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On 20 November 2012, the House of Commons debated the Middle East, at the request of backbenchers. We begin this selection from the debate with Andy Slaughter’s percipient remarks about the pending mass killing of many more innocents in Gaza, should Israel proceed with its ground invasion. Arbuthnot and Ottoway, Select Committee Chairmen, marked low points in the Debate. Hague rather distanced himself from the more partisan comments of the many Friends of Israel in the House. He knows Hamas won the 2006 elections in Gaza by a street, and that they are serious interlocutors. That’s why Michael Ancram talked with them at length after that victory. (see Spokesman 97)

House of Commons
Tuesday 20 November 2012
Middle East

Several hon. Members rose

Andy Slaughter Hammersmith) (Lab): Palestinian victims of Israeli atrocities are so many that they often go unnamed. I would like to name the four youngest members of the El Dallo family: Sara, 7; Jamal, 6; Yusef, 4; and Ibrahim, 2. They were four of nine family members and of 26 children killed in Israeli air strikes in the last week. Does the Secretary of State accept that hundreds more Palestinian children will die, as they did four years ago, if he and other western leaders do not put more pressure on Israel not to launch a ground assault?

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Given that the experience of the past decade or more is that Israel pockets any concession made by the west to accommodate its position and then not only does nothing but makes the situation worse—by illegal settlement building, for example—will the Foreign Secretary please reconsider his position on the British Government’s refusal to vote for the United Nations General Assembly resolution? He is a man of great fluency, and he normally convinces the House with his arguments, but I find his reason for that refusal utterly incomprehensible. It is not that I disagree with it; I simply do not understand why our voting for the resolution would make the situation worse. Surely it would make it much better.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Israel has an unambiguous right to defend itself, but along with such rights go duties, and in this case the duty is to use only proportionate means to effect that defence. Does my right hon. Friend believe that targeted assassination, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the imposition of casualties on women and children is consistent with that duty?

Mr Hague: Of course all our efforts have to be directed to making sure there is a ceasefire, and only at a subsequent stage could one make the judgment that my right hon. and learned Friend is inviting me to make. I have not shied away from it in the past, as he knows; in fact, during the Lebanon war when we were in opposition, I was very clear about the disproportionality of what happened. In this case, we have to ask ourselves whether the current conflict in Gaza would be taking place without the increase in rocket attacks, which have gone up from 200 in 2010 to more than 1,300 before this conflict began and up to last week. That is clearly an intolerable situation in the south of Israel, so we have to bear that in mind as well.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I draw the House’s attention to my interests as declared in the register. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a world of difference between Hamas, which specifically targets Israeli children, and Israel, which does its best to avoid killing Palestinian children, although both sometimes fail?

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): Over the weekend, Israel was widely condemned for a military strike on an international media centre in Gaza in breach of the Geneva convention. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it was in fact a base for Islamic Jihad and that the only person who lost their life was its military commander?

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that his repeated claim that Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis is gravely misleading, as it completely ignores the five-year blockade Israel has put on Gaza, which the UN has called a policy of collective punishment? It is illegal under international law. What more will he do to put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade?

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In equally condemning terrorising violence against civilians, whether they are in southern Israel or in Gaza, we cannot all subscribe to the hierarchy of blame offered by the Foreign Secretary for the immediate crisis. On the UN resolution, which is a modest proposal from Palestine, does the Secretary of State not believe that if time is running out for a two-state solution, it is time that the international community took the chance to create more of a semblance of a two-state process?

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): I visited Gaza in early 2009 with other Members of the House in the weeks following Operation Cast Lead. The evidence of destruction and misery that I saw there was almost indescribable. May I urge the Foreign Secretary not just to warn Israel against a ground invasion but to condemn those plans in the strongest possible terms?

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that there will be no solution to this appalling and tragic situation if any side feels that it can act with impunity? In particular, where Israel’s recent actions are found to have breached international law and fallen far, far short of the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which it is a signatory, what will he do to ensure that it is held accountable?

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): Surely the Foreign Secretary sees the double standards in his statements. The only way that the UK will be seen as an honest peacemaker in the middle east will be if we treat every life as equal, irrespective of religion or nationality—every British or American life as equal to every Iraqi life and every Israeli life as equal to every Palestinian life. Although I condemn the rocket attacks into southern Israel, surely the principal reason behind this ongoing conflict is an ongoing illegal occupation and an ongoing siege and blockade in Gaza. Twice the Foreign Secretary has been asked what the humanitarian response is from the UK Government and twice he has told us about the ongoing support that we give on an annual basis. What support have the Government given in this specific week to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): In his response to the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the Foreign Secretary declined to say what he felt was proportionate. When an organisation such as Hamas gets international sympathy and support, and unprecedented support in the region, does he not think Israel’s approach is a mistake, and if so, is he willing to say so?

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab): I would be grateful if the House would note my recent employment with Oxfam. The Foreign Secretary will no doubt be aware that in the Cast Lead operation four years ago, there was significant damage to UN facilities and the operations of other humanitarian agencies in Gaza. What conversations have he and the Secretary of State for International Development had with the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other humanitarian agencies in the past week about the continued functioning of their operations?

Mr Hague: May I be the first across the Floor of the House to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on arriving in the House of Commons? I speak as someone who won a by-election for the governing party many years ago, although in my case there were not very many at that time. I welcome him to the House and so quickly speaking in the House. The issue that he identifies is important and other hon. Members have raised it. Ministers at the Department for International Development are in constant touch with UNRWA and with this problem. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is in the region now, is forming his own assessment of the situation in Gaza, and I will make sure that those contacts are properly followed up over the coming days.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Yesterday, 38 aid agencies asked for the help of the international community to put pressure on to get the crossings into Gaza open so that essential humanitarian supplies—clean water, food and medical supplies—could get through. I acknowledge that the Foreign Secretary has acknowledged the role of the blockade in this conflict, but notwithstanding the responsibilities on both sides for the recent escalation, does he believe that the actions of Israel have had a disproportionate impact on civilians?

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): The civilian populations of southern Israel and Gaza desperately need an immediate and effective ceasefire: that means no rockets, no air strikes and no land invasion. What hopes does my right hon. Friend have of the US Secretary of State being able to broker that immediate and lasting ceasefire?

Mr Hague: There are some hopes. I do not want to overstate them, because of course these things can go wrong. Anything at any moment can go wrong, endangering the process through some event on the ground or breakdown in what either side seeks from a ceasefire, but the UN Secretary-General has put energy behind this; Egypt is playing a strong role, which the visit of Secretary Clinton will bolster; and all of us in the EU countries are determined—a lot of effort is being put behind the ceasefire proposal.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Mr Speaker, I will try to raise an issue that has not been raised so far. Has the Foreign Secretary been able to assess whether UK-made components are being used in Gaza, as part of Israeli equipment, and what implications do the actions of recent days have for UK military links with Israel?

Mr Hague: The hon. Lady has raised an issue that no one else raised, which is pretty good going after one hour and 40 minutes, so I thank her for that. As she knows, we have very tight export controls, through our and the EU’s consolidated guidance. We always evaluate any arms export licences against the risks of misuse, of intensifying conflict and of being used for internal repression. That leads us to refuse some export licences for Israel, but to grant others. Of course, any future grant or refusal of licences will be considered against the background of recent events.


Eyeless in Gaza

The liberation of Alan
Johnston and the
imprisonment of Gaza

Usamah Hamden
Michael Ancram MP
Jonathan Lehrle
Mark Perry

Daily in the common Prison
else enjoyn’d me,
Where I a Prisoner chain’d,
scarce freely draw
The air imprison’d also,
close and damp,
Unwholsom draught …

John Milton,
Samson Agonistes

(Spokesman 96)


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