My Lords, the importance and timeliness of this debate is self-evident. The number of speakers is testament to not just the strength of feeling in your Lordships’ House but to the deep insight, wisdom and expertise. I am sure that, over the next few hours, as we listen carefully to each and every contribution, we will hear differing perspectives; we will have differing insights; at times, we will have, I am sure, a divergence of views and opinions. But what defines an effective, strong, resilient and progressive democracy is its openness, its ability to debate in a reasoned and sharing manner, respecting contrarian opinion, and then move forward in the best interests. I know for a fact that noble Lords speaking today will do so from a degree of principled passion on a particular issue. I am sure that today’s debate will also inform the Government, who are navigating this crisis which, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said, in all my time as a Minister is perhaps—no, not perhaps; it is—the most testing and challenging issue that we face. I am sure that many will reflect that sentiment in their contributions.
I take us back to
I am a Muslim by faith, as all noble Lords know, and on hearing of the death of any person, the prayer we recite is:
“Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji-un”,
simply translated as “To God we belong and to God we return”. When we see the innocent lives taken that day, we pray for those souls. I know that people of all faiths and none were shocked by the inhumanity of the brutal murder of so many innocent people in Israel. Therefore, we should, irrespective of faith, community, belief and religion, condemn unequivocally the terror attacks committed by Hamas against Israel and, indeed, many international citizens. Simply put, these attacks were driven by hatred.
We are also clear—this is important, and I hope that during today’s debate it will echo from this Chamber—that it is Hamas, the proscribed terrorist organisation, that our focus is on. It is Hamas that is responsible for that violence, not the Palestinian people or the Palestinian Authority. It is Hamas that is responsible for those abhorrent acts of terror.
The ramifications of that attack continue to unfold, sadly and tragically, as I stand before your Lordships today. When we look at the sheer scale of the human cost, it is sobering. As I look behind me to noble Lords on my own Benches, and particularly towards the Bishops’ Benches—I am delighted that we are joined by voices today who will speak from a deep insight into the issues of what many of us of Abrahamic faiths term the Holy Land, which is called that for a reason—and then I look opposite me, to my side, to my right and left, and I know that all noble Lords are very much focused on not just that tragedy but the human cost that was suffered. In Israel itself, over 1,400 people were killed. When we reflect on the history of Israel in the last 75 years, we see that this was the most lethal attack against it.
There were some who drew comparisons with the shock and horrors of the Holocaust, yet that was then and this is now, with the brutality of an appalling act of terror. We should not for a moment be distracted. Again, as I look around, I remember the tragic events of 7/7 right here in the UK, as many noble Lords do. We can never allow terror attacks to disrupt the incredible diversity and strength of our nation, which is a united United Kingdom when it comes to issues of terrorism. I pay tribute to many noble Lords across this Chamber who have not only consistently raised their voices but come together in a voice of unity against terror. I hope —indeed, I believe this will be the case—that that voice of unity will again resonate from this Chamber today.
The attacks were both indiscriminate and unconscionable. Those missing come from over 40 countries, including the United Kingdom. I had a meeting just before I came into the Chamber, along with my dear and right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly. We were with some of the relatives of those who were killed or remain missing—being held hostage in Gaza. I thank them for sharing their important stories, but the significance of their testimonies, as the information is still being shared, also reflected that the youngest person being held hostage is as young as nine months and the eldest of those who shared their testimony about the people being held—the eldest in that incredible group of people who we met—is 93. The pain and unbearable torment they are suffering will, I am sure, stay with them, but it is also, rightly, reflected in the thinking of policymakers. We stand with Israel during its time of challenge and we are working with Israel to support the families who are suffering this pain.
While the picture is extremely bleak, I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in welcoming the release of two hostages in Gaza yesterday. But, as the Prime Minister made clear in his Statement in the other place yesterday, the UK will continue to do everything in its power, working with all our partners, to free those held hostage and to bring those British nationals home. I acknowledge the strong co-operation that we are receiving from key partners, including countries such as Egypt and Qatar, which are playing important roles in this respect.
Since that terror attack, a violent and vicious sequence of events has unfolded that continues to reverberate across the region and further afield. We have seen, as the Prime Minister said only yesterday, 4,000 Palestinian deaths in Gaza, and a growing and already challenging humanitarian catastrophe. Many people, right now, are likely to still be trapped under rubble. Let me be clear—and I hope I speak for every noble Lord, irrespective of whether they are Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or of no faith—we, together, mourn the loss of every innocent life, of every faith and nationality.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear Israel’s right to defend its borders and people, and to act against terrorism. In doing so, as I am sure noble Lords recognise, both he and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary have been engaged directly with Israel, as have I, urging it to take all possible precautions to minimise harm to civilians in Gaza.
I will come to the grave humanitarian situation and the UK response shortly, but first I want to focus on the British nationals caught up in this conflict. Supporting our nationals and providing support to their grieving families is a key priority. I assure noble Lords—many have asked—that diplomatic efforts are under way to free all the hostages; I have referred to a number of cases. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has great expertise; I have seen that working in many ways across the globe over several years. On this occasion again, we will leave no stone unturned in bringing our people back safely. We have facilitated flights for those British nationals wishing to leave Israel, bringing out more than 950 people. We are working with Egypt, Israel and other international partners to ensure that British nationals can leave Gaza safely via the Rafah crossing into Egypt. I can share with noble Lords this afternoon that we have now deployed a UK Border Force team in Egypt, working with our embassy, to help citizens cross as soon as they can. The safety of British nationals will remain our utmost priority and I urge all noble Lords, when they get inquiries or people seeking information, to ask those people to look at our continuously updated travel advice.
British nationals currently in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including Gaza, should register their presence via the Foreign Office’s travel advice page. We will then be able to share important updates, including information to help them to leave the country. We will also continue to keep in close contact with British nationals in Gaza and update them on the latest status of the Rafah crossing.
Many noble Lords have said to me privately—it was noted in the repeat of the Statement by my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal yesterday—that this tragic act of terror and the continuing situation in Gaza fuel further instability and violence across the region. The outbreak of protests in several cities reflects how strongly people feel about the conflict.
Before I set out the actions the UK is taking, I make it absolutely clear that we are not only acutely aware of the contagious nature of this conflict but acting in this respect. We are aware, for example, that violence in the West Bank is rising. This year has become the bloodiest for West Bank violence since UN records began in 2005. As I said earlier, and I am sure we will hear it repeated time and again in the debate today, all loss of civilian life is tragic, but it is also avoidable.
I turn to the specific action that the United Kingdom Government are taking. While support to British nationals remains our priority, and rightly so, there are, as the Prime Minister set out, three distinct areas where the UK is helping to shape wider events.
First, we are redoubling our work with the international community to prevent escalation in the region and further threats against Israel. As the Prime Minister has said, in Israel’s fight against Hamas, we are of course with Israel. But, importantly, hope and humanity must win out against the scourge of terrorism, aggression and hate. We will work to rescue our hostages, to deter further incursions and to support Israel as it seeks to do so from Hamas, and, importantly, to strengthen security for the longer term.
I turn to some of the assets we have deployed, because it is important that we clarify that position as well. We have deployed a significant package of support to the eastern Mediterranean, including two Royal Navy ships, RAF surveillance aircraft and a company of Royal Marines. We are bolstering our forces in Cyprus and across the region. However, I make it clear to your Lordships’ House that the Royal Navy ships and personnel are not being sent there to fight. We are there to support the humanitarian response and prevent the outbreak of a regional conflict.
Intensive diplomatic engagement is also ongoing since those attacks on
Since the outbreak of the conflict, I have engaged with regional counterparts from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and the UN—all coming together to seek to prevent regional escalation, while also focused on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Last Saturday, the Foreign Secretary and I attended the Cairo peace summit, at which we reiterated the need for us all to work together to prevent instability engulfing the region and claiming yet more lives. Whatever perspective different countries brought, all were focused on the importance of peace, security and stability in the region, and a collective effort towards, ultimately, a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. Our partners in the region have welcomed our role and believe that we have a constructive and important role to play in preventing further escalation, and we will continue to do so.
We have also made it clear in these engagements that all precautions must be taken to minimise, limit and mitigate against harm to civilians in Gaza, and to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access. It is imperative that the window for relocation remains open and, if civilians are asked to relocate, they do so voluntarily and safely. Yet the challenges remain immense.
Secondly, we are providing humanitarian aid directly to the Palestinian people. The opening of the Rafah crossing this weekend to allow vital humanitarian aid into Gaza is testament to the power of diplomacy. It may seem—and it is—a small symbol, but it shows the art of the possible. The opening of the Rafah crossing was no small feat and required a diplomatic push from many countries. So far, more than 50 trucks containing aid have now crossed the border, but I would be the first to say that it is not enough. It is imperative that this continues and increases substantially if it is to have the desired impact of saving the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.
We have been clear also that Hamas is a terrorist organisation which, as we have seen, neither speaks for nor acts in the interests of the Palestinian people. It does not stand for the future that Palestinians want or desire. The conflict is exacerbating a situation that is already dire: six out of 10 Gazans were in need of humanitarian assistance before Hamas attacked Israel. But now, a greater humanitarian crisis is unfolding before us.
I know that some noble Lords may express concern, as others have in the other place, but I assure them that all UK aid undergoes rigorous oversight, and multiple safeguards are in place to prevent UK funding from going to Hamas. Any UK assistance will be channelled through trusted partners, including key UN agencies, which have been playing an important role. As I said—I underline this important point—it is because of the strength of our partnership and relationship with Israel that we can make the case to ensure that it takes every possible precaution to minimise civilian casualties. As such, we welcome the commitment of the Israeli president, President Herzog, who has vowed that Israel’s armed forces will operate in accordance with international law.
However, we cannot equate the two: through our lens in this country, Hamas is, by definition, a terrorist organisation. We must have moral clarity when we approach these issues. Yes, Israel is defending its borders and citizens, but, as a state, our role, as a friend and partner, is to work with Israel on the importance of acting within international humanitarian law and of alleviating the suffering of innocent civilians.
Thirdly, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, we are working hard to sustain the long-term prospects of peace and stability in the region. The Prime Minister has spoken to the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian president. The UK’s message has been clear: we must work together to chart a way through this particularly challenging and trying period for Israelis and Palestinians. The UK wants to see Israelis and Palestinians living safely and securely in peace. I have visited the region numerous times, and I know that many within Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories have that desire for peace and stability.
I reiterate what the Prime Minister said only yesterday: the United Kingdom and this Government remain committed to making progress towards a two-state solution, for which the need is more acute now than ever. The UK’s long-standing position has been clear: yes, we support a negotiated settlement, leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. I would go further: ultimately, as they are close neighbours, there will inevitably be an interdependency between people—that is an important vision to keep in mind. I accept that it may be difficult to look at that vision and opportunity right now, but we cannot allow terror and hate to win and to kill the prospects for this two-state solution and, importantly, for peace, security, normalisation and stability in the region.
As the Prime Minister also said yesterday, we must keep alive that vision of a better future against those who seek to destroy it. We cannot, at home or abroad, allow terrorism to divide us or to prevail—it cannot prevail.
We stand with Israel as it seeks to restore security to its borders, a country which was shocked to its core. As I said, that shock was not limited to Israel or to its people. It is a shock we all shared: the immediate shock of those innocent lives destroyed, the hostages taken, but also, as we have seen now, the terrible and continuing deeper suffering of the Palestinian people. Let us be clear, and many Israelis in Israel, that the Palestinian people are not the enemy: terrorists are, and the people who can be termed as such.
I assure noble Lords of my good offices and those of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister and indeed across government. We will continue to work tirelessly on the four strands that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has laid out. First, we are supporting British nationals and their families affected by these events, both in Israel and Gaza. Secondly, we are working to prevent escalation in the region and further threats against Israel. Thirdly, we are providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. Finally—probably one of the most challenging issues that we face—we are striving to sustain the long-term prospects of peace, stability and security in the region.
It sometimes takes a shock to focus minds. This was an attack of terror on an ally of the United Kingdom, and therefore it is right that the United Kingdom continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel at this important time in its history. However, we are at a crossroads. There is an opportunity here. As I said right at the start, I know that many noble Lords across your Lordships’ House possess incredible insight and wisdom and have experienced themselves the issues of mediation and conflict resolution. Therefore, I assure noble Lords, as I have already done with a number, that I seek their insights, not just today in your Lordships’ House but on how we can work together and focus on the equities we possess. Irrespective of whether that person is currently in Gaza, in the West Bank, or in Israel, the message that must go to them is one of hope. That hope means that hate will not prevail.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his analysis of this terrible situation we face. We are very fortunate to have him in the position he occupies in providing us with the leadership that we need.
It is hard not to be moved by the awful scenes of fleeing women and children in stricken Gaza that now seem such a daily event. However, I want to speak of something else. I fear that there is a dangerous myth that the horrendous activities of Hamas on
But Hamas is not the oppressed; it is, in fact, the oppressor of its own people. When it was formed in 1987, its founding charter was based firmly on the principle that Israel and the Jews must be destroyed and thrown out of the Middle East, from the river to the sea. In 2005, when Israel removed all its settlements with every Jew from Gaza, it did so in the belief that the huge number of greenhouses and agricultural equipment that they had left behind would allow the Palestinians to have a basis on which they could build a viable state. It even left them plans for a harbour and an airport, but Hamas immediately destroyed the vacated houses and greenhouses and began to remove the representatives of its rival faction, Fatah—some, it threw off their rooftops to make the point.
Since 2005, Hamas has engaged in a war, sending an estimated 25,000 rockets into Israel. Although Hamas is Sunni, it shares its ideology with Shia Iran. Hamas has never wavered from its position. It is why it has refused to install a water desalination plant because it would use Israeli technology and why it has bombed the electricity generator at Ashdod that provides it with electricity, so that it can show the world how terrible Israel is to it.
Hamas has shown that it has little concern for its own oppressed Palestinian people. Far from protecting them, it does not allow them to enter the security of its myriad tunnels; it has not allowed its fellow citizens access to the hoard of fuel and food it has stockpiled; and it has prevented its own hospitals receiving medical supplies it has stored away. There is evidence of all that. Hamas has done all it can to prevent Palestinians from leaving the northern parts of Gaza so that it can callously use them as human shields while some of its leaders are living it up in Beirut and Qatar.
This is not a popular uprising of an oppressed people; it is the murderous activities of a malign organisation that cares little for the suffering of its own people as it pursues its aims, and it should be called out as such. For the BBC and, I fear, the Financial Times to persist in calling it a militant organisation is shameful and dangerous, as it feeds into the growing anti-Zionism—that anti-Semitism by another name—that we begin to see on our streets. They should think carefully about how their messages are taken.
If there is any good for Israel and the Palestinians that can come out of this horror story—and we must try at least to find something good—it can come only when the capacity of Hamas to create harm is removed. We will not get rid of the Hamas ideology by military means—it will pop up somewhere else. However, if it no longer has the capacity to create havoc in Gaza and against Israel, we might have an opportunity for something better.
This comes with the potential change of leadership in both Israel and Palestine. Neither leader has been capable of making any realistic steps towards a just solution to their differences. Perhaps with new leadership on both sides, and with the rest of the world woken up to the serious dangers to world peace of a fraught Middle East, we might see more progress towards what I believe is the only solution offering any hope—a two-state solution. With increasing pressure from the United States, Europe and the UK, together with an increasingly involved set of Abraham accord countries—extending to Saudi Arabia, I hope—perhaps we could see some progress. But none of that can even begin to happen while Hamas remains in power in Gaza. For the sake of the Palestinians as well as Israel, it should be removed, and we in the West should, in our own interests, be supporting that aim.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest: I am a patron of CABU, the Council for Arab-British Understanding.
Before addressing my general remarks, I want to make two imperatives. The first is that there is no place for anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom in either private or public life, and we should call it out whenever we see instances of it. The second imperative is the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages.
I begin with a definition and, to some extent, pick up a point made a moment or two ago. Hamas is proscribed as a terror organisation, and by both its affiliation and conduct it justifies that judgment. We know that its members carried out acts of terrorism in Israel, only days ago. By its membership in the first instance and by its conduct, how else would you describe Hamas other than as terrorists? Its members are a lot more than militants, and that should be recognised universally in this country. Hamas killed at will. It took hostages who included—would you believe it?—the sick, the pregnant, children and the aged. The impact of its actions is global, because the Jewish family is not confined to Israel, as we know from the reactions from around the world.
The actions of Hamas were vicious and illegal, and Israel, by law, has the right to respond in defence of its citizens and territory. However, as was said by the Minister in his powerful opening, that response must be proportionate and openly seen to be targeting Hamas and to avoid civilians in Gaza. It is perhaps a more sensitive point, but I judge that any standing in the way of the supply of food, water and medicine when it is so obviously required would be seen as a challenge if not a breach of that proportionate principle.
It has been asked by some why Israel should be required to behave in a more restricted manner than Hamas. It is not about fairness; we gave up an eye for an eye long ago. These are the duties incumbent on democratic countries which claim—and in this case are entitled to—to honour humanitarian law.
However, civilian casualties are in their thousands on both sides—casualties which will be engraved on the history of Palestine and Israel. It need not have been this way. President Clinton brokered a deal between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Promises were made, agreements were signed and hands were shaken, but it came to nothing. Arafat resiled from the agreement and, remarkably, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a settler. The mantra that has been repeated down the ages has been that of the two-state solution. Surely neither Israel nor Palestine can ever again tolerate such bloodshed as they have tolerated in the last few weeks.
There is a crisis, but out of a crisis often comes opportunity. I am pleased to see that, right from the beginning, our Prime Minister has majored on the two-state solution. Let us be frank: to take that further there will be difficulties on both sides. For the Palestinians, there are anxieties about the illegal settlements and the status of Jerusalem. For the Israelis, there is the justified anxiety about their security and the continued challenge to it. There is no point in turning to the Balfour Declaration. It is of no use, not least because it is now interpreted by what its reader wants it to mean.
There can be answers to these apprehensions on the part of Israel and the Palestinians. For example, on the issue of security, Israel could be given security guarantees by members of the international community. For the Palestinians, there could be an end to the expansion of the settlement.
I leave your Lordships with this thought. What could be a better memorial for the children whose lives have been blighted, and in many cases lost, than an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians which brings an end to the strife which it has caused?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his eloquent and powerful opening speech. In it, he set out the complexity of the situation that is being faced. One of the great dangers of such complexity is that we seek to find simple answers and there are none.
In a recent trip—I got back on Sunday—to Jerusalem, meeting large numbers from both sides, it was perfectly obvious that there were a number of factors that we need to bear in mind. One was the raised prestige of the United Kingdom, owing to its solid support; tribute is owing to the Foreign Office, to the Foreign Secretary, to the Ministers with him, and to the Prime Minister for his determination and courage. Tribute is also owed to the leader of the Opposition, who has set such a clear example of cross-party support.
Secondly, the innumerable deaths on
From there, on Friday evening and Saturday, I saw the religious leaders—the Christian leaders of the Holy Land. Two or three things were visible. First, they literally sat shoulder to shoulder, on the day after the Al-Ahli destruction, with the extraordinary Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum—it is an Anglican hospital —and surrounded him with their support as he spoke of the need for peace and reconciliation, with the knowledge of his friends who had died. The hospital, which I visited in 2019 and opened a section of, and which has been so badly damaged—that visible sign of unity—is a second ray of light. Will the Government consider supporting that hospital in its rebuilding—financially, not just with words?
Will they also make it clear that the Christian community is essential to the Holy Land, for the other great message I got is that they believe this may be the end of their existence, after 2,000 years? They are caught between the upper and the nether millstone.
That brings us to the Palestinians in the West Bank. The Minister made absolutely clear his horror at the huge number—over 74 when I heard on Saturday from their representatives—murdered, almost entirely unarmed, almost entirely by settlers in illegal settlements in Area C. That strengthens Hamas and weakens the Palestinian Authority. Can that be in the interests of a long-term peace?
Fourthly, we turn to that question of the objectives of the war. The hopes of peace and reconciliation are set not only after a military victory but by how that victory is achieved. The more heavy the casualties, the less chance there is of renewed peace, and Gaza has gone from level to level of violence over the last 15 years. War conducted with that aim is not fair.
The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg—or it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Campbell; both spoke so eloquently—said quite rightly that this is not a question of fairness. But there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. The latter is a terrorist organisation; the former is a legitimate state whose citizens since 1945 have written many of the laws of war. They know how to do this. May they be encouraged, and continue to be encouraged, by Governments around the world, by the success of David Satterfield—President Biden’s brilliant envoy—and by pressure from our Government and others, which has opened the way for more than 50 trucks to go into Gaza. That is a huge success.
My final point, though, is about the innocent sufferers. I visited two institutions on Saturday morning. One was a hospital linked to Al-Ahli, the other the Princess Basma school, 30% of whose members are deeply disabled children. The hospital cannot get children out of Gaza for chemotherapy, let alone for treatment of the wounds they have received. It cannot get children out. Can there be a corridor of sanctuary, at least on a temporary basis, to enable them to get the treatment without which they will die very rapidly? It is difficult. The call for a formal ceasefire is probably beyond hope, but can there be that humanitarian action? Can the children with autism and other extreme disabilities be allowed to come out so that they can attend school and not be in the midst of a war? What that does to them is beyond imagination.
I am well over my time; please excuse me. I want to say that the work done by our Government has been remarkable. It continues to be, but the international community must not again act disparately, with a series of Heads of State and other politicians emerging on the scene, sometimes for their own reasons. It must be a united effort with the United Nations and the ICRC. The United Nations has lost over 50 people, killed in the last two and a half weeks in Gaza. May we pay tribute to those who are taking such risks, sacrificing their lives for the future, and continue to hope that these two rays of light, of unity and of dignity, seen on both sides, may lead to peace and reconciliation before too long.
My Lords, I listened with deep appreciation and gratitude to the most reverend Primate speaking out of his immediate experience in the area.
When I first heard about the horrific massacre on
“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not”.
Now, with perhaps 5,000 killed in Gaza, many of them women and children, there are more who are weeping, who will not be comforted, because they are not.
As someone who is conscious of the horrific history of Christian anti-Judaism, which morphed into anti-Semitism in the 19th century, I believe that the Christian churches have a special responsibility to care about the safety of |Israel, where the Jewish people, after centuries of persecution might at last be safe. Their safety should be our concern. It was good to hear from His Majesty’s Government and all the speakers on the importance of the safety and security of Israel at this time.
At the same time, we feel close to our Christian sisters and brothers in Gaza and the West Bank, where in this year in the West Bank so far 200 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed. The prayer of an Arab Christian resonates with many of us:
“Pray not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli, but pray rather for ourselves, that we might not divide them in our prayers but keep them both together in our hearts”.
In 1962, I had the privilege of spending a term studying in Jerusalem. 1962 was the time of the Cold War, which I could not see ending in my lifetime, but in 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. It was the time of apartheid, which I did not see ending without massive bloodshed, but in 1994 Nelson Mandela was peacefully elected President. However, in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza things are much worse now than they were in 1962. Where has the will for peace gone? Since 2014, people have talked so often of a two-state solution being dead, but what is the alternative? It was good to hear from the Minister, once again, a vision of that two-state solution.
One group of people in whom the will to peace strongly resides are members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, who I am sure the most reverend Primate will have met. This is made up of family members of those killed in recent conflicts: mothers of Israeli soldiers and mothers of Palestinians teenagers. Created in 1995, it now has more than 600 bereaved members joined together in their shared grief and shared commitment to reconciliation. When will their will for peace be translated into political terms?
Our hope must be not only that the present conflict can be contained and stopped but that a new stronger will for peace will emerge in the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. In the civil war in this country in the 17th century, Sir Robert Shirley erected a church at Staunton Harold. A monument to him on that church reads:
“whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in ye worst times and hoped them in the most callamitous”.
In these worst and most calamitous times, the best thing we can hope for and work for is the recovery of a serious will for peace in the leadership on all sides, with pressure from the international community to bring it about. I very much hope that even now, as Hamas —rightly labelled a terrorist organisation—is rendered incapable of carrying out further attacks, His Majesty’s Government are giving thought to what lies beyond—the endgame not only about the governance of Gaza after Hamas has been rendered incapable of carrying out further attacks. It was good to hear that there is still a vision there, but are we going to get new leadership among the Palestinians and in Israel, and pressure from the international community to bring it about?
My Lords, it is a privilege, albeit a rather chastening privilege, to follow the noble and right reverend Lord and all who have spoken so eloquently in this debate. I echo what has been said about the terrible events of
I also express my real sympathy with the families of the civilian population of Gaza who have lost their lives, for all human life is precious. But the two situations are not equivalent. There is no equivalence between the deliberate murder, beheading and kidnapping that took place on
The outcome of the present hostilities is, to put it mildly, uncertain. It is impossible to know what the Middle East will look like when the fighting dies down, as one day it must. But even in the midst of the most terrible darkness, it is human instinct to look for hope. Like those who have spoken before me, I will spend a minute or two talking about what might come later—what really must come if we are to have any chance of a lasting peace in part of the world that gave birth to some of the most noble aspirations and ideals in human history. I speak with humility; it is easy to pontificate when you are thousands of miles away, safe in the relative security of the environment which we are privileged to enjoy.
I am a patron of an organisation called the Abraham Initiatives, which is not to be confused with the Abraham accords, which I also welcome and support. The Abraham Initiatives exists to promote trust and good relations between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel—the only place where Jews and Arabs live together, often side by side. It is carrying out important work at the moment in these very fraught circumstances to calm tensions between the two communities. If trust can be fostered between them, it could have positive repercussions elsewhere—in the West Bank and even perhaps one day in Gaza.
While I am on the topic, may I digress for a moment to nail the myth—the trope—that Israel is, in some undefined way, an apartheid state? A Muslim Arab judge sits on Israel’s Supreme Court. I have an Arab friend who was Deputy Speaker in the last Knesset. Half the Israeli football team are Arabs. These are not the hallmarks of an apartheid state.
It is not enough. If a lasting peace is to be secured, as our Prime Minister and my noble friend have said, there has to be a two-state solution. Of course, it cannot happen now. It was not going to happen before
There will be many who dismiss this as fantasy. It may be, but we must dare to hope. As we contemplate the bleak darkness of the current conflict, let us pray that one day we will see what so many crave—a lasting peace in the Holy Land.
My Lords, I should like to make a few cardinal points emerging from what has been and continues to be a period of such horror and emotion.
Unfortunately, I have to start with the BBC. I have been a lifelong supporter and admirer of the BBC around the world, and when I have been abroad I have always been vociferous about it. In the last couple of weeks, I have been both ashamed of it and angry at it. Saying that Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation was a weasel-worded way of getting out of the fact that they were not going to call it terrorist at all. This was shameful.
The BBC has behaved very badly, as opposed to our British politicians. I know the Leader of the Opposition better than some of the others. He has dealt with the situation absolutely correctly, as have His Majesty’s Government, without exception, including the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. We should be grateful for that. I know that the people of Israel appreciate it, and I hope the Palestinians do too. The British Government have acted as I expected them to behave.
I have also been struck by the great rewriting of history in a lot of the comment coming across in the media. It is not a question of opinion, but of historical accuracy. I keep hearing mentioned that 1948 was an example of how Palestinian Arabs were lured away from their homes with promises that they could return, but they were never allowed back. The history books tell us what happened in 1948. Before 1948, when Britain did not want to continue its mandate for Palestine and returned it, the UN set up a commission that came back with a resolution for two states—something we would all like to see now. Neither the Jewish Agency nor the Arab League liked the division into the two states, but the Jewish Agency accepted it and the Arab League did not. It is beyond historical doubt that the members of the Arab League, the big powers of the time that included Syria, Egypt, Transjordan and Lebanon, rejected it. Incidentally, I have never seen any evidence that the Palestinians were ever asked about it.
Anyway, the Arab League said no, and the powers said to the Palestinians, “Don’t worry, because our armies will go in. If there is any Jewish state, that will disappear, and you can have the lot”. Of course, we now know that that is not what happened. History is important as long as it is accurate. That particular story is being used a lot now and it ought to be contradicted.
Another rewriting of history is what happened in 1967. The first time I set foot in Gaza was in August 1967 and it was a hellhole; it was absolutely awful. I had never been in a place like that before. Israel had only been there for a couple of weeks. Egypt kept the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza in those conditions from 1948 to 1967 as a political ploy, a political point, to use against Israel.
The other thing I have been hit with is the way in which anti-Zionism has become a way of being anti-Semitic without appearing to be anti-Semitic. There is no doubt in my mind that anti-Semitic is what it is. Not all Jews are Zionists; we know that. Not all Zionists are Jewish, as a very nice little museum in Jerusalem shows. It shows people who have been part of the Zionist movement who are not Jewish. It is important to stop these misshapen views of history, which only feed prejudice.
A former Chief Rabbi said about anti-Semitism that, in the Middle Ages, Jews were attacked because of religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Jews were attacked because of race. Now, he said, they are being attacked because of their state. I think people need to take a cool look at what is being said, how it is being said and who is saying it.
Finally, I ask the Minister: why, oh why, when the fingerprints of Iran are all over the horrible event on
It may be said many times this evening, but it needs to be said again: that, on October 7, evil men crossed the border between Gaza and Israel and murdered young partygoers at a peace concert in the desert. They murdered whole families—men, women children and babies—at an Israeli kibbutz. About 1,400 Jews were slaughtered or taken as hostages. As the Minister said, 7,600 rockets were falling on Israel from Gaza. But, in the last two hours, there has been a big increase in the number of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.
The fear and devastation from this firepower fails to be mentioned. This was evil in capital letters. I am reminded of the saying that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that the good do nothing. Israel has responded with the aim of eradicating Hamas, as containment did not and will not work. I have previously reminded this House of my conversation with a member of Fatah. When I asked what Israel could offer Hamas, his reply was that they only want two things: the complete eradication of Israel and the removal of all Jews. How can anyone deal with an organisation with those evil aims?
The complication is that these evil men use the people of Gaza as human shields, hiding their command and rocket launchers among the civilian population. Observers fail to recognise that the real enemy of the people of Gaza is Hamas, which kills or maims everything in its path. What outsiders fail to recognise is that these evil men are also liars. A hospital was bombed, as has been mentioned. Immediately, Hamas blamed Israel. The media repeated these lies only for the damage to be found to have been caused by a failed rocket launched by Islamic Jihad. By that time, the lie had been gleefully accepted by a public only too willing to believe the perfidy of Israel. Meanwhile, the actions of these evil men are celebrated and applauded at marches and meetings in the UK. These are not marches for peace but marches applauding death squads. Shame on all those who took part.
Between 7 and
Meanwhile, because of the actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, there is a humanitarian crisis for the people of Gaza, who are between a rock and a hard place. There needs to be a temporary cessation of hostilities to enable food, water and fuel to get through. The challenge is how to supply without the supplies being taken for Hamas’s own use or sold at a profit by it; that is what it does. All relief must get to the people and not to the instigators of the tragedy. I need to ask the Minister: what is the plan? Supplies can and will come through the border with Egypt, and they have started to dribble through. No one seems to mention this: could it be possible also to supply from the sea—Gaza does have a seaboard—with safeguards as to what is supplied and to whom it goes?
Finally, thought must be given as to how Gaza will be managed and controlled after Hamas has—we hope—been routed. Neither Egypt nor Israel wants to occupy Gaza. Both have tried it and they do not want to repeat an occupation. Is the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, able to take control of Gaza? Well, not on past performance, so great minds must devise a management that allows the people of Gaza to thrive and prosper. It is in Israel’s and Palestine’s interests to foster an economically vibrant neighbour, so that they can live in peace and prosperity. More efforts must be made to get a two-state solution.
Could the Minister confirm that we will continue as a nation to press Qatar? It is the only influence that we seem to have on Hamas to be more reasonable, to release the hostages, and to provide a viable security for Israel and the region.
My Lords, I thank those in this House who have extended support, sympathy and understanding during these past two terrible weeks. I particularly appreciate the mention by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury of my young relative Yosef Guedalia, whose relatives he met in Israel last week and whose great-grandparents suffered in the Holocaust.
My theme today is that the root of the problem is education. The creation of Israel and the displacement of population is and was nothing out of the ordinary in the 20th century. There was the partition of India and Pakistan because Muslims and Hindus could not co-exist, which created at least 14 million displaced persons and 1 million deaths. A million Irish entered the UK; hundreds of thousands of Poles had to settle elsewhere; 40% of Greek Cypriots were displaced by the Turkish invasion; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said, hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from most countries in the Middle East, leaving no one of the Jewish faith in the countries from which they were expelled, even though 2 million Arabs are living in Israel. All the many displacements and refugees that I have referred to were settled, with one exception. It is not because a state of Palestine has been denied—that has been offered and rejected four times—but because the Islamists cannot accept having any Jews living in the Middle East at all.
The cure for these problems lies in the Middle East. Will the Minister ask Qatar to continue its benevolent intervention? Will he encourage the countries of the Middle East to continue, not abandon, the Abraham accords? Will he ask the many countries in the Middle East where Palestinian refugees are living in dire conditions —most notably Lebanon, Syria and Egypt—to settle them? Why should there be refugee camps 50 years after they arrived there? They should be given citizenship and allowed to work and have an education, as they are not in Lebanon. That would not rule out their return to a state of Palestine one day, but they should not be kept in a state of dejection as human pawns.
I come to a further aspect of education. The Minister said of the Holocaust, “That was then and this is now”, but that is not the case. There is a straight line from one to the other. Holocaust education and memorialising has almost wholly missed the mark. It is fruitless to cast the Holocaust as a self-contained episode in the past. The learning centre—such a misnomer—planned for Westminster would have visitors believe that it was all the Nazis, it was all in the past, it was just a question of not hating and not being a bystander, and that here in the UK it is clear that democracy protects against genocide. That is simply not true. The erection of barriers around the Berlin memorial is a portent of things to come. The hatred and anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust are bubbling under again today, and once again there is too much apathy and failure to recognise the old hatred. As David Baddiel said, “Jews don’t count” when it comes to stamping out today’s hatred and racism.
I am sorry to say that some of the worst is in our universities. I hear all the time of sad episodes: in Portsmouth an academic is excusing Hamas; a recent NUS report on anti-Semitism in universities is all too sadly being borne out today; there are rampages around universities; there is a motion at the University and College Union calling for “intifada until victory”; and Cambridge and UCL are calling for a mass uprising against Israel. These young people had Holocaust education. I call on the Government to start an overhaul of that education. It should be Jewish history education, setting the Holocaust in context, as the late lamented Lord Sacks called for. Young people should be taught what happened before the Holocaust, of the Jewish contribution to civilisation and what happened afterwards, culminating in the establishment of Israel. We have a Black History Month; why can we not have a Jewish history month, or at least a curriculum?
Finally, as others have said, Iran is behind all of this. It has created its axis of resistance. The Government should stop appeasing Iran, and make sure that it gets no closer to its nuclear ambitions and that sanctions are applied. They should call on the rest of the countries in the Middle East to follow that lead—to be humanitarian towards Gaza and to work for peace and the end of this conflict. It lies in the countries of the Middle East.
My Lords, I thank my noble and very good friend the Minister for his powerful opening speech. I also thank my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their extraordinarily hard work these past few days. The Prime Minister referred in his Statement yesterday to the
“quiet and dogged diplomacy that recognises the hard realities on the ground and delivers help now”. [
It is a privilege to speak in this debate and to follow such exceptional speeches.
The world was rightly horrified by the barbarity—the killings, injuries and kidnapping—which Israel suffered at the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad on
I declare my interests as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Jordan, Kuwait and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, president of the Palestine British Business Council and president of Medical Aid for Palestinians. MAP is one of the last international agencies still operating in Gaza. When this all began, over 18 days ago, we literally opened our cupboards and emptied our bank accounts to provide essential medical supplies and much-needed drugs to treat the injured and the dying. In terrifying circumstances, our colleagues on the ground are working until they are exhausted, including some who have carried on in the full knowledge that their homes have been bombed and their loved ones are dead. They are heroes, and I pay tribute to them all and to all who put their lives in danger for others.
I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to increase aid and the first trucks to enter Gaza with crucial supplies. But as the Prime Minister said yesterday and my noble friend the Minister said today, it is not enough. I hope that the promises made by the United States and Israel of a continued flow of aid into Gaza will be of the quantity needed to sustain and support life. And Gaza needs fuel, not least to keep the hospitals going. As we speak, there are 130 babies in incubators whose lives are in imminent danger if fuel does not reach the hospitals soon. As of this morning, there is only around 48 hours of fuel left. Too many babies and children on both sides have already died.
As aid enters Gaza, it is imperative that the hostages are released. I had tears in my eyes this morning witnessing the amazing spirit of Yocheved Lifschitz, shaking the hand of her captor as she was released. I pray for the safe return of all those still held captive. I also pray for the safe passage of British citizens trapped in Gaza. My son’s friend from childhood is one of them, and I was delighted to hear the encouraging news on this from my noble friend the Minister.
While all eyes have been on Gaza, there has been a significant clampdown on the movement of people and goods in the West Bank. Normal life—I use that term advisedly—is on hold. The West Bank is not operating properly; there are challenges of movement for fast-moving consumer goods, often with settler violence along the way. Towns are locked down and it is almost impossible to get medical supplies to where they are urgently needed.
To compound this, the date harvest is in full swing and the olive harvest is imminent. Both are vital for the Palestinian economy, yet farmers cannot get to the towns and cities, and shipments of Palestinian goods out of the country are on complete hold. Soon, producers are going to be unable to fulfil their orders to the UK and worldwide. I ask my noble friend the Minister what steps we and the international community are taking to ensure the sustainability of the Palestinian economy, which is such a vital component of peace.
Last week, in his important and valued visit to the Middle East, the Prime Minister visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—the birthplace of the 2002 Arab peace initiative, a visionary plan of the late King, His Majesty King Abdullah, which offered Israel peace with the whole Arab world but also offered hope for the Palestinian people. Since then, 21 difficult years have passed, and I recognise that other avenues to peace have been explored. Yesterday, the Prime Minister acknowledged the work of the Abraham accords and normalisation, and how they can bolster wider efforts. We should all applaud genuine steps to a more peaceful, prosperous world, but the sad truth is that you cannot normalise an abnormal situation and any lasting path to peace must give the Palestinians a stake in their future.
That is why the Prime Minister was absolutely right when he spoke of the need to invest more deeply in regional stability and in the two-state solution. The two go hand in hand. Peace will never come to the region while Palestinians live under occupation, unable to control their own lives, to trade or travel easily, and to live with dignity; neither will Israelis be able to live safely and without fear.
I had always hoped that the path to peace would come through the Arab peace initiative—that one day it might have been picked up, dusted down and given new purpose. Perhaps it still can be, or something similar. But whatever the vehicle, I make a plea to the Government and to the wider international community to rededicate their efforts to working with our Arab and Israeli friends to bring an end to this horror. I ask them not to stop until a just and enduring settlement is reached, which sees the two states that we all long for living side by side in peace, prosperity and friendship. Let that be the legacy of this unspeakable tragedy.
My Lords, in the midst of the awful complexity of this war, we should constantly remind ourselves and others that it is not a war between Jew and Muslim. It is not even a war between Israeli and Palestinian. It is a war between the State of Israel and a terrorist group called Hamas, the former fighting for its very existence and the latter fighting to completely eradicate the former. That is the real dividing line between those sides. Whatever our misgivings about the political track record of recent Israeli Governments—and I have many—none of them excuses the terrible activities of Hamas, which have been commented on by everyone. I will not elaborate upon them but, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, the slaughter of the innocents sums it up.
It has been called evil beyond imagination but it is not unimaginable; in fact, we have all seen it before. It fits the established pattern set by al-Qaeda, Islamic State, al-Shabaab and others. It arises primarily from Islamist ideology and practice, a toxic mix of perverted Islam, fascism and cruelty. That is why Arab leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas or Saudi’s Prince Turki condemn Hamas’s terrorism, stressing that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people; it represents that Islamist ideology. Against this evil, Israel has the right to defend itself. That is not the question; the question is how it does that.
All of us, including the Israeli Government, should ponder deeply on this, because while I completely understand the anger, grief and frustration felt by the Israelis, I also know that anger and frustration are rarely drivers of good strategy. When we ponder what might happen, we should brace ourselves, because there is more awful, horrific death to come. Even without a ground war, there will be more innocent civilian casualties. I have some familiarity with what is called targeted precision bombing—let me tell your Lordships that in the fog, friction and pace of war, targeted precision bombing will not be precise. There will be perhaps thousands more civilians killed in Gaza: collateral damage, in the euphemism. Hamas, for its part, will not care about that —indiscriminate bombing is its trademark, and as far as the people of Gaza are concerned that is not a platform for Hamas but a shield behind which it can hide.
If there is a ground war, there will be still more civilian deaths. Gaza is already a humanitarian emergency, without the medicines and food it needs; just imagine if there is a simultaneous ground war with that emergency going on. Inevitably, there will be more Israeli military deaths. The IDF is brave, skilled, well equipped and technically proficient, but in the congested, rubble-strewn debris of Gaza, a ground war is not likely to lend itself to heavy armour or technical superiority. It will be infantry-led: boots on the ground. Never forget that in the last month of World War II, in the debris of Berlin the Red Army lost 80,000 men and suffered 300,000 casualties. I do not say this in order to sit with the ease that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, mentioned, all those miles away, because I do not understand or know the tactics and operations the Israelis might decide upon, but I alert your Lordships to the awful possibilities that arise.
There are also grave questions—what follows invasion? What constitutes success? What is the exit plan? We have found that, compared with getting out, getting in is very easy indeed. Getting out is the difficult part. Finally, after the final victory what is the political alternative on offer? In the absence of that political alternative—and I, like the Minister, believe that it is a two-state solution—violence will surely return. It may not be tomorrow or next year, but it will come back. If, as is said, nature abhors a vacuum, terrorism and violence do not: they love a vacuum. These are the crucial questions that have to be addressed, even in the midst of the awful situation we find ourselves in at present. None of them reduces Israel’s right to self-defence or justice; it deserves both of those. None of them will diminish Israel’s determination, I am sure, but they all suggest that that determination should be tempered, above all, by wisdom.
My Lords, I draw to the House’s attention that I am the honorary president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine. I feel it is relevant to say that I was brought up as a Muslim, with a section of my family originating from the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus and north Africa. I have Jewish cousins. So I have a strong connection to the region that I am about to talk about. I feel privileged to be able to take part in this very important debate. I thank the Minister for his very powerful introduction, and I agree with every word he said.
The events of
Israel and Palestine is a land of two people locked in a 75-year conflict, not one that began on
Also deeply worrying are some of the statements and rhetoric that have come out of the Netanyahu Government. He said:
“We are going to change the Middle East”.
We do not know what that means. We know that for 16 years Israel has placed 2.1 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip under an illegal sea, land and air blockade, restricting residents’ movements and limiting their access to electricity and clean water. Now these very civilians, who cannot escape, are facing a humanitarian catastrophe, as others have pointed out.
The Israeli Defence Minister called on
“There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed … We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly”.
This is a dehumanising and unfortunate statement. It was interpreted as inflicting collective punishment on innocent civilians who bear no responsibility for Hamas’s atrocities. Yet an Israeli spokesperson said that Israel had no responsibility to the people of Gaza. Well, yes, it does. The UN is clear: the Gaza Strip continues to be occupied by Israel, and under international law the occupying power has responsibility for looking after the civilian population under its occupation. So when food, water and medical supplies are cut off, it has a responsibility to restore them. I ask the Minister: what efforts are the Government making to ensure that these essential supplies are restored? Children are dying of dehydration and lack of medical supplies. Malnutrition is now becoming obvious among babies and children. Palestinian civilians have been paying a very heavy price for the actions of Hamas. They are not the enemy.
Innocent Palestinians in Gaza have been relentlessly bombed and killed. Nothing, it seems, has been off limits: entire residential areas; hospitals—22 medical facilities so far; schools; mosques; churches, including a 12th century church, killing Palestinian Christians and Muslims who had taken refuge there. It is inconceivable that Hamas was hiding in that church.
With almost 5,000 Palestinians reported killed in 15 days of indiscriminate attacks and relentless bombardment of the besieged people there, thousands have been injured and 1 million people have been left homeless. This is so distressing: 100 children a day are dying. In two weeks, Israel has killed with its bombardment three times as many children as Russia did in Ukraine in two years.
This is not inevitable. We should be making every effort to secure a ceasefire before the death toll increases. What is considered an unacceptable death toll before our Government and the American Government call for a ceasefire? Is it 10,000? Is it 20,000? We cannot stand by, losing our humanity and decency. We cannot reply with the barbarity of Hamas and we cannot do nothing. Millions of people around the world are watching in horror and growing outrage, and protests are ensuing.
I watched numerous family members of those Israelis whose loved ones were killed or taken hostage by Hamas. Despite unimaginable grief, they have been calling for an end to the bloodshed of civilians. These brave and courageous voices are calling on their Government to do everything possible to free their families. There are reports that Mr Netanyahu has not even met the families —I do not know whether that is true, but it must be painful for them to be ignored.
Multiple Israeli commentators are saying that the Israeli demand is to transfer Gaza’s population into the Sinai desert. It is inconceivable that this would ever be accepted by neighbouring Arab nations, and it has been called an attempt to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip. I hope that does not happen.
We have heard that a lot of Britain’s policy since 1980 has been to support a two-state solution, which I support, as do most of us, I am sure. But massive settlement building and confiscation of Palestinian land on the West Bank and elsewhere have been designed to undermine that solution. Can there really be a two-state solution in the face of this? So will the Government now join humanitarian agencies and the growing number of countries to call for a ceasefire to allow urgent humanitarian aid to get through, alongside working to release the hostages held in Gaza?
This war and conflict will do nothing to bring security or peace to the people of Israel or to Palestinians, and it is now threatening to destabilise the whole region. What is the objective and endgame of this campaign? We do not know, as we heard. I never thought I would say this, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that we need a Palestinian Nelson Mandela, but we also need an Israeli FW de Klerk, who had the courage to be a partner in peace.
My Lords, unlike the last speaker, I do not accept that the Israeli response to date has been disproportionate, nor do I find it inconceivable that Hamas would conceal themselves in churches or mosques or schools, because there is years of evidence showing that that is precisely what they do.
Those of us at Sunday’s Trafalgar Square vigil heard raw and direct from the families of the hostages and the relatives of the dead. The tragedy they recounted was scarcely believable but all too true. All suffering and every innocent death count, but there can be no equivocation or false equivalence about what has just happened, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, so powerfully reminded us.
Like most of us, I suspect, I support Palestinian as well as Israeli self-determination and nationhood, but all decent people can readily discern the difference between innocent murdered Israelis and murderous Hamas terrorists—all decent people can but not, it turns out, everyone. The past fortnight has exposed some uglier, darker and older reflexes. What were some of the responses by Islamist extremists parading on our streets on Saturday? They demanded the total eradication of Israel “from the river to the sea”. Let us not be coy about what that actually means. For the past 75 years, being an anti-Zionist has, in practical terms, meant being an advocate for the annihilation of the world’s only majority-Jewish nation, an actually existing UN member state and the Middle East’s only liberal democracy.
As if to prove the point, what was the response here from some of the far-left organisations, such as the Socialist Workers Party, to people shot in the head at a bus stop, murdered at a music festival and decapitated in front of their parents—British citizens among them? The SWP said, “Rejoice”—that headline is still on its website as I speak. At times like this, the mask slips and we see the ugly face of anti-Jewish racism.
Criticising particular actions of particular Israeli Governments is not anti-Semitic, but categorising everything Israel does as inherently illegitimate most certainly is. When dead Israeli babies and grandmothers are said somehow to bear responsibility for their own murders, when Israel is blamed because Hamas conceals bombs and rockets in schools and mosques and when jihadists blow up a Gaza hospital, and yet Israel is instantly condemned, then a centuries-old virus is present in our midst.
At times like this, we need what Bernard-Henri Lévy calls The Will To See: to see that when the Iranian theocracy hangs its own citizens from cranes, denies the Holocaust and demands Israel be wiped from the face of the earth, they mean it. Therefore, we need the clear-sightedness to see that, all the while Hamas and other Iranian terrorist proxies control Gaza and deploy from Lebanon, they will continue to murder and oppress and destroy, including, as our own security services have confirmed, here on the streets of Britain. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, has so powerfully explained, while they remain free to do so, there will be no two-state solution, or any other version of a just peace. They must be stopped, which means standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel and our allies, just as we do with Ukraine.
In doing so, many earlier contributions this afternoon have addressed vital immediate questions: how to get the hostages back, how to protect civilians, how to sustain recently improving relations between Arab states and Israel, which Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed the latest atrocities were specifically designed to destroy. However, we must also confront the full implications of
Secondly, the Prime Minister yesterday rightly announced more humanitarian aid for Gaza, and it is obvious that much more will be required. However, in response to the question about the concern for the state of the Palestinian economy, it is not illegitimate to ask why, when over the past decade over $6 billion of international funding has flowed into Hamas-controlled Gaza, the people of Gaza have been confronted with the situation that they have. What guarantees do we have that none of the future humanitarian aid and assistance will cross-subsidise jihadist tunnels, rockets and death?
Thirdly and finally, can the Minister update us on progress on disrupting Iranian weapons flowing to Hamas and Hezbollah, and to Russia for use against Ukraine? As we all know, the Iranian regime is also brazenly developing its capabilities for nuclear weapons of mass destruction, yet just this past week UN sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 have expired. Can the Minister tell us what alternative action is being taken with our allies to guarantee that Tehran can never threaten nuclear terror? As the Minister so rightly said, sometimes it takes a shock such as this to focus our minds. The
My Lords, I start by paying tribute to my noble friend the Minister. I think that all, across this House, would agree that his diplomacy, compassion and hard work have been essential at this time of high emotions, and for that I thank him.
Six minutes is not long enough to fully acknowledge the grief of those who have lost loved ones in this recent outbreak of violence, the pain of the families who so brutally witnessed the killing and abduction of their loved ones on
Six minutes is not long enough to acknowledge the pain and suffering of nearly 70 years of living under occupation, the forced displacement from ancestral home and lands and the generations that have lost lives, livelihoods and now, tragically, hope. But often in the midst of the darkest of periods, we see beacons of light: the peacemakers.
Today as I call for an immediate ceasefire and halt to the violence, I want to speak of some of these peacemakers who call for the same: British Jews who stand outside the Israeli embassy protesting for peace; rabbis and other British Israelis who attend marches for Palestinian rights; British Jewish lawyers who call for restraint and adherence to international law; British Jewish and Israeli organisations, including ex-IDF soldiers calling for an immediate ceasefire; and the 30 Israeli human rights organisations which came together calling for an end to the bombardment.
I speak of the powerful voices of Yonatan Ziegen, whose mother Vivian, a peace activist, is still missing and who said his mother would be “mortified” by the bombardment in Gaza and that vengeance is not a strategy for peace; and of Noi Katzman, brother of Chaim Katzman, killed by Hamas, who has urged Israel not to use his brother’s death as justification for killing innocent people.
I speak of Maoz Inon, a peace activist, who lost both his parents in the attack and said he was seeking not revenge but peace and equality, and that
“war is not the answer”.
I speak of Neta Heiman, whose 84 year-old mother, Ditza, was taken hostage by Hamas. Neta expressed her anger at the Israeli Government:
“I call out to the government … Do not destroy the Gaza Strip; that won’t help anyone and will … bring .. even more …violence”.
She urged us all to:
“bring about an agreement between the two sides—not an ‘arrangement’, but a true peace agreement”.
I speak of David Zonsheine, whose uncle was killed and cousin taken hostage by Hamas, who said:
“Revenge is not a vision. Killing civilians is not a plan”.
I speak of Yaakov Argamani, the father of Noa Argamani who was abducted from the music festival by Hamas fighters, who urged for his daughter to be returned by peaceful measures. I quote his powerful words:
“Let us make peace with our neighbors, in any way possible. I want there to be peace; I want my daughter to come back. Enough with the wars. They too have casualties, they too have captives, and they have mothers who weep. We are two peoples to one Father. Let’s make real peace”.
I speak of Elana Kaminka, who—movingly, as the mother of an Israeli soldier killed on
“this was a horrible attack on innocent civilians. You can’t fix that. The idea of more lives lost just tears me apart, because I know what it means to lose your child”.
Can any one of us profess to care more, be impacted more, to understand more than these Israelis? They are families at the heart of this tragedy who call for peace, ask for their grief not be weaponised, reject revenge, seek co-existence, and acknowledge the humanity of all, including the Palestinian people. Blessed are the peacemakers.
I ask us to follow the lead of these peacemakers. I urge noble Lords to choose peace over revenge and join me in asking His Majesty’s Government to call for an immediate ceasefire. I ask noble Lords not to follow the lead of an Israeli Prime Minister who is mired in allegations of corruption, in bed with far-right extremists, forming a Government on the basis of a coalition agreement that denies the very existence of a Palestinian state from the river to the sea, and who in 2019 said this about Hamas:
“Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas … This is part of our strategy—to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank”.
For over a decade, in this House and wider, I and others have been pleading with our Government to turn their attention to the ongoing suffering of occupation, alongside Israelis who have taken to the streets of Israel and around the world in their thousands in recent years to warn of the rise of far-right extremism in Israeli politics and the egregious breaches of human rights. For too long we have failed Palestinians and we have failed Israelis. We now see the consequences of that failure. Let us turn this moment of tragedy into hope and a genuine path to a two-state solution, and that starts with calling for an immediate ceasefire.
Finally, as a mother, I end with a clear call at this moment on behalf of innocent women and children, hostages and others caught up in this war. To Hamas I say, “Stop this violence and let them go”. To the Israeli Government I say, “End the occupation and let them live”.
The horrific events of recent weeks have shocked the world and I join others in condemning the violent attack on Israeli citizens and the taking of hostages. It is a savage violation of the right to protection of innocent civilians. I send my heartfelt sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones and to those who wait in an agony of anxiety, fearing for the fate of family and friends who are still hostages. I welcome today’s release of the two hostages and call for the immediate release of the remaining ones—and, as others have said, for an immediate ceasefire.
Israel of course deserves support and sympathy across the world in seeking to obtain the release of the hostages, but it must be asked how likely this is to be achieved by the bombardments and siege of Gaza. Is the killing of more than 5,000 Palestinians, and 15,000 casualties, likely to achieve this and the declared objective of destroying Hamas? The noble Lord, Lord Reid, was very graphic in his description of the potential consequences of escalation of this conflict. We need to bear those in mind.
The scenes of carnage as Israeli troops continue the deadly war in Gaza and drive its people from their homes—people who have no other refuge or escape—risk causing public sympathy to ebb away. The refusal of the British Government to condemn the killings of innocent civilians in Gaza and their reluctance to join in action with the humanitarian agencies in stopping this devastation are other decisions that will have widespread consequences in the region and worldwide.
How, we must ask, will mass retribution and collective punishment of civilians in Gaza provide any resolution to the issue of Israeli security? The five preceding bombardments since 2005 have manifestly failed to achieve this. Indeed, violence and oppression add fuel to the flames of conflict and bolster the positions of extremists on both sides. The present 2.3 million people who live in Gaza are civilians. Half of them are children. They have had no part in the fighting and are powerless to affect it, yet they have no way of escaping the bombardments. Deprived of food, shelter and water, families are gathering “to die together” and children are writing their names on their note pads “so that when they are killed, people will know who they are”—this is a result of the endless unidentified victims of the fighting. The threat of disease continues to grow through the withholding of clean water and resultant poor sanitation as bodies pile up in the streets and hospitals become morgues through the withholding of electricity. One child is dying in Gaza every 15 minutes.
Long before the events of
Sixteen years of forced containment of the citizens of Palestine under occupation have not achieved security for Israel. As many noble Lords today have said, justice is needed in place of oppression, and certainly the citizens of Gaza and the Occupied Territories must be part of any resolution plan. The forced evacuation of Gaza, the violent driving of people from their villages and the demolition of their homes and facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by settlers with the support of the Government are not the way to peace. The circumstances are increasingly toxic and international leadership is needed to find a way forward as well as, as others have said, leadership from Palestinians and Israelis. It is heart-breaking to see the suffering and how little progress has been made in this deadly conflict over so many years. It is easy to see how many believe that the West has turned its back on the Palestinian people. I very much support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on the future needs to resolve this conflict.
I hope that our message today will be one, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said, to restore the will for peace and to call for a cease to the mass killings, bombardment and siege in Gaza, for the safe release of the hostages and for renewed leadership on all sides to restart the dialogue towards long-term justice, peace and security in the region.
My Lords, I stand in solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian civilians. I condemn the horrific terror attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians, with more than 1,000 people killed and more than 200 held hostage. They have justifiably evoked anxiety, fear, trauma and anger, particularly among Jewish communities in Israel, the United Kingdom and worldwide. However, the Israeli Government should not use the recent tragic events as justification for the collective punishment of innocent Palestinian civilians. They are not the enemy.
We must urgently demand an immediate ceasefire—with all sides complying with international laws. This includes Hamas releasing all hostages and Palestinian civilians having unrestricted and full access to food, fuel, medicines, water and health supplies—particularly for the 50,000 pregnant Palestinian women, 5,000 of whom will be giving birth in the next few weeks. Where are they supposed to give birth? If the UK Government are a true friend to Israel, then they must give the best advice, which is to show restraint and to respond proportionately and within international law. I know that the horrific hostage ordeal requires urgent actions, but such urgency did not have to involve cutting off water and electricity, bombing civilians and destroying infrastructure. A justification that has been used is that Hamas is using Palestinian civilians as shields. Does that mean that innocent Palestinian civilians have to be killed?
According to the United Nations, more than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians and mostly women and children, with more than 1.4 million people displaced. Children are having their names written on their arms so that they can be identified if they are killed. Parents are collecting body parts of their children in plastic carrier bags. Bodies are decaying in the rubble. Gaza is turning into a massive graveyard. I commend the courage of the health workers who have stayed to look after the wounded and dying. They are heroes. Civilian casualties should never be accepted as inevitable consequences of war. I therefore disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who said that they are an inevitable consequence. I understand that Israel has a right to defend itself and to protect its citizens but how is starving, withholding full access to aid for and killing innocent men, women, the elderly, the pregnant, the disabled, children and babies helping to defend Israel?
It has been suggested that there are no plausible alternatives. I wonder whether the Israeli leadership and its allies have tried hard enough to find those solutions. I find it perplexing that with the formidable military capabilities and state-of-the-art technology that the Israeli Government have and their exceptionally powerful and affluent allies—including the United Kingdom—this has not yielded viable alternatives that would safeguard innocent lives on all sides and bring an end to the cycles of death in the region. Perhaps it indicates a lack of political will, including by the Arab leadership in the region. However, now is a pivotal moment in history. We must finally make the two-state solution a reality, but it must also include the voices of Israeli and Palestinian women in peacebuilding efforts.
Because the conflict is a deeply sensitive and complex issue, it evokes strong emotions and passionate responses. We have therefore seen a surge in hateful rhetoric, stereotypes and discrimination towards Jewish and Muslim communities in Britain. I am outraged by the actions of a small minority attempting to hijack the protests in support of Hamas or even to celebrate the attacks. Such behaviour is utterly reprehensible and should be dealt with by the full force of the law.
However, it is crucial to emphasise that these individuals do not represent the majority, who are united in their support for Palestinian human rights. Palestinian human rights do not equate to antisemitism or endorsing Hamas. I am deeply concerned that misinformation is being used to supress legitimate expressions of solidarity and advocacy. This suppression may also include Muslims in particular being reported to the police and Prevent programmes. The right to express one’s concerns and opinions on matters of global importance is a fundamental pillar of democratic societies. We must be able to stand up for human rights and peace for all without fear or favour.
My Lords, the massacre of Israeli civilians and the taking of more than 2,000 hostages ranging from babies to a Holocaust survivor on
This conflict is distinctive, because it began with a deliberate massacre of civilians and is the result of a general strategy that, as plans found on the bodies of dead Hamas combatants reveal, involves the deliberate targeting of civilians. Thus, the civilians affected are not victims of so-called collateral damage, where they are killed or injured accidentally, but the result of their being the express and deliberate target. Of course, that makes sense, because according to Hamas, Israel has no right to exist; and if it has no right to exist, plainly no one in Israel, be they combatants or non-combatants, has a right to exist.
Israel’s reaction, by contrast, has been quite different. It has a massive challenge, because the only way in which it can stop Hamas is by counterattacking Gazan territory to remove Hamas—a territory that, as in any war, has a far larger civilian than combatant population. Rather than asking its troops to target Gazan civilians, the Israeli army is doing the opposite. It is urging its troops to avoid civilians. It is sending warnings about the areas that it intends to target and is encouraging civilians to move. Some people might respond by saying, “Well, why should they move? It is wrong to ask them to do so.” However, if we are to adopt that position, we are effectively saying one of two things: either we are saying that they should stay put and Israel has no right to defend its population and should not seek to take out Hamas and should just let the rocket and other attacks continue; or we are saying that Israel should attack to take out Hamas, and if civilians are killed because they remained in target areas, then so be it. Neither approach is credible. The only credible approach is what Israel is actually doing.
I am troubled that some spokespeople in surrounding countries that were combatants against Israel 50 years ago are failing to make these critical distinctions and concerned about the potential for things to escalate. This is no doubt what Hamas had in mind in its decision to choose the 50th anniversary of the nearest Sabbath to the Yom Kippur war, a conflict that engulfed much of the Middle East. In this context, we all have a responsibility to be clear about the distinctions between Israel’s non-combatant civilian policy and the policy of Hamas.
I am the same age as the State of Israel, and I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have been invaded in 1948—less than four years after the end of the Holocaust—and again in 1967, 1973, 1982, and so on, and now this. I am very pleased to stand today with the people of Israel. I think it is my duty and responsibility.
I am also very mindful of the innocent Gazan population into which Hamas embeds itself. There is plainly a desperate need for humanitarian relief that gets to where it is needed and not into the hands of Hamas. We are all indebted to those brave people working night and day to secure safe passage of the aid to the civilian population. They have, I am sure, the support of everyone in this House.
My Lords, there is a prayer said in my synagogue and others at least once in every service by the whole community, and particularly by those in mourning:
“May He who makes Peace in His high places, may He make Peace for us, for all Israel and all mankind”.
It is pretty much the last prayer of the service, when we do not pray for a better quality of life, for happiness or for material success: we pray for peace, which is the ultimate gift God can give. I suspect there is a similar thread in other religions, not least the Muslim religion, as my noble friend Lord Ahmad said in his opening speech.
Before discussing Israel, I do, of course, refer to the register of interests, which discloses my close connections with Israel and, in particular, Jerusalem.
It must be clear to all right-minded people that Israel has the right and duty to ensure peace for all its citizens. It is now clear that the only way to achieve that, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, is the termination of the power of Hamas. Every other route has failed. Israel withdrew all its settlements in Gaza, left the opportunity to continue a successful agricultural industry, left the foundations of an airport and a sea port, and provided free electricity, but Hamas killed its opponents and then would not let its people benefit from anything it regarded as tainted by Israel.
To understand Hamas, you have to listen to Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of the founder of Hamas. He spent years in an Israeli prison, and now explains to the world that Hamas has only one objective, which is to enrich and empower itself, even at the risk of its own people. One has to ask how human beings can physically commit the atrocities that Hamas perpetrated a couple of weeks ago. Munira Mirza, writing in the New Statesman, explains it in part as the export of radical Islamism from Iran, which has a dogma to dehumanise non and ex-Muslims, treating women as lesser beings, and encouraging violent hatred of Jews. As she says, most Muslims do, of course, see through this, but a very small number have allowed themselves to be indoctrinated and brainwashed by fanatics.
There must be consequences of this evil perpetrated by Hamas on innocent Jews and innocent Muslims, so what do we need to do? First, we now need to proscribe the IRGC. I voted against the Government earlier this year for only the third time in 10 years. I did that with a heavy heart. It was during a debate on the security Bill, when there were efforts to enable legislation to be passed for the proscription. At the time, the Home Office was, I believe, in favour, but the Foreign Office claimed that the US Government did not want us to do this, as we would lose our embassy in Tehran. The position has now changed. I urge the Minister not to make me vote against my Government again. Will he please explain to us why our security services and the BBC took so long to confirm that the missile that landed near the al-Ahli hospital was not Israeli? Have we learned the lesson not to trust briefing from Gaza, but to know that the Israelis have a track record of telling the truth and undertaking proper investigation?
Secondly, we need to properly police the demos in the UK, which are clearly inciting violence. Further, I have seen the manual from Palestinian Action Underground with instructions on how to commit offences on British businesses supplying Israel. It even has its own website up and running. This needs to be closed.
Thirdly, we need to press Qatar to do more to secure the release of the hostages and reduce the violence. Lastly, we need to support Israel when it eventually enters Gaza to find these evil people, who will otherwise seek to kill again and are still sending rockets to Israel, even today into Tel Aviv.
As the international lawyer Natasha Hausdorff has explained, we need to be clear that it is entirely within international law for Israel to do what it is doing now, and what it needs to do: to enter Gaza, not supply electricity—which it had been giving freely to Gaza—and not allow in any fuel, which would only be used to make rockets. Of course, the leaders of Hamas have plenty of fuel and power; they have stolen it from the UNRWA enclaves. That fuel should instead be used for humanitarian purposes in hospitals.
The IDF has been rated by British servicemen as the most ethical military in the world. It is full of conscripts who are themselves regular citizens and quite rightly at pains to minimise any further suffering to civilians. Any breaches of international code by them, and indeed by settlers—as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has just said—deserve punishment and will receive it. However, we have to stand up, take the difficult decision and say, “We will back Israel to take these actions that it believes are necessary, as we believe this is the only route to peace”.
We know and mourn that there will be innocent tragedies—innocent fatalities. There always are in war. It is the price that Hamas has forced us to pay, but we still pray:
“May He who makes peace in His high places, may He make peace for us, for all Israel and all mankind. Amen”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for so eloquently setting out the Government’s position. A group of eminent Jewish lawyers wrote a letter over a week ago to the Financial Times condemning the appalling atrocities committed by Hamas as a crime against humanity. I strongly agree. They also state that, under international law, Israel has a right to respond in self-defence and to seek justice for the awful crimes that have been committed on its soil. I agree. They continue by saying that international law and, more specifically, the rules of war should be complied with in any response, however great the crimes against them. The lawyers then list their concerns about Israel’s response, arguing, first, that it is a grave violation of international law to hold a civilian population under siege and, secondly, that international law requires ensuring minimum destruction of civilian life and infrastructure. It is essential that we live by these laws, they say, and I agree with them.
Since the publication of this letter, 2.2 million people in Gaza have been besieged without supplies of food, water, fuel and medicines, with the maximum destruction of infrastructure destroying any semblance of normality in civilian life. Israeli bombs have razed residential areas and hit schools, medical facilities, plants providing electricity and water, mosques and churches. Nearly 6,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than a third of them children, and more are unaccounted for, buried under rubble. Hospitals are struggling to cope with thousands more who have been injured, including many children.
The terrible suffering of the people of Gaza should touch us all. What has been inflicted on them is another crime against humanity. Does the Minister agree, and will the Government condemn it? The Israeli Government have also told 1.1 million Palestinian civilians to leave their homes in north Gaza and go to the south. Hundreds of thousands have left and are now homeless in the south. This amounts to mass forcible transfer, which, under the Rome statute, is a crime against humanity. Still the killing goes on, as air strikes continue across central and southern Gaza to where these civilians have been told to flee.
The Government are focused on calling for more humanitarian aid to be provided. Would it not be better to ask for a ceasefire and a lifting of the siege so that the cause of the need for ever increasing amounts of humanitarian aid might be addressed? I welcome the Government’s announcement yesterday of funding for aid on top of the £10 million already announced, but can the Minister tell the House whether, and how, the first tranche is being spent? Does he agree that the tiny number of trucks allowed through the Rafah crossing cannot meet the huge needs—and that fuel must be included too, so that hospitals do not run out of power and water pumps can work? Without that, deaths will rise.
Time is running out for the people of Gaza, nearly half of whom have been displaced from their homes with nowhere to go; many are traumatised, fearing they will never be able to return to them. It is good news that two more Israeli hostages have been released; but they must all be released and, with the help of Qatar, priority must surely be given to negotiating this with Hamas. Many Israeli citizens are calling for this to happen.
An invasion of Gaza is a terrifying prospect for the families of hostages. It also threatens a widening conflict across the Middle East, with horrific consequences, including a war between Hezbollah and Israel and the destabilising of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. What is the UK Government’s position on this planned invasion, which will lead to more death and destruction, including the deaths of many Israeli soldiers, and a prolonged and probably wider war?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister—and today, the Minister—rightly referred to the need for a two-state solution, but what have the Government done in recent years to help bring this about? Too little, I fear. The West Bank has been occupied for 56 years, breaking the rules of war, and 250 illegal settlements have been built there, making the two-state solution far more difficult. Unless the international community brokers longer-term solutions that address the underlying problems, there is a danger that this horrible cycle of death and destruction will continue.
In the short term, Hamas must release all the hostages and stop firing rockets into Israel, and Israel must cease its bombardment of Gaza. Will the Government do what, according to a recent YouGov poll, 75% of British citizens want—as do the many Jewish organisations listed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi—and commit to a ceasefire so that, out of this awful crisis, opportunities for peace and reconciliation, and for an agreement between Palestine and Israel, can be pursued?
Salaam alaikum. My Lords, I was in my early teens in a classroom when I learned of the horrors that Jewish people had suffered during the Second World War. I remember the moment well. What made a deep impression was the realisation that it was not ancient history; that it had happened only a few short years before, and that there were people alive who had endured the Holocaust, and people alive who had perpetrated it: 6 million innocent people murdered because they were born Jewish. I abhor cruelty and injustice, and my heart bled for the Jewish people.
Today, I condemn unreservedly Hamas’s vicious attack on unarmed civilians on
Martin Griffiths, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, has stated:
“The parties’ actions and rhetoric over the past few days are extremely alarming and unacceptable. Even wars have rules, and these rules must be upheld, at all times, and by all sides”.
According to the Rome statute, the forcible transfer of Palestinians from northern Gaza in readiness for an Israeli ground invasion is a crime against humanity. Palestinians are suffering the bombing of civilian targets such as schools, water installations and hospitals.
The British Government expressed their support for the complete siege of Gaza: no electricity, no food, no water and no fuel, as announced by the Israeli Defense Minister. I think that was an aberration. I hope so. I hope that our Government will support instead the call from the 12 major aid agencies for an end to the total siege and allow unfettered humanitarian access. The 50 trucks currently allowed in amount to no more than a drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of trucks a day needed.
The Israeli Defense Minister, in announcing the siege, spoke of
“fighting human animals and we act accordingly”.
Those words sent a chill through my veins. Can the Minister say whether our Government are making it plain that there will be a distinction between Hamas militants—terrorists—and civilians, and that it is not acceptable to use language that dehumanises Palestinians?
There is a real risk that the war in Gaza will spread. Israeli settlers in the West Bank are being given additional weapons and are using them to murder unarmed Palestinians. I ask the Minister what efforts the UK Government are making to avoid an escalation of this war in the West Bank, as well as further in the region. We know from history that other intractable problems, such as those in Northern Ireland and apartheid in South Africa, were ultimately solved only by sworn enemies taking a seat at the negotiating table. Does the Minister agree that the starting point must be a full independent international inquiry, followed by a process of accountability for all parties, with full access to the Gaza strip and Israel, so that those responsible for crimes can be held accountable?
I draw attention to a widely respected movement called Women Wage Peace, a coalition of Jewish and Arab women working towards the peaceful and secure co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians. I should like to read from their position paper released on
“This war proves, more than ever, that the concept of ‘managing the conflict’ failed … We must turn every stone in order to reach a political solution … The Palestinian people will not disappear, nor will we … All conflicts in the world have been resolved by peace agreements … Hamas has already managed to destroy the negotiations with Saudi Arabia. Hamas must not be allowed to win! We know these words sound imaginary, naive and unrealistic, but this is the truth, and we must recognize it. Every mother, Jewish and Arab, gives birth to her children to see them grow and flourish and not to bury them”.
I finish with the word of the released hostage Yocheved Lifschitz to her masked Hamas captor: shalom.
My Lords, I was privileged to be a member of the delegation to Israel organised by ELNET and led by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg. We spent a day at the Gaza border at the crossing at Kerem Shalom, with 500 trucks coming in and out of Gaza every day. We looked out on Gaza, next to Sderot, and saw an Iron Dome battery, and 1,000 rockets had been fired in the four weeks before our visit. We interacted with the Israeli Parliament and Ministers, and with Fatah, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. We visited the Yad Vashem, remembering and commemorating the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Yet we came away from that visit dejected by the political situation in Israel at the time. How lucky we are to have the House of Lords. Israel does not have a senate or checks and balances. Fatah and Hamas do not talk to each other. There has been no democracy in the West Bank or in Gaza.
Not once did we feel unsafe. In fact, we were impressed by Israel being on top of its security situation, including with regard to Gaza. Who would have predicted what happened a few months later on
However, in doing so the loss of life in Gaza is tragic, with the destruction taking place as a result of the airstrikes and shelling—and this is before a possible ground assault. The Palestinians in Gaza have been asked to move to the south, and yet bombing by Israel in the south continues because Hamas continues to operate from the south. It is firing rockets every day, from north and south, and Israel has to be able to attack the terrorists. But, as many noble Lords have said, Israel must always operate within international law. We must allow aid to get into Gaza for the 2.2 million innocent residents there.
The hostages must be released now, and not two by two, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said.
What is tragic about this war is that it seems to have given rise to huge anti-Semitism. It is not a war between Islam and Judaism or between Muslims and Jews. This is a battle of humanity against Hamas; a battle of humanity against terrorism of the most horrific and worst kind. This is a battle against sheer evil. The UK, United States and NATO must do everything they can to stop the war escalating. We are staring into the abyss. We are staring into the possibility of World War III and it cannot be allowed to happen. The 9/11 attacks led to NATO implementing Article 5 for the first and only time in its history. It led to the invasion of Afghanistan, where we were for 20 years. The Iraq war in 2003 had no plan for after victory, which led to Syria and to ISIS. The Afghanistan withdrawal gave Putin the confidence to go into Ukraine, and Afghanistan is now back in the hands of the Taliban. When are we going to learn?
A few weeks ago, I spoke in the debate on the first anniversary of the Abraham accords: Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco establishing relations, tourism, business, trade and friendship. In the debate, we spoke about the possibility of Saudi Arabia normalising relations with Israel. How ironic that these developments of progress and peace have led to Hamas doing what it has done now. Peace and friendship are not in Hamas’s vocabulary. Creating havoc and murdering is the objective of these cowardly terrorists, who use human beings and children as shields. The vast—I repeat vast—majority of Muslims and Jews do not want conflict or war; they want peace.
As she was released as a hostage, Yocheved Lifschitz turned around and gripped the hand of one of the masked Hamas terrorists who had kept her captive and said, “shalom”. What amazing dignity. Shalom means peace, harmony and tranquillity, and that is exactly what we need throughout the Middle East and the world today: peace.
My Lords, this is a difficult speech for me to make, because we have heard so many wonderful speeches today. I particularly mention the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who spoke before me; having tears in one’s eyes is not really a good way to start a speech in the House of Lords.
I will talk about two aspects of Gaza from my experiences and make some comments as a British Jewish person. I have nothing from my register of interests to declare but, for noble Lords who do not know me, I should say that I was chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel for the best part of a decade. I have made many visits to Israel to family and friends. I went to Gaza several times, in better times, and I saw people who were very like the Israeli population: there were a lot of small businesses, people working in workshops and people who we would call middle class with professions and occupations.
Most of those people are dead today, not at the hands of Israelis but at the hands of Hamas. This is not a war between Israel and Palestine or between Jew and Muslim. It is a war against Hamas, which represents terrorism and evil. This is good against evil. It is a proxy war for that between western democracies and Iran, which is the enemy of everything that we all stand for. Its tyrannical dictators have captured the population of Gaza, most of whom, from my personal experiences, as I have said, are perfectly normal people who felt pretty bad about the original refugee situation and had come to terms with a fairly miserable life under the Egyptians—but there was hope, and it has gone.
We have to accept that, before what happened on
Noble Lords may be interested in one of the few things that has not been mentioned today: 50% of the population of Gaza are 18 or under. These people were not even alive when Gaza came under the control of Hamas. It is all they have known. They are sent to summer schools; in fact, some United Nations summer schools try to compete to teach people to be moderate and other things. But Hamas controls these indoctrinated people.
Is there a future? There is no question but that, in the short term, Israel has to destroy Hamas and release the hostages, whatever it takes. That has to be done. After that, the experience of ISIS, which basically is Hamas, is that when invasions have taken place in Iraq and elsewhere, most just disappear into the general population. The Israelis have an extremely difficult task.
If one good thing comes from this terrible mess, it is that it will put paid to the false belief in Israeli society that security alone is enough for the Israeli people’s future and will provide a way of life that means they can live for ever in the type of freedom and prosperity they want. A solution somehow has to be found in their relations with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. I believe that the Israeli public will realise that. In the end, it could be a political realignment. Somehow the Israelis have to find the partners that they do not have at the moment. I am afraid that the Palestinian Authority is a bunch of corrupt old men, and in Gaza there is Hamas. If something is to come out of this, it must be moderate partners that can provide peace in future.
In my remaining time, I will make a brief point as a British Jew. Some things do not change. In 1940 my father was conscripted into the British Army and was hospitalised by his fellow troops, who were Mosleyite fascists, for being Jewish. While they were kicking him, they told him to get back to Palestine. That was quite interesting, since his family had been here since 1680, but that is a small problem.
What has changed? In the rally of 100,000 people supposedly for Palestine, the same kind of anti-Semitic comments were heard. They were not anti-Israeli comments; they were anti-Semitic. I am a British Jew. Despite having family and friends in Israel, this is 100% my country. It has been the country of my ancestors for hundreds of years. The Israel cause and the Israel-Palestine thing are now being fully exploited by extremists preaching anti-Semitism—and I never thought I would say that. I am the last person to talk about anti-Semitism all the time.
But there is hope. There has to be hope. Peace with Egypt came out of the Yom Kippur War. It will take a lot for Israel to do what it needs to do but, in the end, there is hope that it leads to peace and prosperity for all people who live in the Middle East.
My Lords, I speak while this tragic situation is happening in Gaza. I have learned a lot from the speakers before me and their huge amount of knowledge and experience. I have nothing to declare, because I have never been to the region or visited Israel or Palestine, and neither do I have any family connections. All I have done is to read about it and learn from the media. Whatever I say is based on that information.
In response to the Hamas attacks, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign against the besieged enclave, razing neighbourhood after neighbourhood. This continues as we speak. The latest media reports by the Gaza Ministry of Health indicate that the number of people killed in Gaza since
As a result of the Israeli bombardment, thousands of buildings are reported to have been destroyed, including residential blocks, hospitals, mosques and churches. More than 1 million people have been displaced in the territory, which has been under siege and largely deprived of water, food and other basic supplies. This collective punishment is against international law and could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Israel has reportedly amassed a force of 360,000 IDF troops to launch a ground assault on Gaza and has called on the residents of Gaza City to evacuate ahead of reported plans for a ground invasion by IDF forces. However, there have been reports of further air strikes on evacuees, killing a large number of mainly women and children, with questions raised about how feasible any evacuation of such a large-population area is.
Since the initial Hamas attacks, rising tensions in the West Bank have led to deadly clashes between Israeli security forces and the settlers and Palestinians. The UN reports that 79 Palestinians, including 20 children, and one Israeli soldier have been killed.
Let us remind ourselves that this conflict did not start on
In its 2022 report, the independent organisation Amnesty International said:
“Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights. We found … Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control”.
We need to back a ceasefire and use our influence to get the Israeli Government to allow humanitarian aid, water, food and fuel supplies to the northern areas, as well as to the south of the Gaza Strip, and to lift the siege of the Gaza Strip completely. The conflict cannot go around in circles for another 70 years. We need to do everything to help to resolve it. The world cannot fail another generation of Palestinians.
What happens in the Middle East and other parts of the world often raises concerns in many communities in this country. The United Kingdom is proud of our diversity, where people from all faiths, colours and cultures work and enjoy themselves together. I am sure that this House will stand united to make sure that events in other parts of the world do not give rise to any form of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or racism in our country.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, the Government, the Labour Front Bench, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and so many noble Lords for the sympathy and support shown to Israel during the very difficult times of the past two and a half weeks, and for the condemnation expressed for the growing anti-Semitism in this country. It is a great comfort and reassurance to the Jewish community, and very much appreciated.
I declare my interests. My wife is Israeli. We have a home in Israel; the Minister has been our guest. We know families who have been bereaved by the terrible actions of
The first is obvious, but it needs to be said. Hamas seeks the destruction of the State of Israel and all Jews living there; its charter proclaims these goals. The shocking events of
The second basic truth follows from the first. Because Hamas and its supporters seek the destruction of Israel and the murder of all Jews who stand in the way, Hamas has no interest in a political settlement. It has no wish to negotiate a two-state solution. The only solution in which Hamas is interested is what the Nazis called a final solution. It is naive in the extreme to think that it would make the slightest difference to the conduct of Hamas if only the Israeli Government were to alter their policies. I oppose many of these, as, more significantly, does a large proportion of the Israeli population. Earlier this week, President Herzog of Israel, a very wise man, said that you cannot make peace with a neighbour who wants to chop off your children’s heads.
The third basic fact is that a state that faces such threats to its existence is entitled to defend itself. No other state in the world would tolerate or be expected to tolerate such a threat at its border. International law clearly permits Israel to remove the ability of Hamas to fire missiles at its population and the threat of further incursions to torture, kill and abduct people.
The fourth basic truth is that Israel faces profound strategic as well as moral dilemmas. There are no easy answers when Hamas is embedded in a civilian population, has a network of tunnels and is holding more than 200 hostages. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred to a letter in the Financial Times last week from some lawyers. In a letter in the Times last Friday, I said with my noble friend Lord Macdonald of River Glaven that it is very easy for those lawyers to pronounce on international law from the safety of their chambers in the Temple without regard to the threat that Israel faces and the problems in removing it.
A fifth and final basic truth is that Israelis know and deeply regret that the civilian population of Gaza are suffering. Tragically—and it is a tragedy—war in Gaza is causing and will cause immense suffering and death to innocent people. War always does. Israel must do and is doing all it can to minimise civilian deaths—a difficult task when Hamas embeds itself in schools, hospitals and mosques. We should be in no doubt who is responsible for this appalling situation: Hamas and all who support its perverted ideology. This includes those who shamefully celebrate on the streets of London when Israeli civilians are tortured, murdered and abducted.
In his very thoughtful opening remarks, the Minister emphasised the virtues of open debate on difficult issues. One of the tragedies of Gaza is that anyone who expresses the view that their Government should stop spending money on missiles and tunnels and focus on industry, health and education would be speedily tortured and murdered.
My Lords, it is always worth listening to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It is a privilege to follow that brilliant speech. I start by expressing my condolences to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and her family on the death of their relative. I draw attention to my registered interests. I am the Prime Minister’s voluntary trade envoy to Israel.
In 2017, I visited Nir Oz, one of the small kibbutzim on the Gaza border attacked by Hamas. Survivors say that between one-quarter and one-third of its 350 residents were killed or kidnapped. What happened is worth repeating: babies beheaded, women raped, and families tied together and burned. It seems to me that, when Israeli officials use the word “animals”, they are not talking about Palestinians in general; they are talking about Hamas. It seems to be a perfectly accurate description. For people in this House to suggest that that word is being used about Palestinians in general is irresponsible and dangerous. This is brutal terrorism, just like ISIS.
I could never understand Holocaust denial, but social media for the past fortnight has been flooded with people claiming that babies had not been killed, or not in the reported numbers, and questioning the accounts of the survivors and Israeli officials bringing it to our attention. The attack on young people at the music festival would be the equivalent of 2,000 young British people being killed at Glastonbury. Over 7,000 missiles have been aimed indiscriminately at residential areas in Israel—not at military targets, which is what the IDF try to do. That is the same number of rockets fired by the Germans on the UK throughout the whole of the blitz. More Jewish people were killed on a single day than on any day since the Holocaust. In the face of that, Israel does not just have the legal right but a clear duty to defend its citizens, rescue the hostages and deal with Hamas.
The background to this is that Israel recently signed the Abraham accords to normalise relations with three Arab states and was in negotiations with Saudi Arabia. Iran, a state sponsor of terror, as we have heard, is desperate to prevent that, which is why Hamas launched this attack. It knew what Israel would have to do in response and does not care that ordinary people in Gaza are being put in harm’s way.
I have campaigned for a Palestinian state since I was a teenager, but the failure to establish one cannot be laid at Israel’s door. When the United Nations decided that there would be two states in land administered by the British in Palestine—two states, side by side, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay—the Jewish leadership agreed, and Israel was established. Instead of agreeing to a Palestinian state for the Arab population, five Arab countries invaded on day one and the Palestinians, tragically, are still without a state.
Since then, the Palestinians have been offered a state on three or four occasions. Tragically, again, the Palestinian leadership rejected them all, and groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad continued with terrorism. The terrible position of the people in Gaza cannot be blamed on Israel either. The responsibility for this is clearly the leadership of Hamas, who have amassed billions and live in air-conditioned luxury in the Four Seasons Hotel in Doha.
Gaza has not been occupied. We heard earlier that Gaza is under occupation, but Gaza has not been occupied for 18 years. When Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza in 2005, it had a functioning economy, control of its imports and exports, open borders, plans to build a seaport and discussions on an airport. Then Hamas, committed to Israel’s destruction, staged a bloody coup, executed its rivals and banned elections. Its founding charter calls for Jews to be killed. People need to understand that it is opposed to the very idea of a peace process, which, it says, would involve the surrender of Islamic land. It is completely naive for people in this House to argue for a peace process with Hamas.
Hamas launched a vicious terrorist campaign, killing Israeli civilians. Instead of building hospitals and schools or a successful economy, it spends funds on rockets and tunnels to attack Israel. When people say that fuel has to be provided for the people of Gaza, of course it does, but the fuel is stolen by Hamas to fire its rockets. That is why Israel had to build border controls and security fences. Last week’s attacks show just how necessary they were. It is not, as we heard today, a blockade; it is a defence.
According to the UN, Hamas stores its rockets in schools used to house displaced people. While Israel uses its weapons to protect its people, Hamas uses the people to protect the weapons. We know the next few weeks will be awful; war always is. But British Army officers tell me that no army in the world takes as much care as Israel’s to protect civilians. We have heard calls for a ceasefire this afternoon. Hamas would use a ceasefire just to prepare the next attack.
Tragically, we have seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, as we have heard. Since the attacks, the Community Security Trust has recorded at least 600 anti-Semitic incidents across the country, the highest ever recorded in a 17-day period. We have seen disgraceful support for terrorism at marches. This weekend in London, a rally was organised by the racist extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, at which people held a banner with the slogan “Muslim armies, rescue the people of Palestine”. A speaker was filmed asking, “What is the solution to liberate people in the concentration camp called Palestine?”, and in response the crowd chanted “Jihad”. Does anyone think that they were using the word “Jihad” to mean some sort of personal spiritual struggle? In that context, it is obviously a call to wage war on Israel. If that is not incitement, which the police should be dealing with, I do not know what is.
Finally, I will read what IDF general Mickey Edelstein said yesterday.
“They came to kill and burn civilians. Not military personnel. Civilians. … We told civilians to evacuate northern Gaza. Yes … and there are civilian casualties. But we are not looking for kids to kill. We are not looking to kill hostages … We do not find kids and then force them to go and ask their neighbours to come out, and then when they do kill them”.
This is the position Israel is in. Israel’s aim is to minimise civilian casualties. Hamas aims to kill as many civilians as it can.
My Lords, I refer to my registered interest as president of Conservative Friends of Israel and director of the Abraham Accords Group. It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Austin. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, for his moral clarity.
I was in Jerusalem on
However, that careful approach is in stark contrast to some elements of the media who, on occasions, seem to take sides with devastating effect. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in particular, spoke about the hospital. I had my phone on just now, because I clicked on the BBC World Service, which has 5.3 million views, and it is still saying that Israel did the bomb the hospital. I could not believe that it is still there. It is on the BBC World Service; any noble Lord can click on it.
I agree with the many who are looking for that flicker of light in the darkness—the building up of the Abraham accords; the building up of peace between Israel and Jordan, and Israel and Egypt. All of that should be encouraging the Palestinians to join the Abraham accords, and we should all agree to that long sought-after two-state solution.
While we focus on the hostages—it is right that we focus on the hostages; they have to be returned—we should not forget the devastation to the families of 1,400 butchered innocent men, women and children. It is important to name them. There is one hostage in particular I would like to talk about this evening: Ohad Munder-Zichri. He turned nine years old yesterday, but rather than celebrating his birthday at home with his loved ones, he is currently being held hostage in Gaza, among the 200 other individuals. Ohad has been described as a gifted student, with exceptional abilities, encompassing various fields including sport and chess, and a remarkable skill on the Rubik’s cube. Like my noble friend the Minister and myself, he is an avid Liverpool football fan. I have a picture of him here, with his Mo Salah kit on—a nine year-old child. At home, his bedroom has been left untouched since his abduction; his shelves are filled with team souvenirs, his trophies and his family photos. Back on my phone, I clicked on Mo Salah, because Ohad is wearing his Mo Salah kit. Mo Salah spoke last week about this tragedy. He said, rightly, that all lives are sacred. That has had 176 million views—much more than any of us could imagine for anything we are doing. This is important. I urge my noble friend the Minister, who as I have said is a Liverpool fan too, to urge people like Mo Salah to continue to raise humanitarian issues.
Last week, I mentioned Ada Sagi. It is hard to contemplate that, since I did, that poor 75 year-old lady has spent another painful 192 hours in captivity—we do not know where. The agony for her son, Noam, and daughter-in-law, Michal, is beyond comprehension. All hostages must be released. I urge my noble friend the Minister to redouble efforts with Qatar, Egypt and the Red Cross, and with anyone else who can help.
My Lords, there have been fine speeches in this debate, introduced by the Minister so excellently—I was very sorry that I was a few minutes late to his speech. There is also a lot of high emotion, which I understand. The reason I decided to put my name down for this debate was because I felt that emotion about what happened to the people in the kibbutzes next to Gaza, which I visited on the same visit as my noble friend Lord Austin. There they had created what I thought was a little paradise on earth, with all their efforts over the years—an absolutely beautiful, peaceful, wonderful place. And then this happens.
Nothing can excuse that kind of slaughter. I cannot bear the people in Britain who seem to think that this is something the Israelis brought on themselves. That is an appalling view. I agree with all those who criticised the demonstrations at the weekend, because the whole tone was fundamentally against the very existence of the State of Israel. After what happened in the Second World War and the Holocaust, we all had a moral responsibility to provide a Jewish homeland. It has the full right to defend itself.
Having said that, I hope that the Israeli Government will behave with great care. I very much took note of the remark President Biden made when he was in Israel, when he said that he hoped they would not make the mistake we had made in 2001 after 9/11, and that we had got ourselves into lots of difficulties as a result. He is a very wise man, President Biden.
What my noble friend Lord Reid said in his speech is right. Although Israel is fully justified in taking whatever military action it wants to destroy Hamas— I agree that it is fully justified—it is going to be a pretty horrendous thing. I do not know quite know what can be done about that. I hope that the Israelis will support humanitarian aid for the Palestinians as much as possible. It is very important for them to make clear to the world that this is a fight against Hamas, not against the Palestinians. They must do their utmost—and we should be urging them to do their utmost. They must also adhere, as I believe they do, to the highest standards in warfare to try to minimise violence, but it is going to be pretty horrible and ghastly.
The big question will be how we prevent this turning into a much wider Middle East conflagration. I would have thought that the key here is that there has to be a fundamental change of heart on the Israeli side, particularly of Prime Minister Netanyahu, towards the legitimacy of the Palestinian position. They have got to come up with a new initiative that demonstrates real commitment to a two-state solution. They have got to see how they can get the friends that Israel has made in the Arab world to be guarantors of that two-state solution, and they have to make it look as though this time they are determined to make it real.
I believe that reconciliation is possible. We have seen examples in the world that others have quoted earlier in this debate. The one that I remember personally is when I was attending a dinner in Northern Ireland at which Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley Jr were cracking jokes with each other a few years after all the awful violence that there had been in Northern Ireland. Reconciliation is possible. Yes, Israel must fight to defend itself, but it must also show that it has the generosity of spirit to build a viable long-term solution.
My Lords, when I spoke in a debate in this House on Israel and Palestine just over three years ago, I said I believed:
“The safety and security of Israel is … critical not only for the Israeli people but for the world at large”.—[
After the horrors of the Holocaust and the centuries of prejudice, pogroms and expulsions, to which we must now add the barbarism of
That safety and security, as we know, was shattered on
In carrying out its attack and in continuing to hold hostages, Hamas is in violation of every international law and of every value that we should hold dear. Those hostages, as other noble Lords have said, must be released unconditionally and immediately. It is beyond me that there are those who could not find it in themselves to unequivocally condemn Hamas after these outrages. That anyone, regardless of their views on Israel and Palestine—and like the noble Lord, Lord Austin, and many others in this House, I have always supported the creation of a Palestinian state—would actually seek to justify such grotesque brutality remains utterly shocking, as does the wave of anti-Semitism that has been witnessed in this country in recent days.
For as long as I can remember, I have felt an affinity with Israelis and Palestinians. My father was an emissary to the then Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, George Appleton, in the late 1960s and early 1970s; in fact, he baptised me. In that role my father travelled extensively in the region and, until his death earlier this year, he never ceased in his passionate advocacy for a peace that would allow both Israelis and Palestinians to live in security in their own states—a passion that he imparted to me.
I have been privileged to visit Israel with the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel with my noble friend Lord Palmer and other colleagues. I am proud to count myself as a friend of Israel and as a friend of Palestine. In fact, I do not believe that you can truly be one without being the other, just as I do not believe that long-term security can exist for either Israelis or Palestinians until it exists for both.
In the face of the barbarous assault on its citizens, Israel has every right in law and morality to take action to eliminate the threat to its people from Hamas. The issue at stake is not whether Israel has that right but how it exercises it in the manner most likely to prevent avoidable civilian death and secure the long-term safety and security of both Israeli and Palestinian people. Whatever the outcome of this war, at the end of it Israelis and Palestinians will have to live side by side. Israel will have to put aside the dangerous delusion that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to suggest—that Israel could live in security without justice also for Palestinians.
In the immediate moment, Israel needs a military strategy to successfully eliminate Hamas terror. That will be hard enough but, even more importantly, it needs a strategy for how it proceeds at the end of the war. It needs a strategy for peace. After the 1967 war, Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, speaking in the Knesset, said:
“our standing in the world will be determined not by our so-called material riches, and not by our military's bravery, but by the moral virtue of our undertaking”.
In the midst of such horror and so many terrible dilemmas for Israeli decision-makers, it is essential that Israel heeds those words. The attachment that many of us have to Israel is precisely because it holds itself to different standards from other regimes in the region. It is essential that, in its response to Hamas, it upholds those standards, abides by international law and allows sufficient humanitarian assistance to reach the civilians of Gaza, who are also victims of Hamas brutality and are suffering devastating hardship.
It is also critical that the Israeli Government act decisively against those settlers in the West Bank who are unleashing violence on Palestinians that has left many innocent Palestinians dead. As the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said in his powerful speech, every life is precious, and every one of the thousands of deaths of innocent civilians is a tragic loss for mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.
I support our Government in having stood with Israel in these days of terror, and I fully accept that Israel cannot live in safety with Hamas in control of Gaza. But neither will it live in safety unless the Israeli and Palestinian leadership recognise that, after the war, they must both have the courage to throw aside extremists and make the compromises necessary to deliver a just and lasting peace.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his opening remarks and all noble Lords who have spoken. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Oates. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I declare my interests as a British Jew, an adviser to the Chief Rabbinate Trust and a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Jewish Leadership Council.
Every day I grieve for the suffering and death of Israelis and Palestinians, and I pray for the hostages. Hamas murder squads, claiming to represent the Palestinian people, invaded Israel with the express purpose of killing, torturing or kidnapping civilians. I never would have believed that we would witness a pogrom against Jews in my lifetime. My family was nearly all wiped out by anti-Semitic hatred in the 1930s and 1940s. To then witness these murders being supported, celebrated and glorified by Palestinians in Gaza and their supporters around the globe has shaken me to the core. “Why?” I ask myself again and again. Do these Hamas terrorists really have the support of the Palestinian or Arab majority? They were elected, and opinion polls suggest they may still have support.
Those who glorify Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizb ut-Tahrir and their ilk are a threat not just to Israel or to Jews but to all of us, as my noble friend Lord Harrington said. Israel has always wanted to live in peace with its neighbours, but a first step to achieving that must be to have a partner on the Palestinian side wanting the same. Peace is a duet, not a solo.
As my noble friend Lord Leigh said, Israel left Gaza, dismantled the settlements and wanted the Palestinians to have a prosperous future, and all it has received in return is terror. If the Palestinian people do not really support the actions of Hamas but are frightened to speak up, as ordinary Germans were in the 1930s while the Nazis increasingly threatened Jews, Israel must have the courage to rid them of Hamas once and for all. If Hamas really does have majority support, Israel must anyway destroy further Hamas threats and help the Palestinian people recognise that extremism brings only misery, not a better life.
Israel and Jews are not the Palestinian people’s enemies, but what can Israel do to achieve peace? Since
Israel is the only Jewish state. It has known nothing but rejection by most of its Arab neighbours since its inception, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, explained. As long as Israel’s right to exist is not accepted, what can it do but keep defending itself? If Hamas continues to fire missiles aimed at Israel’s civilians from sites among, next to or directly underneath its own children, what else can Israel do other than warn civilians to leave and then do what it must to stop the attacks, dismantle the rockets and show its people that Jews will not submit to torture and murder, as millions did in the Nazi horrors?
Jews yearn for peace; we pray for it every day. Jews have accepted being expelled from Arab countries where their families had lived for centuries, and have settled elsewhere. This is a bleak time for us as Jews. Are our children safe on our streets, in our universities and in other western countries, as the plague of anti-Semitism has resurfaced? Support for Hamas and Palestinian fighters is a threat to us all, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, said—not just Jews. If Islamic extremists are not defeated, we are all in danger. If brutal oppression succeeds in eradicating Israel, the only westernised democracy, and, as others have said, if Russia succeeds in defeating Ukraine, our way or life, our freedoms and our values are all in peril.
Hamas has never honoured international humanitarian law. If Israel cannot protect its citizens by ridding Gaza of the Hamas rockets—made, by the way, with some of the water pipes provided for Gazans by western aid—a new standard for horrific assaults against Jews is established in our time. International commentators already seemingly consider the repeated rocket barrages from Gaza into Israel as somehow acceptable, on the apparent justification that its Iron Dome can shoot them down, even though civilians are still killed.
This cannot persist. Decades of wishful thinking that Hamas’s charter calling to kill Jews is just rhetoric has been a delusion. The Palestinian leadership is anti-Semitic: Mahmoud Abbas has repeated anti-Semitic canards and blamed the Jews for the Holocaust because of, apparently, their social role. He rewards Palestinian terrorists for attacking Israelis. They just want Israel to disappear. Well, Israel cannot disappear. Jews have no other homeland. Israel must defend its civilians against missile attacks and targeted torture.
I pray for all in the region, but I have no doubt that Israel must and will do its utmost to pave the way for a peaceful two-state solution. Am Yisrael Chai—may Israel and its people live.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his wise words in opening the debate. I join others in calling on him and the Government to use their influence on Qatar to ensure the release of the hostages. We also need to record our thanks to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent for the very positive role they have played.
There has been a lot of talk about proportionality in the law on self-defence. I refer to the words that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, used a few days ago on the test of proportionality. It does not mean that the defensive force has to be equal to the force used in the armed attack. Proportionality means that you can use force that is proportionate to the defensive objective, which is to stop, to repel and to prevent further attacks.
Israel has described its war aims as the destruction of Hamas’s capability. From a legal perspective, these war aims are consistent with proportionality in the law of self-defence, given what Hamas says it does and what Hamas has done and continues to do.
Asking a state that is acting in self-defence to agree to a ceasefire before its lawful defensive objectives have been met is, in effect, asking that state to stop defending itself. For such calls to be reasonable and credible, they must be accompanied by a concrete proposal setting out how Israel’s legitimate defensive goals against Hamas will be met through other means. It is not an answer to say that Israel has to conclude a peace treaty, because Hamas is not interested in a peace treaty.
Proportionality also applies in the law that governs the conduct of hostilities, not only in self-defence. The law of armed conflict requires that in every attack posing a risk to civilian life, that risk must not be excessive in relation to the military advantage that is anticipated. That rule does not mean, even when scrupulously observed, that civilians will not tragically lose their lives in an armed conflict. The law of armed conflict, at its best, can mitigate the horrors of war but it cannot eliminate them. The great challenge in this conflict is that Hamas is the kind of belligerent that cynically exploits these rules by putting civilians under its control at risk and even using them to seek immunity for its military operations, military equipment and military personnel. An analysis of the application of the rules on proportionality in targeting in this conflict must always begin with this fact.
“Siege is a legitimate method of warfare … It would be unlawful to besiege an undefended town since it could be occupied without resistance”.
Gaza is not an undefended town. It is true that obligations apply to the besieging forces when civilians are caught within the area that is being encircled, and those obligations include agreeing to the passage of humanitarian relief by third parties. But it is not correct to say that encircling an area with civilians in it is not permitted by the laws of war.
A further point that concerns the laws of war is also of particular relevance to the British Government’s practice. It has already been mentioned that the Government have taken the view that Gaza remains under Israeli occupation, even though Israel pulled out in 2005. The traditional view until 2005 was that occupation required physical presence in the territory. That view is consistent with Article 42 of the Hague regulations of 1907, which states that a territory is occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the occupying power. Again, it is also the view taken by the UK manual of the law of armed conflict, which reflects the UK’s official legal position and states that occupation ceases as soon as the occupying power evacuates the area. The European Court of Human Rights, in its jurisprudence, has also adopted a similar approach to occupation. So I have always been rather baffled by the British Government’s position on this issue, which, as far as I know, has not changed. Yes, it is true that Israel has exercised significant control over the airspace and in the maritime areas, but even as a matter of plain geography it takes two—Israel and Egypt —to control the land access points to Gaza.
More fundamentally, it is Hamas that has been responsible for the government and administration of Gaza. I appreciate that this is a legal matter on which the Minister may not want to respond immediately but it is an important one, because the legal fiction that Israel was still the occupying power under the laws of armed conflict has been relentlessly exploited by Hamas to blame Israel for everything, while using the effective control that it has over the territory, the people and the resources to wage war.
On a final note, I would like to say something briefly on the way in which the war is being reported. When a serious allegation is made, particularly one that could constitute a war crime, the immediate response of the law-abiding belligerent will be to say, “We are investigating”. The non-law-abiding belligerent, by contrast, will forthwith blame the other side and even provide surprisingly precise casualty figures. The duty to investigate is one of the most important ones in armed conflict. What happened in the way in which the strike on the hospital was reported is that the side that professes no interest whatever in complying with the laws of armed conflict was rewarded with the headlines that it was seeking.
My Lords, I share with others my thanks to the Minister for his excellent introduction to this debate. I also thank colleagues for their contributions on a subject which so many of us feel so passionately and deeply about.
The Hamas seizure of hostages during its murderous rampage through Israeli border communities is a horrific act and contrary to international law. The types of hostages seized, as well as the murders and rapes committed of civilians, proves that Hamas’s claims that its actions were about resistance are lies. Leaving aside the fact that the holding of hostages is a crime in itself, Hamas is breaking international humanitarian law by refusing medical care to the hostages or allowing a humanitarian corridor to them. As many other speakers have tonight, I ask His Majesty’s Government to make every representation to the Palestinian authorities and other interlocutors to Hamas, such as Qatar, that the hostages should be immediately freed. Failing that, further negotiations around humanitarian corridors to Gaza must include aid being provided to the hostages.
The scenes on British streets over the past two weeks have been nothing short of disgraceful. While nobody wishes to restrict the right to protest in this country, and we all value the principles of free speech, it is quite a different matter to allow the spreading of hate and the glorification of terrorism, as has quite obviously been occurring in some portions of pro-Palestinian marches. It is telling, for example, that the first pro-Palestinian marches assembled on our streets on
Since then, calls for jihad and intifada have somehow been explained away by police language experts as not being meant as violent. “Free, free Palestine, from the river to the sea” has been suggested to be offensive only if directed at a Jewish person, rather than chanted generally. We have been told to believe that these blood-curdling cries on British streets somehow relate to spiritual struggle. This is in complete contravention of the view of the average British citizen, who rightly concludes that those shouting such slogans after the grim massacre of Jewish civilians might well be intending to show support for such actions and could even inspire further ones. Meanwhile, marchers have also referred to the rhetoric of the Battle of Khaybar, which of course celebrates the massacre of a Jewish Arabian tribe on account of its alleged betrayal of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. There can be no doubt what suggestions of repeating this could mean in the contemporary context.
The police have been made to look like fools on account of their attempts to convince themselves that black is white and white is black, to avoid making arrests in the name of preserving public order. The net effect has been to surrender the streets to the baying mob crying for the armies of Islam to re-conquer Palestine, in the apparent belief that this is a safer course of action than enforcing British law and supporting British public safety. The consequences of this threaten to be calamitous. Already, our spy chiefs have warned that this tragic conflict risks increasing the threat of terrorism in the United Kingdom. What message does the police backing off from enforcing the simplest of public order ordinances therefore send to those who might be inspired to carry out a terrorist attack?
Our policing authorities need to get a grip and restore confidence in their abilities to keep the streets safe, in the eyes of both a despairing general public and those who might be thinking of pushing the envelope still further in what they might be able to get away with. We should be under no illusions. British Jewish communities may be the first victims of the extremes seen thus far with worrying regularity in these marches, but they will not be the last. We are all in the firing line of such extremism and we ignore it at our peril.
My Lords, I am sure the House will agree when I say that this is a debate which we wish we did not need to have. The world would be in an awfully better place had the terrible events of
We also know that Hamas is no friend of the Palestinian people. It has oppressed ordinary Palestinians in Gaza. It has diverted resources, which are much needed in Gaza, towards military attacks on Israel. It has literally rained bombs down on its own people and has used, and continues to use, civilians as human shields. Hamas is simultaneously a barbaric bully and a craven coward. We need to call out Hamas for what it is. No more euphemisms: these are evil terrorists, instigating a pogrom on the Israeli people.
Like everyone in this House, I think, I want a long-term solution for the Middle East. We all crave peace and I join others in saying that, in the long run, a two-state solution is probably best for the area. However, in rightly seeking that long-term peace, we must avoid the temptation of trying to find short-term fixes. Solutions which leave Hamas with the capability of simply striking back at Israel at will are ones that will only store up more death and destruction in the long run. Hamas is an organisation that is not part of the solution. It is not part of peace and it seeks to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. It is an obstacle to peace and to having a long-term better way forward for everyone, Israeli and Palestinian alike.
While our focus is rightly on Israel and Gaza, and particularly the plight of the 200-plus hostages still being held by Hamas, there are also repercussions beyond the boundaries of Israel and Gaza, not least in our own country. For the Jewish communities in the United Kingdom, most have family relations or friends who live in Israel, and many know the victims of the events of
It is also the case that this has not come from a blank page. Earlier this year, with other parliamentarians, I visited facilities which showed the extent to which Jewish properties have to be monitored from a security point of view for their own protection—and this was at a time when there was relative peace in the Middle East. Perhaps most shocking from that visit—I will not be too explicit in the details, for obvious reasons—was when we visited a Jewish primary school where children were being taken through drills on a regular basis of the preparations they needed to take in the event of intruders. I do not wish to go into the details of those procedures, as that would be utterly counterproductive, but noble Lords should reflect on that for a moment. These are five year-olds and older, having to live with this as part of their lives in the United Kingdom in 2023. That is not an isolated example; it is all too redolent of the experience of so many Jewish people in this country. This is why it is right to commit ourselves to long-term peace. It is also right that we send out a clear message that we stand by Israel and the Jewish people of the United Kingdom and beyond.
My Lords, Sikh teachings remind us that conflict arises when we fail to recognise that we are all members of the same one human family, with equal rights and dignity. That sentiment is echoed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which states that ignoring human rights can lead to suffering and lasting hatred.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Jews were vilified, not only in Germany but in much of Europe. The word “Jew” was used as a term of abuse. At school, I was frequently called a Jew by those who wished to hurt me. Then we saw film footage of atrocities in Belsen and other extermination camps. I have visited Auschwitz and seen evidence of the unbelievable cruelty shown to those considered lesser beings. Jews suffered horrendously in the Holocaust and from the cruel anti-Semitism of Europe. Some moved to Palestine to build a homeland where they could live free from persecution.
Despite clear promises made to the indigenous Palestinians that their rights would be safeguarded, many were forcibly moved from land that they had inhabited for centuries. Their anger and bitterness have been made worse by subsequent events and broken promises, such as that of the UN for a separate Palestinian state. The world has also turned a blind eye to illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. According to a report by Amnesty International, Palestinians in Israel live in apartheid conditions, with discrimination in education, land ownership, housing and employment. Gaza has suffered an Israeli blockade of food and supplies for the last 16 years.
However, the deplorable and callous treatment of Palestinians cannot justify the barbaric attack by Hamas on the State of Israel and the taking of hostages. But the West’s unquestioning support for Israel and indifference to the suffering of Palestinians has fuelled anger and resentment, making any genuine peace settlement far harder.
In its recent report, Amnesty International reminds us that the Israeli blockading of food, fuel, electricity and water to Gaza, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, schools and hospitals, are crimes against humanity. It also refers to what it considers compelling evidence of Israel’s use of white phosphorus, which can burn to the bone. Why the silence of the UK Government and the western media? If this banned substance had been used by Russians in Ukraine, there would have been banner news headlines about a chilling disregard for human life. Now we have President Biden saying that the indiscriminate onslaught on Gaza should continue until all hostages have been released. Their lives are important, but so are the lives of 2 million inhabitants of Gaza. To rephrase an appropriate line from Shakespeare, “If a Palestinian is cut, does he not bleed?”
Israel’s response is not proportionate. It is the cruel, inhumane, collective punishment of some 2 million already deprived and starving people—a collective punishment not seen since the Second World War. The West needs to change 20th-century mindsets of friend, foe and strategic advantage to meet the new challenges of the 21st century. We have a responsibility to nudge both Israelis and Palestinians to look to common interests and a respect for human rights for both Jews and Palestinians.
Before my friend the noble Lord sits down, is he aware that the Israel Defense Forces categorically and specifically denied using white phosphorus, and would he care to withdraw that suggestion?
My Lords, I am heartbroken and bitterly angry at the heinous, profoundly evil crimes committed in Israel on
Common Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention prohibits
“murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture … taking of hostages … outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment”.
Hamas has broken every aspect of this convention. No wonder Israel wants to crush Hamas so that never again can it be a threat, not just to Israel but to civilisation itself. We should have no doubt: if this evil succeeds in Israel, it will spread throughout the Middle East and beyond. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Emirates know this too well and know who is behind it: Iran is financing this terrorism to support its own ambitions in the region, and that threatens us all.
Last Sunday, a peaceful vigil was held in Trafalgar Square calling for Hamas to release the hostages it has taken. There was solidarity and empathy with those poor people locked away from their loved ones. By contrast, on Saturday, as we have heard, in a massive march across London there was no concern for the hostages or condemnation of Hamas. There was just hatred—hatred for Israel—and calls for jihad and Israel’s destruction. I am pleased that the Government are challenging the legality of this behaviour.
We should have no doubt: this is anti-Semitism in its ugliest form. Since the Hamas attack on Israel, the number of anti-Semitic acts just in London has risen by 1,350%. This is a horrific statistic, and we must stand together to stamp out anti-Semitism and unreservedly make it clear to all that such conduct and behaviour are totally unacceptable in our wonderful country. I applaud and thank the Prime Minister and the Government, and other political leaders, for their stand against terrorism and support for Israel.
In the days ahead, however, when almost certainly Israel will step up its fight against terrorism, that support will be tested. I fear that there will be civilian casualties as Hamas hides among the people of Gaza and behind the innocent Palestinian human shields that it has created. It is a fundamental principle of international law that gives the right of self-defence to states under armed attack—and Israel was attacked earlier this month, as we have heard and seen. That response must be proportionate, and Israel fully understands that in targeting Hamas, not Palestinian citizens. No country at war takes the steps that Israel takes, through pamphleting and broadcasts, to warn of imminent attacks as it defends itself from terrorism. I hope that is recognised by all its friends.
Hamas took power in Gaza in 2006, supposedly through an election process. Even if that was a result of corruption, as has been alleged, there is no doubt that a great number of Palestinians supported that takeover and have now realised what a mistake that was. Hamas has ruled Gaza tyrannically. It is a closed, undemocratic society and opponents are crushed. Those Palestinians who abhor violence, whose ambition is just to live in a peaceful and safe society, are too afraid to raise their voice. We must help them find that voice.
We are in a dark time right now. But it will end and, I hope, Hamas will be crushed. Even though it is hard to look forward, that is exactly what we must do. Assuming that Israel is successful in crushing Hamas, as I hope, it must be magnanimous in its victory and work tirelessly to create a new Gaza, one free from terrorism, where its population can find peace and success and live normal lives, as I hope the majority aspire to do. The starting point is to find new Palestinian leaders—a Palestinian Nelson Mandela has been suggested in this House; if only we could find such a person—who share that ambition and whose aim is not to destroy Israel but, instead, to build a new Gaza, one that offers freedom, hope and prosperity to its population.
This cannot happen without tremendous support from the international community, led by the US, the UK and the EU, working with the key players in the region, notably Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This takes me back to Iran. While the present regime is in power, it would be foolish to expect any change of attitude towards Israel. Nevertheless, only international pressure and increased sanctions might dull Iran’s enthusiasm for that hatred. It is a long shot, but we have to try.
I am delighted that four hostages have now been released by Hamas but, frankly, this is a cynical attempt to gain international sympathy. If, even now—and despite my comments today—Hamas wants to try to find a peaceful solution, it must, as a first step, unconditionally release all the hostages.
My Lords, the
Do noble Lords remember the horror when we saw film some years ago of so-called Jihadi John and the ISIS Beatles using swords to behead hostages such as David Haines and James Foley—the cruelty of it? We knew then that this was not about the number of hostages killed—a handful that we know of in that instance—but we viscerally understood that this was an off-the-scale incident in terms of depravity. Those sickening shockwaves are felt a thousand times over in response to the
Yet, ever since then, self-styled progressives in the UK, Europe and the US have insisted that the evil of the atrocity emanates from Israel, presenting the real victims as civilians in Gaza. In a grotesque distortion of political categories, events on
“The OPPRESSED are fighting back … Don’t let the Western media fool you into thinking it’s terrorism, this is decolonization”.
Let me be clear: no, it is not.
As someone who has supported Palestinian rights for decades, I find disgusting the suggestion that Hamas is any kind of a national liberation movement trying to free Palestine. In reality, it is an anti-Semitic death cult hell-bent on establishing a global Islamic caliphate. How do I know that? Anyone who reads the Hamas constitution and watches its propaganda will see that there is not an iota of aspiration to democratic freedoms for the Palestinians or for anyone else in its tracts. Yet, still, in the media, in mass demonstrations and on all online platforms, swathes of right-minded people are queuing up to point the finger at Israel for bringing the massacre on itself, amid an embarrassed silence about Hamas’s crimes.
It is hard to explain such moral disorientation. As one commentator noted, those who collaborated with the Nazis often claimed they did not know that Hitler’s henchmen were planning to exterminate the Jewish people. Today’s progressive apologists in the West have no such excuse, as Islamists flaunt their desire to eliminate the Jews, and yet, still, too many look away, ignoring these inconvenient truths.
Such attitudes present our society with a problem. Beyond the military battles in the Middle East, we have a domestic battle of ideas to fight and some difficult questions to answer. Thousands of British and European artists issued an open letter accusing Israel—Israel, no less—of “unprecedented cruelty” in its dealings with Gaza. Let us ask them why they did not write a similar open letter on the unprecedented cruelty of the Hamas pogrom—although, sadly, it was not unprecedented for the Jews.
We have to question those who angrily demonstrated against the accused Israeli perpetrator of the horrific bombing of the hospital in Gaza: now that all the evidence suggests that it was a misfired Islamic Jihad missile, why are those “progressive humanitarians” not out on the streets as we speak, expressing righteous fury against these Palestinian civilian killers?
We also have to ask how we explain that we now have open support for radical Islam on UK city streets? Why have we allowed it to grow unchecked for years, with concerns quashed as Islamophobia? We also have to ask why so many students and young people see all Jews as part of a privileged oppressor class and why we have allowed the toxic influence of identity politics and its discourse of white privilege, of which Jews are collectively seen as the epitome, to grow unchallenged. Why have so many institutions, such as universities, buckled in the face of this identitarian ideology of competitive victimhood, which gives anyone claiming the label of oppressed victimhood a collective pass? We have to ask why diversity advocates, who are usually hypersensitive to alleged racist microaggressions, such as using phrases like “blacklisting”, suddenly become deaf and dumb while marching alongside groups of radicalised youth shouting, “Allahu akbar” and anti-Semitic dog whistles.
Finally, we as legislators have to ask how we should respond at this pivotal moment, now that the curtain has been pulled back on this new anti-Semitism. One plea I will make to us all is that we should resist the siren calls for more hate speech laws, for people to be sacked for wrongthink and for arrests to be made of those using “offensive” and “dangerous” slogans, however repugnant or hateful. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, whose excellent speech I agreed with—apart from on this question—I do not think we need more laws to solve these problems. Even in the few years that I have been in this place, we have passed a plethora of draconian public order and speech-restricting laws.
But I fear that a public clamour for more restrictions is likely in response to what could be described as, at best, “eccentric” policing priorities, so well described by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. The police can turn up at your door if you misgender someone, they can arrest you for praying silently in the wrong place and they can treat a terrified autistic pupil as a criminal for accidentally kicking a Koran, yet they passively stand by as pro-Gaza protesters deface public monuments, scale scaffolding on government buildings and allow people to run riot on the streets.
But, despite such institutional torpor, eroding free speech is never the answer. We need to face the pernicious cultural problems I have discussed face-on. If we are to take the call of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for more and better education seriously—and if we are to win young hearts and minds away from the new identitarian anti-Semitism, and to offer the young some moral clarity—we need more, not fewer, difficult arguments in the public sphere.
We have illustrated the importance of such public debate today, and it is a credit to the noble Lords who have spoken that that has happened. I hope that we can move forward without compromising our commitment to freedom.
My Lords, it is no easy matter to speak after so many noble Lords have spoken so well in today’s telling debate, led by my noble friend the Minister, whose speech was as moving as it was resolute—I thank him for it.
The Hamas attack on Israel, the massacre that followed and the taking of hostages, including babies and young children, marked a new phase in a war. As we have heard again today from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and others, Hamas is committed, by its founding charter, to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state in the whole of historic Palestine. Yes, an update in 2017 suggested that Hamas might accept the 1949 to 1967 borders, if this was the result of consensus, but it rejected Zionism and the Zionist project, stating its preference for establishing an Islamist Palestinian state from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and from the border with Lebanon to the southern Israeli city of Eilat.
The Hamas terrorist war, like its ideology, combines the potency of Palestinian nationalism and the power of Muslim fundamentalism. In this war, ends and means are one: the destruction of Israel from the river to the sea. It is an end financially and militarily backed by Iran, most recently in its supply of rockets and training. As noble Lords have pointed out, Iran is also fighting to establish its own hegemony in the whole region. To that end, it is willing to make a marriage of convenience with the Sunni terrorist group Hamas—the military capabilities of which it has helped to develop—and a marriage of love with the Shiite Hezbollah towards the northern border with Lebanon.
I urge my noble friend the Minister and the Government to remain steadfast, with other western powers, in their support of Israel to defend itself and secure the release of the hostages. Unless Hamas is eliminated, not only can there be no peace for Israel but there can be no peace, prosperity or freedom for the unfortunate Palestinians who have been subject to Hamas rule since 2007. Nor will there be any stability in the Middle East or security in the world.
Few of us will not be moved by the condition of Gaza, but any let-up in Israel’s pursuit of the terrorists would be the wrong course. The destruction of Hamas is a prerequisite for the restoration of stability to the territory and for allowing the people of Gaza to live their lives under democratic rule. It will also show Iran and its proxies that the Middle East is not a fief to be won by terrorist jihad to destroy the state of Israel.
As we have heard, that state was established in 1948 to offer to Jewish people safety within national borders, free of fear of pogroms, concentration camps and murder in the wake of Hitler’s attempt to exterminate them. Although it is often said in debate that one can be against the state of Israel without being anti-Semitic, given history, that cannot be so. Of course, any Israeli Government can be criticised for their policies, but doubting whether the state and its people have a right to exist is an offence to not just Israelis but Jews the world over.
The particular responsibility of the UK Government is not merely to protect their citizens but to allow them to lead their daily lives without fear. I urge my noble friend the Minister to reconsider whether the law is adequate for this purpose—the present Commissioner of the Met raised this point before he was appointed.
The pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London on the night that the news of the massacre broke and over two Saturdays have, to put it mildly, descended into a threatening anti-Semitism. Whatever fine construction the Arabic grammarians of the Metropolitan Police may put on the words, the chant of “Jihad, jihad, jihad” by a crowd waving Palestinian flags is clearly to call a holy war against Israel and to insist that Palestine must stretch from the river to the sea. It is a call for the dispersal of Jews in Israel and the end of that state, if not the murder of present Jewish inhabitants. If that is not anti-Semitism, what is?
My Lords, I refer to my register of interests. I am a director of the UK Abraham Accords Group, I am involved on the boards of companies which have staff and premises in Israel, and I am a board member of a cancer charity and many other organisations.
It is impossible not to describe what has been going on as just simply heartbreaking. I thank the Minister for his absolutely outstanding speech, for the resolve and clarity that he shows and that the Government have shown, for their work in the region and for their full engagement. This is all deeply important. I thank the leader of my party for his clarity and the Front Bench for demonstrating it as well. I am truly humbled to be in this Chamber when we have had such an important and constructive debate with so many significant and thoughtful contributions. I join my voice with those calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages as quickly as possible.
I was in Israel when the rockets started hitting and when the land incursion took place. In fact, I was woken up by my phone which I had set to one of the alerts which tell you if rockets come over. I had it on silent, but it just did not stop vibrating. It woke me at 7 am; my wife had been up since 6.30 am. It was immediately apparently that this was something very, very different. The reason I mention this is that I have kept it vibrating still every day. Every single day I get a reminder of the condition of rockets being fired into Israel and the murderous intent to kill as many people as possible, which has been stopped only by some advanced technology. These happen constantly, and it was almost prescient that just before we started this debate, the most enormous amount of rockets were fired on Israel, including one in an area that I was staying in when I was there on Saturday, which would have given me 90 seconds to get to a bomb shelter.
That issue is still constant. It is also the case that this afternoon, like every day for at least the last 10 days, there have been major incursions with rockets and other things from the northern border. One should not forget the precarious situation and the threats that Israel faces in general, including the attack from Yemen. This is more than just the issue of Gaza. This is what Hamas has wrought: a major form of instability.
I will just reference one other thing, which is that I have always wanted to be involved in the pursuit of peace. I have made much of my time, resources and other things available to the disposal of any initiative that tries to work towards peace, like many in this House. I have never been anything more than a minor supporter in that role. I cannot profess to any particularly significant achievement or role, but I was certainly involved in trying to do as much as we could with the Gaza withdrawal. When it was first mooted in 2004, it was supported widely and overwhelmingly in Israel, especially after the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004. There were initiatives here. In fact, we had an Israeli and Palestinian initiative, supported by the Government here, that helped to build some of the conditions to make that work. I worked with a number of people in the wider community on trying to make sure that, when Israel withdrew, there was significant building. The Emirati companies were very keen to invest in that. One of those that did go over to invest a huge amount was chased out of Gaza. We have led to this terrible succession of things that we all know of so well, leading to Hamas’s takeover in 2007, which of course came after the abduction of Gilad Shalit. One should remember that Hamas has always been trying to undermine that situation.
So where have we ended up with that deep desire to create peace? It has trapped Israel in military strikes, economic pressures and isolation as the only strategy to try and deal with Gaza. Gaza has not had the economic success or benefits linked to peace, nor the security that it would have wished for. We have ended up in a situation which is far worse. For those of us who always try the march towards peace, the steps back that can be taken are very severe, and we must consider that. Of course, there is no accident, in my view, in the timing of why these events took place. It was because we were making more progress than we have ever done in last few years on the diplomatic side with the Saudi initiative.
We must address the inescapable point that, for as long as Hamas remains a force, the cause of peace will be the profound casualty. Hamas in Gaza is like having ISIS on your border. It has had a destructive legacy on peace from Oslo: suicide bombers, child soldiers—it does not matter what it is, Hamas has always been the great underminer. Our core mistake has been to believe that a Hamas presence is possible and consistent with any peace initiative. It is not. We must address it. We must address the malign influence of Iran which has emboldened them all. We must urge the regional actors who are part of the solution to do more, and for Qatar to do more to try and put pressure, not just on the hostage situation, but for Hamas to be more engaged.
The central unarguable point is that Hamas is the problem, and everyone has to choose which side they are on: peace or conflict. People must understand that Hamas is not the Palestinians. Those who argue in the media, at demonstrations or elsewhere, who provide succour or support for Hamas, its methods or policies, who justify or explain away its actions or even recite or chant the politics and phrases from its hateful charter do nothing for peace. I fear the reality is we have to accept that when we talk about a horizon for peace, after the war, or commitments to two states, all of which I profoundly agree with, it is unlikely to be feasible unless Hamas can be reduced to the husk that ISIS is. We need the right coalition of willing partners to make that happen.
My Lords, I start by declaring my interests in the register, particularly as executive chairman and director of the Changing Character of War Centre at Pembroke College, Oxford.
It is very difficult to approach this debate calmly. One might argue that there is no reason to be calm. Horrible, frightening things have been happening in Israel and Gaza and it is natural to rage and wish for vengeance and to identify more with one side of the conflict than the other. Like other noble Lords, I condemn without reservation the horrible terrorism of Hamas. I appreciate how, for Jewish people, the Hamas atrocity means more than even the awful killing that has just taken place, because it reflects memories of the Holocaust and historic anti-Semitic pogroms.
I also identify very strongly with my Christian co-religionists, who hoped to be safe when they sheltered in the third oldest Christian church in the world but found no sanctuary there. Dozens of them were killed by an IDF missile. Are those Christians simply to be regarded as collateral damage? Are they not human beings too? Surely ordinary people, old and young, living in their own place, whether in Israel or Gaza, should be able to enjoy peace, freedom and security, be they Jewish Israelis, Palestinian Muslims or Christians. Communities should not be imprisoned behind fences, starved of food, medicines and water, and subject to collective punishment. This is not only wrong but not a defence of Israel and the values of Israel.
One of the lessons of recent times is that armies with massive military capability less often win wars than they did in the past, whether in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Syria. Hamas more closely resembles the Taliban than al-Qaeda or ISIS because it is a governing authority that has run a defined territory for some years. That should give us pause for thought. Some 20 years after US troops entered Kabul, the Taliban were back in charge of Afghanistan and getting the full support of China. Many billions of US dollars were spent in Afghanistan, many lives were lost on all sides and the standing of America was severely damaged in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Israel is in an even more difficult situation—a small country in a dangerous neighbourhood embarking on a ground invasion of Gaza that will not only result in the deaths of many ordinary Palestinian people and Israeli soldiers but will likely open up a war on other fronts, notably in the north with Hezbollah, backed by Iran.
One of the first IDF soldiers to die was Ido, the son-in-law of my old friends, Robi and Charlotte Friedman. He left a young wife, Noga, and three young children. The proposed ground offensive will be a death mission for many hundreds or perhaps thousands of other young Israeli soldiers, and its aims are unachievable. Even if every Hamas operative in Gaza was killed, it would not address the membership of Hamas and other extremist groups in the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan. Indeed, it is already acting as a recruiting sergeant for extremist groups across the world, including—as colleagues have noted—in this country, where we are seeing increasing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Is there a considered Israeli plan? Has there been serious consideration of the consequences? The US military does not think so. As the noble Lord, Lord Reid, said, going in to deal with well-armed terrorists occupying 300 miles of tunnels is one thing; how to get out again is another. Even before the ground offensive starts, the United States and the United Kingdom are finding that European allies are asking questions about the strategy and calling on Israel to hold back, not only to protect the hostages and provide humanitarian aid, but to give time for reflection about the wisdom of such an attack.
I have been warning for years in your Lordships’ House that we are sliding into a third global conflict, and this development in Israel and Gaza is not hermetically sealed from the Russia-Ukraine war, where Iran also plays a background role. The causes and consequences of this conflict are not just local; they are international.
While I was, like everyone else, shocked by the savagery of the Hamas attack and disturbed by the indiscriminate nature of the IDF bombing, I was not surprised. I have visited Israel frequently over many years, and in recent times I could see how the ill treatment of Palestinians was creating a powder keg. Do we really think that there is no relationship at all between the replacement in 2022 of the most broad-based Government in the history of Israel with the most hard-line Government ever and the worst terrorist attack in the history of the State of Israel the following year? Understanding consequences is absolutely not justifying them, but not only have we seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis coming out week after week, month after month, to protest against the Netanyahu/Smotrich/Ben-Gvir coalition, but we know that now more than 80% of Israelis themselves blame that Government for their contribution to the current catastrophe.
That is why I was somewhat dismayed that our Prime Minister and President Biden initially appeared, while rightly responding with support for Israeli people in the face of the Hamas atrocity, to offer support to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu whatever he decided to do. They may well have said different things in private and may well have exerted much-needed pressure, but that is not how it looked in public. The demeanour of the two foreign secretaries, Blinken and Cleverly, seemed to find a much more balanced and wiser narrative and one that has made some progress in recent days. I hope from what he said earlier today that we will continue to hear that more thoughtful narrative reflected in the interventions of the Minister we are fortunate to have in this place, not only today but as we move forward.
Moving forward must mean finding a political settlement. There is no military solution and no political solution that does not take account of the needs of Palestinians. I have been involved with this region for many years and no proposal that fails to take account of the political need of the Palestinians will work. I ask His Majesty’s Government to commit themselves in this very difficult circumstance to work for peace. Those who work for peace are often attacked by both sides, but working for peace is the only way to provide a future for our children and grandchildren.
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend the Minister for his powerful and obviously heartfelt opening remarks.
As soon as I heard about the vile, racist pogrom perpetrated by Hamas, I WhatsApped a Jewish friend who lives here in London and whom I had got to know on a March of the Living trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps a few years ago. I told him how sorry I was about the tragic loss of life in Israel. He replied to say that he had already flown out and re-joined his IDF unit the day after Hamas’s horrific, barbaric butchery. To a further WhatsApp, he replied:
““Even though you are far away, your prayers and words of encouragement are felt here”.
We may be far away, but we should know that what we say in this Chamber today will be felt throughout not just our own Jewish community but also in Israel. Our Jewish brothers and sisters need and deserve our support at such an unbearably painful and traumatic time so, like other noble Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity this debate provides to express mine. In doing so, I am mindful that I cannot possibly know how it feels to be the target of such racist, brutal bloodlust—that I cannot possibly appreciate the horror of knowing that over 6 million of your own people were exterminated in industrialised mass murder within living memory. How can any of us who are not Jewish understand what it feels like to know that your own state, Israel, is the only thing standing between you and extermination simply for being Jewish?
In case we are tempted to dismiss such fears as melodramatic almost 80 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Hamas has reminded us that this is not theory; it is fact. My pilgrimage of remembrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau—where so many members of my late orthopaedic surgeon’s Jewish family were murdered only 79 years ago this summer—reminded me of what happens when we prevaricate, equivocate and wring our hands in the face of anti-Jewish abomination.
We have probably all heard about the Wannsee conference of January 1942 at which the Final Solution fate of millions of Jews across Europe was sealed, but how many of us know about the Évian conference held barely three and a half years earlier to discuss the plight of Germany’s persecuted Jewish population and how the rest of the world could help them? It did not help them; instead, it wrung its hands in sympathy and turned its back on them with tragic consequences.
A few weeks ago, parliamentarians were invited to watch a pre-release screening of the powerful film “Golda”, about Golda Meir, the formidable Israeli Prime Minister at the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Some 25 years earlier, immediately after the Évian conference, she had said to the press:
“There is only one thing I hope to see before I die, and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy anymore”.
If the post-Nuremberg pledge of “never again” is not to be rendered meaningless by Hamas’s savagery in the largest single loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, we have to recognise that warm words of sympathy do not suffice, and that Israel must be allowed to get on with the job of destroying the evil that is Hamas as a matter of urgency. Time is of the essence. I fear that a ceasefire would be a gift to the murderers who threaten us and our values as much as they do Israel—whose very right to exist they deny. They hide behind and glory in the suffering of their people.
My friend flew from London to rejoin his unit because he knows what is at stake—Israel’s survival is on the line. The question is: do we? Do we recognise that unless and until Hamas and its puppet masters in Iran are defeated, they remain a threat to us all?
We all in this Chamber and around the UK, I hope, want peace. But for that to happen, we must be prepared to allow Israel to take the necessary practical steps as soon as possible to remove the primary obstacle to peace: Hamas.
My Lords, I want to speak about proportionality and the position of Iran. I commend the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, as to the meaning of lawful self-defence in international law. If I may respectfully say so, for anybody interested in the subject it is essential reading.
As to proportionality, it is not helpful to examine this concept in the abstract by reference to dictionaries or lexicons; the context is critical. On the weekend of 7 to
Gaza is a small and densely populated enclave. As Hamas well knows, it is obvious that Gazans would be killed or injured because Hamas fires rockets from locations near schools and hospitals hoping to secure worldwide sympathy when Israeli efforts to destroy the source of the firing inevitably result in the death of innocent Gazans. The Al-Ahli Anglican hospital episode has been referred to and is instructive. The loss of life and the related damage to the car park at the hospital were the result of a misfired missile from the cemetery located close to the hospital. There was no Israeli bomb, the missile did not hit the hospital and 500 people were not killed. The journalistic performance of the BBC over this episode was appalling. It also led to unfair international criticism of Israel. It was a piece of fake news. In the Spectator, and with reference generally to the performance of the BBC, the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Etchingham, described the journalism as moral blindness. I completely agree.
Two points come out of that episode. First, Hamas is exclusively responsible for what happened. Secondly, firing missiles from the vicinity of a hospital is an example of Hamas’s indifference to the loss of Palestinian life. From Israel’s perspective this war, as others have said, is about survival. Hamas is committed to the “obliteration” of the State of Israel—that is the word in Hamas’s founding constitutional document. The determination to destroy the State of Israel is reflected in the offensive chant that we are now familiar with, which other noble Lords have mentioned: “From the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea”. That means only one thing: the end of Israel.
The motivation for the timing of the Hamas action was to ensure, if possible, the termination of negotiations designed to bring about the normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and to scupper progress towards a two-state solution. Unfortunately, Hamas has achieved some success in that endeavour. Peaceful relations and international harmony do not figure in the Hamas agenda. In my view, debate about proportionality at this time and in these circumstances is essentially meaningless. I will make the point rhetorically and crudely—I hope noble Lords will forgive me. How many deaths sustained on the Hamas side would be within the limit of what would be acceptably proportionate? That is an insoluble equation.
Repeated references to proportionality, often in the context of demands for Israel to cease fire, merely obscure the underlying problem. Hamas is fully operational. Even as we speak, rockets from Gaza have not ceased to rain down on Israel since hostilities began. Apart from the release of four hostages, no word has been heard from Hamas about the other 222 hostages. Why does Hamas not let them go? Why is it keeping them? This is a gross breach of international law. Israel has an absolute right to defend herself. Israel’s response can not fairly—or even honestly, I would say—be described as disproportionate. It is easy to bandy about the word “proportionate,” but when you think about it, the complexity associated with its application in this context is not fathomable. It has actually become a clichéd mantra.
The other point I want to deal with is the position of Iran. Iran professes to be uninvolved with what happened on that October weekend, but this is nonsense. We know Hamas has been financially and militarily resourced by Iran. There have been reports of Farsi having been spoken during the Hamas incursion, which suggests that the Iranian guard were participants from the outset. We also know that the October weekend was carefully planned. Interventions, including drones, were used, which shut down the defences that would have alerted Israelis to the imminent threat. The level of sophistication in the planning and the use of electronic jamming techniques must have come from Iran. Iran is the Hamas puppet master. It performs a similar function in Lebanon, a broken state, via Hezbollah, another proscribed terrorist group.
Fortunately, the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom are alert to the Iranian threat. President Biden has made it clear that a third-party intervention will not be tolerated. This has been backed up with a United States and British naval presence, now located in the eastern Mediterranean. Our own Government are to be complimented for their steadfast and swift response.
This is a depressing and deeply distressing story, not least because the problem is apparently intractable. I paraphrase the famous observation of Golda Meir to the effect that a solution will be found only when Hamas learns to love Palestinian children more than it hates Jews. If you believe, as I do, that the State of Israel is entitled to exist and to defend its borders and its people against this evil, you will support the position of Israel. I hope that your Lordships share this view.
My Lords, less than two weeks ago, I commenced our party conference by reading Psalm 122.1 read the words:
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces”.
For over 40 years, I have been taking groups to visit Israel to walk the pathway where our saviour walked and where one day my saviour will return.
The attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas gunmen on
Sadly, just like the Holocaust deniers of the past, there are many across the world who totally blinker themselves and peddle the narrative that Israel was to blame for this slaughter of the innocents; or they try to minimise the magnitude of the atrocities carried out by these hate-filled fanatics who invaded Israel with the intent of butchering, burning and capturing innocent civilians. We cannot allow this dangerous propaganda to go unanswered. The undisputable truth is that numerous heavily armed Hamas terrorists with murder in their hearts entered into different Israeli villages and left unbelievable carnage behind them. They did so unashamedly, cheering as they recorded their actions in order to gloat over their atrocities—yes, they recorded the innocent being shot, stabbed, tortured and burned. They bound, gagged and riddled with bullet holes the bodies of young and old. Hamas celebrated the beheading of men, women, children and babies, and yet there are those within our society who seek to justify these actions.
Let me make it clear that those who claim that the Hamas gunmen were soldiers fighting for a just cause are totally deceived. They were evil assassins who murdered the elderly, disabled, children and babies; they raped women, even abusing a dead young woman’s body, having been instructed to kill anyone and everyone. The inhumanity of their actions is unbelievable yet true and it must be condemned by all. Noble Lords may ask how such inhumanity could happen in 2023. Hamas’s stated aim is the obliteration or annihilation of Israel, not peaceful co-existence with Israel. Its actions are therefore taken seeking to achieve its evil ends.
Those who planned this attack did so to cause maximum fear and distress to innocent civilians. Over recent years Israel has been bombarded with numerous rockets fired from Gaza and Lebanon, but what happened on
Why did Hamas not make preparations to feed or alleviate the suffering of its own people? If the truth is told, it did not care. Indeed, the truth is that the Hamas terrorist organisation has been happy to use and abuse the Palestinian people, making them human shields and using their grievous suffering as a part of its propaganda machine to suck in a receptive world.
Even parts of our own media are afraid to call out Hamas as a terrorist organisation and content to call its murderers “militants” or “fighters”. There is absolutely no excuse for creating the impression of a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel’s armed forces. When the hospital was bombed in Gaza the world’s news media were quick to blame Israel but, when independent sources as well as government agencies researched the evidence, this was found to be totally untrue. The blast at the hospital was from a missile fired in Gaza and hundreds of Palestinians paid the price with their innocent lives, yet Hamas used this tragedy to stir up anti-Israeli hatred across the world and, even after evidence has been produced to the contrary, the narrative has not changed.
The State of Israel has a right to defend its citizens from terrorism, and its fight is a fight for survival. Israel cannot co-exist with Hamas, which is out to annihilate it. Either Israel will defeat and wipe out Hamas or Hamas will continue to destroy Israel. We in Northern Ireland were subjected to countless acts of terrorism from the IRA, an evil organisation with terrorist links with Hamas. It too carried out barbaric acts of terror. It too murdered babies, abducted and killed innocent civilians, some of whose bodies have never been recovered.
The people of Palestine are indeed suffering, and a mother’s tears there are the same as in any other area of conflict, but the Israeli Government have exhorted the innocent to leave the Hamas enclave before they attack the enemy. The people living in the villages of Israel were not given that warning. Hamas ordered its terrorists to kill, kill, kill without mercy, to behead or do whatever they liked against peaceful civilians and glory in their evil deeds.
It is deeply worrying to see that anti-Semitic attacks in this country have increased sevenfold from the same period last year. Will the Minister ensure that His Majesty’s Government continue to protect Jewish people living in the United Kingdom and take resolute action against those who seek to threaten them?
As I said earlier, this is a fight for Israel’s survival. I stand with the people of Israel and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
My Lords, I want to say how much I appreciate the Leader of the House finding time to have this important debate.
Last week, our Prime Minister stated that this is a pogrom. I am second generation, born in this country due to another pogrom, which took place in Russia in the 1880s. My grandmother managed to survive and obtained sanctuary in this country, allowing us to live in peace and restart our lives. My national service was in the Canal Zone in Egypt in 1953, at the time when Nasser was trying to make himself king of the whole area. I decided to use my allocated leave to visit Israel for the first time in my life.
Last week there was a major discussion in both Houses on the crisis and I was troubled that there was no mention of containment, as far as I am aware. Hamas knows that it cannot win. It has always known that it could not win. It had to be a different strategy, which has obviously been thought out much earlier. Hamas could not win alone and had to make it a much greater conflict. Through some of my other involvements I have knowledge of the Hezbollah missile capability in particular, which is important to us given the ships we have sent out there. The anti-ship missiles have a highly developed capability. There are of course several Peers taking part in this debate who will have greater professional knowledge than I do. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are now very well known; Iran and the Qataris are key supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah. The greatest concern is that the highly trained, extremely well-armed militias operating in Iraq and Syria, including ISIS and others, have all stated that they intend to help Hamas together with their suicide squads, which are possibly already en route.
Over the past 20 years since 9/11, the real hatred is against the great Satan, the United States of America. One cannot rule out the possibility of the United States being attacked, forcing it to retaliate. The worldwide consequences that would have are immense; this country would also be a target. I have been actively involved with others trying to negotiate a peace process for some 35 years, working earlier with King Hussein and later with His Majesty King Abdullah. I went to visit him at his Aqaba home just after the end of the Iraq war. I have had the pleasure of working with him and his key advisers to this very day. It must be remembered, as has been mentioned, that in 1978 the Egyptian President Sadat offered to negotiate a peace treaty, which was completed in the Camp David accords. On
That has always been my personal hope. Hope has been mentioned several times today, including by the most reverend Primate, our splendid noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and many others. Hope is very special indeed. In Arabic it is “amal”, and in Hebrew it is “tikvah”. It is certainly the case that, as has been mentioned by one or two people here, you need leadership—but the present leadership is not adequate.
Your Lordships may have noticed that I have not commented on the atrocities. My noble friend Lord Leigh is a very warm friend and I am a member of his synagogue. I have been approached by people from synagogues, mosques and churches, but I decided that I preferred to walk by the river and think about how I feel about all these things, so I did.
To finish on a warmer note, there have been times when, because the Jewish are not perfect, we have made mistakes. Some times have got so difficult that some of us have thought that, if it is true that we are designated by God as his chosen people, we should try to get in contact and ask whether he could please choose somebody else instead. I thank my splendid noble friend, the most reverend Primate and many others, as I have learned so much tonight and it is very much appreciated.
My Lords, I will take two perspectives on the situation in Gaza and Israel—one local and one global. I will use both these perspectives to argue for a call for a ceasefire now from the British Government. That call would reflect what the UN Secretary-General, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization are saying. The call also comes from two organisations to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred—Women Wage Peace and Women of the Sun —prominent Israeli and Palestinian women’s groups respectively. I noted that same call in the immensely powerful speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, which drew on the voices of many so awfully affected by the Hamas atrocity.
I will give the local perspective first. Last night I spoke about the more than 2 million people facing acute water shortage. In 30-degree temperatures they do not have clean water to drink, let alone in which to bathe. More than 1 million people have been told to move, when there is nowhere to move to. I draw on a briefing on international law delivered today: forcible transfer is illegal and a war crime, but there are narrow exceptions if it is temporary and to protect civilians from hostilities, provided that there are assurances that they will be able to return home and there is a humanitarian safe haven—safe from war and provided with essential needs. Israel is not adhering to those principles in Gaza.
In north and south Gaza, children—so many children—women and men are being bombed, attacked and blown to pieces. Whole extended families have been obliterated. One story serves as an example of what is happening to many thousands: the British doctor Mohamed Altawil lost 35 people from his family in a strike on a residential building in which around 100 people died in total. Credible accounts put the level of violent deaths of children so far at 1,750. The total rises daily. Of all those children who were not killed, think of the maiming of their bodies and minds. The organisation Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor estimates a daily death toll of 200 children and infants. Some 24 hours ago we debated the situation in Gaza in this Chamber. Since then, 200 children and infants have died.
Last year, before all this started, a report found that four out of five under-18s in Gaza said that they already suffered from depression, grief or fear. That was a sharp deterioration compared with a 2018 study. A ceasefire would of course not undo all that damage to young minds and bodies, but it would mean an end to the reign of death and destruction in Gaza and Israel. Israeli families are mourning terrible losses and hoping desperately for the safety of hostages. A ceasefire would surely improve their chances of survival and freedom.
I turn now to the international perspective. In the UN Security Council, Russia has been using its attempts to promote a ceasefire resolution with backing from China, Gabon, Mozambique and the UAE to distract from its continuing criminal invasion of Ukraine. This is in a context in which Moscow has already won significant levels of backing and abstentions on motions against its attack on Ukraine from states that have become increasingly disillusioned particularly with the US and UK positions on a range of international issues. This comes in a week in which there has been a breakdown in crucial talks on climate loss and damage. In this context, the global South’s view of the global North can only further decline. In practical terms, a call for a ceasefire would also be a small step in the right direction of convincing many countries that the UK and its allies will act in line with the rule of law and follow humanitarian principles for all the world’s peoples.
There are long memories in your Lordships’ House, so some Members might recall the speech given in 1996 by the Conservative Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, to the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. It stated that the UK’s position on Palestine was premised on international law and UN resolutions. The Green Party still holds this morally right position today, as it has always done. If we are to establish an order based on the international rule of law which all are expected to obey, we need this to be in the interests of Palestinians, Israelis and us all.
When I talk about the climate emergency, speakers from the Benches opposite often ask, “But what can the UK do?” The same question might be put here, although both our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister seem keen to put themselves forward as central players on the world stage. Rather, I suggest that we need to be humble and realistic. There are limits to what we can do, although restoring overall levels of official development assistance would be a good place to start. We can adopt international law and humanitarian imperatives as the guide for our words and actions.
The Government could start by speaking up for international law and accepting their responsibility to make a judgment call about what is happening in Gaza now, not trying to evade doing so as they have been in the face of multiple challenges in recent days. By not doing so they are implicitly saying that they regard the continuing slaughter of the innocents as acceptable. They could acknowledge that if one party does not adhere to the rule of law, that does not give the green light to the other side also not to adhere to the rules of war.
I will make two final short comments. Atrocity prevention should be at the centre of all UK foreign policy. We could do much more on this. As many other noble Lords have said, we should be putting our own modest contribution towards efforts to relaunch a political process for a two-state solution. The world’s attention had turned away from that; it clearly cannot afford to stay away.
My Lords, rather than take sides in this debate, I should like to offer suggestions as to how to move forward positively, peacefully and with compassion and respect for all.
First, we need to arrive at a position where the nations of the world, including the United Kingdom, are ready to acknowledge and recognise the state of Palestine alongside Israel. We can find inspiration in the words of empathetic leaders who have comprehended the gravity of this situation. One particular speech by Barack Obama comes to mind in which he eloquently articulated the need for hope and respect for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank without resorting to aggression, but rather with a sincere call for empathy and understanding.
Secondly, it is time for us to take action, extend compassion and earnestly work towards a peaceful resolution for both sides. We cannot permit the continuation of the suffering faced by the citizens of Israel under the existing status quo. Let us begin to strive for a future where Israel and Palestine can coexist in peace and prosperity.
Thirdly, and constructively, to alleviate the short-term terror, we should agree to create a long-term plan along the lines that I suggested a few weeks ago in this House and for which I have had high-level endorsement. If we have a positive plan, which I will explain in one minute, of a future where everyone benefits, we can work towards it as partners for peace.
So, Saudi Arabia—Mohammed bin Salman—should work with Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians to build a huge port in Gaza, linked to Cyprus, so that Palestine becomes the Hong Kong of the region and its citizens become wealthy. Together, these countries—Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan—having become partners in this huge, positive construction project, can all develop the Sinai peninsula as a huge solar energy park as a source of clean energy for the planet, moving the region from oil and gas income to solar power.
This partnership would build peace, co-operation and green energy on the vast scale that the world needs. My friend Samir Takla in Egypt is in close contact with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and they would like this to happen. Perhaps the Minister, who has been so helpful in all of this, might invite the parties here to discuss this in a positive, constructive way, with the UK playing a co-ordinating role. Several organisations with which I am involved would be happy to help organise and facilitate such a conference and project.
My Lords, like everyone in your Lordships’ House and across the country and world, I heard the news on
The attack on Israel was an atrocity, the likes of which we have not seen since the Holocaust. It is the worst attack since 9/11, but the worst loss of life for Jewish people since the Holocaust. Israel has a right to defend itself and we must support Israel in defending itself. However, it is absolutely the case that Israel must abide by international law. We should also be looking for a temporary cessation of hostilities at the very least to allow humanitarian aid to get into Gaza.
Whoever the perpetrators might be—Hamas is a terrorist organisation—the majority of people in Gaza are under 18. They are not the perpetrators of the crimes of
Apart from the situation in Israel and Gaza at the moment, there are three things I would like to raise: first, the domestic consequences in the United Kingdom of the conflict; secondly, the regional implications; and, thirdly, the wider, global situation. I am not going quite as far as my noble friend Lord Alderdice in suggesting that this is going to be the third global conflict, but there are clearly very serious consequences we need to be aware of and where His Majesty’s Government hopefully have some thoughts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised concerns about a lack of education about Judaism and the Holocaust. In particular, she raised concerns about two universities, one of which is my university—the University of Cambridge. I apologise if anybody feels that there is anti-Semitism stemming from the University of Cambridge. Clearly, anti-Semitism must be condemned. The spillover of anti-Semitism into this country, the rise of anti-Semitic crime, and the concerns as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, of Jewish children going to school and university, is something that we really need to be looking to. We need to overcome anti- Semitism in this country, but we also need to avoid a spillover into Islamophobia. Both of those things are vital.
On regional spillover, we have heard reference to Iran this evening but we have not heard much more about the wider regional consequences that could come about from the current situation in Israel and Gaza. Could the Minister tell us what assessment His Majesty’s Government are making of the situation with Lebanon and the role of Hezbollah, and how far Iran is involved in this conflict? In particular, will His Majesty’s Government look again at proscribing the Iranian revolutionary guard?
Finally, I turn to the wider consequences. Already we have heard that President Erdoğan of Turkey, a NATO partner, has close links with Hamas—there has been reference in the media to that situation—though he is possibly pulling back slightly. Have His Majesty’s Government talked to President Erdoğan? Beyond that, what about other partner nations and countries that have seen support for Hamas—not just Qatar but further afield?
At present the United States and the United Kingdom have been stalwart in their support of Israel, but many countries have not been so stalwart in that support. There are competing rhetorics, quite apart from the fake news that has been talked about this evening. What assessment are His Majesty’s Government making around some of the wider challenges for the global situation and for relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims?
As my noble friend Lord Alderdice reminded us, in Palestine it is not just Muslims who are being killed but also Christians. We talk about the Holy Land. Jerusalem is a city that is prized by Christians, Muslims and Jews. We can only join with the Minister when he recited earlier the Muslim prayer, “To God we belong and to God we return”. Let us hope that that sees us returning not just to God but to peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.
My Lords, I begin by conveying my deepest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and to all other noble Lords who may have lost friends and families in Palestine and Israel. I am grateful to the Minister for conveying the government messages in the way that he has, and I look forward to the work that he has done and will do for the two-state solution.
It is difficult to express ourselves in words as we view the brutal and senseless kidnapping and murder of innocent men, women and children. I stand in this House as a daughter of a land, born of a mother and a family, that stood with courage to resist the might of genocidal occupiers who vowed to obliterate a whole nation and people with one purpose: to crush the inalienable rights of self-determination to live in a free and independent nation. I have spoken about that before in this House.
We did not have modern smartphones relaying the live butchery of war but as a child, like millions of others, I was a witness, and for the 52 years since that experience has shaped my life and my thinking, as has the hope that my mother embedded in my heart. The British Conservative Government were one of the first to recognise an independent Bangladesh, so I speak with a heavy heart in utter dismay at how far we seem to have moved from our core British values of proclaimed fairness, justice and the protection of all who exercise the rights of nationhood and freedom.
There is no question that the terror perpetrated by Hamas was disgusting, barbaric and merciless—as is the indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians in Gaza today. I find myself agreeing with the many people who have spoken and written to me about the lack of integrity that our government institutions and leaders have shown throughout the latest crisis in the Middle East, as silent observers who may be fully cognisant of the potential violation of international laws and conventions to protect women and children and provide the basic necessities of food, water and shelter. That is wrong.
Indeed, the UK Government’s strident support has emboldened the current Israeli Government, mired in national controversy. Regardless of any constraint gently called for by our Government, Israel continues to shower thousands of bombs—possibly using phosphorus —on the civilians of Gaza. Thousands of men, women and children have perished, among the estimated 5,000 slaughtered and 15,000 injured, while many more thousands, including entire families, remain buried under the rubble, as was stated by the Minister. Our screens are filled with live footage of children being pulled out from under flattened homes, lifeless or severely injured and absolutely terrified of the carnage before their eyes, screaming in a frenzy for their mothers and fathers to wake from death. How are we able to stand cold-faced and vow to protect one family but not another in the same land?
I am deeply concerned at the dehumanising language that our Government and some media organisations have been using in relation to Palestine, Palestinians and Muslims across the world, including in the UK. That dehumanising language holds immense power and is detrimental to the individuals and communities that it targets, perpetrating harmful stereotypes, fostering suspicions and resulting in an intensely hostile environment that is dangerous for our children and for a cohesive Britain.
While I note the Prime Minister’s assurances, I cannot overstate the public perception and sense of anger that we have failed in safeguarding British Muslims and Jewish communities against a very real, threatening rise in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks. Responsible Governments play a crucial role in fostering an informed society that validates the balanced and factual opinion that they provide to the public, particularly during conflicts, as was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and my noble friend Lady Blackstone.
Many noble Lords have spoken about misinformation in this context. I too am alarmed about the many one-sided narratives online and offline, including those that have filtered through to my House of Lords work phone. I wonder where security is on that.
Public support cannot be taken for granted and there is evidence of an erosion of trust as government and non-government officials continue to offer unequivocal support for the Israeli Government, who may be committing war crimes, as stated by human rights organisations. We have already seen vast numbers on the streets of our cities and throughout the world who refuse to condone any collective punishment. This has far-reaching consequences for the public’s understanding and trust and ultimately undermines the democratic values we hold dear.
Internationally, we risk our credibility as brokers of peace and stalwarts for justice. No other nation shall easily accept that we are capable of upholding higher standards of human rights. The presentation of a nation’s integrity demands justice for all, not just those we consider partners and friends.
My voice may not carry far enough, but I too demand that Hamas releases all hostages unconditionally. There must be an immediate ceasefire, for, just as with the tragedy of Iraq, we will rue these decisions. Once again, I believe that the UK Government are standing on the wrong side of history, however it is portrayed.
What legal advice and assurance have the Government obtained prior to declaring unreserved support for Israel’s military operation in Gaza and its civilian population? Do the Government view any aspects of Israeli attacks as potential war crimes?
I call upon my Government to urge on the Israeli Government an immediate ceasefire and to urge their co-operation with the Governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, South Africa, Malaysia and all the other countries which attended the summit in Cairo. I welcome wholeheartedly and praise unreservedly the collective international efforts, particularly of Qatar and Red Crescent, towards releasing all hostages and reaching a ceasefire, and for a peaceful, free and independent Palestine.
I fear that my words cannot do justice to all those who have perished and every family who have lost their loved ones. Like so many witnessing the carnage of war, my heart weeps to God for justice, and I pray that peace will prevail over the pillage of war. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un—from God we come and to God we return.
My Lords, these are dark times, and they are becoming darker still. We have heard many impressive contributions today which will shape for some time to come national and international understanding of these great issues at stake.
I take particular pleasure in paying tribute to the outstanding contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, with his courage in calling out the SWP and other entities on our streets that are disfiguring our national debate, and to the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, one of our pre-eminent Silks, for his outstanding exposition of the issues relating to proportionality and other matters of international law. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Austin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for their contributions and to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister for maintaining Britain’s position in the world and our relevance, so that our voice still counts for something.
I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon; I am mindful of the debate on the Abraham accords last month in the Moses Room in Grand Committee, the last occasion on which I heard him in person on the affairs of this region. It all seems a tremendously long time ago now. Rightly, those Abraham accords still enjoy widespread cross-party support across the House and I will return to that matter later.
Although our voices will be heard abroad, our particular responsibility, as British subjects, is here in the UK. Our deliberations will have especial resonance on our doorstep. So, too, will the words of high-profile external stakeholders in this country.
It was on
“Write to your MP. Stop Gaza Genocide”.
Genocide—think of the word. This is an outrageous assertion, to the point of being a blood libel. No reputable authority on international law, whatever they think of Israel’s response to Hamas’s attack of
There are policy implications for our country here. The first relates to community engagement. Pre-eminently, the previous Labour Government under Gordon Brown rightly cut contact with the Muslim Council of Britain in 2009, after its then deputy secretary- general signed the Istanbul declaration, calling for attacks on Royal Navy vessels enforcing a UN weapons blockade on Hamas-run Gaza. The Muslim Council of Britain, despite its avowed modernisation programme, still does not resile from that position. Indeed, its present deputy secretary-general, Mohammed Kozbar, has publicly praised the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, as
“the master of the martyrs of the resistance”.
That is why it is right that all successive Prime Ministers, whether under the coalition or Conservative Governments since then, have maintained the ban on the Muslim Council of Britain. Will my noble friend the Minister therefore now reaffirm this non-engagement policy and give further assurances that the policy will be implemented throughout government, including within the Ministry of Defence and other departments? It would also be interesting to know where the Labour Party presently stands on this issue. Will the Minister also ask my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that responses to this crisis should now inform part of the newly reforged extremism criteria, which his ministry is presently working on?
I began tonight with reflections on the Abraham accords. I greatly welcome the work and initiative of figures such as Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham, Perry Barr, to set up new structures and bodies that will put those accords at the heart of community relations in this country. More than ever, we need the spirit of that greatest interfaith initiative of our times, not least on the streets of this country.
My Lords, I too begin by expressing great thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for the grace, wisdom and fortitude with which he has led us in this debate. I welcome the consensus that I have heard across the Chamber from all sides. Like others, I have learned so much this evening. I also want to echo what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said earlier: I too deeply mourn and cry out for all those who have been brutally murdered in this conflict and rightly note the duty of Israel to guard and defend her citizens, yet at the same time I cry out on behalf of the innocent in every community and appeal for a peace with justice.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Godson, who we have just heard from, I want to say a little about an element of this that we have not discussed that much in this debate, which is the impact of it all here in our own country and how this, in turn, affects the world. We are, as we know, a global community living in an age of instant communication. Our interconnectedness means that this conflict is felt deeply across the world and directly affects communities here in the UK, immediately and especially Jewish and Muslim communities. There are of course personal consequences. We have movingly heard about those for some of us here in this Chamber, but even if we do not know people ourselves, we know people who know people who are related to those in Israel and Palestine who have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes—even those who are still being held hostage.
At the same time, the unfiltered platform that social media allows to extremist voices is making the situation worse, creating an atmosphere of palpable fear—this came up in Questions earlier today—and it is something we urgently need to address. It has no place in our democracy. As the noble Lords, Lord Harrington, Lord Bilimoria, Lord McCrea and Lord Godson, have said, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise, but particularly anti-Semitism. Senseless and pointless attacks on Jewish community buildings, schools and individuals have all increased, and the statistics are truly frightening, as we have heard.
Up and down the country, and built up over many years, we have across our nation a strong network of regional faith forums, many of which I have been involved with, as have almost all the Bishops on these Benches. Yet, I hear that a number of them, while relationships continue, are struggling to agree joint statements or hold vigils for peace because it is all too raw and emotions are running so high, and because there are still so many unhelpful voices around. However, some have taken place, and this is a vital sign of hope, and something that we must build on. Although, like the noble Lord, Lord Godson, I abhor the hateful voices, I also want to pay tribute to women and men from across our faith communities—I am thinking especially of Muslim and Jewish leaders that I know—who are working courageously to lead through this time and at considerable personal cost. There are inspiring examples of this happening across the north, in Leeds, Bradford and other places where I serve. I am thinking here of teachers, pastors, priests, youth workers and community workers who are nurturing the values that we all hold dear, caring for one another and building community across strong difference.
We need to be clear that how individuals and communities act here and now, today, tomorrow, in this country, will shape and influence what happens next, in the coming days and for the years ahead. Which also means that what we say here—our statements, policies and prayers—both in content and tone, matters. I note particularly the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, earlier, about the need to renew our religious education and particularly education around the Holocaust. So, while of course we must condemn utterly those who foster fear and hatred in our communities, we also need to galvanise and support those who at the local level are modelling something different and seeking the way of peace.
Finally, in the last couple of weeks I have noticed two things: first, that human blood is red—Jewish blood, Muslim blood, Christian blood; secondly, like the ocean, tears are salt water, and the flood levels are rising. Unless we pay attention, both internationally and at home, to the things that make for peace, unless we are clear about the evils we face and the need to strengthen international law to make safe passage, then we might be overwhelmed. Therefore, I ask the Minister, what efforts are being made to support those at the local level who are working for community cohesion and are busy making peace.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. I pay tribute to him for his public statement last Monday and in particular for his message of support for the Jewish community here in the UK.
Although this excellent debate has ranged far and wide, I want to focus my remarks on matters rather closer to home. On Saturday night, I had two children in uniform. My son, who has now made his life in Israel, wore the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. Like most 20 year-olds in Israel, he is doing military service. He personally saw the aftermath of Hamas’s atrocities, sights which no 20 year-old—in fact, no one—should see. But he is in uniform because, if he and his friends were not, there would not be an Israel. It really is that simple.
My other child in uniform was my daughter. Her uniform was trainers, jeans and a necklace with a Magen David—a Star of David—around her neck. That is her customary Saturday night uniform, in common with many teenage girls in north London, as they come into town on the Tube to enjoy this great city’s nightlife. I was more concerned about the safety of my daughter than of my son.
How on earth have we got to a place where I am more concerned about a teenage girl in London with a Star of David around her neck than my son in an army uniform in a country at war? There are three reasons: information, institutions and constitution. I will give an example of each.
The first is information. The BBC is not a state broadcaster, but it is a national broadcaster. I say this with genuine regret as a supporter of the BBC: in the past few weeks it has brought us national shame. I need not take time with the BBC’s abject failure to describe Hamas in plain English as what it is: a terrorist group. After an intervention from me and other noble Lords, the BBC announced that it had stopped calling Hamas “militants”—I am not making this up—because
“we have been finding this a less accurate description for our audiences as the situation evolves”.
A “less accurate description”—no further comment is necessary. However, last week the BBC reported, uncritically, and citing only Palestinian officials—which of course means Hamas—that Israel had struck the Al-Ahli hospital. But what the Israelis said at the time has now been corroborated: it was an Islamic Jihad rocket that hit the hospital. That defamatory report is still on the BBC website.
In our community we are used to some people, such as Mr Corbyn, parroting Hamas propaganda, but to have the BBC do it when it would not have done so with propaganda from ISIS or al-Qaeda led to real consequences, not just the cancellation of a summit in Amman but in this city too: Jewish schools closed, kosher restaurants smashed up, heightened security at every synagogue—and my daughter wondering whether it was safe to go on the Tube.
Others repeated that propaganda, including, I am afraid, a noble friend of mine, who tweeted not just that the Israelis had hit the hospital but that they had “targeted” it—a word she used twice. I called that out as a modern blood libel, and I am delighted that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury used the same language recently as well. But the damage was done. Other terrorist groups will have seen and taken note. So we should remember the old injunction: “Careless talk costs lives”.
The second is our institutions. The Jewish community has learned over the past two weeks who our many friends are. We have also seen who they are not. I will give just one short example: our universities. University Jewish societies no longer publicise where they are meeting. The address is handed out, samizdat fashion, shortly before the meeting. This is not some underground group in Soviet Russia but a Jewish society in this country in 2023.
Our universities have become centres of binary thinking, where you are either an oppressor or the oppressed. In the case of Israel, it would seem that oppressors include murdered babies and kidnapped grandmothers—although sometimes Hamas preferred to kidnap the babies and murder their grandmothers. Students and their professors will write long and apparently scholarly articles explaining how words are violence and silence is violence, but they now offer no words—only silence—in the face of not just violence but a pogrom. So if, when we face terrorism, careless talk costs lives, silence in the face of terrorism costs even more.
The third is our constitution. I do not mean the royal and political elements of our constitution. The moral lead shown by His Majesty the King in response to what went on, and his granting the Chief Rabbi a private audience, has resonated across the entire Jewish community, as has the principled stance taken by the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and other political leaders. This is not a party-political issue.
The Jewish community is protected by law, but many currently feel that they are not protected by those whose job it is to enforce the law. The shout “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is not a nursery rhyme; it is a murderous rhyme because it calls for the destruction of Israel and, necessarily, its inhabitants. It is not a demand for the two-state solution in which I and so many others still believe. But the police have done nothing about it.
They did not even intervene when members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that is illegal in many other western countries but is still legal here for some reason, chanted for jihad. I am aware that “jihad” has several meanings apart from armed struggle: it can refer to self-reflection, personal improvement and quiet meditation. But when it is chanted on the streets of London with a banner referring to Muslim armies liberating Palestine, and when the group’s website refers to
“heroic feats carried out by the heroic Mujahideen in the Blessed Land—Palestine”,
I simply do not understand how the Metropolitan Police concluded that that cry for jihad was not supporting or glorifying Hamas, which is a criminal offence.
Careless talk costs lives, but silence in the face of terrorism costs more. Police inaction will only encourage those who want to bring their violence and terrorism here. We need to change, to call out terrorism for what it is, to speak out against terrorists and their apologists here, and to act firmly to keep people—everyone—safe. The safety of my son in his army uniform is ultimately a matter for the Government of Israel, but the safety of my daughter on the Tube in London is a matter for our Government and this Parliament.
I conclude with this. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, quoted Jeremiah, chapter 31, verse 15. The prophet there sees the matriarch Rachel in her resting place at Rama, so close to Bethlehem, weeping as the people of Israel are led past her as captives into exile, but she refuses to be comforted. As the noble and right reverend Lord said, that verse is repeated in the New Testament in Matthew, chapter 2, verse 18. There is a Jewish tradition that we do not end a biblical reading on a note of despondency, so I conclude by reciting the immediately following two verses in Jeremiah, as we all pray for the safe return of all the hostages:
“Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord”— veshavu vanim lig’vulam—
“thy children shall return to their own borders”.
My Lords, it has been a sombre debate appropriate for the circumstances that we are in. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the Minister. We are lucky in this House at the moment to have the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, as the Minister for the Middle East.
Just over a year ago, alongside my noble friend Lady Ludford, I was close to the Gaza border in the kibbutz Netiv HaAsara. We were welcomed into homes for tea. Sixteen people in that kibbutz were murdered. The trauma felt by that community has been felt in Jewish communities across the globe, especially here at home, as we have just heard from the noble Lord. It is still living, given the ongoing hostages so brutally taken and abused.
As the Minister said, the year leading up to
All our efforts now must be to prevent further suffering within Israel, in Gaza and the West Bank, and to prevent conflict contagion in the neighbouring countries. I spoke to a friend in Lebanon last week, and she is scared of what may lie ahead. The violence and tactics of Hamas have been repulsive, and the Israeli Government have the first duty of all Governments to protect their citizens. I do not know and cannot judge whether the three war aims by the Israeli war cabinet to the IDF are achievable militarily. From my many visits to northern Iraq during the occupation of Mosul, I know—and share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Reid—that any ground invasion will be catastrophic for the civilians in the area, and indeed for many of the IDF recruits and conscripts who will be sent to carry out that work. In Mosul, 10,000 civilians died and 1 million people were displaced.
As my noble friend Lord Alderdice said, some of the claims that Hamas is identical to Daesh are perhaps less accurate than the claim that there would be more similarities to the Taliban. I returned for the Statement last night from Addis Ababa, where I had been carrying out discussions with Sudanese exiled from that horrible conflict. I have been to too many war zones over the last three years not to appreciate that civilians will be the first victims of any wider conflict.
As noble Lords have said, there is no equivalence to the acts of Hamas terrorism. There should be no justification or equivocation in the condemnation of them. Equally, there are not two versions of international law, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem said. We cannot in one conflict espouse the rules-based international order, only to set it aside in another. I listened extremely carefully to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Verdirame and Lord Grabiner. I too have read elements of the manual when it comes to combatants, the prohibition of the forced displacement of people, the rules on starvation, the rules on regulating humanitarian relief operations and the rules on evacuations—that they must be voluntary. Even then, when people do not evacuate, they do not forfeit their status or protections.
I also read the letter, as referred to in the debate, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger—not just a lawyer but the former president of the UK Supreme Court, and other significant British Jewish lawyers who wrote on international humanitarian law. He said in the letter to the Financial Times:
“These laws apply irrespective of the level of outrageous conduct of an enemy and no exceptions to those rules can be derived from the level of suffering caused by Hamas’s actions”.
I agree that international law is applicable to allies and adversaries alike. Clear breaches by Hamas do not justify breaches by Israel.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, added in his letter:
“There are some aspects of Israel’s response that already cause significant concern. International law forbids sieges of civilian populations. Gaza is home to some 2mn fellow human beings (almost half of whom are children) and it would be a grave violation of international law to hold them under siege and while doing so deprive them of basic necessities such as food and water. To be clear, collective punishment is prohibited by the laws of war”.
“In these times of pain and terror the notion that there are laws that we must all live by is challenging but essential. Jewish history teaches us that we cannot give up on them”.
In recent days we have seen the slight opening of lifesaving aid for Gaza civilians—as the Minister referred to—which is welcome, but I agree with the Minister and many noble Lords in this debate that this is not enough. We also saw good offices used to free some hostages, but there should be no question that all hostages need to be released, and not through the deliberate psychological torture of partial release, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said. I endorse the calls for the International Committee of the Red Cross to have immediate access to all hostages—as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, called for last evening after the Statement—as a first step to their release.
In Gaza the conditions forced upon the civilian population are now extreme, as we heard from my noble friend Lady Janke and others. Southern Gaza is now the most densely populated place on the planet, with UN shelters hosting up to 11 times the number of people they were designed for. Those brave United Nations staff working so hard to provide the limited services available are suffering too. Overnight it was announced that another six UNRWA staff have been confirmed killed, bringing the total to 35 since
UNRWA stocks of medicines are critically decreasing and it is warning today that services will run out tomorrow. I agree with the Minister that aid needs to be brought in at a far greater rate and scale than has been provided for in recent days. I also join my noble friends Lord Palmer and Lady Sheehan in agreeing with the UN Secretary-General, and today President Macron, in their calls for a safe, secure route for UN staff to enable supplies to get to the people who need them and the humanitarian workers.
There should be a cessation of hostilities in key areas. Water services need to be restored. A humanitarian suspension of hostilities should also allow for the much-needed diplomatic work on the conditions of the next stage, which should be a ceasefire whereby civilians are protected, along with Israel’s right to get its hostages home safely and protect itself. This will of course be exceptionally difficult but it will be necessary.
The UK has a strong and respected track record of planning and then delivering humanitarian aid and in peacemaking. I declare an interest as chair of the UK board for Search for Common Ground, a peacemaking charity. We need to be an increasing participant in this regard. Like my noble friend Lady Sheehan, I pay tribute to Women Wage Peace. I chaired a panel with that remarkable group of women in a parliamentary event parallel to the freedom of religion and belief conference that the Minister was so active in last year.
I welcome the announced increase in support to UNRWA, and the commendation of it by the Leader of the House last night. However, we need to reverse what I highlighted in the Chamber in March—the cutting by half of UK funding to UNRWA from £70 million in 2018 to £28 million in 2021. We need to build a reserve of humanitarian support, which may be needed by the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the West Bank in particular. We need to reverse the reductions of UK support to the OPT, which fell from £107 million in 2019-20 to just £17 million this year. If Gaza will not be occupied by Israel again then the West Bank authorities will need greater capacity. Hard as we foresee this will be, it will be necessary. I hope the Minister agrees that we must have a reserve of funds available for future need.
Wider than funding, our diplomatic presence will be needed more than ever in the coming days to prevent the wider conflagration which Hamas and its sponsors will be hoping for. We need to recognise that, if we do not work even harder for the two-state solution, even in these terribly fraught times, then we push the Palestinian cause further from Israel’s Arab neighbours to Tehran. Many assumptions behind some elements of the Abraham accords which neglected the Palestinian cause may now need to be revisited.
These Benches have called repeatedly for the recognition of the state of Palestine. We recognise Jerusalem to be the capital of two peoples. Even though at this deeply dark moment that may be harder to achieve than for 50 years, our minds must still be on what has to be a future where Israel is a state free from existential threat and Palestinians have a state which is a homeland too. Both need to live in security and peace and to build prosperity for the future. As my noble friend Lord Oates, said, success of one cannot be secured sustainably by the failure of the other.
The wider world needs Israel, as the democracy in the region that it is, and it needs it to operate within international law, as we have seen the growth of autocracies such as Russia and China give a lead to coups in Africa and elsewhere, where they say that democracy is a failed concept and breeds hypocrisy. The world needs Israel.
In our debates, being pro-Israel should not silence you when its politicians take extreme political positions, and being pro-Palestinian should not mean that you turn a blind eye to terrorist atrocities. I am pro-Israel. I am a friend of Palestine. We need not feed a narrative which sophisticated misinformation and disinformation— malignant forces—seek to perpetuate. They wish a polarisation and to close down a measured perspective which shows respect and maintains common principles. At times of violence and conflict, we need those approaches more than ever, even though they may be harder than ever.
We often say here that actions are stronger than words, but in the Middle East, which I have visited over 50 times in the last six years, words are actions. As my noble friend Lord Hussain said, we need to be sensitive to this at home. However, we also need to be clear with our words. For those Jewish and Muslim people in our communities we say in the clearest terms that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are contrary to everything that we believe. Both communities will be respected and protected.
It is likely that my next speech will be on the first humble Address of the new King’s reign. Winding his speech from these Benches—from this very spot—in the debate on the first humble Address of Her late Majesty’s reign in 1952 was Viscount Samuel. To quote from Hansard, he said:
“For five years I had the great honour, as representative of the British Crown and under the supervision of the League of Nations, to preside over the Administration which laid the foundations of the modern State in Palestine. That task was accomplished and all went well for some years afterwards, but of late there have been conflict and war. Although the war is over, there is still no peace, and grave suffering has been caused, particularly to the Arab refugees. I most earnestly hope that the United Nations now will take active steps to bring about a settlement”.—[Official Report, 6/11/1952; col. 103.]
How sad it is that 70 years later I, as a successor on these Benches, will be repeating some of this message.
We have of course seen success—Israel has been a remarkable success in so many regards. However, there is still no peace, as my noble friend Lady Janke said, and we have debated today in similar terms to those then. These are very dark days, but we can only survive in light, and this must be our endeavour going forward for the young people in the region. Many of us know that “shalom” and “salaam” have the same Semitic origin and both mean “peace”. These are words which must also be action.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, not only for his incredibly moving and powerful introduction to this debate but for all the work that he undertakes in the FCDO in the cause of justice and peace across the globe. Not for the first time, he and I are absolutely at one on this issue; there is no difference between us. I have been shadowing him for many years now and it is incredible how, with events in the world, we have become closer. I hope that is a good sign for the future, too.
As Keir Starmer said yesterday, the brutal attack in Israel just over two weeks ago was the darkest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust. The horror and suffering caused is seared into memories with images of the dead and dying that can never be unseen. As we have heard in this debate, despite those events two weeks ago, Israel is still under attack, with rockets still being fired over it and launched against it. Israel has the right and, indeed, the duty to bring home all hostages being held by Hamas and to weaken the capabilities which made Black Saturday possible. A military response from Israel is justified in these circumstances, and it must be within those sacred parameters of international law and the protection of human life. As Keir Starmer has said:
“We democracies know that all human life is equal. Innocent lives must be protected. These are the principles that differentiate us from the terrorists who target Israel”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/10/23; col. 593.]
As noble Lords have mentioned, at the weekend we saw the release of two American hostages, and last night saw the release of Nurit Cooper and Yocheved Lifschitz, but their husbands are still being held as hostages. Oded—Yocheved’s husband—is a journalist who, for decades, has worked for peace and the rights of Palestinians. When I spoke to the NUJ, it said that in 1972 he defended the rights of Bedouin people who were expelled from their homes in the Rafah area, south of Gaza. In May, I visited that area and met Bedouins who had been expelled from their homes. I also met Israelis who were absolutely determined to build communities together and secure peace. A very shocking thing is that Hamas attacked those people, and particularly the young people who were the future for peace. It is outrageous, but we should not let that hinder our determination to seek peace.
My noble friend Lady Smith met Yocheved’s daughter last week; my noble friend said that she bore her fear and pain with dignity that only served to emphasise the depth of her emotions. I heard her on Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning. It was absolutely powerful testimony. She spoke about talking to her mother, who was “very sharp” and “keen to share information”. Of course, speaking later to the media from a hospital in Tel Aviv, Yocheved described how she was kidnapped by Hamas gunmen on motorbikes, hit with sticks and taken into a “spider’s web” of underground tunnels. She said:
“I went through hell that I could not have known”.
The release of four hostages is, of course, welcome, but what we must do and must support and must ensure is the unconditional release of all of those hostages.
As we have heard in the debate, Gaza is facing a humanitarian emergency and innocent civilians are terrified for their lives. We have seen children forced to flee their homes, clean water running out and hospitals barely able to function. Certainly, we welcome President Biden’s initiative and the US-led diplomacy that brokered the agreement for a few dozen trucks carrying life-saving humanitarian aid to cross into the Gaza Strip. The Minister mentioned the numbers: 20 on Saturday, 14 on Sunday and, tonight, we are up to 50 trucks getting through; but that is simply not enough.
Gaza is a city the size of Birmingham; a place where, even before this devastation, life was a struggle, as my noble friend Lord Reid illustrated so well. Of course, those 50 trucks are welcome progress, but, as I said, not nearly enough. The UK Government must do everything in their power, working with partners, to get food, water, medicine and fuel to help those innocent citizens. I welcome the Minister’s announcement —and welcomed the PM’s announcement—of a doubling of support; but the EU has announced a tripling of support. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, there is no doubt that we need to up that support over the coming days and weeks. I hope the Minister can reassure the House that that will be done.
We must also follow the US example by appointing a UK special co-ordinator for international aid to Gaza. As the Minister said, the FCDO has amazing expertise within it. We should ensure that British experts and medical support teams are deployed immediately, as well as working with international partners to give UN agencies such as UNRWA the long-term resources they need and insisting that fuel is allowed into Gaza.
When I was in the West Bank in May, I met UNWRA officials. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, UNRWA had been run down in respect of funding and support over a number of years, and that has impacted hugely on its ability to provide necessary support in this crisis. I welcome the action that the Minister has highlighted tonight. I also echo the call made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for humanitarian corridors and humanitarian access. There must be proper protection for all those who work selflessly so that aid can be delivered to victims.
The simple fact is that, if Hamas had a single concern for the safety of Palestinian people, it would never have taken hostages. The responsibility for this crisis lies with Hamas and nobody else. The scenes of hundreds killed at the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist hospital are devastating and cannot be justified. As we have heard tonight, we know who was responsible for that. Hospitals and civilian lives must be protected. We all have a duty to act responsibly and judiciously, as the facts are determined.
I stress that I also agree absolutely with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York that we must not allow these tragic events to divide our communities. As we have heard in the debate, the Community Security Trust and the Metropolitan Police have reported a steep increase in anti-Semitic incidents in recent days, including abuse and assaults. Tell MAMA has reported a tripling of cases for its services, including reports of anti-Muslim threats, abuse and assaults. We must denounce hate crime in the strongest terms. We are in touch with the police, the CST and Tell MAMA, which are co-ordinating the response to such threats. We expect to see a robust response to all incidents of hate associated with the conflict and call on Government to support these groups, and to play their part in preventing an escalation of tensions. There is absolutely no place in Britain for anti-Semitic hate or Islamophobia.
I also share the concern that has been highlighted that such divisions and hatred can spread. I share the most reverend Primate’s concern about the escalation of violence in the West Bank, too. We should focus on that to try to ensure that peace can return and that communities can work together.
The Minister—perhaps this is one area where I will have a bit of a pop at him—is aware I have consistently called, along with other noble Lords, for the proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary and shadow Home Secretary had called for this last January. As we have heard in the debate, my noble friend Lord Coaker moved an amendment to the National Security Act to that effect. I hope that we will see some action. Over the weekend, the media reported that the US is now pressuring the UK to proscribe the group over its complicity in supporting Hamas. I hope that the Minister can give a clear indication tonight that the Government will finally act to proscribe this organisation.
Another issue brought up in the debate has been that in the fog of this war, disinformation is flooding social media. What are the Government doing to ensure that social media companies act responsibly to limit toxic and dangerous disinformation? As the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, said, loose talk endangers lives.
The biggest risk of this war is that it could deepen into a wider regional conflict. That would be disastrous for the Middle East as well as the wider world. The Minister mentioned in his introduction the discussions taking place with allies to ensure containment and de-escalation. I hope that in his response, he can give a little more detail about those discussions and how they are progressing.
I also welcome what the Minister said about support for British nationals who have been trapped in Gaza since the outbreak of this war. During his trip to the Middle East, the Prime Minister met the Egyptian president, President al-Sisi, and talked of progress in that regard. I hope that the Minister can again give us more detail about how we can support UK nationals trying to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing.
Hamas wants the chaos of war, which is why it has committed this outrageous act. Hamas wants Jews to suffer. Hamas wants the Palestinian people to share in the pain. That is because, as my noble friend Lord Turnberg said, the Palestinian people are not its cause. Peace is not its aim. The dignity of human life, Jew or Muslim, means absolutely nothing to Hamas. So that nobody needs to suffer like this again, as my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn said, Hamas must be defeated so that we might once more see a road to a lasting peace. As the Minister said, there should be a Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel. For too long, we have allowed welcome progress in improving relations between Israel and her neighbours to sit without any progress on a future for Palestine and its people. This must change.
We stand with Israel and its right to defend itself. We stand against the terrorists of Hamas, who must release the hostages. We stand for international law and the protection of innocent lives and, together with the Government, we stand absolutely for a political path to peace.
My Lords, I first thank all noble Lords for their contributions—strong, focused, passionate, thoughtful, insightful, principled and at times emotional. But one thing was clear: these were expert insights from various perspectives. As I said in my introduction, there are some uniform and united messages that leave no doubt about the unity of your Lordships’ House this evening. I reflect the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in saying that, when it comes to important issues, such as how we stand against terror and those who seek to divide us, His Majesty’s Government, the Opposition, representatives of other parties and individual Peers in your Lordships’ House are very much at one.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, yehi zichra baruch—may their memory be a blessing. We join her and many other families who have sadly and tragically been impacted. Every life lost on this issue is a tragedy. As I said in my opening remarks, we stand united with Israel as it seeks to strengthen its response and to ensure that it secures its citizens, for security is the first duty of any responsible Government.
I also note the incredibly valuable and insightful contribution by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I know I speak for the whole House when I say to him that, when we saw the tragedy unfold at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, we all recognised its particular link to the Anglican communion. Our sincere condolences go to all involved with that institution.
The ramifications of Hamas’s attack on Israel which, as we have heard from many noble Lords, was a terrorist attack, continue to unfold. As I said in my opening remarks, many in Israel, including from within, made comparisons to the Holocaust. While the world has moved on—this is 2023—the brutality of that appalling act of terror, which many noble Lords talked about, resonates.
The noble Lord, Lord Austin, talked of survivor testimony and many noble Lords talked of the importance of standing strong in the face of the challenge and the terrorism of Hamas. I associate myself with the thoughtful comments and great expertise shown by the noble Lords, Lord Turnberg, Lord Reid and Lord Bilimoria, all of whom talked about the Hamas threat, as did the noble Lord, Lord McCrea.
I will be very clear. I have noted and will come on to the issue of a ceasefire. A ceasefire is important for both sides, but when dealing with an organisation that is terrorist in its ideology—scratching the surface, comparisons were made to Daesh this evening; and I have visited parts of the region, including Iraq—it might at times be defeated on the battlefield or in the theatre, but the perverse ideology of such organisations remains. We should never lose sight of this. Hamas’s reason for being is the destruction of Israel. Its actions, terror, division and hate are reflected in what it did to innocent civilians.
Again, there was unity on the important issue of the taking of hostages, irrespective of the noble Lord contributing. The clear, unequivocal message from your Lordships’ debate this evening is: release them now and release them unconditionally.
When I met some of the families directly impacted, it affected me as a father. The youngest child of one family is nine months old; the oldest member of that family is 93. That shows the depravity of the organisation that is Hamas. I commend all noble Lords, irrespective of the strength of the views and emotions they expressed; we are at one on this issue.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and to my noble friend Lord Howard for his illustration of the strength of Israel. He talked about the diversity in its football team. My noble friend Lord Polak reminded noble Lords that I am a Liverpool fan, as is my noble friend Lord Howard.
I will share a personal anecdote. When those attacks happened, the first call I received was from the Israeli ambassador. Very soon that morning, calls started rapidly coming in. Because of a family bereavement, my wife was not there. I was on paternal duties as well. I was standing on the side of a hockey pitch watching my son in his debut performance as a goalkeeper. As I watched my son play, the gravity of the unfolding situation dawned on me. Therefore, when my noble friend Lord Polak talked of that young child in his Liverpool shirt, I wiped a tear from my eye—I mean that sincerely. That could have been my nine year-old, although he would have been wearing a Tottenham shirt; I am not quite sure how that happened.
The importance of life and of the dignity of life should not be lost. When the attacks happened I made three calls, though not deliberately to show how faith matters to me personally. One of the first was to my noble friend Lord Polak, because I knew he was in Jerusalem. The second call was to Imam Sharif Odeh in Haifa; I have been in discussion with him this evening. Tomorrow he is hosting people, including the Mayor of Haifa, who are all of different religions— Muslim, Christian and Jewish together to ensure a unity of response from the community. It is important to recognise that 20% of the population of the State of Israel are non-Jewish—Israeli Arabs made up of Christians and Muslims. As several noble Lords pointed out, Jerusalem is the Holy City, the Holy Land that brings together these three Abrahamic faiths. The poignancy of the contribution from the most reverend Primate is not just acknowledged but recognised for the strength of the Spiritual Benches and their importance to your Lordships’ House.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, talked in a strong, principled manner. When I am dealing with him on legislation, I often have to look at the technicalities of the law. I admit this with a high degree of trepidation because I know how the noble Lord—my dear friend David, if I may say that—operates. I was humbled by his gracious invitation to his home. I remember that evening very well. This evening he shared with us his abhorrence of Hamas’s ideology. Other noble Lords referred to it, including my noble friend Lady Warsi.
Let me make it absolutely clear: this organisation seeks not just to misrepresent but to hijack a noble faith. Its actions and ideology are nothing to do with the faith that I, and several other noble Lords who have spoken today, follow. It is no kind of religious ideology. It is the hijacking of a noble faith. But it is equally important that, when we see acts of terror—irrespective of who the perpetrators and victims are—we call these out quite directly. This debate has been reflective of that issue. Other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Gold and the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, mentioned the absolute abhorrence of the Hamas ideology.
It is interesting that we have had debates on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred, and I will come on to the community response. But what is it when you as a Muslim stand up for the Jewish community and you receive hate? How do we describe that? Is that anti-Muslim hatred or is that anti-Semitism? I would say it is a vile combination of both. That is also something many noble Lords in this Chamber and honourable and right honourable Members of the other place have to face. However, it is absolutely essential that we make our views even clearer. We should not be cowed in any sense.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, talked about the Government. I always say, and I will defend this to the hilt, that of course we have issues and challenges in the United Kingdom but this country—our country—is a rich tapestry of communities, people and faiths. Its diversity is its strength. We must not just challenge those who seek to divide but tell them absolutely straight that they are wrong, that we are united, and that their perverse ideology will be defeated. That has to be clear in everything we do.
We mourn the loss of every innocent life in this tragic conflict. The picture changes with each hour. I have been sitting here, as all noble Lords have, for several hours, being constantly updated about the current situation in Israel and Gaza. As I said earlier, the Prime Minister has said very clearly that, notwithstanding the challenges and issues we face, we will work distinctly on the four key pillars.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, talked about the warning of conflicts. We should look at that very carefully. It is shocking that, depending on how you define conflict, anything between 40 and 60 conflicts are raging across the world in 2023. The issue of contagion of this conflict is very real. We need to ensure that we understand that our relationship, friendship and alliance, and the strength of unity we have with Israel, also means that we have a valued position. When we talk with various Israeli interlocuters, as my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and I have done, it is not just a gesture of diplomacy; they listen. Why? Because we stand with them at this time of great challenge. I am appreciative of His Majesty’s Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Benches, and in this House the Cross Benches, for their strong united stand in this case.
I turn to some of the specifics on the hostages. All noble Lords talked of the need to release them, and not just the British nationals. I was with the Foreign Secretary, who made it absolutely clear that while of course we defend British interests and look towards British hostages, this is about every innocent person taken, irrespective of whether they are a man, woman or child and irrespective of age or nation. We want all hostages released. That is the message.
My noble friend Lord Howard talked about Qatar, as did the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and several other noble Lords. I assure noble Lords that we are talking to Qatar and that Egypt is also playing an important role. I join others in commending the role of the ICRC and the Red Crescent, which are playing important bridging roles. I assure my noble friend Lord Leigh that this is not a one-off. We are in regular contact with these key players to ensure that those with influence exert that influence and make sure that it is counted. We should not in any way cease our activities, and I will continue to update your Lordships’ House in this respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about British nationals. I can share that all British nationals who have registered and want to leave Israel on government flights have been allocated seats. We are also working on the very difficult and fluid situation in Gaza. I talked about the 900 people we brought back from Israel to the UK. Commercial flights operate and continue to operate from Tel Aviv, but we are cognisant of our wider responsibilities and that is why we changed the travel advice for Lebanon. We also introduced, in advance of the challenges we are currently seeing on the northern border of Israel and the southern border of Lebanon, a register of presence to ensure that those who are in-country can register. I assure noble Lords we are seized of this.
Many noble Lords have talked about the issue of contagion, including my noble friend Lord Sterling and the noble Lord, Lord Stevens. I always saw him as coming from a health perspective, so to see him as an insightful foreign policy expert is very welcome; I am sure there will be many debates in this respect. I welcome both his challenge to the Government and his contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, also mentioned it—I almost called him my noble friend because we have worked on many initiatives together—as did the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and others.
Let me be very clear: we want this conflict to end tomorrow, but that needs Hamas to stop throwing rockets into Israel and to stop holding innocent hostages. We are true to our word, standing up and providing that humanitarian lifeline. Yes, I pay tribute to our friends and partners, the United States and Egypt, in the negotiation, but I know for a fact that this is not some media policy. Your Lordships have it on record from the Minister for the Middle East about the diplomacy and the leadership shown by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, who were in the region at the same time—there was almost a baton exchange. When I travelled to Cairo last Saturday, that reflected this strength; the messaging to key partners was candid. I hope noble Lords will recognise that the United Kingdom Government are taking our responsibilities in this respect very seriously.
The issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised about ensuring that we prevent wider conflict is very much at the forefront of our mind. We are engaging directly. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised specific issues. Let us be clear: over the course of the weekend, as the Pentagon reported, there was an attack by Iraqi militia on a US base. There should not in any way be a decrease in vigilance; this is about increased vigilance. We also know that Bashar al-Assad is now in a different place from where he was before, even six or 12 months ago, so we need to be very clear about the issue of contagion, whether that is Lebanon or the situation in Iraq. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we are engaging directly with the Iraqi Government in this respect. Over the last few days I have been in touch directly with the Foreign Minister of Iraq.
We will continue to be vigilant. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has played its role, but there was also an attempt—it was symbolic but nevertheless a real threat—coming from the Houthis. We had seen some real progress being made on the issues in Yemen, but it was Houthi drones pointed towards Israel that were recently shot down, so it is important that we stay vigilant in this respect.
We are also intensifying diplomatic engagement guided at the principle of standing with Israel. As I said, we want Hamas to give back the hostages, stop its incursions and look towards security for the longer term.
Thirdly, we are providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians now. I pay tribute to the IDF soldier Yosef, who the most reverend Primate mentioned. I also recognise the points made by my noble friend Lady Morris about the incredible bravery of so many workers working for NGOs within both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, who play a vital role. I acknowledge the important role of the United Nations and the UNRWA teams. I spoke directly to the Secretary-General and commend his visit to the Gaza border. It is important that we recognise that senior members of the UN team, including Secretary-General Guterres, Rosemary DiCarlo and Martin Griffiths, were also in attendance at the Cairo meeting.
The most reverend Primate asked specifically about our support for the reconstruction of hospitals and other parts of Gaza. We are committed to that. We have already seen my right honourable friend increase funding over the last few weeks. I remember doubling the funding at the UN high-level week—which was only in September but seems like a long time ago now—and our funding for this year now stands at £57 million. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, that we have made all efforts to mitigate any misdirection of aid to ensure that it reaches the most needy and vulnerable and those for whom it is intended. We therefore work with trusted partners, including UN agencies and other key international NGOs, to ensure that we can fulfil that obligation.
We will continue to assess the situation on the ground and, as I said earlier, we will continue to update noble Lords in that respect. The noble Baronesses, Lady Janke and Lady Blackstone, asked about the distribution of aid. We are working with key partners. With regard to protecting some of those partners, I am sometimes reluctant in conflict zones to name them, but UK aid specifically has started arriving; I believe the first plane arrived yesterday. We want to keep the Rafah crossing open. I say quite directly to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that I said right at the outset that it is good that we have started some trucks going in but that is not enough to sustain the innocent civilians who are currently being used in Gaza by Hamas. So funding has been delivered through key partners, and of course we are closely monitoring its delivery.
The noble Baroness Lady Ramsay, my noble friend Lord Leigh, the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, and other noble Lords—in fact, just about everyone—asked about the proscription of the IRGC. The malign influence of Iran is very clear. I cannot give what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked for today, but of course we are observing closely Iran’s continued influence, the escalation and its support for organisations within the region. We are clear that Iran poses an unacceptable threat to Israel, as my noble friend highlighted, including through its long-term support for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group. We have long condemned its destabilising influence. I will share the strength of views in many contributions in your Lordships’ House with my right honourable friend and others within government. I am sure noble Lords recognise that at this time I cannot go further.
However, we are working on sanctions. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, asked me about the JCPOA sanctions. I have written in advance to several noble Lords to say that, as these sanctions are coming off, we are working with our EU partners and the US to make sure that, as they expire, they will come into UK law directly so there is no break from the sanctions currently being applied. We believe that is a legitimate response in order to limit Iran’s malign influence.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, my noble friends Lord Wolfson and Lord Polak and the noble Lords, Lord Stevens and Lord Verdirame, raised another issue. I commend the influence of the noble Lord, Lord Verdirame, and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, may perhaps have a conversation with him about the law when it comes to conflicts. Of course we are raising directly with Israel the issue of proportionality and ensuring that it takes all necessary steps to prevent civilian casualties. We are impressing that upon Israel, and we would not be having this number of trucks carrying deliveries if Israel did not recognise the importance of opening the crossing at Rafah. We have stressed to Israel the importance of protecting civilians and facilitating safe and unhindered access to humanitarian and medical aid for Gaza. I assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan, Lady Hussein-Ece, Lady Gohir and Lady Smith, and others who raised these issues that that is a live issue right now, and we will continue to press it. I hope that noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, will recognise the UK’s efforts in this respect.
On the issue of how we deal with conflicts, one of the things that I have learned with all the—how can I put this politely?—challenging responses that I get on some of my own social media, which my noble friend Lord Wolfson pointed to, is that this is now a different kind of conflict. We have to deal with things live.
Lots of people ring me and say, “Tariq, what are you doing here?”, sometimes using rather choice language. I say to them that at a time of conflict, you need calmness —a calm, considered response. Evidence matters; facts matter. On the reporting in certain media channels—the noble Lords, Lord Grabiner and Lord Verdirame, and my noble friend Lord Polak, among others, raised this—I can do no better than repeat the Prime Minister’s words:
“When things are so delicate, we all have a responsibility to take additional care in the language we use and to operate on the basis of facts alone”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/10/23; col. 592.]
Whether that applies to a Minister, a parliamentarian or, indeed, our media colleagues, it is very important that we have that moment of reflection.
We have not been silent on illegal white phosphorus. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised this, as did my noble friend Lord Leigh, and I will answer it directly. The accusation made against the IDF regarding the use of white phosphorus is, in its words, categorically false. Israel recognises its responsibilities under international law. Yesterday the Prime Minister called for us to speak on the basis of facts alone. We need to recognise that there is a lot of misinformation out there and we need to verify the facts.
Several noble Lords, such as my noble friend Lady Warsi, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hussein-Ece, Lady Gohir and Lady Bennett, as well as my noble friend Lord Shinkwin, provided an alternative perspective on ceasefires. As I said earlier, ceasefires will also involve Hamas ceasing hostilities. It has demonstrably shown that it is not willing to do so. However, we are opening up those access points for humanitarian corridors, which is where our current focus is. I believe that most noble Lords will agree that it is right to do so.
I am conscious of time and seek your Lordships’ indulgence on two key points. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, my noble friends Lord Godson and Lord Polak, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, among others, mentioned the Abraham accords. They are part and parcel of our response. I am always taken with the contributions by the noble Lord, Lord Stone— they are succinct, brief, and to the point. Of course I will continue to work with him in this respect, because we have to bring hope.
We will sustain the long-term prospects of peace and stability in the region—we cannot lose sight of this. Hamas’s abhorrent actions must not be allowed to dictate the fate of the region. If we give up, collectively —and that applies to Palestinians and Israelis—then Hamas has won. Therefore, it is right that we step up even more strongly in support of bringing about peace. As I have said, we remain committed to a negotiated two-state solution—a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, a just and lasting solution that ends occupation and delivers peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. This has gone on for far too long. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, spoke of reconciliation—of course it is possible, and we will continue to focus on that.
I was taken by the very personal contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Oates. Again, it is not that we are not taking on board the calls for a ceasefire, but a ceasefire is called for when it will be most effective. Of course we want humanitarian windows, and those are being delivered. We will continue to call out those issues which are obstacles to peace, such as illegal settlements, which were mentioned—barriers which gravely undermine the prospects of a two-state solution. I assure all noble Lords that we will continue to be seized of that issue.
The final point I want to make is on the rising tide of hate which we have seen. On the work of the CST and Tell MAMA, we have, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, acknowledges, increased funding to the CST, which provides vital support. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, my noble friends Lord Harrington, Lady Altmann, Lord Gold and Lady Eaton, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, as well as others, all talked of the protests. We celebrate our democracy for its right to protest but that protest must be without incitement to hatred. That is important. I celebrate the fact that I am still able to pick up my file and cross the road to the Foreign Office from this place. We should be protecting these things. They are a vital part of our democracy.
I echo the call made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I remember going to Auschwitz-Birkenau with a group of students when I was a Communities Minister. I still remember that, as we turned into the camp, the silence of that bunch of 16 year-olds was total. At that moment, there was silence in the coach. Why? Because the dawning of their historical learning was very real. It is therefore right that we invest in such initiatives. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Warsi for her initiative, Remembering Srebrenica. These genocides happen and they are happening today. We need to stand united against them and call them out. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also focused on these issues.
We will stand strong against anti-Semitism. I assure the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York that I will take back some of his suggestions. There were suggestions from my noble friend Lord Godson about engagement and I assure him that our policy has not changed when it comes to our engagement. I will certainly take back some of the points he wanted to share with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up. I say to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York that, yes, we want to strengthen the faith initiatives. We cannot let hate divide communities or spill into our streets. We need to stand firm, whether that is against anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim hatred.
On our universities, I acknowledge the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lord Wolfson. It should not be the case that he is worried about his daughter. I have a daughter as well; I want her to be safe and his daughter to be safe. I want all daughters and sons, all children, all people to be safe in our country. That is what our country is all about.
As a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Minister, I assure your Lordships that we are using our levers of development and diplomacy to best effect. That does not mean we are getting everything right immediately, with the changing circumstances, but we stand to build alliances and unity of purpose. Maybe this is the window of opportunity that brings us a first step to lasting and sustainable peace.
I recognise the strength of feeling in your Lordships’ House this evening but today this is perhaps more important than ever. The heavy toll that has been paid by innocents, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said, demonstrates the urgent need to make progress towards peace. We should not lose sight of that. We should rekindle the spirit of President Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin: that peace is possible. We should all strive for that and say that we will do our part to ensure that hope transcends over despair, peace over conflict and love over hate.
I end my remarks with words which I am sure some noble Lords will recognise. There was a very revered person who understood the Middle East—as my noble friend said, blessed are the peacemakers, and this person was one of those. He said that the only
“radical means of sanctifying human lives” is
“Not armored plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications. The one radical solution is peace”.
That was the revered, respected and late Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace Prize winner, in his lecture of December 1994. We were reminded by the noble Lord in his earlier contribution about prayers for peace and coming together. I join others in saying that, in our respective ways and homes, and our respective faiths and religions, that kind of faith is needed now and those prayers for peace are needed now. In our own way, let us work towards ensuring that it becomes a sustainable peace for people across the Holy Land.