It is good to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble. I am glad to see so many hon. Members in the Chamber as I consider this to be a vital debate on the Goldstone report and the Government's attitude to it before the vote in the United Nations General Assembly next month and, possibly, in the Security Council the month after.
As one of the few people who have read the report from cover to cover, I regard it as one of the most thorough and thoughtful I have ever read, and a model of even-handedness. I do not say that the original motion before the Human Rights Council was even-handed because it referred only to Israel. However, the amended mandate of the mission, as agreed between the president of the committee and Richard Goldstone, was even-handed because it refers to human rights violations by all parties before, during and after the conflict.
The Israelis have criticised the process and refused to give evidence. However, a panel of prominent international lawyers under Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a former Foreign Office lawyer, looked at the report and concluded that it was not invalidated by the criticism, nor by Israel's refusal to give evidence-far from it.
I was one of the first group of MPs to enter Gaza after the military operations in February, along with my hon. Friend Richard Burden and Mr. Davey. We saw many of the same things and spoke to many of the same people as the mission. Our accounts were listened to, but we did not have the time or resources to cross-check every fact and assess the reliability of every witness. Richard Goldstone did so with meticulous care. I do not know whether to be surprised to discover that all the horrors that we could hardly believe were true.
The first strike by an Israeli jet fighter at 11.20 on
We saw the effects of shelling on the hospital and ambulances at al-Quds hospital. The report found that the direct attack on the hospital violated the fourth Geneva convention. We also visited the al-Wafa hospital and saw lumps of debris that were still smoking three weeks after the attack. The report confirmed that it was a white phosphorus attack that was reckless, unjustifiable and in violation of the Geneva convention.
Israeli paratroopers fired mortars into the busy al-Fakhura street in Jabaliyah, killing 24 people, nearly all of whom were civilians. They landed just a few metres from a United Nations school where 1,368 civilians were sheltering. In a sober, understated way, the report said that the decision to deploy mortars in a location filled with civilians was not a choice any reasonable commander would have made. The commander would have known that it would result in civilian deaths. A missile strike on the door of the al-Maqadmah mosque in Jabaliya, where 200 men had gathered for evening prayers, killed 15 and injured 40. There was no suggestion that the mosque was used to launch rockets, store weapons or shelter combatants. That too was found to be a grave breach. The commander of the paratroop brigade in Jabaliyah, Colonel Hartzi Halevi, who has since become brigadier general, was in the news only last week when he suddenly cancelled a visit to King's college London because the British Government would not give an assurance that he would not be arrested.
A condolence tent, where relatives were mourning the victims of a flechette attack was itself hit by a flechette attack. Four mourners and an ambulance driver were killed and more than 20 were injured. The report found those attacks to be wilful killing, designed to kill and maim victims and, as such, were violations of international law.
One of the most distressing parts of our visit was talking to former inhabitants of Izbat Abd Rabbo, a village that had been razed to the ground; there was nothing left except rubble. The report confirms one incident that we heard about at the time:
"Shortly after 12.30 p.m., the inhabitants of that part of Izbat Abd Rabbo heard megaphone messages telling all residents to leave."
"At about 12.50 p.m., Khalid Abd Rabbo, his wife Kawthar, their three daughters"
-aged nine, five and three and their grandmother-
"stepped out of the house, all of them carrying white flags. Less than 10 metres from the door was a tank, turned towards their house. Two soldiers were sitting on top of it having a snack (one was eating chips, the other chocolate, according to one of the witnesses). The family stood still, waiting for orders from the soldiers as to what they should do, but none was given. Without warning, a third soldier emerged from inside the tank and started shooting at the three girls and then also at their grandmother."
The girls and the grandmother died. Their parents
"shouted for help and a neighbour, who was an ambulance driver and had his ambulance parked next to his house, decided to come to their help. He put on his ambulance crew clothes and asked his son to put on a fluorescent jacket. They had driven a few metres from their house...when Israeli soldiers...ordered them to halt and get out of the vehicle."
The account continues:
"The soldiers ordered him and his son to undress and then re-dress. They then ordered them to abandon the ambulance and to walk towards Jabaliyah...The family decided that they had to make an attempt to walk to Jabaliyah".
The parents carried the girls on their shoulders and the grandmother was carried by family members.
The verdict of the Goldstone report was that the soldier "deliberately directed lethal fire" at the girls and their grandmother and that the soldiers knew that the ambulance driver
"did not constitute a threat" and deliberately aggravated the consequences of the shooting by forcing him to abandon the ambulance.
That is just one example. The report investigated incidents involving 34 Palestinian civilians who lost their lives owing to Israeli fire that was intentionally directed at them. In each case, it found that the Israeli armed forces opened fire on civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities and who posed no threat to them.
I commend the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. All the incidents that he has described, all those that were covered in the Goldstone report and another 92 cases have been or are subject to investigations by the Israeli military police and the Attorney-General, and that will lead to Supreme Court review. Does he agree that that is an appropriate response by a responsible democratic Government to criticisms that have been raised about their military operations?
I will come to Richard Goldstone's views about the Israeli internal inquiries in a moment. He says that they are inadequate and do not conform to international inquiry standards.
First, I will mention another Israeli officer who cancelled his trip to London last week. Colonel Itai Virob, commander of the Kfir Brigade, was asked recently to give evidence about allegations that his men beat Palestinians even when they were not suspected of any offence. He said that
"using violence and aggression...is not only allowed but sometimes imperative".
He continued that
"a slap, sometimes a hit to the back of the neck or the chest...sometimes a knee jab or strangulation to calm someone down is reasonable."
If one thinks that is bad, the soldiers under his command were even worse. An eye-witness saw them
"just knee [Palestinians] because it's boring, because you stand there 10 hours, you're not doing anything, so they beat people up."
Another witness said:
"There were a lot of reservists that participated, and they totally had a celebration on the Palestinians: curses, humiliation, pulling hair and ears, kicks, slaps. These things were the norm."
I should also mention the attacks on the Gazan economy. One chicken farmer
"watched as the armoured bulldozers destroyed the chicken farms, crushing the wire mesh coops with"
31,000 chickens inside. The report continues:
"He noted that the drivers of the tanks would spend hours flattening the chicken coops, sometimes stopping for coffee breaks, before resuming their work."
Gaza's only fully operational cement-packing plant was systematically destroyed over four days. Helicopter-launched rockets were used to destroy the main manufacturing line. Bulldozers destroyed the factory walls. The report notes:
"The silo had not been entirely destroyed...so explosives were attached to its supporting columns."
It says that it was
"a very deliberate strategy of attacking the construction industry" with no military reason or justification.
I will not go on about the beatings, the degrading treatment of detainees or the use of civilians as human shields. If people want to read about those things, they can read the full report, which I recommend. Goldstone's conclusion was that rather than fighting the Palestinian armed groups in Gaza in a targeted way, as Israel was entitled to do, it had chosen to punish the whole population. That was a policy of collective punishment and the report states that it was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population.
International law places an obligation on states to investigate breaches of the Geneva convention, but the report found that Israel's own investigations-I come to the point raised by Mr. Crabb-were totally inadequate. Such investigations appear to have relied exclusively on interviews with Israeli officers and soldiers, those conducting them were not interested in interviewing victims or witnesses, and they did not start until six months after the event.
The inadequacy of Israel's own investigations has meant that the report attaches enormous importance to the principle of universal jurisdiction. The report considers that universal jurisdiction is a potentially efficient tool for enforcing international law when states fail to do so. If soldiers are not punished for such casual cruelty, if generals do not investigate, if the Israeli Government spokesman, Mark Regev, simply denies on television that anything of this kind ever occurred, it eats away at the moral fibre.
The hon. Gentleman is raising a very important and timely subject, but does he share my disappointment that Prime Minister Netanyahu dismissed the allegations as false prior to Israeli military police investigating them? Is that any way for the Prime Minister of a country to act in these circumstances?
Just in case the hon. Gentleman was going to make this point, I readily concede that the report does not just mention the Israelis. The inquiry also found violations of international law in the actions of Hamas and Fatah. However, as Goldstone points out, the fact that Hamas is responsible for grave breaches of international law does not make the Israeli breaches any less grave. Goldstone worries about what he calls the "culture of impunity" that spreads through Israeli armed forces and the Government, who show contempt for the Geneva conventions and for international law as a whole.
We have to understand that the Palestinians do not have the power to solve the problems that face them, and the Israelis do not have the will. It is only the international community that can resolve the situation, but it must act decisively and courageously. Universal jurisdiction is one way in which we can show how deeply we disapprove of what the Israelis have done.
My hon. Friend has spent 11 minutes-12 minutes now-of what is a very important and interesting contribution to a critical debate concentrating entirely on the allegations faced by the Israeli military and Government surrounding the events of Operation Cast Lead. Is he going to make the same mistake that I believe Judge Goldstone has made in focusing entirely on the one side-the democratic Government who are themselves investigating the events-without dealing with the terrorism from Hamas?
If my right hon. Friend had read the Goldstone report, she would know that many pages are devoted to the violations by Hamas and, indeed, some to the violations by Fatah. Out of the 428 pages, Goldstone devotes perhaps 20 or 30 to Fatah and Hamas, which seems a proportionate approach given that they are responsible for 13 deaths, rather then 1,300.
I must make progress. Universal jurisdiction is one way in which we can show how we disapprove of what is being done. Frankly, if the two Israeli officers had come to London last week, it would have been a good thing if they had been arrested and, indeed, prosecuted. The Foreign Secretary seems to think that arrest warrants would set the peace process back, but what sets the peace process back is the perception that the UK is applying double standards and enforcing international law against one country, but not against another.
I compliment my hon. Friend on his contribution and on securing the debate. Does he agree that gaining the universal arrest warrant in the wake of the Pinochet arrest was a major step forward for the cause of human rights in this country and around the world? It would be utterly deplorable if legislation were rushed through the House of Commons to remove what was a major advance in human rights law in this country and is held up as an example around the world. Does he agree that that would be a wholly wrong thing to do?
Indeed, I agree with my hon. Friend. What is more impressive is that Richard Goldstone cannot be dismissed as a friend of Hamas or as being worse than Ahmadinejad, as the Israelis tried to do. He regards himself as a Zionist and considers an independent inquiry into Gaza as being in Israel's interests as well as that of the Palestinians. Goldstone agrees with my hon. Friend's point. He is a veteran of inquiries into Rwanda and Serbia, he speaks with enormous authority on this matter, and he has come to the same conclusion as us.
I did not notice when the hon. Gentleman came in, but I dealt with that very point in my opening comments, when I said that I did not support the original motion before the Human Rights Council because it referred only to Israeli, but that the amended mandate refers to human rights violations by all parties before, during and after the conflict. We should judge the report as it has turned out, rather than by the motion of the Human Rights Council.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is not intentionally misleading the House, but the fact is that when Goldstone considered his mandate, he decided to go back only six months from the start of Cast Lead, not back over the eight years and 9,000 rocket attacks sent into Gaza by Hamas, which led the Israelis to have the justification of defending their people.
I assure my hon. Friend that if he reads the full report, Goldstone does go back and interprets before, during and after to mean putting the matter in the context of the whole history and going back over many years. However, the point is that after this exhaustive inquiry, Goldstone was driven to the very important conclusion that a lasting peace settlement will never be achieved unless the culture of impunity is ended and violations of international law are punished.
When an arrest warrant was issued for Tzipi Livni, the Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor was quoted in the papers as demanding a change in our law. Frankly, it is not his place to demand a change in our law; that is up to us. I for one would not support such a change. The Foreign Secretary said at the time that Israel is a strategic partner and a close friend so we should give the power to apply for arrest warrants to the Attorney-General. Is he suggesting that arrest warrants should be denied on the basis of friendship? Surely the Attorney-General is supposed to be entirely impartial in her legal role and changing the law in such a way would just feed the perception that double standards were being applied.
On the main point about the report-I will end my comments as soon as I can-it is a good thing that the Government did not vote against the Goldstone report and try to persuade our European partners not to oppose it. However, I also think that they should have voted in favour. The reason the Government gave for not doing so was that they wanted to give the Israelis and the Palestinians six months to conduct their own inquiries. That seems sensible, but, of course, that is what Goldstone recommends anyway. When the Goldstone report comes back to the General Assembly and goes to the Security Council, I urge strongly the Foreign Secretary to support it.
I must finish now, because I can see from the number of hon. Members who are here that if I take much longer, I will impinge on their chances of speaking.
In conclusion, however much sympathy we have with Israel as a state and as an ideal, we must face the fact that how it behaved in Gaza and how it is behaving in the west bank is cruel, out of order, against international law, jeopardises world peace and is, importantly, against the interest of the Israelis. We have to take our courage in our hands and say that enough is enough. The international community must enforce international law-article 99, chapter 7 or whatever it takes-to make the UN an effective force for world peace.
We have a duty as signatories and guarantors of the Geneva convention, and we have a moral duty having contributed to the problem in the first place. We can no longer close our eyes to the fact that Israel is flagrantly in breach of the convention and of international law.
Order. Several hon. Members wish to speak in this important debate, so I remind them that I hope to call the Front Bench speakers soon after 12 o'clock. Members should therefore keep an eye on the time and limit their contributions to allow as many as possible to speak.
It is a pleasure to be here this morning, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Martin Linton on securing the debate about British Government policy regarding the report of Judge Richard Goldstone following his investigation into Operation Cast Lead.
Although I concur with my hon. Friend on his description of the eminence of Judge Goldstone and his team, I will say that Judge Goldstone is not omnipotent and that there were flaws in his report. I support the view taken by Ministers here that his report is unjust in implying a moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. He failed adequately to recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens from murderous attacks and paid insufficient attention to Hamas's acts of terrorism.
Judge Goldstone's mission was limited by the mandate of the UN Human Rights Council, which was for an investigation of the military operations conducted in Gaza, excluding from his remit the seven years of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel, as my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore has mentioned. Israel estimates that, since October 2001, 9,000 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza into its southern towns by Hamas. It is not good enough for Judge Goldstone to characterise those as acts by "Palestinian armed groups". He was also mistaken when he decided to consider only actions in the entire occupied Palestinian territory and Israel from
Estimates vary, but I know that up to 1,380 people were killed during Operation Cast Lead, which is a shocking number of deaths. Many more were injured and made homeless and workless. However, the responsibility for those deaths lies at the door of Hamas. There is no Government represented at the UN that would tolerate a sustained and murderous attack on its citizens for a period of seven years such as that carried out by Hamas on Israel.
I will give way in a moment.
There are victims on Israel's side, too. I must at this point declare an interest, regarding a visit I made to Israel with Labour Friends of Israel in September, when the Judge's report was published. During that visit I was fortunate to meet around 20 young men and women who lived in Sterodt, in the south of Israel. They had seen their classmates killed, blown up in the streets by Hamas rockets. Many had been injured, but they were stoic in their determination not to be driven out of their homes by terrorism.
They were without doubt traumatised. Their families were forced to adopt tactics that might seem almost comical: not being able to take a shower because for some families the shower was the bomb shelter and they might find themselves wet and without clothes in the presence of their entire family. Football can only be played under a protective shield mounted over a small piece of land. There are regular air raid warnings and drills to practise how to stay safe and minimise the risk of injury and death. That is no way to live. I repeat, which Government represented at the UN would tolerate such a threat to its citizens?
I, too, have visited Sterodt, and the fear of the people there that my right hon. Friend has described is absolutely genuine. However, if she is saying that the flaw in the Goldstone report was the time limit placed on the date from which it inquired, and she has talked about other things that should be looked at, why has she failed to mention the existence of the Hamas ceasefire long before Operation Cast Lead, or the blockade that existed in an extreme form since Hamas was elected to Government and in one form or other for a long time before that? If she wants to be balanced, why does she not mentioned those things?
It is precisely those sort of issues that could have been looked at had the Goldstone report's remit not been so narrowly drawn by the UN Human Rights Council. The hon. Gentleman is my hon. Friend, but I disagree profoundly with him on this. I agree with the US Assistant Secretary of State, Michael Posner, who has accused the Human Rights Council of
"paying grossly disproportionate attention to one country, Israel. In the last five years the Council and its predecessor have commissioned more than 20 reports on Israel-far more than any other country in the world. Since its creation in 2006 it has passed 20 resolutions on Israel-more than the number of resolutions for all 191 other members combined."
I believe that our Government are right to have withheld their vote in consideration of the flaws in the report.
If my hon. and learned Friend will allow me, I will make some progress.
More should be done to help ease the situation in Gaza. The EU announced last January its willingness to reactivate its border assistance mission at the Rafah crossing, but conditions have militated against that. Instead of admonishing Israel for seeking to protect its citizens from attack, will our Government work with EU partners to agree a substantial offer of assistance to facilitate the opening and operation of crossings into Gaza? What discussions has my hon. Friend the Minister had within the EU to bring that about? I am pleased to see him here this morning and am sure that he can shed light on the matter.
I have one final point, on universal jurisdiction. It is important that we bring to justice those guilty of crimes committed during warfare, but we should be ashamed of the fact that our judicial system can be manipulated so that a magistrate in a junior court can issue a warrant for the arrest of representatives of both Governments and the military from countries with whom we are friends and allies.-[Interruption.] I will explain. I am ashamed of the fact that Tzipi Livni, a woman of great stature and courage and a leader of her people, cannot come freely to Britain. It is nonsense that US and UK Ministers and generals might find themselves under similar restrictions in other countries. That area of law needs urgent review, and I ask the Minister what steps are being taken to correct that legal nonsense.
I will be brief so that other Members can speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend Martin Linton on securing the debate, on what he said and the way in which he said it. This is a debate in the British Parliament about accountability, and I have some specific points, which I would like the Minister to respond to when he replies, concerning the Goldstone report, the attitude taken at the UN Human Rights Council and the question of universal jurisdiction.
After the Gaza bombing had ceased and a ceasefire of a sort was in place, the Goldstone commission was set up, and it went into enormous detail to look at what was going on. He gave a comprehensive report, which is not, in my view, unbalanced or one-sided, because it makes criticisms of all parties. When the report was finally delivered to the UN Human Rights Council, the British Government's representative, although not abstaining, extraordinarily did not participate in the discussion or vote at the end of the deliberations in Geneva. I would be grateful if the Minister explained exactly what the British Government's representatives were doing at the time, because it seems to me that if we send representatives to the Human Rights Council in Geneva we expect them to be there, to participate in the discussions. If the British Government are not prepared to support the referral of the Goldstone commission's report to the Security Council, they should do us the courtesy of explaining why. There appears to have been further obfuscation later on when it got to the UN Security Council.
I think Goldstone is a brave man. He stood out against apartheid. He is not an enemy of Israel. Indeed, he has quite strongly Zionist views, which many of us in this Chamber might or might not agree with. The fact is that he is a respected jurist around the world who has delivered an important report, and maybe we should treat it with some respect and have the matter dealt with properly by the Security Council.
The hon. Gentleman cites the authority of the UN Human Rights Council and its resolution as a source of legitimacy in the matter. Does he not recognise that some countries that voted in favour of the resolution and that have seats on the UN Human Rights Council have themselves grotesquely poor human rights records, such as Syria, Cuba and Saudi Arabia? To cite that as the authority on which to judge a liberal democracy is perhaps to apply double standards.
Most countries that are represented on the UN Human Rights Council have difficult human rights records, including the United States over Guantanamo Bay and this country over extraordinary rendition and the imprisonment of child asylum seekers. Many other countries have serious human rights questions to be asked of them. I do not resile from that, and I understand the points that are being made. None the less, the Minister must explain why the British Government representative could not bring themselves to take part in the decision to refer the matter to the Security Council. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harwich will agree with me on that point, if not on the other points that I have made concerning the matter.
The Goldstone report goes into a lot of detail about the destruction of economic and civilian life in Gaza. It mentions the deliberate destruction of houses, water tanks and centres of employment and economic life. It was not just a retaliatory attack, but an intention to destroy the very economic fibre of Gaza and reduce its people to the misery and poverty with which they are forced to survive at the present time. It was a wanton act of destruction that was disproportionate to the alleged threat that Israel was facing at the time because a ceasefire was already in operation.
One of the things that struck me about Operation Cast Lead was how Israel, which prides itself on being a democracy, kept all foreign journalists on a hill outside the Gaza strip so that they could not witness what was taking place. Does my hon. Friend agree that such behaviour is not the way in which a democracy operates?
Absolutely. The whole point about a democracy is that it opens itself up to accountability and observation. Israel made very sure that journalists could not get into Gaza. We should be grateful to al-Jazeera and others that remained in Gaza throughout the conflict for sending live footage of what was going on. Such action probably helped to hasten the end of the conflict rather than prolong it, which is what would have happened had they not been there.
Those of us who visited Gaza before the conflict and Operation Cast Lead are aware that the economic damage to which my hon. Friend refers was being inflicted even then and is still being inflicted now by the blockade. I am sure that we all welcomed the Prime Minister's support for an end to the blockade in Prime Minister's questions last week, but does my hon. Friend agree that we need action and not words on this?
Absolutely. I first visited Gaza in 1998 post-Oslo. There was an amazing air of optimism around. Developments were under way and farming, education and employment were all growing; it was a great time. Go there now, and one will see the horrors, destruction and misery of life for ordinary people. In effect, the people of Gaza are imprisoned. Let us put that in a wider context. When the police in this country decide to surround a demonstration and perform a "kettling" operation, people quite quickly become angry, annoyed and distressed. They either turn on each other or on the police, and very quickly a nasty conflict develops. Think of the people of Gaza who are under occupation. They cannot travel, move, work or live a normal life. Those who have managed to develop industries and employment or who have tried to create a sense of community saw it all destroyed in Operation Cast Lead.
If we wish to bring about peace in the area, we must stop the occupation of the west bank and the imprisonment of the people of Gaza. The borders must be open and respect shown for the democratic process within Gaza and the west bank that has resulted in elected Government. Whether one likes it or not, that must fundamentally be what the democratic process is about.
Lastly, I want to turn to universal jurisdiction, which I mentioned in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea. I was deeply involved in the whole issue of General Pinochet, including his arrival in this country on an arms-buying spree, his eventual arrest on an extradition warrant from Spain and the historic decision by the House of Lords to declare universal jurisdiction on human rights matters to be competent for British courts. It was good enough then, and many people were very pleased with it, because General Pinochet's popularity had not lasted. People said, "This is a good thing. We are bringing murderers to justice." However, now that the Foreign Secretary and others see Israel as an ally, it is seen to be inconvenient to apply a similar process to people who said that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and who ordered the bombing of civilian installations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Surely they, too, have humanitarian law questions to answer in British courts should they show up in this country.
I am proud of the fact that we have universal jurisdiction in British courts, and I will in no way support the reduction of that right in any parliamentary move that is made by the Government. When the Minister replies, I suggest that he tells us that that nonsense has been dropped and that we will stick with our human rights law and universal jurisdiction. If that means that people such as Tzipi Livni cannot come here unless they are prepared to answer legal questions, so be it. It might discourage other people from bombing civilian targets in the future. Surely that is the whole point of having that law and of international human rights law.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Martin Linton on obtaining this important debate. I should like to touch briefly on the important legal implications of the Goldstone report rather than its content, which has been dealt with extensively by my hon. Friend with his usual clarity and articulation. Goldstone is unique; there has never been such a meticulous and judicial analysis of atrocity within so short a time of those atrocities being committed either by a nation state or by others. I have read the report and already it has achieved the iconic status that is normally, in literary terms, reserved for "Ulysses". We always used to ask each other, "Have you actually read "Ulysses"?" The answer was a test of both one's veracity and virility.
Yes, and stamina. We now ask each other who has read Goldstone. I have, and found it a harrowing and dreadful experience. Worse than the destruction of schools and hospitals and the wanton blowing up of civilian targets is the wanton destruction of 40 per cent. of the agricultural output of Gaza. I have one rhetorical question that I wanted to ask when I tried to intervene on my right hon. Friend Jane Kennedy. How does a country defend its people by wantonly destroying 40 per cent. of the agricultural capacity? More than anything else, it is the casual cruelty that is the most devastating. Goldstone mentions the casual shooting of children and civilians while soldiers do nothing except eat on the top of a tank. Effectively, they are doing it for fun. That reawakens images of the worst regiments of history; images with which my generation were brought up. I am talking about images of the Waffen SS doing precisely the same thing. That is what is so horrifying in the Goldstone report.
Let me briefly touch on the even-handedness of Goldstone. The Goldstone report centres on Israel and the actions of the Israeli army because 1,440 people have been injured and killed-including 400 children-by that army. It is hardly surprising that Goldstone concentrates on such matters. Israel is an immensely prosperous state that is supported by the most prosperous state on Earth and many of the most prosperous institutions. It is a state that, ever since I entered politics, I have supported and worked for its right to exist. It is a state born out of indescribable suffering, which happened in my lifetime. So, I do not take any criticism from those who might say that I am anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli-I am not and never have been-but Gaza opened the eyes of people like me, who had been quiet for far too long on the issue.
What happened in Gaza is chronicled in Goldstone. What is the effect?
I welcome the debate. I come from a similar background to my hon. and learned Friend and have been going to that part of world since before I came into this place. Does it disturb him, as it disturbs me, that people use "democracy" and the existence of an internal electoral system that appoints a Parliament as an excuse-a smoke-and-mirrors scheme to hide behind-to justify the actions of what anyone else would say has become a pariah state?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Democracy, laudable though it undoubtedly is, is only one hallmark of civilisation; how one behaves in that democracy is another. The Third Reich started out as a democracy; Hamas is a democracy; democracy is not the only thing. The repetition of the phrase, "This is the only democracy in the middle east", with Israel therefore deserving some special treatment, is costing us dear in international terms and in international relations.
Briefly, on the legal consequences of Goldstone, does the report have a legal base in British jurisprudence? Yes, it most certainly does-it is evidence. Ironically, one of the reasons why it is evidence is because of the extreme loosening of the evidential barriers effected by the Government in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, in the teeth of opposition from people such as myself. None the less, that is the effect: Goldstone is an evidential document in British jurisdiction, and may be used as such.
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentions the examples of brutality cited in Goldstone, which are based on examples provided to Goldstone by non-governmental organisation evidence. The NGO evidence, as Goldstone himself stated, was based almost entirely on unverifiable publications from politicised NGOs, such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, whose analysis it is fair to say is not wholly objective. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not accept that some of the evidence base in Goldstone is highly questionable and that the report is not the objective document that he pretends it to be?
That interpretation of Goldstone is highly selective, but let me answer the real question, which came at the end: do I not accept that some of the evidence in Goldstone is questionable? Of course I do. I have been a criminal barrister for a long time and have prosecuted and defended-I am happy or unhappy to say-some of the most venal, serious, dangerous, nasty and on occasion violent crimes that have been committed in this jurisdiction. Of course I know that all evidence needs to be tested. That is why the report needs to be tested in a proper arena; it needs to be tested in a British court, or in a court. Brought before such a judicial test, it may well be that some parts of the report will be found wanting. Frankly, I disagree-the report is a devastating indictment, in its form, its content and the nature and background of the man who wrote it. However, that is all that it is: an indictment. That indictment cries out to be tried.
Now I come to the principle of universal jurisdiction, which so shames my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, who would take no interventions on the subject. Let us deal with universal jurisdiction, which she finds so abhorrent. In the case of Tzipi Livni-not a case in which I was retained-inevitably what happened was that evidence was placed before a British district judge, of whom there is no criticism at all. I shall listen carefully to the Minister's reply, when he comes to deal with the issue. If he says that the district judge can be criticised, he is wholly at odds with the Foreign Secretary, who has spoken to me in such terms as, "There is no criticism of that district judge." That district judge, on the evidence placed before him or her-I do not know which, but it was a Westminster district judge-found that there was a prima facie case to answer, because of the evidence of the atrocities committed in Gaza and the authority exercised by Tzipi Livni at the time.
That is the British system. In our system, we have the contribution of the citizen to a degree not exemplified elsewhere. We have jury trial, for instance-the first trial without a jury starts today, ironically, but the basis of our system is still jury trial. The citizen decides; the citizen can initiate process; and the citizen can go to a district judge and put evidence before the judge-if the evidence is there, process will issue. That is our system and I find nothing shameful in that at all. What I find shameful is the speed with which our Prime Minister got in touch with the Israeli Government and told them that there was something wrong with our judicial process. What I find shameful is that the Attorney-General-our Attorneys-General in this Government have a lot to answer for in how they have used their office in the build-up to the Iraq war and now this-going to a Hebrew university, talked about war "lawfare" and said:
"Israel's leaders should always be able to travel freely in the United Kingdom".
Why? Why should Israel's leaders "always" be able to travel, no matter what they do or the atrocities committed by their Government, army and the Israeli defence force on their behalf? Why? The time has long gone in this world when those who commit war crimes can believe that they can travel with impunity and immunity into civilised states and not face universal jurisdiction.
The hon. and learned Gentleman comes from a proud tradition of the British left of being staunchly anti-imperial and anti-imperialist. Is there not something vaguely imperial about the ambition of universal jurisdiction, the idea that a British court can detain and arrest the leader of another country? Is that not an inversion of the anti-imperial tradition of which he used to be an advocate?
It is not just our courts, but all the courts of any country that has signed the fourth Geneva convention and its protocol. That is the point; the jurisdiction is universal, which is the precise opposite of colonial. It is a universal jurisdiction, so that those who commit war crimes and atrocities know that their movement will be restricted in the world. Ironically, those who denied the freedom of movement to others, find that movement is denied to them.
I shall oppose-I very much hope that the wider House will oppose-any attempt to restrict universal jurisdiction at the behest of any state, however powerful, whose leaders are accused and against whom there is prima facie evidence of committing such crimes.
Was my hon. and learned Friend ashamed of a British Prime Minister referring to the report as describing the "crimes" of Hamas and the "alleged crimes" of Israel? Has not that perception of a lack of even-handedness-that kind of hard power-aroused the antagonism of much of the Muslim community, in our local mosques and throughout the world, and fuelled the terrorist threats?
I agree. The perception of partiality in respect of Israel has long dogged not just this Government but British Governments generally. It is high time that such partiality finished, with the way that is articulated-the semantics used-carefully chosen.
I am pleased to contribute to today's debate, because it is a year on since last winter's devastating Gaza conflict and we now have the report from Goldstone. I agree with the Government that the report raises serious questions that need to be answered but at the same time is pretty flawed.