Category: Gaza

Gaza – Question for Short Debate

My Lords, after the tragic death of eight Turkish humanitarian workers in 2010 our Prime Minister David Cameron said in Ankara that the situation in Gaza has to change and that humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. He further commented that Gaza must not be allowed to remain a prison camp. Yet nearly two years later, there still remains crude restrictions to the flow of humanitarian goods and people.

Gaza experiences chronic shortages and innocent women and children are suffering. For example, Al-Shifa hospital lacks basic medicines and essentials such as baby milk. Last month, the United Nations submitted its annual report on the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories. The report describes the continuing desperation, including chronic food insecurity, isolation, and failing health and education services, all directly linked to the ongoing blockade imposed by Israel. The report states that the blockade amounts to collective punishment of the population and affects every aspect of life in the Gaza strip.

The blockade has not prevented attacks against Israel; its only success is in creating a stark reminder of the impotence of the international community. It is time for the UK to take a lead in developing a clear and open strategy for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza. We cannot continue to believe ourselves to be a just and moral actor in the international arena until we play a role in helping to arrive at a settlement to the Palestinian issues. The rival factions Hamas and Fatah have now agreed to form a new unity government in West Bank and Gaza which I believe will help to achieve a peaceful settlement.

Israel is a mighty military power, but it must now be magnanimous and arrive at a two-state solution whereby it has a guarantee of security and nationhood, but in return it must ensure that Arabs are fairly treated and have full independence.

Gaza – Question in House of Lords

    Lord Sheikh:To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether the conflict in Gaza has breached international humanitarian law.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I reinforce the comments made by my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown that we take allegations of breaches of international law very seriously. The UN is investigating a number of specific incidents that occurred in Gaza during the conflict. The Israeli authorities have also said that they are investigating specific incidents raised by the aid agencies. We shall consider very carefully the results of investigations once they are available.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Will our Government press for the establishment of a prompt, impartial and independent investigation which will make public its findings and provide recommendations as to how the people who are responsible should be held to account?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, the United Nations is investigating damage to its property and injuries and death to its personnel in Gaza. The Israeli Government, too, have undertaken to examine the conduct of their forces in Gaza. The House will appreciate that Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Convention and therefore has obligations. Those investigations will go on. We will of course monitor the situation carefully and take any action which is necessary as a result of the outcome of those investigations.

Gaza

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I care about humanity and I will speak out when I feel that injustice and cruelty are inflicted on people. I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on such subjects, including people trafficking, forced marriages, torture and the rights of Gurkhas. At the outset, I have no reservation in condemning the Hamas rockets that were directed into Israel’s sovereign territory; neither should we forget the deliberate targeting by the Israel Defence Forces to inflict collective and wholesale punishment on the people of Gaza.

At this stage, I reaffirm my belief in a two-state solution, with Israel’s right to exist and defend its territory. Alongside Israel’s right to exist, we must ensure that there is the creation of a viable Palestinian territory. No one could convince me that the conditions in which the Gaza Strip was held constituted a free sovereign territory. Those who lived in Gaza were detained in what amounted to little more than the largest open prison on the planet, with no control over their air space or their borders. That was not acceptable, and it is not sustainable.

The people of Gaza have, over a period of many months, lived in a cast-iron blockade. A lot has been said about the smuggling of weapons through the tunnels, but we must understand why the tunnels were dug in the first place. They have been used to bring in food, fuel, medical supplies and the basic necessities of life. If the blockade is lifted, the tunnels will disappear.

I regret that Israel chose to use its troops to inflict one of the most disproportionate and excessive deployments that we have seen in the world. The alleged use of white phosphorous and DIME weapons is disgusting and outrageous; to use this material against civilians is against international law. There have been other alleged abuses of international law, and I hope that the Minister can confirm that these will be investigated and that those responsible—if there is evidence to prove the allegations—will be pursued and prosecuted. They must be held to account for their decisions and their actions. Those allegations need to be investigated thoroughly, and I understand that the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Government of Israel will be leading that activity. The Government have confirmed that they are in contact with all three bodies, and I hope that the Minister will provide the House with an update on those investigations.

Israel refused to permit the world media to go to Gaza. We could understand perhaps that the reason could be that they did not want the world to know what was happening. The media were allowed in during the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. Notwithstanding the ban, horrific pictures were relayed by Al Jazeera and other channels telling us the reality of what was happening. The Israeli propaganda machine was strong, but watching the people of Gaza suffer on the few TV channels relaying from Gaza caused a great deal of distress to many right-thinking people. Jewish organisations such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Sir Gerald Kaufman in the other place have been very critical of the Israeli action. Countries such as Qatar and Turkey, which were friendly with Israel, are now very unfriendly towards it.

In total, around 1,200 Palestinians were killed during the recent onslaught. A significant number of these were women, children and innocent civilians. People who have been injured have been inflicted with serious burns and other horrific infirmities, and are in need of urgent care. We need to think about providing humanitarian aid to them from our facilities in Cyprus.

However, the damage goes well beyond the human cost, high though that is. There has been destruction of public services, infrastructure, power plants, hospitals, homes, mosques, universities and a number of other structures. The Israelis went on to damage the United Nations’ facilities and compound, causing deaths and injuries. The International Red Cross and the United Nations have condemned the Israeli actions. The Israelis failed to provide medical and humanitarian aid to the injured civilians and, in fact, hindered the Red Cross from doing so. This is contrary to international humanitarian conventions.

I should like to express my serious concern about the possible radicalisation and engendering of extremism among young people in this country and abroad as a result of the Israeli invasion. This should be a source of worry for us all. For my part, I will try to calm the situation.

Gaza’s condition was less than ideal before the conflict, and things have become considerably worse. The humanitarian catastrophe will become worse unless we all work together to help our fellow human beings. I deplore the decision of the BBC to refuse to broadcast an appeal to provide assistance to these people. Its actions are a case, in my view, of poor judgment.

We need to move on from conflict and work more actively towards a resolution of the historical events that have caused such misery and pain. I want to see a viable and secure Palestinian state that is able to live alongside Israel in peace. It is the western vision that any such Palestinian state should be a democracy, but there is a problem when we refuse to allow those citizens the right to make their own choice. We need to think again whether or not we should talk to Hamas.

In our deliberation we must realise how peace was achieved in Northern Ireland, with Martin McGuinness as the Deputy First Minister, and how South Africa attained its independence under Nelson Mandela. We need to think about creating unity between Hamas and Fatah, leading to a Government of national consensus. This will require active participation by the United States, the quartet and a number of other countries.

The programme of aid to the Palestinians has been linked to progress with the peace process. I hope that the Minister can confirm to the House that we will do everything we can to reduce and eliminate the suffering and that we will not allow obstacles to get in the way of bringing about an end to the suffering in Gaza.

In conclusion, we need to recognise that this conflict has been the cause of a great deal of suffering to a large number of people for decades. The recent misery must not be allowed to be a catalyst for further horrors. I wish Senator George Mitchell well in his endeavours on behalf of the new American Administration, and urge the Government to do what they can to facilitate engagement from all sides to achieve the destination of conflict resolution. The priority, however, must be, in the first instance, to relieve the horrendous suffering that has been inflicted on the people of Gaza and to ensure that those responsible for this misery are held to account for their decisions. I hope that the Government will not inhibit either of those activities. I would appreciate the Minister’s reply to the points I have raised.

Lord Sheikh Letter to BBC regarding DEC Gaza Appeal

Dear Mr Thompson

 

I am writing to express my extreme dissatisfaction with the BBC’s refusal to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Appeal to raise much needed funds for Gaza.

 

The reason expressed by you by stating “we could not broadcast a free standing appeal, no matter how carefully constructed, without running the risk of reducing public confidence in BBC’s impartiality in its wider coverage of the story” is not satisfactory and totally unacceptable.   The DEC Appeal is not political; it is a humanitarian appeal trying to address the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

 

As we all know there has been a complete destruction of schools, hospitals, mosques and homes in Gaza. Many have sustained horrific injuries (including many women and children) and a large number of people have been made homeless. There is a lack of the basic necessities of life which are urgently needed. The broadcasting of the DEC Gaza Appeal would have given great assistance to the people of Gaza when they need it most. We should not stand by idly while such a humanitarian disaster occurs.

 

Yours sincerely 

 

 

The Lord Sheikh

Israel and Palestine: Gaza

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I care about humanity and I would like to express my serious concern and sense of disturbance at possible breaches of international humanitarian laws by the Israelis. The use of white phosphorus shells by the Israelis against civilians, which is not allowed under the Geneva Convention, has caused horrific injuries the likes of which some doctors have not seen before.

The International Red Cross has strongly condemned the Israelis for neglecting their international obligations and for their lack of care of the sick and wounded. In addition, the Israelis did not allow the Red Cross to provide care for the wounded. In one case, rescuers found four small children lying next to the corpses of their dead mothers. There have been other incidents, but I should like to mention one more where 100 members of an extended family were herded by the Israelis into a house which was subsequently shelled by them, killing 30 people.

Mrs Pillay of the United Nations has said that the violations of international humanitarian laws may constitute war crimes, for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, has condemned Israel’s excessive use of force and has demanded that those responsible for shelling schools and other facilities run by the United Nations be held to account.

My urgent appeal is for us to be actively involved in caring for the injured and providing them with medical care and assistance in every way possible. We should then ensure that investigations are undertaken into the violation of international humanitarian laws and that appropriate action is taken against those who are guilty, whoever they may be.

Israel & Palestine: Gaza

Lord Sheikh:

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether international humanitarian law has been breached in the conflict relating to Gaza.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, very serious allegations have been made against both Hamas and Israel. We take these very seriously and they must be fully investigated. The Israeli authorities have said that they are investigating specific incidents raised by the aid agencies. We will consider very carefully the results of investigations once they are available. At that stage, the parties and the international community will need to decide on any further action.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The people of Gaza have been subjected to collective and indiscriminate punishment by the Israelis, some of whose actions can perhaps be considered inhumane. Israel has used white phosphorus shells, whose use against people is prohibited under the 1980 Geneva Convention, and there may have been incidents whose investigation is likely to find breaches of international humanitarian laws. There have been statements of condemnation—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, will the Government take a lead to facilitate a full and thorough investigation by the United Nations and the Red Cross to determine whether there have been breaches of international laws and to ensure that appropriate remedial action is taken? Will the Minister keep your Lordships’ House advised of progress in this regard?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, let me assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said in another place that we fully support investigations of these allegations. In the first instance, it is a matter for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, both of which are on the ground and both of which have the responsibility for collecting evidence of the different incidents that have occurred. It is also the responsibility of the Government of Israel, as a party to the international laws that govern this—particularly the Geneva Conventions—to make an initial investigation. However, there is no doubt that, if these allegations stand up, they will need to be pursued internationally. These are very serious crimes, if they were committed.