished in the modern state of Israel.
My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter on securing this debate and on introducing it with great passion and erudition. I would make one small point of clarification. In the Motion, as well as in what has been said so far, Arab citizens of Israel are all being referred to as "Israel's Arab citizens". It is worth bearing in mind that they do not identify themselves or wish to be identified in this way. The Arab citizens of Israel prefer to call themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Arab minority as a Palestinian minority in Israel. In matters of this kind, if we want to respect people I think we need to make sure that we accept their self-identification.
These citizens do that for two reasons. First, by calling themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel they want to remind themselves and the world of their history: that they are a minority but not an immigrant minority or an indigenous minority, like the original nations in Canada and Australia. They are a majority that have been reduced to a minority. Their second reason for wanting to do so is to show that they are part of a diaspora or global community, in exactly the same way as the Israeli Jewish community is. Although I might from time to time slip into the language of talking about Israeli Arabs, I wanted to make that point clear and put it on record that we need to bear this in mind.
Although my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Bew, produced statistics to show that the picture is not as bleak as some have made out, let me make it absolutely clear that there are many areas of life where Israeli Palestinians suffer from considerable discrimination. I did not want to produce those figures but he has produced some on medical students. I could explain those figures in other ways, because they have been the subject of considerable analysis and are contradicted by figures in other areas, but I shall not do that. All I need to say here is what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter said. Justice Or's commission reported in 2003 that there had been a "neglectful and discriminatory" treatment of Israeli Palestinians. It went on to say that state resources were not allocated "in an equal manner".
These conclusions of the Justice Or commission have been supported by various independent research bodies. Let me mention half a dozen figures to give some picture of what I have in mind. Fifty per cent of Israeli Palestinians are classified as poor. Only 1.3% of Arabs who graduate in high-tech fields find work in their fields, although Israel is short of technical manpower. In fact, the recent report of the Bank of Israel said that not hiring Arabs costs Israel 31 billion new Israeli shekels a year in lost production. The average per student allocation in an Arab junior high school is one-fifth of that in the Jewish junior high schools. Less than 2% of academics are in tenured or tenure track positions. There is discrimination in areas relating to planning permission, housing, zoning regulation, urban development and civil rights.
Moving to the political area, to the best of my knowledge no Arab political party has ever been a part of the ruling coalition. There is constant talk in any negotiations about voluntary transfer or expulsion and territorial exchanges which treats Arab citizens of Israel as if they are dispensable-not a permanent part of Israel but one that can be got rid of in any negotiations. I would find it very difficult to live in a country if I were constantly told that I was dispensable and could be negotiated out of existence.
One might also look at the national anthem of Israel, which speaks very movingly, of course, of Zion and the yearning of the Jewish soul. That is fine, but imagine how you would feel singing the national anthem if you were an Israeli Palestinian? In October 2000 there was the Al-Aqsa intifada, in which protests took place and 13 Arabs were killed. To the best of my knowledge, no policeman has so far been indicted. It is also striking that there was no Arab Minister in the Israeli Government until Raleb Majadele was appointed Minister without portfolio in 2007, and a few months later, Minister of Culture, Sport and Science. As a result, there is a deep sense of alienation and withdrawal from the political process and electoral participation has gone down considerably-from about 75% at one time to 48% or 49% now. If one is not careful there is a danger that people might turn to other methods.
While that is one side of the picture, the other side is also strikingwhich is that many Israelis recognise this. Having been to Israel on two or three occasions, lecturing and debating precisely these questions, I am struck by the way in which many progressive groups in Israel feel strongly about what is going on. In the 1999 elections, Ehud Barak talked about "a state for all", implying thereby that it had not been a state for all. As a result, 95% of Arabs voted for him. When nothing happened, there was a grave sense of disappointment and when elections took place two years later, they boycotted them and 80% did not vote. The Supreme Court of Israel has constitutionally often stood up against the resolutions of the Knesset and pointed out that they are inconsistent with Israel's commitment to democracy and equality. As a result of this internal self-correction and self-criticism, there is the remarkable figure in a recent survey that showed that 45% to 50% of Israeli Palestinians are proud to call themselves Israelis.
In other words, I suggest there is a very complex picture. On the one hand there is the systematic marginalisation of and discrimination against Israeli Palestinians. On the other, there is constant criticism of this, with institutions like the Supreme Court constantly providing correcting mechanisms. How do we explain this? I suggest there is a deep tension at the very heart of the Israeli state's identity. On the one hand, it sees itself as a Jewish state. On the other, it is committed to democracy, to working-as the declaration of independence says-for the benefit of all its citizens and pursuing the ideas of liberty and justice. On the one hand, the Jewish state: on the other, democracy, liberty, equality and justice. How do you reconcile these two-not quite contradictory but conflicting-impulses at the very heart of Jewish identity? That is at the root of the marginalisation of its minorities.
When one talks about a Jewish state-something that I have talked and written about-what does one mean: a state of the Jews, by the Jews, for the Jews? It cannot possibly be that, because Israelis are already committed to some form of democracy. It could be "of" the Jews, but not just "by" them because there are Arabs; it cannot just be "for" the Jews, because it is committed to the benefit of all. I am not trying to preach, but I simply suggest that Israelis need to resolve this tension at the heart of their identity. In so far as it defines itself as a Jewish state, there is a constant thrust towards turning Israel into an ethno-cultural state, majoritarian, a state owned by its majority. In so far as they see themselves as committed to democracy, they recognise that it is a liberal, civic or multi-communal state. My suggestion would be that although this temptation to become ethno-cultural exists in every state, including our own where people want to see it as a white Christian state, they recognise that it is not possible. In India, they tried to see it as a Hindu state and recognised that this was not possible. Some such move needs to be made in Israel itself.
My Lords, the previous time I spoke in the same debate as the right reverend Prelate was a year ago when your Lordships' House debated Christianity in the Middle East. I remember his words in December 2011 when he said,
"almost every community-Muslims, Christians, Jews; Arabs, Kurds, Copts, Israelis, Palestinians and Turks-seeing themselves, with some justification, as a minority".
He also said,
"the primary victims of religious extremism in the Muslim world are other Muslims".-[Hansard, 9/12/11; col. 934.]
Sadly, to be a Jew in most countries of the region is not comfortable or even possible in many places. Indeed, Christians such as the Copts of Egypt are under severe pressure. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bew, I declare an interest: I am vice-president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, and I welcome the right reverend Prelate's good intentions and masses of facts within his speech. As a Liberal Democrat, I must declare that I am against any unequal society, wherever it is.
The right reverend Prelate told mainly a story of a half-empty glass. I will try to tell a story of a half-full glass and how the Israeli Government, unlike their neighbours, are working hard to improve the situation of their minorities-in my view, not quickly enough; the sooner it happens the better. Israel's Arab population is about 20% of the whole and numbers 1.7 million. They are citizens, as the right reverend Prelate called them. The reason we call them Israeli Arab citizens is that that is the title used by the right reverend Prelate. Personally, I call them all "Israelis". They are all Israelis, they have rights and they should have all those rights.
As an example of a half-full glass, in 2010 Israel approved a $220 million five-year development plan for 13 Arab cities and towns, including $30 million for the expansion of public transportation. The plan is actually being implemented by the Authority for the Economic Development for Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors, based in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, and is focused on 12 specific Arab and Druze localities, including Nazareth and Rahat-I will not detail them all. The Israeli Government are also allocating funds for 13 industrial parks in Arab communities.
There are some real examples of action being taken. Prime Minister Netanyahu recognised the deficiencies in the workforce and stated earlier this year-I know it is only a statement but he said it-that:
"The Arab sector is a main growth engine for the Israeli economy"- as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, a moment ago-
"which has yet to be fully utilised, and I believe that their integration into the labour market will contribute not only to the Arab sector, but to the State of Israel as a whole".
In July 2012, the Israeli Government launched a new affirmative action campaign to encourage companies, especially in the high-tech sector, to employ Israeli Arabs, with the Government contributing 25% of their salary. The hope is that this will encourage companies which are, as has been mentioned, reluctant to take on Arab employees to do so. Once this had been done, it will reduce discrimination in the workplace. In June 2012, the Israeli Government launched a public awareness campaign against prejudice and discrimination by Israeli companies against Arabs. That cannot be tolerated. Also in June 2012, Cisco chief executive officer John Chambers announced a four-year plan to create 12,000 new technology jobs for Israeli Arabs. He said:
"We have an opportunity to show the rest of the world what we can do together with a government that really gets it and with citizens who really get it".
I would have hoped that the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords, while detailing the inequalities-which do exist-would at least have mentioned some of the actions being taken to rectify those problems. As has been mentioned, there are numerous organisations inside and outside Israel trying to rectify those problems. That will take time but they should be given credit for so doing.
This is all against a background of Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, on his very recent visit to Gaza, referring to the liberation of Palestine in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa while the crowds yelled, "Hit, hit Tel Aviv". This is also at a time when 40,000 have been killed in Syria without a demonstration in the UK. Nor were there Motions in this House when Hamas shot men accused of being Israeli spies without even the pretence of a trial. Their bodies were then dragged through the street behind motorcycles. I am not saying that there are not inequalities for Israeli Arabs-or Israeli Palestinians if you want-that need to be dealt with and are being dealt with, but perhaps we should also reflect on the bloody conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the hounding of the Christian Coptic community in Egypt, the unrest in a number of Middle Eastern states and the toppling of regimes.
In Israel, Arabs have served as elected representatives in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, since Israel's first elections in 1949. There are currently 17 Israeli Arabs and Druze in the Knesset out of a Chamber of 120, although that is short of the 24 which under strict proportional terms would reflect the numbers of the Arab-Israeli population. There are many Israeli Arab judges. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, mentioned one of them. They include Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran and George Kara-he has been mentioned-who presided in the Tel Aviv district court that convicted former Israeli President Katsav.
Israel's first Muslim consul general was appointed in Atlanta in 1997; Israel's first Muslim ambassador was appointed to Finland in 1995; Israel's first Druze ambassador was appointed to Vietnam in 1999; in 2004 Bnei Sakhnin was the first Arab Israeli football team to win the State Cup; and-still on the soccer theme-the Arab Israeli football star Walid Badir is the captain of Hapoel Tel Aviv. The Arab-Israeli Mira Awad represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest; and the Arab Israeli Rana Raslan was Miss Israel.
Do noble Lords remember the amazing time-amazing to me and I am sure to everyone else-when Majalli Wahabi, a Druze, was the acting President of Israel? Noble Lords may have read the Bedouin Israeli diplomat Ishmael Khaldi's book A Shepherd's Journey. In academia there are Bedouin professors and others whom I do not have enough time to relate.
Of course, if there was no problem, no action would be required. The reasons advanced for the standard of living for Israeli Arabs being generally lower than the Jewish and Christian Israeli population are poorer participation in education and the failure of women to take up employment. I will tell your Lordships' House the following sad statistics: twice as many Muslims leave school without qualification; three times as many are unemployed; three times as many live below the poverty line. I should add that these sad figures are not in Israel but in Britain. It is sad here and it is sad there.
The reasons for inequalities in Israel, Britain and elsewhere are generally due to education, employment and where you are in the food chain of life. The aim in Israel and the UK is to improve the conditions of all by improving opportunities for a better life.
Finally, it would be good if the right reverend Prelate could also acknowledge that 850,000 Jews have been forcibly displaced and exiled from Arab countries since 1948, and that justice for such Jewish refugees from Arab countries has been expunged from the peace and justice narrative for the past 65 years.
I trust that when my noble friend the Minister replies she will say how Her Majesty's Government will acknowledge inequalities and discrimination worldwide-not just in Israel-and not just the accusations against Israel made in this debate.
My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for securing this important and timely debate.
The April 2012 report of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on human rights and democracy reminds us of the some of the injustices suffered by Arabs living in Israel, with Israeli NGOs reporting a denial of basic hygiene, sleep deprivation and violence in interrogations; allegations of unequal treatment of Arabs by the Israeli judicial system and allegations of abuse of Arab detainees during arrest and in Israeli prisons.
It is to the credit of Israel that the country's constitution guarantees freedom of religion for Christian, Muslim and other Arab minorities and in general they are allowed to get on with their own lives-although as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminds us, generally in lesser employment. Non-Jewish citizens are exempt from compulsory service in the Israel Defence Forces, a concession that also underlines a lack of trust over possible divided loyalties. Politically, Israeli Muslims are part of the state, but loyalties are bound to be influenced by what happens to their kith and kin in Palestinian areas.
Concerns over evidence of aggressive Israeli policies in Palestinian territories affect and add to tensions and mistrust between Jews and Arabs in Israel. These include the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, with the demolition of Palestinian homes and the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank; the use of military courts to try alleged breaches of the peace by Palestinians, which contrasts with the use of civil courts to deal with the same offences by Jews; concerns that cases heard by the military courts system are frequently based on secret evidence that is not available to defendants' lawyers, on dubious confessions or on the evidence of minors who themselves face detention; and the fact that cases of wrongful killing by the Israel Defence Forces are investigated by the forces themselves rather than by independent investigators.
However, Israel is not alone in the abuse of human rights. Palestinians, too, are frequently involved in gross abuses of the rights of other faiths. These include arbitrary detention, restrictions on the freedom of non-Muslims and the use of the death penalty. Palestinian human rights NGOs point out that senior court positions in Gaza are often filled by political appointees. There are also reports of violence against detainees.
When one considers the history of the formation of Israel, with the arbitrary displacement of the Palestinian population and the subsequent history of continuing conflict, it is easy to understand allegations of divided loyalties in the Arab Israeli population, the anger and bitterness of surrounding Palestinians and the hostility of the wider Muslim world. It is also easy to understand, and have a measure of sympathy for, the siege mentality of Israeli Jews. It is only when we look to and understand the difficult environment in which they work that we begin to understand the incredible courage and commitment of both Israeli and Arab NGOs, of international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and of humanitarian organisations such as the Red Cross and the UK-funded NGO, Defence for Children International. They deserve our appreciation and support for their near-impossible work.
It is frequently said that the only way to secure peace and the respect of human rights in this troubled part of the world is a two-state solution, with a fully independent Palestine. I may be in a minority of one in preferring to see positive initiatives for closer integration between the different communities, based on mutual interest. I am not convinced by the feasibility of artificial boundaries dividing an area of land which in part is historically and culturally entwined, with a shared history and culture. Recent history reminds us that rigid partition of a country where different groups share a common heritage inevitably leads to resentment and continuing conflict. The partition of the subcontinent of India cost millions of lives, and the stand-off over Kashmir continues. We should also remember the continuing threat to peace arising from the partition of Korea, the genocide resulting from the partition of the former Yugoslavia and, nearer home, years of conflict in Northern Ireland.
I know that religion gets a bad press, but with the constant failure of political initiatives it might be worth looking at religious teachings in a search for elusive peace. At a time of similar conflict between Hindus and Muslims-and different factions of those religions-in the subcontinent of India, Guru Gobind Singh reminded warring factions that despite their different religious and cultural practices, Hindus and Muslims, and Shias and Sunnis, were all members of the same human family, with similar concerns and praying to the same God. Leviticus, chapter 20, verses 33 to 34, stresses the same sentiment:
"The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt".
In the Koran, sura 14, verse 6 says much the same thing.
A few years ago, I was invited by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, to join him on a visit to Israel to help look for ways to peace. We talked to university professors and office and manual workers in both the Jewish and Palestinian communities, and everywhere found a common desire in people to be allowed to just get on with their lives and look to their families in safety and security. They simply wished for the opportunity to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours in the ways taught by their different faiths.
In what now seems like a previous incarnation, I studied the works of Mary Parker Follett on conflict resolution in industry and used what she called "the law of the situation" with success. It is a concept that gets away from the usual two sides of a conflict or dispute and invites those involved to look at the different facets of common problems with a view to getting the best outcome for all concerned.
The signing of peace accords that ignore basic underlying concerns is like building grandiose structures on uncertain foundations, and is unlikely to lead to lasting peace. The more I look at that sad and beautiful land, sacred to the world's major faiths, the more convinced I become that the only way to true and lasting peace is for members of those different faiths to look beyond the trappings of religion to the common imperatives of respect and generosity to others contained in actual teachings. The NGOs working to highlight human rights abuses and provide humanitarian assistance are doing just this. It is important that we in the international community do all we can to support them. Addressing entrenched attitudes and prejudices is not easy and does not capture many headlines, but it is a challenge that can be met. A Christian hymn reminds us that, with faith, a weak arm,
"may turn the iron helm of fate".
My Lords, it would be very good if mutual faiths could bring us together and ensure that we have as much peace as possible between people of different religions in different parts of the world. One problem is that this does not always happen, as is the case in the Middle East. Sadly, inequality and discrimination happen throughout the world. Even sometimes here in Britain we, as citizens, have to deal with prejudice against race, gender, disability and other minority factors.
I know something of the Israeli situation. Its Bureau of Statistics shows that there are some 1.62 million Arabs in Israel, making up 20.5%, or about one-fifth, of its population. The Arab community is divided up between Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin. Of these, the Christian and Druze Arabs are the most integrated within Israel. The Arab community has always been represented in the Knesset, or Israeli Parliament, but Arab MKs are often criticised for focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict instead of domestic issues surrounding the Arab communities in Israel.
Although Israel is constantly working to try to merge the division between the Jewish and Arab communities, I am going to speak primarily about our British support to improve these issues. The United Kingdom Task Force is a wonderful organisation. It was established here in Britain to raise awareness of the issues relating to Israeli Arabs. It aims to deepen understanding of these matters among the United Kingdom Jewish community. That community is very centred on that concern. I declare my interest as one of the endorsers of this task force. The organisation does not work just with British Jewry but endeavours to teach communities worldwide, both religious and non-religious, about issues which surround Arab citizens. Even our own Government are involved, with a co-funded venture with the United Kingdom task force, through the British embassy in Israel.
Last year, in 2011, a total of some £340,000 was granted by the British Government to be used towards four specific projects that coincided with the British embassy manifesto. The United Kingdom task force press release states:
"It is to advance shared priorities in regard to the integration and empowerment of Arab communities in Israel ... These projects are to address the needs of Arab communities in the north, centre and south of Israel, thus achieving a geographic spread reflective of the diverse Arab communities in Israel".
The funding of £340,000 has been divided between four projects, each enhancing the role of Arab-Israeli citizens. The first project is with Tsofen High Technology Centre, an education centre working to integrate Arab engineering graduates into technology sectors. Israel is one of the most advanced countries for science and technology. The centre this year has welcomed even more Arab citizens to learn computer skills, and some 80% of the participants have been women, which is perhaps a rather better rate than we have here. The second project is to increase volunteering between the young-Jewish and Arab-after they have completed school. The final two projects relate to two mixed cities. These are places in Israel where Jews and Arabs live together. I have personally long worked tirelessly for co-existence in Israel and throughout the world. For me, these final projects with mixed cities are crucial to enforce understanding of one another.
I was truly privileged in October of this year when I received an honour from the state of Israel for my contribution to that country and dedication to building bridges between its Jewish and Arab communities. I have spent a lot of my working life on that issue. The State of Israel, with support from the ambassador here, Daniel Taub, for whom I have the very greatest respect, and the Israeli embassy in London, chose a kindergarten in a place called Ma'alot Tarshiha, which is a very unique town in the Galilees in the north of Israel, and named it-I cannot hide this from noble Lords-The Lord Greville Janner Education Centre, which is not what they call the House of Lords. That is a remarkable and incredibly proud privilege for me. Ma'alot Tarshiha is a truly magnificent place where mixed communities live. It is a town for Jews, Arabs, veterans and immigrants to live side by side together in peace. The Mayor of Ma'alot, said in his speech at my ceremony:
"Ma'alot Tarshiha is a town with communities living together in a real way, seeing children who are Jewish and Arab playing with each other. You cannot tell at this kindergarten, if a child is Jewish or Arab, this is what is so wonderful about our town".
That is certainly correct. For us to overcome discrimination against minorities, we must emphasise the importance of co-existence. Every citizen has rights. This kindergarten in Ma'alot Tarshiha, demonstrates that dialogue and understanding should always start when people are young. These children can clap, sing, dance, play together and become friends while they are young rather than waiting until they become old or Members of the House of Lords.
I thank the right reverend Prelate for this debate. Some Members of the House who have already spoken have identified critics of Israel, and some who are yet to speak will do so, but I want the House to acknowledge that my own experience has shown me that the Arab citizens of Israel have just as great a desire for peace and prosperity as the Jewish Israelis who live around them. The benefits of building positive relations between the two communities are immeasurable and I commend the numerous organisations that are working to deepen understanding of these issues. May they succeed in doing so.
My Lords, I have been involved in the cause of a Jewish state in the Holy Land for nearly 80 years. I was privileged to have served the first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, as adviser and head of his office and claim a continuous involvement with the theme of this debate. I am aware how, from the very outset, Israel's leaders upheld the founders' pledge to treat the Arab minority as equitably as any state in the civilised world would treat its minorities. This has been demonstrated in some eloquent contributions by the noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, and I will not repeat their argument in detail.
Yet in my 36 years in your Lordships' House, the disproportion between debates questioning, through stern criticism, Israel's attitude to its Arab citizens and those concerning the most heinous persecution of minorities in the Arab world is surely rather disquieting. I see, for instance, no debate scheduled on the gruesome persecution of Christians in Arab lands, the burning of Coptic churches, the maltreatment of members of missionary orders and the serious economic erosion of Christian communities, causing forced emigration. In contrast, I claim that the treatment of Palestinian Arabs, Muslims and Christians in Israel is not only more than correct but remarkable if you reach back into the history of the state and consider that on three occasions-1947, 1967 and 1973-Arab armies launched wars against Israel, not just for minor strategic frontier rectifications but for the wholesale destruction of the state and various forms of removal of its Jewish inhabitants.
Only a few days ago a Hamas leader pledged ever deadlier rocket attacks against Israel's most populated areas and vowed to reconquer Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa, which is a euphemism for Tel Aviv. Israel's society of course is not free from intercommunal tensions. Quite apart from the questions of Jews and Arabs, it is shaded and diverse as to culture, geographic origin and degrees of religious orthodoxy, but it is united in the defence of freedom and justice. An Arab Israeli member of the Supreme Court presided at the trial of the President of the State of Israel. The Israeli Ambassador in Norway is a Druze; his deputy is a Christian Arab. A newly arrived counsellor to the London Israeli Embassy-I think the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned him-is a Bedouin of the Islamic faith. He has spoken on campuses in this country about his very interesting and moving experiences, proving that he is a loyal citizen of Israel and that Israel treated him very well. Arabs are exempt from compulsory military service in Israel but they are allowed to volunteer.
The number of Arab outpatients at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem often exceeds the number of Jewish citizens. In Rambam Hospital in Haifa-the biggest hospital in the north of Israel-30% of the doctors and 26% of the nurses are non-Jewish, such as Israeli Christians and Muslim Arabs. This means that non-Jewish staff in the hospital represent a higher proportion than their actual representation in Israeli society. In addition, some of the most senior heads of departments are Arab doctors-for example Dr Suheir Assady is the hospital's important head of nephrology.
Collaboration between Jewish and Arab cultural groups, ranging from popular music through dance and chamber music is very impressive. The Jerusalem Foundation, founded by the late mayor, Teddy Kollek, has an ever-widening range of joint intercommunal programmes.
Having been for 11 years chairman of the board of governors of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, I have had first-hand experience of the close relationship between Arab and Israeli students and lecturers, some of them beneficiaries of state stipends. Jewish students were regularly drafted to private teaching of Arab children from poor families. My involvement in furthering educational and social contact between Jews and Arabs in Israel is a source of great pleasure and pride to me. The number of NGOs of interfaith groupings monitoring most closely movements favouring the state of ever-closer cultural and social relations with the Arab minority in Israel is very impressive. If the right reverend Prelate wishes to obtain further information, I would be delighted to provide it.
In conclusion, I agree with Dr Weizmann's strongly held views that the Jewish-Arab conflict in Palestine is not one between right and wrong, but between two rights and two wrongs. Yet he added that,
"ours is the smaller wrong".
My Lords, I express my deep gratitude also to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for his profound narrative of the reality of the Arab-Israeli experience.
When we speak of the occupation of Palestine, we tend to encompass Gaza and rarely focus our sight on, nor are we aware of, the size and significance of the Arab Palestinian population living within Israel. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of Arabs in 2010 was estimated at 1,573,000, representing 20% of the country's population. The majority of these identify themselves as Arabs or Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said. Many continue to have family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
With much of our permanent focus on events in Gaza and the West Bank, we hear little of the brutal repression and discrimination placed on them as citizens of Israel by Israelis, and it is that which I should like briefly to highlight. In September 2011, the Israeli Government approved the Prawer plan for the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab, or Negev desert. If fully implemented, this plan will result in the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the destruction of 35 "unrecognized" villages, which are regarded by Israel as illegal. Despite the Arab Bedouin community's complete rejection of the plan and some strong disapproval from the international community and human rights groups within Israel, the Prawer plan is going ahead with impunity. More than 1,000 homes were demolished in 2011 and, in August this year, a special police force was established to officially begin implementing the plan and demolishing even more homes. In September this year, dozens of structures were destroyed in a single day, in what was proudly described by the Israel Land Administration as a "rolling enforcement operation" against "invasions" of state land. Then, on October 11, the recognised village of Bir Hadaj was raided, and officials posted demolition orders on some homes, prompting protests from village residents. In return, there was a harsh and brutal response by the police.
Around half the Bedouin population in Israel live in 45 so-called "unrecognised villages". The Israeli Government intend to force them out, claiming that their "squatting" is taking over the Negev desert. The truth is that while they make up 30% of the region's population, the Bedouin actually live within less than 5% of the total area.
Although the law that will serve as the implementing arm of the Prawer plan has not yet begun its legislative process in the Knesset, events on the ground indicate that the focus on demolition and displacement is already shaping policy that is targeting the Bedouin. In other words, Prawer is happening now, and we need to do something to prevent Israel from committing further atrocities on their Arab citizens.
There are many significant strategies and devices being used to discriminate against the Arabs as well as against other ethnic minorities in Israel. I should like to draw attention to two in particular. First, there is the cruel and deliberate discrimination which takes place in respect of the prevention of marriage between residents of the Arab-Israeli sector and their natural affiliates in Gaza and the West Bank, to which the right reverend Prelate has already referred.
I, too, welcome the activism within Israel. In January this year, Israeli rights groups and MPs denounced a court ruling upholding a law that prevents Palestinians married to Arab Israelis from obtaining Israeli citizenship or residency. At present, Palestinian men over 35 and women over 25 married to Israeli citizens can obtain only short-term permits to be in Israel. They have limited permission to work; this permission is regularly and humiliatingly reviewed and such families are excluded from all social benefits and entitlement.
The brutality of this law is best understood in the context of a statement made by Justice Asher Grunis, who is expected to become the next Supreme Court President. He justified the widely recognised racist law on the grounds that:
"Human rights are not a prescription for national suicide".
While the subjugation and abuse of Palestinians living within Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are well documented, what is less well known is how ingrained racism is in Israel; this is also perpetrated against Jews who come from the ethnic minority background of Falasha, Ethiopian Jews who have been brought into Israel in several mass transfer operations, who have found themselves relegated to an underclass. They are not only racially discriminated against in housing, employment, education and the army, but they have also been unwittingly used to bolster illegal settlements. Many Ethiopians put their experiences of this brutal racism down to the fact that they are black.
To my horror, I came across one report which suggests that health officials in Israel are subjecting many female Ethiopian immigrants to a controversial long-term birth control drug in what Israeli women's groups allege is a racist policy designed to reduce the number of black babies. Figures show that 57% of those prescribed Depo-Provera in Israel are Ethiopian women, despite the fact that Falasha represents only around 2% of the entire Israeli population.
"This is about reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor", said Hedva Eyal, the author of the report by Woman to Woman, a feminist organisation based in Haifa, northern Israel. She said:
"The unspoken policy is that only children who are white and Ashkenazi are wanted in Israel".
The contraceptive's reputation has also been tarnished by its association with South Africa, where the apartheid Government had used it, often coercively, to limit the fertility of black women.
"The answers we received from officials demonstrated overt racism",
Ms Eyal added. She went on to say:
"They suggested that Ethiopian women should be treated not as individuals, but as a collective group whose reproduction needs controlling".
This is the first time I have looked into this matter. It is not only shocking in its candour but also for the fact that it is being carried out by those who, above all others, should understand and appreciate brutality at the hands of the state.
In the search for information about this issue, I came across the impressive new and very rare publication by Ben White entitled Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy. I commend it to the House for its deep insight. I also thank Carl Arrindell, as well as the House of Lords Library briefing team, for the thoroughly comprehensive information with which they were able to provide me.
While I, too, propose that we should be implementing sanctions to demand a cessation to such brutal and deliberate treatment, at the very least I ask our Government not to turn a blind eye to these clear violations of international law when they assess issues such as joint trade agreements. I also ask that they do not simply view their engagement with Israel in terms of the West Bank and Gaza but that they take account of the plight of Israel's Arab, Ethiopian and other minority citizens. Much has been said today about discrimination against minority rights in that country and elsewhere. Such discrimination is not acceptable anywhere.
Finally, Britain has a specific responsibility to clear up this mess. In the light of the available evidence presented today and elsewhere, will the Minister confirm that the UK Government will not be bound by unquestioning loyalty to the official discourse when Israel continues to flout all international laws and natural justice?
My Lords, I echo the thanks to the right reverend Prelate for introducing this debate. In the course of it, I have found myself very much on the side of my noble friend Lord Singh. I speak from only little experience, but in July 2010, with colleagues from this House, I met in northern Israel two Palestinian Members of the Knesset and others from a committee linking Palestinian mayors and MKs. They pointed out that, since 1948, much Palestinian land has been confiscated under 20 separate laws of Israel; for example, lands of Muslim waqfs and absent owners, and land taken for roads and state purposes. Zoning, they said, discriminates by not allowing land for Palestinian housing and employment. They told us that two separate school systems exist, with, in their view, insufficient teaching of Palestinian history. They could have added that spending per child is more than five times higher in the Israeli schools.
As to health, infant mortality is about twice as high for Palestinians as for Jewish Israelis. Although Palestinians pay health insurance, they receive poorer-quality services. As to poverty, 50% of Palestinians live below the poverty line, while only 20% of Palestinian women are in work. Military service, as has been mentioned, is not compulsory for Palestinian citizens, so on the whole they do not do it for fear of having to attack their own people. Unemployment is far higher among Palestinians compared with other Israelis.
In general, the feeling was that Israel sees Palestinians as temporary residents, alien and not indigenous. Palestinians sense Israeli animosity and police suspicion. There is a sense of dispossession, since Palestinians own only 3.5% of the land within the 1967 borders, although they account for slightly more than 20% of the total population.
I do not see that much has changed over the past two years. This is despite the best efforts of Palestinian mayors and MKs and the good work of NGOs such as the Mossawa Centre, Adalah, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam-a shared village with a big outreach-or indeed the New Israel Fund. Recent discussion about Israel as a specifically Jewish state has increased tensions. These are aggravated by the unrecognised status of some Palestinian and Bedouin villages.
A grand plan is being drawn up for the future of the semi-desert Negev. It is felt that the Bedouin there were not sufficiently consulted. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, has given considerable detail so I will add only that little thought seems to have been given to the wish to return to ancestral lands of the Jahaleen tribe now living east of Jerusalem.
Israel claims to be the only well established democracy in the Middle East. It deserves respect for many reasons but given its claims, it will be judged by a very high standard. This must, I suggest, include full equality and non-discrimination for all citizens. Such standards are built into the association agreement between Israel and the European Union.
I conclude by mentioning recent discussions on a possible variant of the idea of two contiguous but separate states. This would allow Israelis to remain voluntarily in the West Bank as full citizens of Palestine. In return, equality of rights would be enshrined for the Palestinian and non-Jewish citizens of Israel. I believe that this concept is worth examining. It would, of course, be difficult to implement because of separate living areas in Israel, and because separation is so embedded in law and practice. Several European states are nevertheless looking carefully at the concept. Will Her Majesty's Government examine it also, together with all other ideas that can prepare for political agreement and help eventual implementation?
My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for securing this very important debate, and for his excellent introduction.
Like others, I wanted to take part in this debate because of my personal passion and commitment to equality and the protection of human rights for all people, whatever their background, faith, race, sexuality, disability, and so on. My family were migrants to the UK; they came here in the early 1950s, before race relations legislation. Like many migrants who had arrived here over the decades, they faced open hostility and discrimination. We as a society have evolved, and have outlawed discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism, and we have developed co-existence and how to live with one another.
We support and promote the principles of equality and non-discrimination as a cornerstone of international human rights law. So when debating the continuing practices of a nation that itself was born out of European intolerance and racism in the extreme, it is hard to understand how it can be tolerated. There cannot be a Member of your Lordships' House who would support any form of discrimination. As a councillor in Hackney some 15 years ago, I worked closely with a large Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill, ensuring that they had proper access to services for their children and young people. Often they did not have equal access and felt very discriminated against. I am pleased to say that I still maintain strong links and friendships with leading figures from that very strong community.
Sadly, it remains the case that in Israel the right to equality and freedom from discrimination is not explicitly enshrined in law as a constitutional right; nor is it protected by statute, as has already been mentioned. A recent poll in Israel revealed that a majority of Israeli Jews believe that the Jewish state practises apartheid against Palestinians, with many openly supporting discriminatory policies against the country's Arab citizens. Perhaps what is so depressing is that a third of respondents believe that Israel's Arab citizens should be denied the vote, while almost half-47%-would like to see them stripped of their citizenship rights and placed under Palestinian Authority control. These views appear to echo hard-line opinions that are usually associated with Israel's ultranationalist parties and depressingly suggest that racism and discrimination is more entrenched than was generally thought. Just over 40% would like to see separate housing and classrooms for Jews and Arabs. The findings reflect the widespread notion that Israel, as a Jewish state, should be a state that favours Jews. As a leading columnist commented:
"After almost half a century of dominating another people, it's no surprise that most Israelis don't think Arabs deserve the same rights".
The definition of Israel as "the Jewish state" makes inequality a practical, political and ideological reality for Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, who are marginalised by and discriminated against by the state on the basis of their religious affiliations as non-Jews. Numerous groups of Palestinian citizens of Israel face multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their membership of one or more distinctive sub-groups. Arab women in Israel, for example, face discrimination as members of the Arab minority and as women. As has been mentioned, Arab Bedouins face an additional layer of institutional discrimination. Individuals are subjected to multiple forms of discrimination. For example, a disabled Arab Bedouin child living in an unrecognised village in the Negev-referred to by the state as an illegally constructed village-faces intolerable discrimination.
It is therefore an irony that, in regard to certain marginalised groups, Israel has some of the world's most progressive laws and policies, with strong anti-discrimination legislation and legal protections for women and disabled persons. However, these have not been extended to the Palestinian minority in Israel. As a result, these marginalised groups do not receive the full benefit of such protections. More than 30 main laws discriminate, directly or indirectly, against Palestinian citizens, and the current Israeli Government have proposed a flood of new discriminatory Bills which are at various stages in the legislative process.
Underinvestment in Arab schools in Israel sustains these gaps between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority and, as Arab children account for 25% of all children in Israel, the unequal investment in their education and development further contributes to the inequality. According to official state data, the state provides three times as much funding to Jewish students as it does to Arab pupils. My noble friend Lord Palmer, a valued colleague, cites inequalities here in the UK. Yes, he is quite right, there are inequalities among different groups here in the United Kingdom, but the difference is that the United Kingdom does not deliberately invest less in ethnic minority children than it does in the majority population.
In the field of health, the inequalities are just as stark. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to mortality rates. The infant mortality rate, for example, among Palestinian citizens is double that among Jewish citizens, and higher still among the Arab Bedouin population. As to income and poverty, Arab families are greatly overrepresented among Israel's poor, with half of Arab families in Israel classified as poor compared to an average poverty rate of one-fifth. The unrecognised Arab Bedouin villages in the Negev are the poorest communities in the state. Gaps in income and poverty rates are directly related to institutional discrimination against Arab citizens.
Unemployment rates remain significantly higher among Arab than Jewish citizens. Arab women citizens make up only 20% of the workforce, among the lowest in the world. As the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, said, the Bedouins of the Negev valley are the most disadvantaged. They are systematically excluded from Israeli society and denied the rights and standards of living enjoyed by the majority. Approximately half of them are living in what are termed as unrecognised villages. They have Israeli citizenship but those living in these villages have no address registration, which can lead to problems with accessing services. The vast majority of Arab Bedouin citizens living in Negev have been expelled from their ancestral lands, some repeatedly. With no official status, these villages are excluded from state planning and government maps, have no local councils and receive few to no basic services and facilities.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting the women from this community who established the charity Sidreh. Khadra Elsanah, who is the director of the charity, told me of the valuable work they are doing at the grass roots among Bedouin women organisations in the Negev. She referred to the way in which the Israeli Government demolish their homes. She said that they come in the morning, when the husband is away, so that only the women and the youngest children are in the house. Most of them cannot speak Hebrew, and even if they could, it would not help. She said that they demolish their homes; they leave people on the street, with no other accommodation. Then they send them the "bill" for the demolition.
I want to ask my noble friend why, as a friend of Israel, we tolerate this treatment of minorities, which we would never tolerate with our own communities. Surely tolerance and equality extended to all Israeli citizens would foster and be a step towards a climate of peace in the Middle East, something that we all want.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for tabling this debate and for his robust and excellent introduction. It is also a timely debate, because this is a critical time for the peace process. The Israeli Arabs are profoundly affected by both lack of progress and the escalation of tensions. The right reverend Prelate is quite right when he says that inequality and discrimination against Israeli Arabs is a justice issue which must be seen in the context of civil rights. After my Question on Palestine last week, I was accused by some people of being anti-Israeli. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I am not anti-Israeli: I am a friend of Palestine; I am a friend of Israel; but I am not a friend of the current Israeli Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, was right to raise wider issues about the despicable treatment of Christians and other minorities in Arab countries, and, indeed, we do debate these issues. I know that all noble Lords recognise the vulnerable situation of Israel, which in so many ways is an extraordinary country. However, as a friend of Israel it is right to be critical of Israel.
For a minority population in any country, there are issues of integration while retaining identity and culture. However, it must be extraordinarily difficult to be an Israeli Arab facing discrimination not only by the day but also, at the moment, when the Government are building settlements encroaching on areas that do not belong to them and when the Government are occupying their land.
The issue of Israeli Arabs-or perhaps, like my noble friend, I should say Israeli Palestinians-is a crucial political dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel should have the right to continue to live in their homeland without inequality and discrimination.
As an aside, while watching the BBC news last night about Syria and all the refugees, I thought it was right to remember that some of those coming out of Syria are in fact Palestinian refugees who are now twice refugees.
On the settlements, noble Lords will be aware of the anti-boycott law passed by the Knesset in 2011 that imposes sanctions on any individual or entity that calls for an economic boycott of Israeli settlements in the West Bank or of Israel itself. This is a controversial-indeed, shameful-law that offends against basic human rights. Human rights organisations have clearly stated, as is obvious, that it targets Israeli Arabs. At the time the law was passed the Knesset legal adviser warned that the legislation was "borderline illegal", but of course it went through notwithstanding. The High Court has recently asked the Government to explain within four months why the controversial law should not be cancelled. We look forward to further consideration of the case, which is of great importance to Israeli Arabs.
The declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 says that the state will,
"ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex".
Yet there are so many instances of deep discrimination, about which we have heard today. The picture is depressing from the outside, intolerable for Israeli Arabs and demeaning for the State of Israel.
For example, with regard to employment, Arab and Jewish Israeli men suffer from unemployment at similar levels. However, on average Arab men earn 30% less than Jewish Israeli men. Among those employed, as has been said, Arabs are under-represented in various sectors of the economy, including business, public administration, banking, insurance, finance and high-tech, but as a result, while Arabs constitute approximately 20% of the population, they contribute only 8% to Israel's GNP. If we look at this in an economic context, the Israelis are missing out.
The gap has grown since the 1990s when the Israeli economy began to move away from a reliance on agriculture and textiles and towards innovation and high-tech, but the state does not invest in the education and life chances of Israeli Arabs. In secondary education, a pupil in the Jewish system receives on average 2.01 teaching hours a day compared with 1.75 hours in Arab education. That is not right.
However, there are beacons of light, as has been said by my noble friend Lord Janner and others. I would draw the attention of noble Lords to Hand in Hand, an organisation with which I have had some association in the past and which I had the pleasure of visiting in Jerusalem. Hand in Hand operates a network of bilingual Hebrew-Arabic schools where Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel study together. There are five bilingual schools in Israel of which three are operated by Hand in Hand, and it will continue to build communities and open new schools to provide as many Israeli children as possible with the option of an integrated top-quality public education. However, increasing the number of bilingual schools in Israel is a challenge due to the geographical separation between most Jewish and Arab towns.
The British Council in Israel has backed several language projects, including Hand in Hand and English language communication and training for NGOs. Perhaps I may ask the Minister if there is anything else our Government can do to support these schools further. They are hugely beneficial to the students, who learn tolerance and strike up lifelong friendships, but they are also important in bringing parents together, who in turn foster understanding within their communities. I would say in passing that I am a great supporter of integrated education in Northern Ireland, and I know that Hand in Hand works together with integrated schools there. There is much that could be learnt by each of the two communities.
Many noble Lords have mentioned land distribution and planning, which is an area where Arab citizens suffer the most severe deprivation. There have been some initiatives to improve the situation, but land shortages have created the problem of illegal construction and resultant demolition orders. The frustrations caused by that must be mighty and are exacerbated by the proliferation of settlements. The Arabs see their houses being torn down, whereas the settlements are growing.
I can well understand that Arabs have served as elected representatives in the Knesset since was Israel was founded, and they also sit in Israel's powerful Supreme Court, but notwithstanding that, we must be honest about the lack of rights for Israeli Arabs and the intolerable discrimination that they suffer. The Israeli Government are taking action to combat inequalities, but not nearly enough. The commitment of the current Israeli Government to the needs of the Arab population was apparently affirmed after they were elected in 2009 with the establishment of the Authority for Economic Development of Minorities which aims to tackle socioeconomic gaps between the Arab and Jewish communities. But words are meaningless if they are not followed by action and radical changes in practice.
In March 2010, the Israeli Government launched an initiative that allocated £135 million to develop employment, provide housing solutions, improve access to transportation, empower human capital and increase personal security and safety, but again, that is not enough. These initiatives are welcome, but they do not counter the systemic inequality and discrimination that is suffered by Israeli Arabs. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what action the Government might consider they could take with our European partners, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Warner and the noble Lord, Lord Steel. We cannot just sit back and talk about discrimination, we have to take some action.
I understand that Israeli civil society is working to advance equality through, for example, the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which seeks to advance coexistence and equality between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens. It runs the Language as a Cultural Bridge Initiative in co-operation with the ministry of education. But while this is welcome, much more action must be taken. I wonder if civil society in Israel is talking to civil society in Northern Ireland because so much was done about inequality there as a consequence of action taken by civil society.
Health inequalities are unacceptable, as has been said, but I draw attention to the wonderful Hadassah hospital where Arabs and Jews are treated together by Arab and Israeli doctors and nurses, everybody working together, putting the patient first. There were some real insights recently in a magazine when some of the staff were interviewed: they said that it is a learning process for all. These people, who live totally separate lives, when they come to work start to understand the differences between their communities. A credible peace process is the best way to ensure that Israeli Arabs can continue to live in their homeland without discrimination and inequality. However, they cannot wait for a two-state solution which grows ever more distant. A peaceful Middle East needs a strong Israel living side by side with a strong Palestinian state, but Israel can be truly strong only if it is tolerant within and without and if all its citizens have equal rights in practice as well as in theory.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for securing this important debate. I welcome his personal experience and interest in the issues surrounding Israel's Arab citizens and his proposals as to how Arab citizens might enjoy more equal and active citizenship. I acknowledge the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, about language and definition of identity. He speaks with great expertise, and I hope that he will forgive me if my FCO terminology does not quite meet those standards. In recent weeks the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and I have much discussed some permutation of this debate across the Dispatch Box. She has always been serious, measured and constructive and for that, I thank her.
The promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of UK foreign policy. How a country treats its minorities is an important test of a country's democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law. This is equally true for Israel. Indeed, it will become even more important for Israel as the proportions of the Arab Israeli and ultra-orthodox communities increase over time. Israel, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has an international obligation to ensure equal social and political rights for all citizens, irrespective of religion and race. Israel's declaration of independence calls for the establishment of a Jewish state with equal social and political rights for all citizens irrespective of religion and race. However, successive Israeli Governments have acknowledged that Israel has not fully met its commitments with particular regard to the Israeli minority. The report by Justice Theodore Or in 2003 concluded that Government handling of the Arab sector had been neglectful and discriminatory and made numerous recommendations as to how this could be addressed.
As we have heard, significant concerns remain about the situation of the Arab Israeli community. It is widely acknowledged to suffer discrimination, particularly at work and in government spending on housing and education, as well as in educational attainment. For instance, despite Israel's impressive economic performance in recent years, current indicators suggest that the economic situation of Israeli Arabs is static or worsening. According to the OECD, 50% of Israeli Arabs live in poverty. The lack of town plans and planning permission for Israeli Arab towns is one of the main causes of inequality and of the failure of Israel's Arab citizens to fulfil their economic potential. In many areas with a large Israeli Arab population, town plans either do not exist, or are out of date and do not reflect population growth. In the absence of plans, new building cannot be approved, but faced with existing overcrowding and the expanding need for housing, Israeli Arab communities build without approval, which leaves them vulnerable to prosecution and demolition of the new structures. As such, no new Arab city has been built since the establishment of the State of Israel.
In the 10 years since the Or report was published there have been several positive changes, some of which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bew. For example, there has been an increase in non-Jewish police recruitment, from 0.1 percent to 8.9 percent; better police liaison with Israeli Arab municipalities and community leaders; and an end to the use of live fire as a means of crowd control. However, as the right reverend Prelate said, disappointingly few of the institutional recommendations put forward in the Or commission's report to address the socio-economic causes of Israeli Arab frustration have been adopted. We continue to urge the Israeli Government to implement the recommendations made by the commission; specifically, to address the economic disparities and unequal access to land and housing.
These are issues which matter to the United Kingdom. One of the strategic goals of the British Embassy in Tel Aviv is to help Israel become more cohesive and inclusive, in particular through ensuring the place of Arab Israelis and protecting Israeli civil society. The embassy is consistently monitoring events and reactions in the communities and attaches great importance to their concerns. Nothing should be done to prejudice Israel's non-Jewish citizens or to discriminate against people on the basis of their race or religion. We are deeply disturbed by instances of anti-Arab rhetoric or violence.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has taken important steps to support the socio-economic integration of Israel's Arab citizens. We allocated £250,000 in 2011-12 to the Arab community to support various projects that aim to redress some of the marginalisation. This year we funded Tsofen, a non-profit organisation, to strengthen the high-tech sector in Nazareth. Tsofen, founded in 2008 by Arab and Jewish high-tech and community leaders, aims to advance the economic and social equality of Arab citizens of Israel by accelerating their entry into the high-tech industry and helping Israel's high-tech industry to locate successfully in Arab towns.
We have also supported a project delivered by the Arab Center for Alternative Planning to help empower Arab municipalities to deal with the reform in planning legislation. This non-governmental organisation works towards equality and the integration of Israel's Arab citizens into public life activities, while preserving their cultural identity. The centre has now been formally recognised by Israel's Interior Minister and has the legal right to intervene in official planning procedures as an independent legal entity. The project's activities have significantly increased the knowledge and interests of engineers, planners and mayors of the Arab municipalities.
We are also extremely grateful for the supportive work of the UK Task Force on Issues Relating to Arab Citizens of Israel. As the noble Lord, Lord Janner, described, the UK task force was set up in 2009 under the joint leadership of the United Jewish Israel Appeal and the Pears Foundation with the aim of supporting an inclusive Israeli society. Its commitment to facilitating new partnerships to advance the integration and opportunities of Israel's Arab minority is entirely positive; I pay tribute to the particular role played by the noble Lord in this work. I will also take back the work that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to-specifically, by Hand in Hand-and look at whether HMG could look to take some of that forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the issue of the Bedouin minority in the Negev, one of the most discriminated groups within Israeli society. Estimated at approximately 170,000 people, the Bedouin in the Negev comprise 12% of the Arab citizens of Israel. Between 1968 and 1989, half of this population was transferred into several Israeli-built townships in the north-east of the Negev. The rest remain in unrecognised villages built spontaneously by the Bedouin, without basic services such as electricity and running water. Unable to secure planning permission for such villages, whole communities have been issued with demolition orders.
In 2007, the Israeli Government voted to create the Goldberg commission to address the Bedouin issue. In 2011, the Goldberg commission issued its report and made several key recommendations which, if implemented, could go some way to addressing the long-running land dispute between the state and the Bedouin. These included: the recognition of most of the Bedouin villages; allowing the majority of the homes to go through a legalising process; and establishing a committee to hear and settle traditional land claims. We remain concerned that those recommendations have not yet been implemented and that the situation of the unrecognised Bedouin villages and houses remains largely unchanged, with demolitions still occurring.
We note that, following the Goldberg report, the Israeli Government put forward the so-called Prawer plan, which was intended to implement those recommendations and led to significant concern and controversy-the noble Baroness referred to that. There is an ongoing consultation process between the Government and Bedouin representatives; we understand that there is still some way to go before proposals are finalised. During his visit to Israel last month, the Minister for the Middle East raised our concerns on implementing the Prawer plan for the Bedouin of the Negev, again with Benny Begin, the Minister responsible for the Bedouin community. This is an issue which Mr Burt and the British ambassador have raised on a number of occasions with the Israeli Government. We continue to encourage the Israeli Government and Bedouin communities to engage in further dialogue to find a lasting and satisfactory solution to this long-standing issue of unrecognised Bedouin villages.
These issues cannot, of course, be separated from the wider context of the Middle East peace process. The UK has long been clear that we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe Israel, living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. This should be based on 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees. That is the only way to secure a sustainable end to the conflict and it has wide support in this House and across the world. We welcome the fact that Palestine is now a non-member observer state at the United Nations, but sadly the situation on the ground remains the same. The UK will work urgently with the US and EU to call for a new initiative to restart the peace process.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, made specific calls for a move towards potential sanctions. He spoke of the potential lack of initiative on the part of the US. While I accept and understand the noble Lord's frustrations, I am sure that he will accept that it will be difficult to deliver and move forward with a two-state solution without the co-operation of the United States. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised the issue of criminal justice and detainees. The treatment of Palestinian prisoners forms part of our ongoing dialogue with Israel, including the issue of child detainees. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office funded a visit and report by a team of respected British lawyers, which included the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. We have passed the independent report to the Israeli authorities and urged them to take forward the recommendations, including an end to shackling, night-time arrest of children and introducing audio-visual recordings of interrogations. These issues were again raised by the Attorney-General during his last visit to Israel in November.
My noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood spoke passionately and with great expertise and I agree that a settlement in the Middle East is in our interest. Instability there continues to have a destabilising effect on the region and the wider world. My noble friend Lord Palmer sought to bring an alternative view to the debate. He made an important contribution and I agree when he says that inequality must be tackled wherever and whenever it occurs. That point was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld. However, I am not sure that the reference by my noble friend Lord Palmer to the reasons for underachievement in communities in the United Kingdom bears any real comparison to the reasons for lower life chances among minorities in Israel. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece outlined the equality of opportunity that she as a member of a minority was afforded by the United Kingdom. She raised the important point that inequality is not intentionally perpetuated in the United Kingdom by policy decisions. I am sure that all noble Lords will understand my discomfort with the argument that serious discrimination elsewhere should be cited as a reason for justifying discrimination anywhere. The "it's worse elsewhere" argument does not impress the Government much, because we will tackle inequality and discrimination of minorities wherever and whenever it arises.
To conclude, I thank noble Lords again for their participation in this thought-provoking debate. The situation of Israel's Arab population is an important one, for Israel and for the region, with implications for Israel's democracy and its relations with its neighbours. In line with the Government's firm commitment to human rights, we will continue to support efforts, including by the Israeli Government and civil society, to address the problems of Israel's Arab population and to build relations between the two communities.
My Lords, we have had a good debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part and to the Minister for her response. Every contribution raised a point to which I would be tempted to respond but I will resist that temptation. Just to return to the point made right at the beginning by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on the important difference between the Israeli state and the Israeli Government, I regard myself as a loyal Briton but your Lordships may have noticed that I am not always the most enthusiastic flag-waver for everything that comes from the Front Bench to my right. To those noble Lords who talked about the importance of being friends to Israel, I am often remembered of that advertisement for malt whisky: "True friends give it to you straight".
This is not just a matter of government. It is also a matter of culture-and the disturbing development of culture. We have in Israel today a vicious circle in which discrimination in law and practice leads to disengagement on the part of minorities which then leads to fears of disloyalty on the part of the majority-and so the vicious circle goes round and round. We need to reverse that and achieve a virtuous circle, which will then flow out to touch the wider region. Otherwise, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out, we will see more people on the move yet again. We are not powerless. Many noble Lords have pointed to the leverage that we have through the robust and consistent application of international law.
Again, it is not just a question of law. A number of noble Lords pointed to the importance of grace. By one of those acts of serendipity, when I was having my breakfast this morning I turned on Radio 4 and heard "Thought for the Day", given by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. It was a remarkable reflection. He talked about yesterday's results of the census and the rise in the number of those who say that they have no religion. He talked about the importance of religions facing the fact that they might be a minority. He said that was important because religion at its best speaks not out of power but out of powerlessness. Perhaps the healthiest society is one where all religions are a minority and so have to engage with one another. Those are wise words. They are a challenge to us here in the UK. They are also a challenge to Israel. I beg to move.