Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Commons debate on Gaza, 21st July 2014

Below are some extracts from the 21st July House of Commons debate on Gaza:

Firstly, here is the statement from the Prime Minister:
"Let me now turn to the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza. The crisis was triggered by Hamas raining hundreds of rockets on Israeli cities, indiscriminately targeting civilians in contravention of all humanitarian law and norms. In the last fortnight, Hamas has fired 1,850 rockets at Israeli cities. This unprecedented barrage continues to this moment, with Hamas rejecting all proposals for a ceasefire, including those put forward by the Egyptian Government.

I have been clear throughout this crisis that Israel has the right to defend itself. Those criticising Israel’s response must ask themselves how they would expect their own Government to react if hundreds of rockets were raining down on British cities today. But I share the grave concern of many in the international community about the heavy toll of civilian casualties. The figures are very disturbing. More than 500 people have now reportedly been killed in Gaza, and over 3,000 injured. The UN estimates that over 83,000 people have been displaced so far. Israel has also faced loss of life, with 18 soldiers and two civilians killed, including 13 soldiers yesterday alone.

I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu again about this crisis last night. I repeated our recognition of Israel’s right to take proportionate action to defend itself, and our condemnation of Hamas’s refusal to end its rocket attacks, despite all international efforts to broker a ceasefire. But I urged him do everything to avoid civilian casualties, to exercise restraint, and to help find ways to bring this situation to an end. Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear that Israel had been ready to accept each of these ceasefire proposals and had unilaterally implemented a temporary ceasefire in the hope that Hamas would follow suit.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to President Abbas to welcome his support for a ceasefire and underline our wish to see the Palestinian Authority back in Gaza. The United Nations Security Council met in a special session last night and issued a call for an immediate ceasefire. The Council expressed serious concern about rising casualties, and called for respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians. We strongly endorse that call. It is vital that Hamas recognises the need to enter into serious negotiations to end this crisis. In particular, we urge Hamas to engage with the ceasefire proposals put forward by the Egyptian Government. It is only by securing a ceasefire that the space can be created to address the underlying issues and return to the long and painstaking task of building the lasting and secure peace that we all want to see, and I commend this statement to the House."

The Labour Response, from Harriet Harmon MP, was this :

"..Turning to the horror that is unfolding in Gaza, it is intolerable to see the harrowing images of hospitals overwhelmed, mortuaries overflowing and parents devastated as they cradle their dying children. Yesterday the world stood witness to the most bloodstained day. Since the start of this conflict, 20 Israelis have been killed, 18 of whom were soldiers. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed, including countless children—innocent young children whose short lives have been ended in the most brutal and horrific of circumstances.

We cannot reduce this conflict to a ledger of casualties, but we must acknowledge the scale of suffering in Gaza, because the life of a Palestinian child is worth every bit as much as that of an Israeli child. Every death of a Palestinian child will fuel the hatred, embolden Israel’s enemies and recruit more supporters to terrorist groups such as Hamas. We stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself, but this escalation will not bring Israel lasting security.

Does the Prime Minister agree with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that we must continue to press for an immediate ceasefire, an immediate end to the Israeli military operation in Gaza, and an end to the rocket fire by Hamas; that all sides must respect international humanitarian law; and that Israel must exercise maximum restraint?

What is the Prime Minister’s view of the report suggesting that Israel is using flechette shells? Does he agree that the only way to avoid the cycle of violence and perpetual insecurity in the region is to address the root causes of the conflict and that there must be an immediate return to the negotiating table and talks on a two-state solution? As Ban Ki-moon said:“Israelis, but also Palestinians, need to feel a sense of security. Palestinians, but also Israelis, need to see a horizon of hope.”

And here are some of the questions that were put to the PM in the subsequent debate. The PM responded to each, and the responses can be found in the full Hansard record linked to above. It is worth noting that a number of the questions refer to the emails they have received on the issue:

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Surely friends of Israel, like the Prime Minister and I, have a duty at this time to speak the truth? These attacks, despite the horrendous rocket assaults on Israel and the extremism of Hamas, are not “disproportionate”; in any other conflict they would be described as war crimes. That is the truth. The problem also is that there is no end in sight to this. What will happen, a moderate Palestinian leadership having been replaced by Hamas through the failure to succeed in negotiations, is that Hamas, as the respected former Israeli Government adviser Daniel Levy has suggested, could soon be replaced by ISIS in Gaza. We have to start, as the west, speaking the truth, acting and persuading the Israeli Government to negotiate seriously.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): My right hon. Friend asks what the reaction should be here, were we to be subject to such rocket attacks as those sustained by Israel. As a Member of Parliament, I would ask—indeed, demand—that our Government respond in a proportionate way, consistent with international law and with proper regard for the safety of innocent men, women and children. With all the sophisticated military technology at its disposal, can Israel really protect itself only by the kind of operations that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has called “atrocious”?

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman condemn outright the Israeli massacre over the weekend at Shujai’iya of 67 Palestinian innocents whom Netanyahu has obscenely described as “telegenically dead”, together with the four innocent people killed today by the Israeli direct hit on the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades’ hospital? Will he also increase the Government’s valuable aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? Some 67,000 Palestinians have fled to its refuge centres, but they are running out of water and money to feed them. While in no way condoning the actions of Hamas, I ask him to point out to Netanyahu, on the evidence of the two previous Israeli attacks on Gaza, that he can kill, but he cannot win.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The Prime Minister said that the most recent bloodshed in Gaza and Israel had started with the Hamas rocket attacks. I deplore those attacks, but does the Prime Minister not accept that they are not happening in a vacuum, but are a consequence of the ongoing Israeli occupation and siege of Gaza? Given that this is the latest in a long line of Israeli breaches of international law, does he recognise the growing movement that is calling for an embargo on all military co-operation with Israel?

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): What representations has the Prime Minister ever made to the Government of Israel concerning its illegal settlements, its occupation of the west bank and the siege of Gaza, which has gone on for a long time and has led to 70% unemployment? Does he not think that the current crisis and the carnage in Gaza is caused essentially by the failure of Israel ever to recognise the rights, needs or justice of the Palestinian people, and does he not think it is time Britain did something about it, such as by doing that?

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): While Israel is rightly claiming its right of self-defence under international law, we cannot have international law for the Israelis and another international law for the Palestinians, and when is Britain, and more importantly the United States, going to bring pressure to bear to get the Israelis to comply with international law, to end the blockade of Gaza and the settlements on the west bank?

Sir Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): In Gaza, much has been made of what is and is not “proportionate”. The argument is being made that it should be an eye for an eye, but in international law the correct definition is that the response should be proportionate “to the threat”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Israel has no alternative but to go to find who is firing the missiles at it and to stop them?

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does the outrage in Ukraine call for a speedy review of the international rules on the safety of flying over conflict zones? Does the much-needed call for a ceasefire in Gaza include a call for the end of Hamas’s terror tunnels and does the Prime Minister agree that they, too, are a war crime?

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): For the avoidance of doubt, will the Prime Minister agree that the targeting of civilians or wilful disregard for the lives of civilians is a crime, whether those civilians are flying in a civilian aircraft, sheltering in their homes in south Israel or sheltering in their homes in Gaza? Is he aware that Israel has a history of using UK-supplied arms and components in contravention of the EU consolidated criteria? Would he consider Israel’s use of British-supplied arms or components in Gaza today to be in contravention of those criteria, is he asking Israel whether they are or whether they are not and what answer is he getting

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): What is the Government’s assessment of the reports that the Israelis are using illegal white phosphorus as part of their illegal campaign in Gaza? Will he condemn the use of any chemical weapons in Gaza, as he has been so quick to do on other occasions?

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Last week, when the then Foreign Secretary made a statement on Gaza, the death toll of Palestinian children in the conflict since 2000 stood at 1,430. Today it is reported at 1,472. When democracies depart from the rule of law, they give legal and moral authority to our enemies. Israel is in consistent and, today, grievous breach of the Geneva conventions. What is my right hon. Friend doing to bring Israel back within the rule of law?

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Benjamin Netanyahu said on TV over the weekend that the US, the UK and others supported Israeli action in Gaza. Given that the Prime Minister said in his statement today that the indiscriminate targeting of men, women and children is a war crime, why does he not condemn Israeli actions, rather than just making excuses for them, as he has done today?

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister stand by his words of 2010 that the blockaded Gaza “must not be allowed to remain a prison camp”? Does he believe that the killing of 500 people and the displacing of 83,000 people is a proportionate response to the attacks he has mentioned? May I appeal to him to show courage and international leadership and to act as an honest broker to help bring an end to this conflict and humanitarian catastrophe?

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On Gaza, what evidence has the Prime Minister seen that Hamas has been using women and children as human shields in order to turn public opinion and to win the air war—the broadcast air war?

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I agree with the Prime Minister about the need to stop the rockets from Gaza. However, does he not understand and, indeed, share the widespread revulsion at the apparent disregard for human life in the current military action in Gaza? Surely the Secretary-General of the United Nations is right that this action must now stop.

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): Everyone in this House condemns the rocket attacks, but the Israeli defence force is firing the most dangerous of weapons in the most dense of communities, and it is very clear that Secretary Kerry and Ban Ki-moon think that not enough is being done to minimise civilian casualties. Does the Prime Minister accept that analysis? What we really want to know in this House is what he will do today, tomorrow and through the week in the Security Council to stop the slaughter of the innocents in Gaza and beyond.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): On behalf of my Ukrainian community, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on bringing an end to the violence in Ukraine. With regard to the crisis in Gaza and Israel, I join my constituents in deploring the loss of innocent lives. As my right hon. Friend said, we have all seen the horrific scenes of women and children being caught up in the cycle of violence. Will he continue to show leadership, with the United Nations, the US and others, in order to stop this senseless violence and to kick-start a meaningful peace process once again?

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I should like to associate myself and my colleagues with the Prime Minister’s condolences to those affected by the terrible tragedy of flight MH17, and with what he said about the need for early access to the site. On Gaza, when he is speaking to our European partners, will he press for a joint approach to allow the medical evacuation of serious injured Palestinians, given the terrible situation there?

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that, with regard to the situation in Gaza, the greatest strength is sometimes demonstrated by showing restraint? All that Israel’s actions are doing is creating the next generation of highly motivated Hamas terrorists. Is he minded to talk to his fellow European leaders about a form of sanction to encourage that restraint?

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The PM rightly spoke of his anger at the deaths in Ukraine and the dangers of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries. Will he apply those maxims to Gaza? Will he stop blaming the Palestinians for the murder of their own children? Will he show consistent resolve and equal action to uphold international law in dealing with Tel Aviv as with Moscow?

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Israel has a right to security, with an end to rocket attacks by Hamas, but does the Prime Minister agree that while Israel uses overwhelming and disproportionate force with heartbreaking consequences in Gaza and continues to build settlements in the west bank, there will not be peace and security until such time as it recognises the right of the Palestinians to live in security as well and agrees to a two-state solution?

Lyn Brown: A reported 12,000-plus rockets have been fired into Gaza over the past 13 days, with more than 500 deaths and more than 80,000 Gazans displaced. May I simply ask the Prime Minister what pressure he is prepared to apply, if he will not pursue economic sanctions against Israel, to ensure that Israel complies with international humanitarian law and exercises the restraint that he says he wants to see?

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his comments about Hamas. Israel has faced not just 1,850 missiles, but 11,000 missiles fired from Gaza, even after the unilateral withdrawal and millions of tonnes of aid going from Israel into Gaza every year. Will my right hon. Friend also look at the source of the missiles, because Iran is supplying Hamas with the weapons?

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that nothing happens in isolation. One of the reasons for what is happening is that in Gaza, in the past 60 years more than 6 million Palestinians have been forced out of their homes, forced to live in squalor while moving from one country to another, unlawfully imprisoned and treated really badly. All those people have legal documents to prove their ownership of their homes, yet we have done nothing. I am sure that if all those people were given back the homes to which they are legally entitled, the ceasefire would occur immediately.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Hundreds of my constituents have contacted me because they are angry and sickened by the killing of innocent Palestinians and the injuries to many thousands more in Gaza over recent days. They find it hard to understand the Prime Minister’s view that that violence is proportionate, so will he explain how he has reached that conclusion?

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): While I welcome the UN Security Council’s call last night for a ceasefire, will the Prime Minister take on board the representations I have received, including e-mails from my constituents this morning, urging him—pleading with him—to urge the Israelis to stop using flechette shells in Gaza, which lead to lethal metal darts and innocent people being killed or maimed? Does he agree that the Egyptians calling for dialogue is not enough?

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I unequivocally condemn the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas, but the Prime Minister has to accept that the response from Israel is disproportionate. The disregard for the safety of innocent civilians, whether they are in Israel or Gaza or in an aeroplane over Ukraine, is unacceptable, and international law must be applied....

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Hundreds of my constituents have contacted me expressing their horror at what is happening in Gaza, and I share that horror. This is—yet again—a disproportionate response from Israel. Does the Prime Minister agree that the collective punishment of the Palestinians, which has seen many hundreds die, including many dozens of children, is disproportionate and a war crime? People watching this debate today will see that his response has been wholly inadequate

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I am sure that everyone in the House wants an end to rocket attacks, but on Friday I met literally hundreds of my constituents—people from mosques, churches, and people of no religion at all—who had taken to the streets of Worcester because of their deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. May I urge the Prime Minister, on their behalf and mine, to use every diplomatic tool in the box to impress on both sides in this conflict the need to bring about a ceasefire, come to the table and work towards a long-term peace?

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): Now that the Israeli ground offensive has moved into densely populated urban areas of Gaza, the death toll of innocent Palestinians, especially of children, will only rise. The Israelis say that civilians should leave these areas. Given the Prime Minister’s own description of Gaza as an open-air prison camp, perhaps he could advise the men, women and children of Gaza as to where on Earth they are supposed to go?

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister accept that one major impediment to a lasting ceasefire in Gaza is the widely held belief across the Palestinian occupied territories, the wider middle east and our own constituencies that Israel has not lived up to its previous commitments under previous ceasefires? Furthermore, does he accept that the normal test he would apply on the deliberate targeting of civilians starts to break down in an area as densely populated as Gaza?

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): ...On Gaza, I am absolutely stunned by the Prime Minister’s change in tone. Will he unreservedly condemn the indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on the Palestinian people, particularly civilian women and children, and the breaches of international law and the Geneva convention?

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