Monday, February 16, 2009


Baroness Deech (Crossbench) | Hansard source

My Lord, I recently heard a speech by President Peres of Israel. He said
that if we look back 50 years, who would have imagined then that the Soviet
Empire would have ended, that the South African system of apartheid would
have been dismantled and Mandela would have become president, that the
Berlin Wall would have come down and that there would be a black president
of America? He said that we should look forward 50 years from now in the
same spirit. I want to start on that optimistic note because I believe that
if we wait that long*no doubt beyond our lifetimes*there will be change for
the better. I want to emphasise that because inevitably much of my speech
will be rather gloomy.

No one can accuse this House of not focusing on the distressing situation in
Gaza. In the past 12 months, there have been 161 Questions and Statements
about Israel, Gaza and the Palestinians compared with, for example, 33 on
Sri Lanka and 24 on Tibet. I mention Sri Lanka in particular because noble
Lords will be aware that recently there was a well attended protest in
Parliament Square about the terrible attacks on the Tamils, the hospitals
under siege, the killing of 70,000 people and the many more thousands who
are trapped and displaced from their homes. This has attracted little
opprobrium and no calls for the obliteration of Sri Lanka or talk of its

I raise that because I am interested in the particular focus on the Middle
East that is expressed in this country. Part of the reason is that the war
in Gaza has not been seen in perspective, but only as a minute fragment of
what is, in truth, a larger picture. There is a wider war, of which Israel
and Gaza are figureheads, and there is also a civil war. The talk about what
is proportionate*I prefer the word "necessary"*has to be seen in the context
of a response to an attack from Hamas designed not just to launch rockets at
Israel*5,000 rockets deliberately aimed at Israeli civilians and
schoolchildren at 7.45 in the morning*but to end the state of Israel.

Hamas has vowed to have an Islamic state over Gaza, the West Bank and Israel
as part of a wider Islamic empire. Israel has a 20 per cent Arab population,
but not one Jew is to be allowed to live in this Islamic state. We can well
imagine the fate planned for the millions of Israelis were this to come
about. The response from Israel was, if anything, as restrained as it
possibly could be. We should recall the detailed precautions taken by the
Israeli army to avoid wherever possible harm to civilians, bearing in mind
the use of mosques, schools and hospitals, as has been referred to earlier

The charges of "disproportionate" were not made in relation to other wars
that we have recently experienced; Kosovo, Georgia, Iraq or even
Afghanistan, where people have died in their thousands. In fact, there has
been some praise for the restraint that Israel has shown in trying to avoid
civilian casualties. There is also a civil war in Gaza, which makes the
prospects of peace unrealistic. The military dictatorship there did nothing
to protect its own subjects, but took the opportunity of war to eliminate
many of its Fatah political opponents. Other noble Lords have referred to
the very cruel details of this. Even the Palestinian Authority's President
Abbas said:

"Hamas has taken risks with the blood of Palestinians, with their fate and
dreams and aspirations for an independent Palestinian state".

The wider war is one of destruction of Israel, and those who criticise
Israel's attack on Gaza must realise that they are unwittingly giving
succour to that plan.

Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas all share that same aim of destroying
Israel entirely and, indeed, Hamas has thanked Iran for its support in the
Gaza war. As others have mentioned, the result has been that Jews all over
the world have suffered for this. The attacks on Jews that have taken place
here in the UK and elsewhere illustrate my theme of a wider war. It is Jews
and synagogues in London and Venezuela, in universities, to their shame, and
streets, that are attacked, with Gaza as the excuse, not Israelis. It is not
Jews who see all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism; it is some of the
critics of Israel who vent their displeasure on Jews in general. The hatred
of Israel, and sometimes Jews, is almost unique in international politics.

Then there is the propaganda war. I urge noble Lords not to believe all that
they read in the newspapers about damage and killings in Gaza. We do not
have the evidence. I cite just one case. The tragic killing of the three
daughters of the respected Gazan doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish now seems to have
been by Gazan rockets, not Israeli fire, according to the post-mortem
examination of the fragments of their bodies.

On the humanitarian front, of course, it is exacerbated, because Hamas
wanted civilian deaths to increase its worldwide exposure and sympathy.
Humanitarian aid is another area where the wrong and pessimistic view has
been taken. I noted with interest and approval that the BBC refused to
screen the advertisement for aid and that it was backed by its own NUJ
branch of journalists. It is not so good to hear talk of a Zionist lobby and
Jews mugging protests and stemming disquiet in the United States, when you
consider the very small numbers that there are. The United Nations Relief
and Works Agency has a huge budget. We do not yet know what happened to the
millions that Arafat salted away and took to his death. We note the failure
of other Arab countries to come to the aid of their brothers. The oil
revenue of the Gulf states in 2008 was $562 billion; in Saudi Arabia it was
$260 billion*one day's oil revenue would work a miracle for the West Bank
and Gaza, but this is not forthcoming.

On the humanitarian front, Israel's Supreme Court in the past few days, a
court known for its robustness, has examined the application of the Geneva
conventions on humanitarian law and found them not to have been breached.
Other Arab countries have not only not helped but have literally turned
their backs on the Palestinians, as one can read regarding Syria in the
report in the Times today.

What of the future? Gaza could have had a future. Every Israeli soldier and
civilian was removed from there. Everything was ready for the Gazans a few
years ago to start a new period of economic development. There was no
blockade, and it remains true that Egypt could open its crossing if it
wanted to. It does not, of course, because it no more wants an Iranian state
on its borders than Israel does. Instead the rockets and the tunnels came,
and the sad destruction of the very greenhouses where flowers and fruit were
grown and could have continued to be grown.

What can the UK do? It can support Egypt, which is acting very well in this
crisis, albeit for its own reasons of survival. It can help block Hamas from
smuggling more arms by sea. It can press for the release of Gilad Shalit,
who has been a hostage in Gaza for two and a half years with no access to
the Red Cross or any other international agency. It can persuade Hamas to
change the charter and remove mention of destruction. Above all, your
Lordships should lend your voices to the end of the demonisation of Israel
and to calm down the surging anti-Semitism. Your Lordships should recognise
the need of Israel to exist and its legitimacy. It is no more arriviste in
the Middle East than the other 22 Arab states to be found there. There can
be no further removal of six million Jews from the Middle East. We must do
nothing to feed the hatred that surrounds this issue and we must do
everything to look to the future.