Month: January 2014

Parliamentary tributes to Del Singh

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition led the tributes to Del Singh during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s questions:

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I am sure that the whole House would want to join me in paying tribute to Del Singh and to Simon Chase who were tragically killed in Kabul on Sunday in a cowardly terrorist attack. Both were there to support the Afghan Government and to improve the lives of the Afghan people. Del Singh was a friend to many in the House and had given so much time and dedication to troubled regions across the world. Our thoughts should be with their families and friends at this very difficult time.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I want to start by paying tribute to the two British nationals, Simon Chase and Del Singh, who were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. Simon Chase had served Britain in the Army, and my condolences go to all his family and friends. Del Singh was one of Labour’s European candidates, and one of the most decent people one could ever hope to meet. He was an international development worker who dedicated his life to helping people across the world, and we all grieve with his family.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): May I also thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their kind words about my friend Del Singh, who devoted his too-short life to working for peace and justice, not least in Palestine and Afghanistan?

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Del Singh was an extraordinary person: a warm and generous friend, and a passionate campaigner for peace and justice. He dedicated his life to working for those in need in areas of conflict, including in Afghanistan. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that, after the drawdown of troops this year, the work of people such as Del Singh will continue to be supported by this Government?

The Prime Minister: I very much share what she said about Del Singh. It reminds us of the risks that aid workers take on our behalf to deliver vital assistance around the world. I can give her the assurance she seeks. It is very important for everyone to recognise that, while our troops are coming home at the end of 2014, our commitment to Afghanistan will continue: not just our commitment to its armed forces but, with more than $100 million a year, our commitment to its aid and future development. We will need many more brave people such as Del Singh to go on working with the Afghan Government to deliver for the Afghan people.

Mini briefing on Palestine and Mandela

The death of Nelson Mandela has reminded the world of the power of a boycott in ending apartheid in South Africa and the existence of another form of apartheid in Palestine.

Mandela said in a speech in 1997 that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.  The parallels between South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and the Palestinians struggle have not only been drawn by Palestinians. Alon Liel, who was Israeli ambassador to South Africa in 1992-4, has said: “The situation that has developed in the West Bank over four and a half decades is a kind of apartheid. If you compare the suffering of black people in South Africa under 40 years of apartheid, and the suffering of the Palestinians under 46 years of occupation, I don’t know who suffered more.”

Liel has drawn parallels also between Mandela and Marwan Barghouti, who has spent nearly 12 years in an Israeli prison but is still one of the most popular politicians in Palestine. Liel is possibly the only man who has known both Mandela and Barghouti well.

From his Cell n°28 in Hadarim prison in Israel, Barghouti wrote an appreciation of Mandela in which he said: “From within my prison cell, I tell you that our freedom seems possible because you reached yours”.

Last year his wife Fadwa Barghouti sat in Mandela’s old cell in the B section of Robben Island prison and signed an international declaration calling for the release of Marwan Barghouti and all the other political prisoners in Israeli jails.  She was accompanied by Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela’s close friend who had launched a similar international campaign for his release many years earlier, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Tutu, the architect of South Africa’s own truth and reconciliation process, is among those who believe that if the Israeli government really wanted peace, they would release Marwan Barghouti.

They had a chance when they agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in an exchange deal for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.  They were asked by both Fatah and Hamas to release him as part of the deal. They did release 1,027 prisoners, including many who had been convicted of multiple murders and were serving life sentences, but not Barghouti.

They had the opportunity again when they released 104 long-term prisoners as part of the deal negotiated by US State Secretary John Kerry for peace negotiations last nine months between August 2013 and May 2014.  But, again, they have not released him.

The Israeli politicians who have supported his release include the Israeli President Shimon Peres who declared in January 2007 that he would sign a presidential pardon for Marwan Barghouti if elected to the Israeli presidency.  He was elected, but he has not signed the pardon.

Mini-briefing on Gaza

Written answers since the last FCO questions have elicited the answer (see below) that ministers are “deeply concerned by the chronic humanitarian situation in Gaza, which has been exacerbated by recent severe weather, leading to significant flooding and property damage. Widespread flooding has necessitated the evacuation of hundreds of families in Gaza…..Heavy rain and snow in Gaza has led to widespread flooding and power cuts. Electricity feeder lines from Egypt and Israel were damaged on 12 December and, although they have been mostly repaired, subsequent bad weather has continued to damage the domestic network and electricity supply. On 16 December, following a Qatari donation to the Palestinian Authority to fund the purchase of fuel for Gaza, the Gaza power plant restarted partial operations for the first time since 1 November.”

They have also elicited the fact that the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank “have been estimated as costing the Palestinian economy up to 85% of its Gross Domestic Product every year”.

Mini-briefing on Bedouin clearances

The Israeli government has postponed the Prawer-Begin Bill that would have forcibly relocated 40,000 Bedouin Arabs from their ancestral lands in the Negev to government-designated towns.

But this may only be a temporary delay for consultations. The Bill’s co-sponsor admitted he had not consulted the Bedouin about his plan. “I didn’t tell anyone that the Bedouin agreed to my plan. I couldn’t say that because I didn’t present the plan to them,” said former minister Benny Begin.

The Israelis call it the “relocation” Bedouin. The “relocation” is done by evicting them and demolishing their houses and farm buildings.

At the same time they are trying to “relocate” Bedouins in semi-desert areas around to Jerusalem to make way for new illegal settlements.

Bedouins are families who live in semi-arid areas and traditional live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, moving their flocks of sheep or goats around according to season.

Mini-briefing on child detainees

Hugh Robertson pledged his support for the Foreign Office-funded report Children in Military Custody and its 40 recommendations: “I entirely support it and during my time as a minister, I will do everything I can to ensure that its recommendations are properly and correctly implemented.”

The report’s authors, Sir Stephen Sedley QC, Baroness Scotland, and others, will revisit Israel in March to review progress.  So far only two or three of their 40 recommendations have been carried out by the Israelis, reducing the maximum period of detention of children without charge from 60 to 40 days and the maximum before appearing before a judge from 4 days to one for 12-13 year-olds and to two for 14-15 year olds.

This does only a little to reduce the abuses which mainly occur in the first 24 hours after Palestinian children are arrested in the middle of the night, interrogated without parents or lawyers present, bullied into signing confessions in a language they do not understand and jailed sometimes as young as 12.

Children in Military Custody report>


Mini-briefing on the peace talks

US State Secretary John Kerry was in Jerusalem and Ramallah again last week for his tenth visit trying to re-energise the talks, but it is fast becoming clear that progress is severely hampered by the continuing expansion of settlements.

A breakthrough is always possible, and would be most welcome, but one has to be very optimistic to believe there could be a settlement by the end of the nine months in April.

Last week Netanyahu released the third group of Palestinian prisoners, all of whom have already served more than 22 years, but he “balanced” the release by announced yet more new settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinians revoked their claim on 78% of historic Palestine in 1988 in the belief that all the remaining 22% would become a Palestinian state and all their prisoners would be released. They have made their historic compromise. They should not be asked for more.

Mini-briefing on settlement trade

On the day of the last Foreign Office questions – December 3rd – Hugh Robertson finally published his long-promised “business guidance” to firms trading with illegal settlements by uploading it onto the DTI’s Overseas Business Risk website, but he made no announcement and did not even mention it when he was questioned about settlement trade in the Commons.

Now, six weeks later, is the first opportunity to question him about it. The first thing is to congratulate him on at least saying the Government “does not encourage” trade with illegal settlements. The second is to press him to go further than this very cautious first step.

It took the press a week before they even noticed that new business guidance was up on the website – so has he notified companies already trading with settlements?  Has he warned companies that they are running legal and reputational risks by trading with illegal settlements?

The guidance says:

  • We do not encourage economic or financial activities in the settlements. We do not offer support to such activity.
  • Firms must be aware of legal and economic risks in financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements, other economic activities, including tourism, in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements owing to disputed titles to land, water, mineral or other natural resources
  • They must also be aware of potential reputational implications of getting involved in economic and financial activities in settlements.

William Hague applauds the effectiveness of economic sanctions on Iran and says this week’s deal “vindicates the policy of pressure through sanctions”, but recoils from effective economic pressure on Israel even though he admits Israel is in clear breach of international law on settlements, on the wall, on prisoners in Israeli jails and on east Jerusalem.

A report in The Independent this week says that the OECD is holding an inquiry into G4S’s sale of surveillance equipment to Israeli for use in checkpoints in Palestine.  Also this week Dutch pension fund PGGM has withdrawn over of million euros from five Israeli banks because of their involvement in illegal settlements in the West Bank.