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I begin by expressing my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I support wholly the noble Lord’s Motion. Indeed, his record and commitment to pursuing a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is widely respected. In fact, following the Israeli attack on Gaza last summer, the noble Lord made the much welcomed point that our Government are vulnerable to the well oiled and efficient Israeli public relations machine, saying:
“It’s a tragedy that our response to the crisis has been framed by the discourse of rocket firing from Gaza … whilst almost ignoring the cruel devastation of the constant cycle of incursions”.
There have been more than two dozen Israeli deaths over the past decade. As a mother and someone who has experienced war, I believe that any one death is tragic and causes untold sadness. Unacceptably dreadful though this figure is, it has neither moral nor political equivalence with the 1,600 civilians killed by the might of the Israeli military in Gaza last summer and the 1,400 killed in 2009. There have been three incursions in six years, killing thousands of innocent men and women and recently killing more than 500 children. They have injured 3,000, and destroyed homes, hospitals, schools, factories and utilities. Only this morning, the Telegraph noted that 370,000 children have been left shell-shocked.
It should plague the consciences of all right-thinking individuals when they acknowledge the little that has been done to prevent the almost medieval—and internationally recognised as illegal—land, sea and air blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza citizens since 2007, rendering them inmates in what our Prime Minister, David Cameron, referred to as an “open prison”.
Recently, a former senior Minister aptly suggested that we have been guilty of looking at the peace process implicitly through the wrong end of the Israeli telescope. It is shocking that we have had silence from our Government, who have been unable to condemn the barbaric, indiscriminate killings of innocent civilians. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, that our Government’s current position remains morally indefensible, against Britain’s national interest and not consistent with the rule of international law.
Many of us have spoken out in this House over the past decade on behalf of those millions dispossessed and displaced from their homes and lands, while Britain looked the other way. The ugly truth is that not just this Government but successive Governments have failed to stand with justice and have done nothing to hear the call for an arms and trade boycott of Israel. I remind the House that the former Minister for International Development, Sir Alan Duncan, uttered his rebuke to Israel last October about the building of illegal settlements, making clear that he regarded these actions as “theft”, “annexation” and, by international standards and laws, an illegal “land grab”.
These standpoints have marked a clear shift in both parliamentary and public opinion. I believe that many noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Morris, eloquently reflected this.
A growing consensus had seen the folly, as Sir Alan Duncan put it, of sticking rigidly to the “false dawn” of a process in which:
“Year after year, in cycles of hope and despair, we dwell incessantly on what we all call the Peace Process”.
This failed process has been the excuse consistently used to render the two-state solution increasingly untenable and to deny Palestinians their right to a viable independent state.
We cannot demand that communities and countries display the loyalties of one being either with us or against us in another context and profess our friendship to both the occupier and to those who are brutally oppressed and occupied. The vote taken at the end of last year in the other place on the recognition of Palestine saw an unprecedented 262-vote majority in favour. Our historic leadership in the current Israel-Palestine crisis places an obligation on us to take a lead in resisting the obvious attempts by Israel to destroy any chance of a two-state solution. While we remain stuck in the rhetoric of the so-called road map to peace, Israel continues its annexation of what has been mandated by the UN as the future lands of the sovereign state of Palestine.
“when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state … Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission”.
We must cease to give that authority and we must cease to give our permission. Let not the chronicle of history show Britain’s role in denying a whole race of people their birthright.
Let us recognise the historic initiative of the unity Government formed last summer in Palestine, which finally brought together the divided factions of Hamas and Fatah. Now is the time to take the initiative to put an end to decades of human suffering and apartheid. Let us not find that, through our inaction, we have contributed to a process of ethnic cleansing, continued deprivation and inhumanity in the Middle East. It is already an almost impossible prospect to consider the relocation of the 550,000 illegal Israeli settlers who now occupy Palestinian land. What shall we do when this number becomes 1 million? It is time for us to stop dragging our feet and to stand on the right and just side of history.