Israel: Palestinian Civilian Casualties - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 10 May 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 3:01, 10 May 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Israel regarding the number of deaths and injuries of Palestinian civilians caused by the Israeli military in the Israeli-occupied territories in 2023.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, all countries, including Israel, have a legitimate right to self-defence. Where there is evidence of excessive force, we advocate swift and transparent investigations. As I said recently to the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, on 21 April, the Foreign Secretary and I want to see a de-escalation and a willingness for dialogue from all sides. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I also emphasised this during our meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Cohen during his visit to London in March.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

I thank the Minister for his Answer. Can he assure me that no items covered by British arms export licences are being used in the infliction of those deaths and injuries, either by the Israeli military or Israeli civilians? I realise that this is very recent, but I draw particular attention to the early hours of 9 May, when 13 Palestinians were killed in airstrikes, including four children, four women and Dr Jamal Khaswan, a well-known dentist and chair of Al-Wafa Hospital.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I know, from being directly involved in our relations with both Israel and the Palestinians, the importance of negotiating what one hopes will be a lasting dialogue which will lead to a lasting and secure peace. Loss of any life, particularly those of children, is extremely distressing for all concerned. Irrespective of whether it is an Israeli life or a Palestinian life, it is one life too many. On the issue of arms exports, as the noble Baroness knows, the United Kingdom Government take their defence export responsibilities extremely seriously and operate some of the most robust export controls. We continue to monitor the situation between Gaza and the West Bank and Israel very closely. We are diligent and keep regular sight of all aspects of that dispute and conflict. I assure the noble Baroness of my best intent and good offices. When there is any loss of life on either side, I think I speak for all Members of your Lordships’ House in saying that we would all rather it had not happened but, equally, one hopes that it will inspire all nobly intended people to work towards a resolution of this conflict, which has gone on for far too long.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, I welcome the decision of our Foreign Secretary not to engage with Ben-Gvir, a man convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organisation—a man whom the Israeli military felt was too dangerous to draft. What confidence does my noble friend have in the protection of Palestinian lives with Ben-Gvir in charge as the Israeli Minister for National Security?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, my noble friend speaks from deep insight into the Middle East. I alluded in my Answer to our direct engagement with Foreign Minister Cohen, and let me assure her that in all our engagements we have raised directly with the Israeli authorities the security of Palestinians in the West Bank and the importance of recognising their right to access to places of worship. During the recent challenges faced by that part of the world, we were engaging quite directly. I also assure my noble friend that we will continue to raise any issues of concern to ensure that all citizens of Israel—let us not forget that there are Arab citizens of Israel, both Christian and Muslim, as well as Jewish citizens—enjoy safe and secure rights, irrespective of where they may be.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, there is loads of time. We will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer.

Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Labour

My Lords, it is worth remembering that the dreadful loss of life in the recent conflict with Gaza is due to the war between Israel and Islamic Jihad, sponsored by Iran, not between Israel and the Palestinian people. Does the Minister agree that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians goes back a long way and is due to the failure of both sides to compromise?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, first, the noble Lord speaks with great insight. I agree with him. I have been in this role for a while now; one thing I have certainly learned about what is needed in diplomacy is the importance of compromise, but also that diplomacy comes at times from listening to the situation from the other side. I am encouraged by the fact that, historically, moves forward have been made to resolve this issue. In the wider region, we have seen confidence-building measures; indeed, His Majesty’s Government are very supportive of the Abraham Accords, which have brought a greater degree of security and stability to the region. I assure the noble Lord that, through our good offices, we will continue to work with both sides to ensure that, first and foremost, peace is sustained and stabilised, and then, importantly, to ensure that negotiations can take place between both sides.

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My Lords, a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture has accused the Palestinian Authority and Hamas of torturing human rights activists, women, LGBT people, political opponents, collaborators and others. Can the Minister say what action will be taken, given our concern for the human rights of Palestinians living under the rule of Hamas and the PA, as highlighted by the recent deaths of two men in Hamas custody?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As part of my wider brief, I am the UK Minister for Human Rights. I assure the noble Lord that we do not deal directly with Hamas, but we do engage directly with the Palestinian Authority. We raise a broad range of issues. Most recently, I met Riyad al-Maliki in the margins of the Coronation; we talked about the importance of resolving the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel but, at the same time, the importance of ensuring that the rights of citizens in areas under Palestinian control are also guaranteed. Upholding human rights is a central component of any responsible Administration.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza is illegal and immoral, and that land confiscation and the demolition of homes are a direct provocation to violent protest? Should not His Majesty’s Government be far more robust in condemning Israel’s flouting of international law?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the position of His Majesty’s Government on the West Bank and the territories is clear; that is why we refer to them as the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We believe we should see progress towards the resolution of this conflict. On demolitions, the noble Lord will have seen that I recently raised directly with the Israeli authorities our concerns over the recent demolitions that have taken place, in particular the demolition of schools, and emphasised again the importance of access to education for all communities, particularly children, across that part of the world.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Devolved Issues)

My Lords, may I bring the Minister back to the UN and his role as Human Rights Minister? He will be aware that this month the UN Human Rights Council is looking at Israel’s human rights record as part of its universal periodic review. Our permanent representative at the UN, Ambassador Simon Manley, has referred to the progress made by Israel and called on it to reverse its policy of settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories. Can the Minister say a bit more about our engagement with Israel on this issue through the UN, including whether high-level discussions are taking place, with our Foreign Secretary talking to Israeli Ministers?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for raising the direct conversations that we are having with the Israeli authorities and assure her that we are doing exactly that. During Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the UK, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was able to raise directly the importance of the two-state solution and, yes, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary engages consistently and regularly, particularly with Foreign Minister Cohen, whom I engage with directly as the Minister responsible. In the context of the United Nations, we have strong working relationships as friends and partners to Israel, and that will continue; we will work constructively on this important agenda. Human rights matter to Israel. It is a democracy, and any democracy, wherever it is in the world, should also recognise its important responsibilities as a democracy.

Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, rightly referred to the assassination of three commanders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad following 100 rockets being fired towards southern Israel. One of the targets assassinated yesterday, Tarek Azaldin, had been creating a rocket-launching apparatus in Jenin and had taught a cell how to fire and build rockets. Sadly, 10 civilians did die in that attack. Despite pressure from Iran, Hamas did not get involved in that fighting or the fighting last August. Israel has reportedly sent a message via Egyptian mediators urging Hamas not to respond. Will my noble friend and His Majesty’s Government be urging Hamas, through Egypt, not to enter this conflict?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, my noble friend rightly talks about the loss of life and the missiles launched against Israel, which raise questions about the security and safety of Israeli citizens. I agree with my noble friend. We welcome that Hamas has not been involved in this current conflict; nor has it been involved in escalating it. That is a good thing. We will use our usual channels to ensure that this conflict is not escalated. We have seen escalation and the need for de-escalation being directly addressed by the Israeli authorities themselves.