Author: martinlinton

MPs protest as bulldozers move in to demolish Khan al Ahmar

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)

(Urgent Question): I had hoped to ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the imminent demolition of the village of Khan al-Ahmar and the threat of the forcible transfer of its residents, but in the light of developments this morning, I must instead ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the demolition that has commenced at Khan al-Ahmar and the village of Abu Nuwar and on the actual forcible transfer of the residents of those villages.

The Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt)

This morning, officials from our embassy in Tel Aviv and from our consulate general in Jerusalem visited Khan al-Ahmar to express our concern and demonstrate the international community’s support for that community. Once there, they did indeed observe a bulldozer, which began levelling the ground. While we have not yet witnessed any demolition of structures, it would appear that demolition is imminent. We deeply regret this turn of events. The United Nations has said that this would not only constitute forcible transfer, but pave the way for settlement building in E1. In accordance with our long-standing policy, we therefore condemn such a move, which would strike a major blow to prospects for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.

The United Kingdom has repeatedly raised its concerns with the Israeli authorities and others, for instance during my visit to Khan al-Ahmar on 30 May. On 12 June I issued a video message emphasising the United Kingdom’s concern at the village’s imminent demolition, and I reiterated that concern to the Israeli ambassador to the UK on 20 June. My friend the Foreign Secretary has also expressed his concern, most recently during his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in London on 6 June. The Foreign Secretary’s statement on 1 June also made it clear that the UK was deeply concerned by the proposed demolition, which the UN has said could amount to “forcible transfer”, in violation of international humanitarian law. As recently as Monday, the British ambassador to Israel raised the issue with the Israeli national security adviser. Later today, the British ambassador will join a démarche alongside European partners to request as a matter of urgency that the Israeli authorities halt demolition plans.

Israel believes that, under its independent court system and rule of law, it has the right to take the action that it is beginning today, but it is not compelled to do so, and need not do so. A change of plan would be welcomed around the world, and would assist the prospects of a two-state solution and an end to this long-standing issue.

Richard Burden

As we speak, bulldozers are flattening the village of Khan al-Ahmar and destroying its school, which was built with international donor support, and which provides education for about 170 Bedouin children from five different communities. The village of Abu Nuwar is also being destroyed today.

People who live in these villages threaten no one. Their crime is to have homes on land that Israel wants, in order to expand the illegal settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim. To speak plainly, this is state-sponsored theft: a theft that will cut the West Bank in ​two, making a contiguous Palestinian state near-impossible and the prospects of a two-state solution still more remote. More importantly, as the Minister said, the forcible transfer of the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar and Abu Nuwar contravenes international humanitarian law. It is a war crime.

As the Minister also said, he—along with over 100 Members of this House and peers, and about 300 international public figures—has repeatedly urged the Government of Israel not to go ahead with the demolitions. Now that they have ignored those calls, the question is whether the commission of this war crime will have any consequence. If not, why will Mr Netanyahu believe other than that war crimes can continue with impunity? What practical action do the UK Government propose to take to hold those responsible for this war crime to account, and is it not time finally to outlaw commercial dealings by UK firms with illegal settlements in the West Bank?

Alistair Burt

As he set out, this is an area of land that many of us know quite well from visits made over a lengthy period. This is a community that was moved before and moved to settle where they are, unable to get planning permission under Israeli planning law and therefore they built the settlement they did. The discussion that has taken place since the formation of the settlement has been about the rights and wrongs of that building and about the difficulties of Israeli law as to what would happen next. However, I think that the overwhelming sense of many of us is that this should not be happening and need not be happening. The damage it proposes to do, at a time when many of us are looking to a move on the Middle East peace process in which this piece of land might play a significant part, rather pulls the rug away from those of us who want to see a two-state solution—which, as many say, is perhaps why this has been done.

As I have said, both the timing and the action itself are deeply concerning, but nothing is irrevocable yet. In terms of what we are doing, we are already in conversation with like-minded European partners about what should be done next.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

I believe in a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine. However, it is beyond comprehension that a remarkable country like Israel, cultured, sophisticated and democratic—whose people down the centuries have themselves known such terrible suffering—can countenance such wicked behaviour, which is contrary to all international laws and humanitarian conventions, as she continues to bulldoze Palestinian villages like Khan al-Ahmar, whose residents’ houses are, I understand, at this moment being flattened. What other country would dare to behave in this barbaric way? Will the Government condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms?

Alistair Burt

The short answer to the last part of my friend’s question is yes. The wider issue that he raised—and he put this extremely well in the Westminster Hall debate last week—was the contrast between an Israel for which many of us feel very deeply, and which we believe has many admirable qualities, and some of its actions which seem to go against that history and culture, and about which we have a sense of deep ​concern and sometimes bemusement. I know that it will have its reasons to defend its actions, and it is for the Israeli Government to do that, but the rest of us are disappointed and very perplexed today.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker, and I congratulate my Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who chairs the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group, on securing it.

Just a week ago, when the Minister spoke about Khan al-Ahmar—it is a village that both of us have visited, and I know that he has worked on this issue assiduously—he agreed that, if the village were demolished, if its 181 residents were forcibly removed, and if their homes and their school were razed to the ground to make way for new illegal Israeli settlements, that action would “call into question the viability of a two-state solution. ”

It could, he said, be construed as “a breach of international humanitarian law”.

However, he also said: “It is still possible for any demolition not to go ahead. ”—[Official Report, 26 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 744.]

A week on, I am afraid that—as we all know—we are no longer dealing in woulds, coulds and possibilities. We are dealing with the reality: the reality that this forcible eviction and demolition, this breach of international law, this hammer blow to the two-state solution, is taking place as we sit here today.

We are all tired of asking what can be done to cajole or compel the Netanyahu Government to start listening to their international allies, to start complying with UN resolutions on settlements, or to start acting with some basic fairness and justice on the issue of building permits. That is all increasingly just a waste of breath. I therefore wish to ask the Minister two different questions today, which I believe are more worth while.

Does the Minister share my concerns that we are fast approaching a dangerous place where even some respected Palestinian figures are moving away from the idea of a two-state solution towards seeking democratic control over a single state, with all the implications that that would have for the potential Israeli minority? If he does share those concerns, will he also agree with me that before that shift in opinion can take hold, and before the actions of the Netanyahu Government render a two-state solution a geographical impossibility, this is the time for the United Kingdom to lead the major nations of the world in recognising the Palestinian state, and to do so immediately, while there is still a state left to recognise?

Alistair Burt

I thank her for what she has said. I agree with many of her remarks. The danger that she identifies of a two-state solution slipping away has, of course, been potentially real for some time. Individual actions such as this are doubly difficult to understand and accept at a time when we have all been anticipating a development that would be workable and allow us to move forward.

No one quite knows what the boundaries of a future state might be, but we all have a sense of what the parameters would be. That is why the concerns about ​the E1 area outside Jerusalem have been so important and have perhaps led to some restraint over the years. But if that is to go, what is left and what is next? So that is what we need to do. As I said a moment ago, we are currently in conversation with like-minded European partners about what the response should be and there are a number of options, but the best thing we should be thinking through is what option preserves the important chances there still are for a two-state solution, which has been so long sought for and is still in the mind of the UK the only viable possibility of providing both justice for the Palestinians in some measure and security for the state of Israel. If there is a different answer, I, in 30 years, have not heard it.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

 

Many of us on both sides of this House who call ourselves friends of Israel rightly hail that nation as a bastion of liberal values in a troubled region, so does my friend agree that it is right that we ask the Israeli Government to abide by the very highest standards that they set for themselves, and will he underline again the point he has just made: the real solution to all of this, yet again, is to keep pushing for the peace process to be resurrected and following that path forward?

Alistair Burt

My friend has been, and is, a good friend of the state of Israel, as many of us have been over many years, and I can sense the pain behind his question. We do indeed rightly hold a democracy to high standards and will continue to do so.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP)

This is devastating news today at a human level for those who have been impacted, but also for the peace process. Does the Minister agree that sustainable and lasting peace is built on respect for one another and respect for the rule of law? Does he agree with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that the demolition violates international law? If so, will he set out what kind of action he is thinking about taking, rather than merely expressions of regret? Is it time for a global response? Finally, may I join others in this House, the Scottish Government and other states in calling on this Government to recognise Palestine as an independent state?

Alistair Burt

I am grateful to the for his comments and the way in which he put them. At such a fragile time, it is difficult to see what steps can be taken next, after what will be seen as a provocative gesture, that would make it still viable to keep working on the solution we want to see, but that still remains a possibility. There was much talk when Jerusalem was recognised by the United States as the capital of Israel that that was the end of everything. It was not and it remains entirely possible to proceed. Jerusalem should be a shared capital—that is what the United Kingdom believes—and despite the Americans’ position we do not believe that has been taken off the table. But every time there is a move that makes that solution less likely, it becomes more difficult to see what the alternative is. As I have said, there will be a range of options and we are considering with friends and others what might be done.

Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)

My honourable friend is precisely that: he is an honourable man and a reasonable man, and I have some sympathy for him that ​each and every time he comes to the Dispatch Box to talk about this issue he provides that reasonableness, but he does provide a commentary at a time when we are looking for more leadership and I would just ask him this. At the moment the latest news is that the Americans are discussing the Kushner peace process with the Russians. Has my friend or any of his officials or fellow Ministers in the FCO had any input or sight of the Kushner peace plan, or are the British not playing any part in this whatsoever?

Alistair Burt

The American envoys have been in regular contact both with officials and the Foreign Secretary and on occasions with myself. They have kept many of the proposals very close to their chest. We have said that it is very important that they should continue to engage with the Palestinian Authority and we would again seek that, although everyone can understand why those circumstances are difficult. We have urged that the US envoys might certainly talk more widely to partners when they get close to producing their response to this. I am sure, as I have said before, that the US being the only broker in this is unlikely to be accepted now. We are very keen to work with others when these proposals come forward to find an answer.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)

It is, sadly, all too clear that, as well as destroying people’s homes, as we have heard today, the Government of Israel are in the process of severely damaging their international reputation when it comes to respect for the rule of law. Given all the criticism that he has made from the Dispatch Box and other countries have echoed, why does he think the Government of Israel feel they can get away with doing what they want?

Alistair Burt

I do not know whether it is appropriate to answer in the terms that he has offered. He poses his own question, which I think will be out there for many others to consider. We remain clearly very attached to Israel as an ally in many respects in terms of defence and security particularly in what is a difficult region, but, as is sometimes the case even with the closest friends, there are areas where we are not only not certain of their course of action but believe it to be fundamentally wrong, and this is one of those. So we must manage that relationship. This provides another opportunity for us to talk further about what will happen in the future but, every time there is something like this, it makes it that bit more difficult to see that something we have all been working on for so long is going to result in the solution we are all seeking. But we will continue to press for that.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

Are we mad in continuing to express concern or even condemn and yet expect a different outcome? No, we are not mad because actually we do not expect a different outcome and, by our refusal to act, we make ourselves complicit, don’t we?

Alistair Burt

My friend has experience of government and of relationships with those in the region and understands the background of which he speaks. It does make it all difficult, but I say to him that we have not all given up on the prospects of a two-state solution, which, as I have said, I do not see an alternative to, ​and the UK’s determination to keep in contact with all sides in relation to this and press that case is perhaps even more imperative now than it was this morning.

Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)

Like the Minister, I visited the village a few weeks ago and saw for myself the school that the community had built there, which is currently, as we speak, being destroyed along with the community’s homes. Today, I am also, like the Minister, perplexed and dismayed that Israel appears not to comprehend or to be prepared to take note of the outrage and the damage done to its reputation by this forcible transfer of communities, which is regarded as a breach of international law. Can he assure us that, as well as the talks he mentioned with like-minded European partners, he will ensure that the Government make the case to the President of the United States when he is here this month that this cannot be allowed to continue and make clear the damage it is doing, because he does appear to have some influence?

Alistair Burt

The short answer to that must be yes, I cannot imagine a conversation between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States that would not cover such a significant world issue, in which of course the United States does indeed have an important part to play.

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)

Article 53 of the Geneva convention expressly prohibits the destruction of property in occupied territory other than for military purposes. Given that there can be no possible military purpose in destroying the residential community of Khan al-Ahmar, does my friend agree with my assessment that, even as we speak, the state of Israel is committing a war crime?

Alistair Burt

I am not sure if the UK is in a position to make that judgment, but certainly, as has been made clear, the United Nations has already said that it could constitute forcible transfer and clearly now that things have actually begun that matter becomes a much sharper one for consideration.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)

I have visited Khan al-Ahmar twice and have met many of the families there. This is a personal violation for them, as well as a war crime, but it is also a strategic step. There are 46 Bedouin villages and their future may well hang on whether the Israeli authorities get away with the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. This allows for the splitting of the West Bank and for the annexation, which is now openly talked about, of the West Bank by Israel to take place. If not now, when are the Government going to act? When are they going to act against illegal settlements and end trade? When are they going to recognise Palestine and when are they are going to recognise their historical obligations and take a lead internationally, rather than wringing their hands?

Alistair Burt

I say again that it is my view—and, I think, the view of the Government—that we want to keep the opportunity of the two-state solution open and viable. That requires remaining in contact with the Government of the state of Israel. All these issues—the concerns about the building of settlements and their strategic position—are a vital part of the land jigsaw that the envoys are presumably working through and ​they must come forward as the basis for negotiations between the Palestinians and the state of Israel. It should be the United Kingdom’s job to do everything it can to keep those channels and opportunities open, and the actions that we will take in response to this will be in accordance with those principles.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)

Can my friend confirm that the village of Khan al-Ahmar is in area C of the West Bank, that under the Oslo accords it is under the direct control of Israel and that the Israeli courts have ruled it to be an illegal settlement? Will he also confirm that the Government of Israel have offered alternative accommodation with running water and proper civilisation? [Interruption.]

Alistair Burt

Both those statements from my Friend are true, as far as they go. It is just a question of what the background and context might be. The settlements in the area are deemed illegal, but between 2014 and the summer of 2016 just 1.3% of building permits requested by Palestinians in area C were granted, and between 2010 and 2015 only 8% of all building permits in Jerusalem were given in Palestinian neighbourhoods. Practically, this leaves Palestinians with little option but to build without permission, placing their homes at risk of demolition on the grounds that they do not have a permit. While recognising Israel’s judicial system and recognising the rights that it believes it has in relation to this, other circumstances have to come into consideration, which is why the United Kingdom takes the view that it does about this demolition.

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)

For the two Bushes, Clinton and Obama, building on area E1, where Bedouins have grazed sheep and goats for years, was a red line, but now, under Trump, there are no red lines. Does the Minister not appreciate that his concern, disappointment and bemusement—as I think he even said—do not seem enough when bulldozers will literally be concreting over all hopes for a two-state solution by constructing a continuous West Bank settlement?

Alistair Burt

She makes her own points very strongly. It is right that this has been considered a red line, for the reasons that she has set out. It is yet to be seen what the international reaction to this will be.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

Does my friend see the link between this urgent question and the debate later today in Westminster Hall in the name of the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, about incitement in the Palestinian education system? These cruel and illegal actions form part of an unshakeable Palestinian perception of Israeli policy over five decades in the occupied territories that breeds the anger and despair that contribute to an environment of historic hatred that is going to become almost impossible to reverse.​

Alistair Burt

My own observation, from my recent visit, is that the separation is growing, particularly between young people. Whereas there are older people in Palestinian areas and in Israel who can talk about living in each other’s villages and about times past, that now seems impossible for some younger people. This is built on the failure over many decades to reach a solution that would allow that sort of life to continue. I do not think there is any future unless the people of Israel and the Palestinian people find a way back—with all the security guarantees that need to be given—to the sort of life where their security is built on their neighbours and not on walls and division.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)

I have also had the honour and privilege of visiting Khan al-Ahmar, where I met many wonderful people who were just trying to live in peace and do the best for their families and their community. Surely the time has now come for the British Government formally to recognise the state of Palestine. Surely the time has also come for us to impose sanctions and cease all trade with the illegally occupied territories.

Alistair Burt

I hear what he says. That is not the policy of the United Kingdom, for reasons that we have given before, but I have indicated that we are in consultation with European colleagues and considering what response there might be to these circumstances.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)

Like my friend, I consider myself a friend of Israel and a strong supporter of a two-state solution, but is it not the case that these demolitions cast serious doubt on Israel’s own commitment to those objectives?

Alistair Burt

Again, the short answer is a worrying yes. Israel has many friends around the world. I count myself as a friend of the Middle East as well as a friend of individual separate states. In my experience, the determination to reach a just solution had slipped down the agenda of the world in recent years, but it has now gone back up the agenda, partly as a result of President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem and partly as a result of the feeling that, although we have said it many times before, maybe there is just one last chance before we get into a situation that none of us wishes to see. It is possible that the events of today, a little like the catalyst of Gaza recently, might be a further reminder that that chance is slipping away and that the door might be closing all too quickly.

Sylvia Hermon (North Down) (Ind)

The Minister, for whom I have enormous regard, has described how British officials were taken by surprise this morning when they went to visit the villages and found bulldozers on site—

Alistair Burt

indicated dissent.

Hermon

They were not surprised?

Alistair Burt

They were not surprised, ma’am. They went there because they knew that things were happening. They were not taken by surprise.

Hermon

I thank the Minister for that clarification. They were not taken by surprise, but they went there because they feared that demolitions were going to take place. I would like to be reassured that, when the reports came back that the bulldozers were indeed on site, the Foreign Office immediately contacted the White House and asked the Americans to use the influence that they seem to have in Israel to save those villages from demolition. Did that happen? Have we contacted the White House? Did the Foreign Secretary make that call? Did the Prime Minister make that call? Did anyone in the British Government make that call to the White House?

Alistair Burt

Forgive me—I do not know the answer to that question. I have been dealing with DFID questions in the House this morning and then I moved on to this. I do not know what official contact there has been between us and the United States, but the asks an extremely good question. I cannot imagine that in dealing with this issue we are not in direct contact with our friends in the United States, and I will certainly make sure that we are.

Ross Thomson (Aberdeen South) (Con)

Strong concerns have been expressed this afternoon, and I join those calls for the demolitions to be halted. Israel has provided welfare for the rapidly growing Bedouin communities and proposed solutions to improve their quality of life. Does the Minister recognise that Israel is trying to work with those communities to resolve this undeniably sensitive situation?

Alistair Burt

I know from my previous experience that, again, the short answer is yes. Proposals have been put forward, including by Benny Begin some years ago, and a lot of work has been done with the Bedouin community from the Negev and in the area. However, there is a fundamental point at which people’s rights, feelings and desires have to be taken into account. In this particular instance, it is not deniable that Israel has indeed come forward with alternative accommodation, but the question is, as it would be for any of us: if someone offers you something, you have a choice as to whether to accept it, but if that choice is taken away, the circumstances are rather different. What we have sought to stress to Israel is that, although this particular case has been through its legal system and alternatives have been provided, this is not what that community, which has already been moved, wanted. Accordingly, many people believe that those rights and wishes should be somehow taken into account, in a state that values and prizes the need for rights and laws to protect the most vulnerable, as my friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said. He is surprised that that has not been the case.

Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that the demolition of structures in the Khan al-Ahmar encampment would be a violation of international law and has called on the Israeli authorities to stop it. If the demolition goes ahead, which is likely given the previous record of the Israeli authorities, do the Government intend to take steps to hold the authorities to account for their actions?

Alistair Burt

I can only repeat what I said earlier, which is that we are in discussion with other partners about what the response might be, but I hope that I made clear the UK’s deep concern and our condemnation of an action that threatens the two-state solution.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

There is clearly a strong feeling today that we need more than just condemnation. Given that Israel’s settlements, the demolitions and the forcible transfer of people are illegal under international law, the British Government could tell UK businesses that they should not collude with illegality in their commercial dealings with the settlements any more than they should collude with illegality in the UK.

Alistair Burt

I hear her views and understand where they come from, but that has not been our policy in the past. We have left the choice to people who know the background and the circumstances that relate to settlements and their produce. However, as I said earlier, the UK reserves all its actions while it considers what it might do.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)

I too am a friend of Israel, which is why I will not pretend that what is taking place today is happening out of some concern for the welfare of the Bedouin community in Khan al-Ahmar or is the result of some planning dispute. What is happening is a deliberate policy intention of the present Israeli Government, who have no regard or concern for a two-state solution and simply want to expand illegal settlements, which will ultimately undermine the security and legitimacy of the Israelis and grossly infringe the human rights of Palestinians. Having been to Khan al-Ahmar and knowing what lies ahead if the demolition happens without a serious international response, I have to say that if Israel is going to demolish Palestinian villages on the grounds that they are illegal settlements, is it not time for this country and our European partners to take targeted economic sanctions against illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank?

Alistair Burt

I refer the to what I said previously about potential action. Like one or two other Members, he speaks from a background of support and understanding for the state of Israel and therefore with even greater concern and upset at what is happening and the reasons behind it. He will have spoken for many both inside and outside, just as others have done.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab)

We are now hearing of dozens of Palestinians being hospitalised as a result of the tragedy of the start of the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar this morning. That demolition is a war crime, so how will the British Government ensure that Israeli decision makers are held to account for what has happened today?

Alistair Burt

May I start by thanking her for trying to get hold of me today? I got the telephone message a little too late to respond, but I appreciate that she attempted to get in touch.

I said earlier that the British ambassador would be joining a démarche of Israel this afternoon in response to the actions that have been taken. I assure the Lady, as I assured the House, that there is no shortage ​of opportunity for either Ministers or our ambassador or consul general to make a case. It is not the lack of making a case that is the concern; it is the lack of listening to the case. Accordingly, we need to see, in consultation with others, what we can do. We have different views about the future security of the state of Israel, but I wish that we were all coming from the same place. We will continue to make our case as strongly as we can.

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)

Like so many Members, I was inspired by the community of Khan al-Ahmar when I visited last November, and I know that the Minister was, too. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights, has said that the demolition is a war crime, but it also highlights our potential influence in stopping such crimes as a member of the UN Security Council with deep cultural, diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel worth more than £7 billion in annual bilateral trade. I know that the Minister cares about this issue and that the Government have issued strong words, but is it not time to go beyond words and to start using all possible leverage to stop illegal demolitions?

Alistair Burt

I am grateful to the for what he said. Of course, if there was an agreement, the land rights would be sorted out as part of it, so we would not have such issues. The imperative remains to seek and reach an agreement between the Palestinians and the state of Israel that ends such risks. Today’s actions make it even more imperative that that happens even more urgently in order to protect the rights of Palestinians and, indeed, to see Israel granted the security it needs in an ultimate agreement relating to the conflict.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab)

I have just heard that 35 people have been injured so far today as a direct result of the demolition. I know the Minister to be a very decent man, so will he pledge specifically to investigate why JCB bulldozers were used in the demolition of homes, given that it is certainly a serious breach of international law, if not a war crime?

Alistair Burt

I in turn greatly respect her and will indeed ensure that that investigation is carried out.

Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)

Without wanting to impugn the Minister’s personal integrity—I hold him in the highest regard, although we do not agree on this—regret and condemnation are not enough. We have international obligations, not least those specified in the last line of the Balfour declaration, which states that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the…rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Palestinian settlements are being demolished in order to make way for illegal Israeli settlements, which is a breach of international law, so are we going to call the Israeli ambassador in? Are we going to tell him that we will no longer trade with those illegal settlements? I suggest that that is what we need to do.

Alistair Burt

The has a long held a passionate commitment to this cause and has a fair way of expressing it, and it is true that we do not always ​agree. We will of course be in contact with the Israeli ambassador, but I cannot anticipate the actions of the British Government at this stage.

Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)

Like the Minister, I had the privilege of vesting Khan al-Ahmar just last September. Part of the site includes a school with 170 children that was part-funded by the EU, so will the Minister set out what representations he has made to the Israeli Government for reparations if the school is to be demolished? The EU and the British Government must be far stricter, because this situation involves children, and Israel is in breach of article 50 of the Geneva convention.

Alistair Burt

The UK has not directly funded any structures in recent years that have been demolished by the Israeli Government. We have consulted EU partners on the demolitions, and we are keeping the case for compensation under review. No decision has been made about whether we will claim compensation in future. We are focused on preventing demolitions from happening through our funding to a legal aid programme that helps residents to challenge decisions in the Israeli legal system. Our work with the Norwegian Refugee Council has been extremely effective over the years in providing a counter to some of the demolition applications.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

I too have visited the village of Khan al-Ahmar, and I am one of the 25 MPs who signed a letter saying that this forcible transfer is a war crime. Rather than condemning the action and reserving our options, we need to hear more from the Minister about what will be done to hold those responsible to account. Does he accept that the longer he ducks the issue of allowing trade with illegal settlements and not recognising the state of Palestine, the vicious circle will just continue until it is too late?

Alistair Burt

I understand, particularly the Gentleman’s last point. I have indicated that the British ambassador is taking part in a démarche this afternoon in relation to the Israeli Government. We are in consultation with European partners and colleagues on what actions might be taken. I cannot say anything further than that.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)

Some 181 people live in Khan al-Ahmar, and more than half of them are children. The Minister has acknowledged that the actions of the Israeli Government are contrary to international law, but those actions are also simply cruel. As we have heard, people are being injured by this demolition process. It is a grievous situation. What plans do the Government have to contribute towards humanitarian assistance efforts for the people who are being forcibly displaced?

Alistair Burt

We are very active in all areas of the West Bank in supporting humanitarian needs through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the like. Plainly, we did not wish to see this demolition and, in company with others, we must now consider what we can do to support those who have been displaced. This is obviously very immediate, and I will report back to the House as soon as we have a clear answer to the Lady’s concerns.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)

We are kidding ourselves if we think we can stop this illegal work with diplomacy. Diplomacy has always failed in the past, so something else needs to be done. The Minister has responded four times on the issue of banning the import of Israeli goods produced in illegal settlements, but he says such a ban has not been British policy in the past. Does that mean he is considering a change? If not, why not?

Alistair Burt

There are circumstances in which a Minister cannot win, no matter what he says. I am accurate in saying that that is the current policy, but I also indicated, without any suggestion of a change in policy, that the United Kingdom’s response to today’s activities has not yet been fully considered. We are talking through with other partners what that response might be. I do not want to set any hares running by saying any more in response to the Gentleman’s question.

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)

The demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its population represents a step change in the nature of the occupation. The Minister has recognised that it could well deal a fatal blow to a two-state solution. As he has said, representations making the case to his Israeli counterparts clearly have not worked. Does he accept that this is the moment for a fundamental reappraisal of the Government’s approach?

Alistair Burt

The short answer is probably no, because the fundamental determination of the Government’s approach is to do everything we can to keep the option of a two-state solution alive and to work with all parties, including the state of Israel, towards that end. The is absolutely right in saying that, because of the long-standing international concern about this community and because of the recognition of the significance of where the community is, the actions taken today constitute, in his words, a “step change” in what is happening. I do not think it undermines our determination that that ultimate settlement is the only thing that will deal with all these matters. So long as a two-state solution remains a viable possibility, it should still form the United Kingdom’s policy. Of course, in relation to this particular action, as I indicated earlier, we have to consider what response there might sensibly be.

Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

I visited the community of Khan al-Ahmar in February 2018 and met the schoolchildren and the families there. What is happening today is truly heartbreaking. I believe the Minister, and I believe that he thinks his actions are the right way forward, but how far away must the peace process be from realisation and how bad does the atrocity have to be before he is genuinely willing to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us what actions and what sanctions his Department and this Government are at least debating?

Alistair Burt

That is a good question. At what stage do I—that is less relevant—and the British Government give up on the two-state solution? There are plenty of voices out there telling us to do so: “It is just not going to happen. It is fantasy. It has all gone.” I do not believe that, and I do not want it to be the case, for the reason I gave earlier—I do not see a viable alternative.​

The poses a very real question: at what stage do we give up on a two-state solution? I do not want to give up on all those friends over the years, on those behind the Oslo accords and on those who worked so determinedly for a two-state solution. I do not want the United Kingdom to be in a position of saying, “We are washing our hands of this,” but there comes a point when it is completely impossible. Until the envoys have reported and until the work has been done, I do not think that stage has yet been reached. Each issue that makes it more difficult, as we have seen today, runs the risk of that day coming closer.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)

Israel will rightly face international condemnation and obloquy for these actions, but the demolitions will go ahead anyway. Aside from the Trump regime in America, which is part of the problem, is there anybody out there to whom Israel might listen? The impression it gives at the moment is of a state going rogue that does not actually want to be part of the international community.

Alistair Burt

The puts it very forcefully. Israel co-operates in a variety of international organisations, and all the states that work with Israel must and should have some influence with it. He is right to talk about the United States, which is plainly its major relationship, but Israel has a strong relationship with the EU and it has a growing relationship with a number of other Arab states in the region.

This has to be a relationship built not only on what Israel is but on what Israel is to become. Accordingly, such actions raise question marks that friends do not wish to see. Let us see where the influence can be, and let us try to work together so that the Israel we see today, and the Israel we want to see, is the Israel that will be staunch in defence of rights, secure in its own existence and supported by its neighbours, but that works for a just settlement with those who live in the Palestinian areas and in Gaza.

Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

Following this shameful demolition, what must the state of Israel do for this Government to act? That has to be the question. The Minister has said many times this afternoon that it is not UK Government policy, but does he agree that the time has come for the UK at least to examine genuinely hard-hitting, far-reaching economic sanctions, because negotiation, pleading and appeals to international law have demonstrably failed?

Alistair Burt

I can only repeat what I said earlier. Our policy remains a determination to do everything we can to see that the two-state solution remains viable, to do nothing that will make it less likely and to work with others who are determined to see it become a possibility. All our actions and responses should still be guided by those principles.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP)

We have now been discussing this for 50 minutes, and I have yet to hear the Minister state a single practical action that the Government propose in response to this atrocity. Like others in this House, I do not doubt his sincerity, but I am alarmed by his reticence to do something about it.​

The Minister has hinted that the Government are considering further measures, and he has alluded to discussions with international partners. If the Government themselves are not prepared to take action in the field of economic sanctions to try to put pressure on Israel, will he give a commitment that this Government will not oppose such measures if they are proposed by other Governments in international forums?

Alistair Burt

I understand his admonitions, but I will not make policy standing here at the Dispatch Box. I indicated that this needs a considered response, which we are undertaking in company with others. I am sorry that is not as neat as a swift, immediate response, but I think it is the right response. We will consider with others what to do.

I have listened very carefully to the House, and I hope others have listened to the feeling the House has expressed and take due note of the deep concerns that Members have rightly expressed, whatever position they have taken in the past, about the actions that have taken place today. I hope those concerns will go loudly around the world.

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New push for recognition of Palestine in House of Lords

The Government is under renewed pressure to fix a date for the the UK to recognise Palestine after a special three-hour debate in the House of Lords on Thursday June 7 called by the former Liberal leader David Steel.

Of the 29 peers who spoke, 20 called osteeln the Government to go ahead with the long-promised recognition of the state of Palestine. Only four made any attempt to defend the Israeli government.

The heaviest criticism came from Lord Steel himself and from senior Conservative peers, including Michael Ancram, the party’s former deputy leader, and two former Conservative ministers.

Unlike the House of Commons where the Speaker tries to balance every speaker critical of Israel by calling an MP who is a Friend of Israel,  the House of Lords debate was overwhelming and unrelenting in its criticism of the Israeli government.

Lord Steel said he hoped that the recent slaughter of 62 Palestinians in one day in Gaza would awaken the international conscience in the same way that the 1960 Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

Michael Ancram, now sitting in the Lords as the Marquess of Lothian, scorned not only Israeli actions against the Palestinians but also the UK’s failure to condemn them.

“What worries me is the West’s reaction: concern, yes, but condemnation, no. I do not believe that it does anyone any favours to stay our tongue. ”

In a long statement to the Commons about the killings in Gaza the Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, described them as “extremely concerning” but appeared to avoid using the word “condemn”.

David Steel ended his speech by calling on the Government to “recognise the state of Palestine without further delay” – a point that was taken up by most of the subsequent speakers, whether Conservative, Labour, Liberal-Democrat or crossbench.

Lord Ray Collins, the Labour speaker in the Lords debate, also backed recognition and challenged the minister: “Who do the Government not recognise Palestine now – and if not, when?”

The debate coincides with a new initiative launched by the former UK consul-general in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, now chairman of the Balfour Project Trust, with Open Bethlehem and other organisations to lobby the UK and EU governments on recognition.

In the Lords the Minister for Human Rights, Lord Tariq Ahmad, responded to the debate by saying that the position of the Government remains the same as it has been since 2011: “We will formally recognise the state of Palestine when we believe it best serves the cause of peace”.

The word ‘formally’ acknowledges the fact that the UK Government has been committed to recognition in principle since 2011 and is theoretically just waiting for a good time to announce it.

But as the UK has missed any number of opportunities to announce it – when the Kerry talks broke down in 2014, when Sweden recognised in 2014, when France said they were going to recognise in 2015, when the Security Council passed resolution 2334 in 2016 – most people have concluded that recognition is being blocked by Downing Street.

Lord Ahmad also urged Israel to stop its plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar and its primary school following the visit to the village by the Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt last week.

The Israeli High Court gave the go-ahead for demolition from the start of June but nearly 60 UK MPs have visited the village and 67 have so far signed Early Day Motion 1167 which calls on the UK to put meaningful pressure on the Israeli government to abandon its plans.

 

Highlights from the House of Lords debate on Palestine

David Steel, Lord Steel of Aikwood

Thursday June 7 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu …. has allied himself to the most reactionary forces in the Knesset and come close to destroying any hopes of such an outcome with the growing illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the construction of the wall, routed in places condemned even by the Israeli courts, and the encouragement of Donald Trump’s opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.

It was that last event that provoked the mass demonstration at the Gaza fence, dealt with not by water cannon but with live ammunition from the Israel Defense Forces. That resulted not only in the deaths that I mentioned but in over 3,600 people being injured. One Israeli soldier was wounded. According ​to the World Health Organization, 245 health personnel were injured and 40 ambulances were hit.

Last week, Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female volunteer first responder, was killed while carrying out her work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was clearly wearing first-responder clothing at the time. In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, one of the reactionaries to whom I referred a moment ago, has declared that there are “no innocent people” in Gaza, while an UNRWA report declares that the blockade situation is so bad that Gaza is becoming unliveable in.

I do not know whether the Israeli Government know or care about how low they have sunk in world esteem.

I spent some years active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Only much later did I realise one noted fact about those who had led the white population’s opposition to apartheid—my dear friend Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Harry Oppenheimer, Hilda Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and so many others were predominantly Jewish—which was that they knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led. I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza will awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.

The Israeli Government hate that comparison, pointing to the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or sit in the Knesset, but on visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank which are usable only by Israelis, just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.

We are entitled to ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister that she needs to be more forceful, honest and frank when she next meets Mr Netanyahu. Yesterday’s Downing Street briefing said she had, “been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives”, which surely falls into the description of a continuing limp response.

We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do. That is why our Government should not only support the two-state solution, but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both Houses of our Parliament and indeed the European Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.

Michael Ancram, Lord Lothian

We owe our friends our honesty. Over the years, I have often praised Israel and the Israeli people, for whom I have great admiration. But Israeli actions against the Palestinians, which are legally and morally wrong, should be condemned. It cannot be morally or legally right to lay claim to parts of someone else’s territory by building settlements on it or by building a wall across it, which effectively creates a new territorial border.

Nor is it right, with or without ill-judged United States’ support, unilaterally to proclaim the whole of Jerusalem the capital of Israel, in the process striking a vicious blow to the search for a two-state solution. Nor is it enough to pray national security requirements in aid of otherwise illegal or immoral acts. No level of threat from Palestinian protests on the border of Gaza can excuse the killing of innocent children or medical staff, as Lord Steel referred to. Nor can the disproportionate and one-sided shooting of some 70 Palestinian protesters on that same border be anything other than totally unacceptable.

What worries me is the West’s reaction: concern, yes, but condemnation, no. I do not believe that it does anyone any favours to stay our tongue. Perhaps I may say to my friend the Minister that I do not believe it is enough to call them either disappointing or disturbing. I have long been a friend of Israel and I remain a friend because I believe in it, but I have no hesitation in condemning its recent behaviour. Equally, I condemn unprovoked acts of violence by those who oppose Israel, but many of them cannot be in the same category of friendship as Israel is to us. Democratic Israel should know better than what it is doing at the moment.

Just as I am a friend of Israel, I am a friend of Palestine. Just as I believe in Israel, I believe without qualification in the statehood of Palestine. I believe in a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine. In short, I believe in the two-state solution because I can see no other lasting or fair alternative. But it must be based on fairness, and fairness to the Palestinians is today in very short supply.

Former Middle East minister Peter Hain

If Israel’s relentless expansion into Palestinian territories cannot be stopped, we face one of two possible outcomes. The first is that all Palestinian presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem remains in a permanent and ever more formalised “Bantustan” status; islands of minimal self-governance with the continued denial of basic rights, facing perpetual insecurity and possible future physical removal, deprived of full access to water and subject to all manner of restrictions on land rights and free transport across their own territory. The second is that they are absorbed into a common Israeli-Palestinian state with the opportunity for pluralism and human rights advancement.

Tense and difficult though the current standoff may be for Israel, it is not going to be defeated and therefore holds the stronger hand. Would Palestinians, absorbed into their traditional homeland, albeit alongside Jewish citizens with a narrow majority over them, drop their historic grievance and quickly adjust to the new reality? That is optimistic to say the least. But if the window for the two-state solution has indeed closed, should the EU, the US and the UK make it plain to Israel that a one-state alternative may be the only one available to ensure its own security?

If so, what guarantees might there be for Jewish citizens both within Israel and worldwide if they agree to this merger? Could the Arab nations join those in the West like the US and the UK to provide the post-World War Two guarantee of “never again”? Could a federal or confederal state provide a way forward, with common security, a unified economy, common civil rights and guarantees of religious freedom for Jews and Muslims, but considerable political autonomy for the territories within it of “Israel” and “Palestine”?

Is it not the blunt truth that we must either undertake a massive social and geographical reverse engineering to re-enable a genuine two-state outcome, with two sovereign independent states based on 1967 lines with equal land swaps—and without all the unreasonable Israeli caveats that drain the Palestinian state of any real meaning—or recognise a common-state reality and make it truly democratic, with enfranchisement and rights for all?

I am making a plea for honesty because it seems that the international community is publicly sheltering behind the policy of a two-state solution, while privately knowing that it has become a convenient mantra rather than a deliverable policy.​

Baroness Sheehan (LD)

Let us start with the Israeli Government. Their actions include: the demolition of homes for which planning permission was repeatedly sought but not granted by the Israeli authorities; the demolition of schools; forcible transfers; illegal settlements on occupied land; the forced evacuation of Palestinian villages such as Khan al-Ahmar, which is under daily threat; the confiscation of land in occupied territory; and collective punishment. The Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, claimed that, “there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip”, which has a population of 2 million.

I ask three things: the Government should recognise the state of Palestine, with no more prevarication; support the UNOCHA humanitarian funding appeal for Gaza and help make up UNWRA’s shortfall since the US’s shameful pulling of support; and, lastly, pursue accountability for all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as violations of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Former Middle East minister Richard Luce, Lord Luce (CB)

We have a major responsibility to keep the flames of hope alive. That is our role. We helped to build and recognise Israel in 1948; we must now work vigorously to recognise a new Palestine. That is not happening at the moment. We must certainly do everything multilaterally, working with other countries such as France, Germany and elsewhere to ensure that all the Security Council resolutions are not eroded but maintained, including Resolution 242.

Lastly, we must prepare the ground for the recognition of a Palestinian state. I see no alternative to our leading the international community towards helping to create conditions among the Palestinians that mean they are more unified and we can recognise them internationally. It was a great Finnish mediator for the UN who said:​ “Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal”.

It might help, however, if some leaders of the quality and vision of Mandela and de Klerk emerged to help the process forward.

Lord Cope of Berkeley (Con)

It would perhaps have been best if we had been able to recognise Palestine at the time we recognised Israel. That was, after all, the start of the two-state solution, when the United Nations set it down. It had been discussed a great deal but that is when it was first laid down by the UN. The two-state solution has existed since then and it goes on from there.

However, the reasons I support recognition now are not merely historical. The two-state solution, as has been said by Lord Hain, is at risk because of the huge amount of Israeli building and development in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and because of the ruthless and brutal nature of the occupation, both generally and particularly, of course, in Gaza. The United States has long helped Israel ride roughshod over the United Nations’ authority in that part of the world, and now President Trump and his Administration have broken ranks again by moving the United States embassy. Peace can come only by wide agreement, and in my view British recognition of Palestine would help to redress the balance between the two and change the terms of the argument.

As a matter of fact, it is the symbolism of this that matters most—as it was, indeed, with the recognition of Israel all those years ago. It is the symbolism of moving the embassy that matters most. The present symbolism is of the United Kingdom refusing to recognise Palestine, which 130 out of 193 members of the United Nations have done. Palestine, after all, is a country which Britain told the Security Council in 2011 had developed the capacity to run a state; we said that that was the best way for it to live in peace with Israel. Above all, recognition would give the Palestinians hope.

So we in the United Kingdom should not simply go round and round the old arguments, deploring the killings, the fighting, the settlements and so on. We should do what we can to move it all forward. We should recognise Palestine as soon as we can.​

Lord Ahmed (Non-Afl)

I join other Lords who have asked Her Majesty’s Government to recognise Palestine as a state alongside the state of Israel, which was promised by the British Government 68 years ago; to call for an end to Israeli settlements and support the right of return; to stop selling arms to Israel that are then used to kill Palestinian men, women and children; to ban British citizens from serving in the Israeli Defence Force; and to stop abstaining from UN and UN Commission on Human Rights resolutions supporting values that we claim are dear to us in this country. The UK Government need to stop treating the Israeli state as if it has some unique right that means it can do what it wants when it wants, including killing and maiming innocent children and women.

Hugh Dykes, jLord Dykes (CB)

We have the two worst leading politicians in Israeli history dealing with this matter. Netanyahu is a hopeless Prime Minister, despite all the publicity that he gets and the glowing support for him from right-wing extremists in Israel. There is a growing number of the latter at the moment, which is a disturbing factor in an otherwise very tolerant and fair-minded country that I always enjoyed visiting, although I must say I do not like going there very much at the moment. Meanwhile I believe I am right that Mr Lieberman is the only Foreign Minister to live in a foreign country; he actually lives in the Palestine Occupied Territories, occupied illegally because the United States has now imposed 37 vetoes allowing Israel to ignore international law, disagree with the international community and do what it likes.

This cannot go on. It is not right for Israel to think that this is a good policy. Israel will suffer as well as this goes on and gets worse. Arab and other countries in the Middle East have different views about these matters and want some action on Israel so that there are proper negotiations. It can be done.

Where is the de Gaulle in Israel? Where is the Rabin? What a tragedy that he was murdered, as Lord Steel said. Where is the de Klerk or the Nelson Mandela? There is no leadership of that quality yet, but it will come as the Israeli public wake up and improve their electoral system, which is very flawed and seriously adds to the extremism of the present political process in Israel in a very disturbing way. It can be done: the will is there. The United Nations must be allowed to ask the international community to respond properly and faithfully in this case.

Lord Polak (Con)

I refer the House to my non-financial interest as president of Conservative Friends of Israel.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Ali Jafar from al-Sawahera, near Ramallah. He had just completed his shift as a senior manager at SodaStream at Idan Hanegev industrial park close to Rahat in southern Israel. The factory was moved due to the pressure of the need to expand coupled with the pressure mounted by the BDS campaign, because Mishor Adumin is in the disputed territories.

Peace between Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab states could be had on the basis of the formation of a Palestinian state with expanded access to the Temple Mount. Most experts agree that no true peace can be achieved without a long-term agreement for the Temple Mount. The goal would be that Israel would grant Muslims permanent access to and building rights on most of the Temple Mount, and the Jews be granted permanent access to and building rights on a much smaller portion of the Temple Mount itself.

Former ambassador Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)

Israel’s wisest Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, used often to say that the Palestinians, “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, in the search for peace. For a long time, he was quite right but, now, that affliction has fallen on the Israelis themselves. As, by a long way, the most powerful state in the region, with improving relations with important Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Israelis could now move towards a two-state solution from a position of strength.

What can be done? I make no apology for revisiting the recommendation of your Lordships’ International Relations Committee that the UK should recognise the state of Palestine. In that way at least we could demonstrate that we would not accept anything that fell short of a two-state solution. I know the Government’s response by heart, that this will only occur as part of a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israel dispute. Indeed, I know it so well by heart that I used to use it when I was a working diplomat, and that was 23 years ago. That position had some credibility when there was an active peace process in being; today it has zero credibility and it is a shame that we are still deploying it.​

Baroness Morris of Bolton (Con)

The Palestinians in Gaza have every right to protest against the circumstances in which they live. With over half the population living in poverty and with chronic unemployment, they suffer food and water shortages, only four hours of electricity a day, shortage of medicines and, too many times, denial to leave Gaza for cancer treatment or to accompany their children to hospitals elsewhere. Despite being well educated, entrepreneurial, resourceful, resilient and just decent, good people, they are powerless to change these circumstances, because they are not in control of their own destiny.

Palestinians in Gaza and throughout the Occupied Territories simply long to enjoy the civil rights which we all take for granted and the freedom to live ordinary lives. Recognition of the state of Palestine would be the  first step in that long journey.

Former MEP Sarah Ludford, Baroness Ludford (LD)

As a staunch friend of Israel, and vice president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, I am adamant that Israel’s long-term security depends on achieving a just settlement with the Palestinians. Israel cannot be a healthy democracy when it lives alongside poverty, misery and despair and occupies the territory of a resentful people. A colonial occupation morally demeans Israel as well as harming Palestinians, so Israel needs a Palestinian state—but preferably as a result of a political negotiation.

While I have no problem in principle with unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, I never get an answer when I ask how that helps to catalyse the final-status talks.

Lord Warner (CB)

After a decade of blockade, Gaza remains an open-air prison—David Cameron’s description, I think—that was described by the UN as unliveable in. Half this prison population are children, who live without hope, and unemployment is at about 45%. Water is undrinkable and raw sewage pours into the sea. The great majority of people live on humanitarian aid. If they are lucky, they have four hours or so of electricity a day. The head of Israeli military intelligence, Herzl Halevi, has warned his Government that Gaza will “blow up” eventually.​

Despite Gaza’s grim situation, the protests around Nakba Day on 15 May were relatively moderate. In so far as any protesters were armed, it was with catapults and stones, some Molotov cocktails, admittedly, and a few flaming kites. At a press conference on 10 May, the Hamas leadership congratulated its personnel on abstaining from gunfire—a rare event. It seems that only one Israeli soldier was injured. On the evidence available, little attempt was made to disperse protesters by non-lethal means such as tear gas or water cannon. In that situation, the Israeli military behaved like people auditioning for a Sam Peckinpah film, killing at least 50 Palestinians and probably more. Estimates vary upwards from 60 to 100 and include about 10 children. Many of those killed were shot in the back while running away or had their hands up. On Israeli intelligence’s own assessment, fewer than half of those killed were said to be, to use its own term, “Hamas militants”—whatever that means.

In addition, it was claimed by Time magazine in its edition of 28 May that “Israeli soldiers methodically cut down some 2,700 Palestinians”.

Palestinian lives now have a very low value for many Israelis. To many outsiders, Israeli soldiers look a bit like James Bond and seem to be licensed to kill by their political and military command structures. Those in authority politically know only too well that they face no effective deterrent response from the Governments of the US, the UK, Europe or other Arab countries. As Lord Steel said, the UK Government should now follow Parliament’s lead and recognise a Palestinian state as a response to this latest Israeli outrage.

Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)

Although I welcome yesterday’s report that our Prime Minister has raised concerns with the Israeli Prime Minister about the state-perpetrated and indiscriminate ​violence by Israeli forces against unarmed women and child protesters, I cannot fathom why the UK Government abstained last month in a crucial vote on the UN Human Rights Council resolution seeking an independent investigation following the killing of an estimated 110 unarmed Palestinian protesters and the injuring of more than 12,000.

The abstention by our Government was utterly unjustified. It was said to be on the basis that the investigation would not include an investigation into the actions of what they referred to as “non-state actors”—Hamas. Our Government must surely be aware that such a request for an extension to the terms of the investigation to include Hamas will be seen simply as an irrelevant, politically driven diversion to avoid accountability, and that Britain will be seen only as safeguarding Israel and being devoid of any care for the plight of Palestinian people.

Given that Israel appears on our list of countries with a human rights record “of significant concern”, is it not time for Britain to review its position on selling arms to Israel, which is at odds with our laws and our fundamental British value of protecting innocent citizens globally?

Will the Government condemn outright Israel’s announcement this week that it intends to build 3,900 new illegal-settlement homes on the West Bank? It is worth noting that one of our own Ministers, Sir Alan Duncan, last year claimed that the West Bank settlements were a “wicked cocktail” of illegality and occupation, and that those who supported them should be barred from public office?

The Earl of Sandwich (CB)

We cannot expect the people of Gaza to tolerate, as they have, such disproportionate and destructive action for much longer. Many people in Israel too are demanding a rethink of policy, whether it is a two-state or a single-state solution, and I hope that our Government are rethinking their own interpretation of Balfour and what that might mean for a new state of Palestine.

Frank Judd, Lord Judd (Lab)

We cannot escape the issue of Jerusalem and the provocative action by the President of the United States which was designed to destabilise the region. I am convinced that we have to stay with the two-state approach, but if we are to do that, the recognition of Palestine cannot be delayed. It is absolutely imperative that if we mean what we say about a two-state solution, and if we really respect the Palestinian people, we have to give them equal status with the people of Israel, and that involves recognition.

Jenny Tonge, Baroness Tonge (Non-Afl)

It is some 50 years since the Six Day War, when the intentions of the Zionist movement became clear: to carry on expelling and killing Palestinians, and grabbing their land and their homes until the ambition of a greater Israel is achieved from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. It is not fooling us any longer.

Our Government have stood by feebly, often abstaining on UN resolutions while slaughter and dispossession continue, bleating about a two-state solution and refusing ​to recognise the state of Palestine. We recognise Israel, of course we do, but which Israel is that? Where are its borders? What are we recognising? If that is the excuse for not recognising the state of Palestine, it applies to both states, and both states should be recognised as soon as possible, as many Lords have said.

The most recent excuse given by the Government for abstaining from UN resolutions and taking no action against the Israeli Government is, of course, the activities of Hamas. Most recently, our Government would not condemn Israel for the killings during the “Great March of Return” in Gaza because Hamas might have had a hand in it. Slings and stones were used against one of the strongest armies in the world with a nuclear arsenal. The Israel Defense Forces were shooting indiscriminately at children and medical personnel, as well as other Gazan people. Shame on them and shame on us for not reacting.

Bruce Grocott, Lord Grocott (Lab)

My memory in Parliament does not go back as far as David Steel’s —although I speak from 40 years of experience. Overwhelmingly, debates 40 years ago did not recognise the rights of the ​Palestinian people. Most of them were described as terrorists for wanting a Palestinian state. This time, the position has been dramatically reversed.

I have noted that as the speeches have gone along. By my reckoning, 17 of the 25 speeches so far have been massively understanding of the unremitting plight of the Palestinians. In the four minutes I have, my message is this: something has to change.

With great respect, I am afraid that I know what the Minister will say: that he supports the two-state solution, condemns violence on both sides and wants to support the Middle East peace process. I have read those words from where he is sitting from time to time over the years, but something must change.

What can the British Government do? Things are not static; they are getting inexorably worse. Israelis ask why the world picks on them, but when states occupy neighbouring states, the international community takes action, by and large—it certainly did when Russia was occupying neighbouring states—but 50 years down the track I can see no such action here, other than people saying, “Please don’t build these settlements”. Well, the Israelis have long since not bothered to take much notice of that.

We can do one thing, which the International Relations Committee recommended. We could be just one country, among the 136 states of the United Nations, or 70% of its membership—although we not among them at the moment—that recognise a state of Palestine. We will take as read the Minister’s commitment to the two-state solution and the condemnation of the settlements, but I ask him—I know that he cannot do this on his own authority, but perhaps he can with the rest of the Front Bench—to listen to the many voices in this House asking him to give the Palestinians, amidst all the suffering and bloodshed, the dignity of hearing that we recognise their right to a state and will join forces with the vast majority, and increasing number, of UN states that know that this is the right and proper thing to do.​

Baroness Meacher (CB)

I assert that concern for the people of Palestine is entirely legitimate. It is quite strange that one feels a sense that one needs to say that. It is shocking that anyone who expresses such concerns is dismissed by some as anti-Semitic. Some of the people I most admire in this House and in the wider world are Jewish. I am no anti-Semite. However, as a supporter of human rights and fair treatment of all people, I strongly support the substantial minority of Israeli citizens who are profoundly embarrassed and, indeed, profoundly angered year on year by the unlawful and cruel behaviour of their Government.

The UK, of course, has a huge responsibility for the unfolding disaster in the Palestinian lands. We need to remind ourselves, as others have done, of the British commitment to the Palestinian people at the time of the Balfour Declaration. We know that Commander Hogarth was sent to Jordan to provide assurances to King Hussein. Commander Hogarth’s assurances will have been quoted in this House many times over the years, but I will quote them again. The UK said at the time that, “we are determined that no people shall be subject to another”.

Britain supported the right of the Jews to go to Palestine, but only in so far as this was compatible with the freedom of the existing population, both economic and political.

As a British person, if I am honest, I feel ashamed of my country for our treatment of the Palestinian people at the outset of this saga. One entirely cost-free action, as others have said, would be the recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

There are overwhelming reasons for us to take that action. Parliament voted in favour of recognition of Palestine by 274 votes to 14 in October 2014. Why did we not honour that commitment by our Parliament at that time? More than 136 of the 193 UN member states already recognise Palestine. When we recognise Palestine, the remaining European laggard countries may well join us.

The recognition of Palestine has become urgent to sustain the two-state solution, which, as many Lords have said, is being eroded before our eyes by illegal settlement expansion on an unprecedented scale. ​The US is no longer a reputable international player while the current President remains in office. The role of Europe has become far more important than ever before.

Our Government consistently condemn the settlements but up to now have taken no meaningful action. Again, recognition of Palestine would send a very strong signal to Israel’s Government: get on and sort out the two-state solution. I urge the Minister to support the call of Lord Steel of Aikwood, for UK recognition of Palestine without further delay.

Baroness Northover (LD)

One strong recommendation has emerged in this debate: that one step towards establishing that two-state solution must be to recognise Palestine. I urge the Minister to get the UK Government to do what 130 other Governments around the world have done; that is, to recognise the state of Palestine, This is my party’s position after much fiercely argued debate. I know the government formulation, as I used it in the coalition: “when the time is right”.

When my friend Lord Steel describes the language as weak, the Minister will understand; I have seen his wry smile and that of his officials, to whom I know I should not refer. Sir Vincent Fean, Britain’s official representative to the Palestinian Authority until he retired in 2014, has said that, “the time is right for the United Kingdom to recognise the state of Palestine … If we choose to act decisively, we change the dynamic in the EU and at the UN … a further abstention is abdicating responsibility”.

The region is a tinderbox—we have often said that. Syria, the outflow of refugees into neighbouring states which have supported Palestinian refugees for decades, the instability across the MENA region, the pulling of the rug from the Iran nuclear deal, unpredictability in Saudi Arabia, the blockade of Qatar: all should concern us.

As Lord Luce, pointed out, the US has abdicated its position as a mediator. President Trump cannot act as an honest broker in this situation, capable of delivering a two-state solution. Indeed, the Vice-President, Mike Pence, has said publicly that, “we don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides … America’s on the side of Israel”.

Surely Lord Luce, is right when he argues that it is in everyone’s interest that European countries take the lead. Lord Hannay made the point that Europe has the most to lose and the most to gain from such engagement. There is often in these debates an element of whataboutery. It is because of that that we need international engagement that is not partisan, as the US has now declared itself to be.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)

The UK Government have said that they fully support the need for an independent investigation into the Gaza protests and the response to them. Yet during the United Nations Human Rights Council session last month, the UK abstained from calls for a commission of inquiry, arguing that the substance of the resolution was not impartial and balanced.

The UK’s response now is to call directly on Israel to carry out a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border fence, to ensure its independence, to make its findings public and, if wrongdoing is found, to hold those responsible to account. I ask the Minister: did the Prime Minister raise this call with Mr Netanyahu this week and what was his response?

It is appalling that the Trump Administration have chosen this critical moment to halve their funding of UNRWA. Its budget last year was $760 million and, as a direct result of its work, tens of thousands of children in Gaza received schooling and tens of thousands of their parents received healthcare that would not otherwise have been ​available to them. Others have tried to plug the gap, including the Saudis, but when all they can offer are one-off contributions the funding crisis is only delayed rather than stopped.

That is why Labour calls on the Government to take the lead in a longer-term solution by initiating a special global funding conference such as those held in response to humanitarian emergencies—the difference in this case being that we must not wait for the emergency to strike before acting.

I am a patron of Labour Friends of Israel; there is no doubt that Israel has a right to defend itself. The role of Hamas has certainly not helped that situation but a two-state solution is the only way forward, which is why the Labour Party completely supports it. I totally accept the need for action more than simply words.

It is the Labour Party’s policy, if elected, to recognise the state of Palestine immediately. I wish the Israeli Government would do the same. It would go a long way towards building a two-state solution in the region. My question to the Minister is: why do the Government not recognise Palestine now—and if not, when?

Minister for Human Rights, Lord Ahmad (Con)

The UK and the Government remain committed to supporting a negotiated peace settlement that leads to that viable, sovereign and stable Palestinian state, living alongside a safe, secure, prosperous and progressive Israel. Indeed, those adjectives we use for either side apply to both. The Government remain committed to the two-state solution as the best way to bring about stability and peace in the region and to realise the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.

We believe that the occupation in the Palestinian Territories is unacceptable and unsustainable. Anyone who has visited Israel and Palestine would make that assessment. A just and lasting resolution that ends occupation and delivers peace for both Israelis and Palestinians is long overdue.

The recognition of the Palestinian state was raised by many Lords. It is important that we see the creation of a sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state. Our commitment to that vision is why the UK has been a leading donor, as many Lords have acknowledged, to the Palestinian Authority and such a strong supporter of the state-building efforts.

I listened carefully to the contribution of Lord Grocott, who said he had had sight of my notes in the response I would give on recognition. The position of the Government, of course, remains the same at this time: we will formally recognise the state of Palestine when we believe it best serves the cause of peace.

I am the Minister for Human Rights, among my other responsibilities at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I have listened very attentively to the expressions and sentiments of your Lordships’ House in what I believe has been a very meaningful and constructive ​debate: those sentiments have registered quite significantly. Recent events have prompted the tabling of this debate, and the events in Gaza are a case in point—the shocking violence at the border in mid-May, which tragically resulted in many Palestinian deaths and injuries, and the barrage of rocket attacks last week from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians.

Arms exports

On our arms policy, we always ensure that the most rigid processes are applied in terms of arms sales, not just to Israel but to other countries. We also seek those assurances when we are negotiating any deals we have with international partners.

UK abstention at Human Rights Council

We listened very carefully to the debate which ensued and the reason we took the decision to abstain was that we did not feel that the resolution was balanced. It did not call for an investigation into the action of non-state actors. We are supporters of the Human Rights Council and continue to support the inquiry in this respect. The detail is still being worked through by the Human Rights Council.

Killing of Palestinian medic

On the specific case of Razan Al-Najjar, the medic who was serving in the Territories, in Gaza, raised by Baroness Sheehan, Lord Ahmed and the Earl, Lord Sandwich, among others, I stand with all Lords in decrying any loss of innocent life anywhere in the world—Gaza is no exception—particularly those medics who put themselves in the line of fire. We stand together in solidarity in recognising their service and, in the case of Razan, her ultimate sacrifice. I assure Lords that in the meeting between Prime Ministers May and Netanyahu issues around Gaza were specifically raised.

​We understand there was a preliminary Israeli military investigation into this, but yesterday the Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s support for an independent, transparent investigation into events in Gaza during her meeting. The Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Warner, and Baroness Northover, all spoke of its importance. The Human Rights Council has made this resolution, as I said earlier, about a commission. While the UK is not required formally to take any further action, as a supporter of the commission’s inquiry in general we will encourage parties to engage constructively with the Human Rights Council and all its mechanisms and processes.

Referral to Criminal Court

We respect the independence of the prosecutor and her role in undertaking a preliminary examination into the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. On 8 April, the prosecutor made a statement explaining that recent events and any future incidents may fall within the scope of this preliminary examination. In any event the UK fully supports and recognises the need for an independent and transparent investigation into the events that have taken place in recent weeks, including the extent to which Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement are in line with international law, and the role that Hamas played in the events.

Occupation and settlements

The UK Government consider Israeli settlement activity illegal under international law. Just last month the Israeli Government announced they are advancing plans to construct over 3,100 new settlement units, many deep within the West Bank. These include 120 housing units in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, and over 90 units in the settlement of Kfar Adumim next door to Khan Al-Ahmar. As the Foreign Secretary made clear in his Statement, the UK is gravely concerned about further settlement in the West Bank. We urge the Israeli authorities to reconsider plans that undermine prospects for a two-state solution. Indeed, I made a point, when I visited Israel and Palestine, to visit one of these Bedouin camps.

I raised our concerns about the occupation when I met the Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation, Tzachi Hanegbi, in April. The Minister for the Middle East raised his concerns with his Israeli counterparts during his visit last week, and the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister ​have also made clear the UK’s opposition to the policy of settlement expansion to Prime Minister Netanyahu during meetings this week.

We have also repeatedly made it clear that we consider the demolition of Palestinian structures in the West Bank to be entirely unacceptable. In all but the most exceptional cases, demolitions are totally contrary to international humanitarian law. Every single demolition, or eviction of a Palestinian family from their home causes unnecessary suffering and calls into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution.

Demolition off Khan al Ahmar

The Government are particularly concerned by the imminent threat of demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar. This would pave the way for future settlement expansion in E1, directly threatening a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital. This community has lived there peacefully for many decades. We believe that demolishing the village is unnecessary and not the way to treat people with whom you want to live in peace.

The UK has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities not to go ahead with these plans. The Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, visited Khan Al-Ahmar just last week, spoke about his concerns publicly in media engagements and raised them with Deputy Foreign Minister Hotovely.

The Foreign Secretary released a strong statement setting out the UK’s position. Once again, we urge Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and stop its plans to demolish the community of Khan al-Ahmar.

Seventeen reasons to recognise Palestine

  1. Because the Foreign Office has been saying for years that we will recognise the Palestinian state “when the time is right” and the time is right now. Sir Vincent Fean, Britain’s official representative to the Palestinian Authority until he retired earlier this year, says that “the time is right for the United Kingdom to recognise the state of Palestine. … If we choose to act decisively, we change the dynamic in the EU and at the UN. A further abstention is abdicating responsibility.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/palestinianauthority/11099480/If-the-UK-recognises-Palestine-so-will-others.html 
  1. Because the United Nations promised when Israel invaded the West Bank in 1967 that it would secure the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and that it would stand by the principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. 
  1. Because it is disingenuous to condition the recognition of a Palestinian state on “the conclusion of successful peace negotiations”. Every round of peace talks in the last 20 years – Madrid, Oslo, Annapolis and most recently the Kerry talks – has failed because of illegal settlement construction on stolen Palestinian land.  If the Israelis were serious about concluding an agreement with the Palestinians, they would have stopped the building of illegal settlements. And if they are not serious, isn’t UK recognition of a Palestinian state exactly the kind of thing that will focus their minds on what they need to do? 
  1. Because 138 out of 193 UN member states already do. As Baroness Warsi said in her resignation statement: “There is no point in us talking about a two-state solution if we don’t do the simple things like recognising Palestine in the way the majority of the world has.”  
  1. Because – as former foreign secretary Jack Straw said three years ago – “it is vital … that the UK and other European countries have the courage to point the way forward. I believe the way forward is for the international community to recognise a Palestinian state alongside Israel”.  
  1. Because “we have waited too long: we should recognise Palestine, preferably bringing with us the few remaining EU refuseniks and aligning them and us with most of the rest of the world.” Oliver Miles, former UK Ambassador to Libya and Greece.  
  1. Because President Barack Obama said in a speech in 2010 that he looked forward to welcoming “an independent sovereign state of Palestine” as a new member of the United Nations by September 2011. 
  1. Because Britain has already said in 2011 that Palestine passes every test for statehood: in a statement to the UN Britain said “the Palestinian Authority has developed successfully the capacity to run a democratic and peaceful state, founded on the rule of law and living in peace and security with Israel… Palestine largely fulfils the legal and technical criteria for UN membership, including statehood, in as far as the Occupation allows.” The World Bank, the IMF and the EU have similarly declared Palestine to be ready for statehood. 
  1. Because granting recognition will renew the Palestinians’ belief in the path of non-violence and international action and it will weaken support for the path violent resistance, which leads nowhere.  
  1. Because Palestinians have the right to self-determination, guaranteed by the UN charter and by successive UN resolutions.  It does not need to negotiate this right with anyone.  Israel does not have a veto. There will have to be negotiations over how this happens, but not over whether it happens. As Douglas Alexander said at Labour’s conference last month, “recognition of Palestine is not a gift to be given, but a right to be had”. 
  1. Because the Palestinians recognised the State of Israel as part of the Oslo Accords 1993 and it was part of the Oslo Accords that the Israelis would end the occupation and recognise a Palestinian state by 1999 – but they never did.  
  1. Because recognising Palestine is a good starting-point for negotiations.  It means that both sides are at least nominally at the same level. Recognition does not remove the need for negotiations and it does not prejudice those final status negotiations. On the contrary, it assists them. As the Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi put it: “Those who claim to support the two-state solution must realize that in order to reach it, what’s missing is a sovereign Palestinian state.” 
  1. Because Britain did not oppose UN recognition in the UN General Assembly vote in 2012. If we were not against the UN recognising Palestine, how can we be against the UK recognising Palestine? And when you look at the nine countries that voted against recognition  (the vote was 138 for, nine against), you won’t know whether to laugh or cry: Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Panama, the Czech Republic, Israel, Canada and the United States. 
  1. Because when the Israelis say that recognising Palestine as a state would be “premature” you have to remember that negotiations started in 1992 and have got absolutely nowhere. “It would have been better for Israel to .. say yes to a Palestinian state…. Then Israel could hold .. negotiations, government to government, on an equal basis aimed at reaching a solution for two states.”  Zahava Gal-On, former leader of the Meretz party in Israel. 
  1. Because “Britain, more than any country, has an obligation to the Palestinians and we should fulfil that obligation by recognising Palestine” – says Baroness Patricia Morris, Chairwoman of the Conservative Middle East Council. “As a good friend of Israel and Palestine, the UK has always supported a viable Palestine alongside a secure Israel, and we believe this vote will help to move us closer to that goal; at the very least it will mean that the Palestinians can sit a little taller at the negotiating table.” 
  1. Because “our position not to recognise Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in November 2012 placed us on the wrong side of history and is something I deeply regret not speaking out against at the time.” Conservative Foreign Office minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi explaining her decision to resign over the Government’s policies towards Palestine in August 2014.  
  1. Because Britain recognised Israel in 1950. It did not ask anyone’s permission. Equally it should now recognise Palestine and it does not need to ask Israel for permission. Recognition is a purely bilateral diplomatic issue.  

Israel to demolish West Bank Bedouin village, ending year-long legal battle

The village, along with its tire school, has become the flagship of the fight against the removal of Palestinians from Area C, which is under full Israeli control

Amira Hass | May 25, 2018 

The High Court of Justice has approved the planned demolition of the village of Jahalin at Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, along with the village’s school made out of tires. The High Court has allowed the demolition at any time the government sees fit as of next month.

On Thursday, the court rejected two petitions against the demolition from residents of the village and from parents of children at the school who come from surrounding Bedouin communities. Justice Noam Sohlberg wrote in the ruling that the structures were built illegally and that no reason existed for the court to intervene in the defense minister’s decision to demolish them. Justices Anat Baron and Yael Willner concurred.

In August, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that his ministry was preparing to remove the residents from Khan al-Ahmar and Sussia after all requests by the villages for a master plan and building permits where they had lived for decades were turned down. The petitions by the Jahalin residents were filed by attorney Shlomo Lecker. Over the past decade, both communities have become the flagship of the fight against the removal of Palestinians from Area C, which is under complete Israeli civil and military control.

The state is demanding that the approximately 200 residents of Khan al-Ahmar and Abu Hilweh move to an area that has been allocated to them by the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration on land in the area of the town of Abu Dis (which was declared state land) and built houses on the lots where the Civil Administration is preparing infrastructure. A new school is also to be built in that area.

The area is on the edge of a half-urban Bedouin community where the state settled dozens of Bedouin families at the end of the 1990s, after it evacuated them from an area where they had lived for decades that was earmarked for the expansion of the city of Ma’aleh Adumim. Some of the families were forcibly evacuated at the end of the 1990s, while others agreed to move to the town following negotiations and in exchange for financial remuneration and grazing land.

The High Court ruling may become a precedent for dozens of other Bedouin communities that oppose the Civil Administration’s intention to concentrate them in permanent towns in the West Bank, including a town near Abu Dis (known as Jabel Jahalin or Kafr Jahalin). Thus they will have to urbanize their lifestyle.

To read mot#re

 

Burt u-turns on UN inquiry and calls for internal Israeli army inquiry instead

The UK’s European partners Spain, Belgium and Slovenia were among the 29 current member countries of the UN Human Rights Council that voted overwhelmingly to set up a UN inquiry into the killings.

Only the US and Australia voted against.

The UK voted for similar UN inquiries into the Gaza assault of 2014 and the earlier Gaza assault of 2008-9, known as the Goldstone Report.

Since the Gaza protest began on March 30 and the Israeli army started shooting unarmed protesters, Alistair Burt has been calling for an inquiry – and in the last few weeks he has explicitly called for an international inquiry under the UN’s auspices.

The language changed quite abruptly last week when the UK refused to support a motion to set up an international inquiry at the UN HCR in Geneva on the grounds that it did not explicitly mention Hamas.

On Monday he went further and called for an internal Israeli inquiry instead (though with an international ‘element’).

This was seen by many as a victory for Conservative Friends of Israel, who argued in the Commons that (a) Hamas was mainly responsible for the killings and (b) the Human Rights Council was ‘biased against Israel’.

Here are extracts from the debate in the Commons on Monday May 21st:

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab):  To ask the Foreign Secretary if he will make a statement on the decision of the UK Government to abstain from voting on the resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council held on 18 May, calling for an independent investigation into recent violence in Gaza.

The Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt): We abstained on calls for a commission of inquiry into recent violence in Gaza during the UN Human Rights Council session on Friday. The substance of the resolution was not impartial and it was unbalanced. We could not support an investigation that refused to explicitly examine the action of non-state actors such as Hamas. An investigation of that kind would not provide us with a comprehensive assessment of accountability. It would risk hardening positions on both sides and move us further away from a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, the United Kingdom continues to fully support the need for an independent and transparent investigation into recent events. We call directly on Israel to carry out a transparent inquiry into the Israeli Defence Forces’ conduct at the border fence and to demonstrate how this will achieve a sufficient level of independence. We believe this investigation should include international members. We urge that the findings of such an investigation be made public, and, if wrongdoing is found, that those responsible are held to account. The Foreign Secretary stressed the importance of Israel conducting an independent investigation when he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on 16 May.

Richard Burden: Last Tuesday, the Minister assured the House that he endorsed calls for an international, independent and transparent inquiry into the appalling events unfolding in Gaza, yet when United Nations Human Rights Council resolved on Friday to set up a commission of inquiry to undertake precisely that kind of investigation, the UK failed to join 29 partner countries and instead abstained from the vote. The Government alleged that, as the Minister said today, the UN Human Rights Council resolution was “partial, and unhelpfully unbalanced”. May I remind the Minister that the remit of the UN inquiry is to investigate “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” and that it calls on Israel and “and all relevant parties” to co-operate fully with the inquiry? That includes Hamas and other Palestinian factions, as well as Israel. Which bit of the resolution and the remit do Ministers not understand?
May I put it to Minister that the Government’s feeble response to last week’s events in Gaza only encourages the culture of impunity that the Government of Israel too regularly display these days, apparently believing that whatever they do, they will in practice never be held to account? Will the Minister confirm that now the UN Human Rights Council has made its decision, the UK Government will get behind it? What consequences ​should follow if Israel, or anybody else, either refuses to co-operate with the inquiry or is otherwise found to be in breach of international law?

Alistair Burt: I draw attention to the detail of the resolution, which names the state of Israel in many cases right the way through. That follows a clear demonstration by the UN Human Rights Council in the past of a biased view towards Israel. I think it was the general nature of the resolution, clearly specifying Israel as opposed to any other, that caused concern. We of course were not alone. This is not a matter on which the United Kingdom is alone. There were 14 other abstentions, including by four other EU members, so it is not a question of the United Kingdom taking one view on this; it is a question of other states believing that if we want to get to the truth, it will have to be done another way.

I said last week, and I repeat, that we want an independent and transparent inquiry. The House has heard me say again today that if it is carried out by Israel, it must have an international element to it. It is very clear that if it is done solely by the Israeli legislative and judicial system, it is unlikely to carry the sort of confidence that the international community is looking for. That is what we will continue to press for, but this resolution in itself will not do the job we all want to see.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): I join Richard Burden in welcoming the independent UN investigation into violence in Gaza. While we have already heard debate about the wording of the resolution agreed by the Human Rights Council, I have to say, as I did last week, that that debate is frankly immaterial as long as the objective of setting up an independent investigation is achieved.​
The issue today is why the British Government, which claimed repeatedly last Tuesday to support that objective, chose three days later not to vote for it. The crux of that decision was made clear in the Government’s statement on Friday, which called for the Israeli authorities to be allowed to conduct their own so-called independent inquiry. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, I am afraid we should not be remotely surprised. After all, this is the Government that say that Saudi Arabia should be allowed to investigate itself for bombing weddings in Yemen. This is the Government that say that Bahrain should be left to investigate itself for torturing children in prisons. Time and time again we see this: if you are an ally of the Government, you get away with breaking international law with impunity, and you are also allowed to be your own judge and jury, too.
Before the Minister gets up and extols the virtue of the Netanyahu Government, may I remind him of the last time that that Government were allowed to investigate themselves over an alleged breach of international law? In July 2014, four children were blown to pieces on Gaza beach while playing hide and seek in a fisherman’s hut. And the resulting investigation: a blatant piece of nonsense, full of basic untruths, exonerating the IDF completely and saying that the old fisherman’s hut was in fact a Hamas compound. That is what an independent investigation by Israel looks like. That, instead of an international commission of inquiry, is what this Government on Friday decided to support, and that is nothing short of a disgrace.

Alistair Burt: Of course I read her tweets over the course of the weekend. I remind her that among the other Governments that she was calling disgusting are those of Germany, Japan and, as I said, four other EU partners. It shows how careful we have to be in relation to this. Let me quote what the United Kingdom said in relation to the explanation of vote:

“Our abstention must not be misconstrued. The UK fully supports, and recognises the need for an independent and transparent investigation into the events that have taken place in recent weeks, including the extent to which Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement are in line with international law and the role Hamas played in events. The loss of life, casualties and volume of live fire presents a depressingly familiar and unacceptable pattern. This cannot be ignored.
To that end, in addition to abstaining on today’s resolution, we call directly on Israel to make clear its intentions and carry out what must be a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border fence and to demonstrate how this will achieve a sufficient level of independence. This investigation should include international members. The death toll alone warrants such a comprehensive inquiry.”

If we want to get to the bottom of this and find out what happened, I maintain that the HRC resolution was not the way to do it. We want the inquiry to succeed. That, we believe, is what we defended last week and will continue to pursue.

David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP): We welcome the Human Rights Council resolution calling for an urgent independent investigation into the horrific killing of unarmed protestors in Gaza. It was a disgraceful decision of the UK to abstain from the HRC vote, and it flies in the face of previous statements from the Prime Minister and other Ministers in this House calling for an independent investigation. Given the mixed messages from the UK Government, will they now set the record straight and make it clear to the Israeli Government that deadly actions against protestors will not be tolerated by the international community? Finally, following this horrific incident, will the Foreign Secretary commit to joining his allies in concerting international pressure on the Netanyahu Government to lift the blockade on Gaza and put an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories?

Alistair Burt: In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I refer to what I said earlier. In relation to the second, one thing that was clear from last week’s discussion at the UN Security Council was the recognition that, in the absence of being able to make any serious immediate move on the Middle East peace process, which ultimately will be the best way to overcome the issues at the heart of this, the international community —and Israel, Egypt and others with entry into Gaza—should first make changes and drive forward developments, including to infrastructure in Gaza, to change the nature of the lives of the people there. The UK firmly believes that, whatever else might have been behind the events of last week, the long-standing frustrations of the people of Gaza, caused by pressures upon them from more than just Israel but including Israel, should be relieved. We support the efforts that will be made to improve the conditions in Gaza.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Given that Gazans did all the dying and the Israeli soldiers did all the killing, how does the Minister expect an internal Israeli inquiry led by Brigadier General Baruch to be less partial and less unhelpfully unbalanced than the inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council?

Alistair Burt: With respect to my friend, until we see the make-up of the inquiry process, we will not know the answer to that. I made it very clear that if Israel is not only to undertake its legal obligations for what has happened on its territory but to fulfil its own processes, an international element to the investigation will clearly be one of the most important things, and that should bring the transparent and independent element that the UK and others have called for in order to find out the answers to these questions.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con): Human rights are constrained and violence exacerbated by a water shortage that the UN says will render Gaza entirely uninhabitable by 2021. Does anyone have a plan?

Alistair Burt: I said during my statement last week that I had recently met the Quartet’s economic director, looking at existing proposals for improving the infrastructure in Gaza, including the water infrastructure. Again as I mentioned, it is clear to anyone who goes there what the circumstances are and how desperate the water and other situations are. The infrastructure needs improving, and improving quickly, and all parties involved in Gaza need to take steps to make sure it happens.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): Israel has maintained a temporary occupation for 51 years. It builds settlements illegally, demolishes homes illegally, confiscates land and water from occupied territory and blockades Gaza by air, land and sea. At what point do these illegal acts ever meet with any consequences?

Alistair Burt: I think that the circumstances of last week indicate—as the United Kingdom Government have said on many occasions—that there is no status quo in relation to Gaza. Conditions are getting worse, and circumstances are getting worse. As we rightly call on Israel in relation to issues such as settlements, in relation to Gaza we remain of the view that until these issues are settled there is no future, and no future for peace in the region.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Israeli forces have killed dozens of protesters and injured thousands in an appalling escalation of violence. I am sure the Minister will agree that the lethal use of firearms is legal only if it is unavoidable, to protect life. Given that Israeli officials have authorised soldiers to fire live rounds at people trying to damage or even coming within 100 metres of the border fence, how can he possibly have confidence in an investigation led by those officials rather than by independent voices?

Alistair Burt: As I said earlier, I believe that an independent element in any investigation is vital if anyone is to feel confident about finding out whether or not the circumstances were as She has described them.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Given that 50 members of Hamas and three members of Islamic Jihad were killed, and given that Hamas has now admitted that one of those incidents involved a gunfight between its members and the IDF, has he any confidence at all that Hamas will co-operate with any independent inquiry?

Alistair Burt: That, of course, will be a matter for the inquiry itself. Just as we are not rushing to prejudge an inquiry by not supporting a resolution that we felt would have led to an unbalanced inquiry, I am not prepared to say that there is evidence that Hamas would or would not co-operate with any inquiry into what happened in relation to the allegations made about it.

Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab): The Minister does not like the UNHRC. He says that there must be another way. There is little or no confidence in the United States acting as an honest broker. What discussions are the UK Government having with other EU Governments about restoring the original United Nations mandate over the occupied Palestinian territories to make a more serious move on an international peace process?

Alistair Burt: I remind the House that we joined European allies—Germany, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia—in the vote last week, so we are indeed talking to our European allies about what might be the best way to proceed. I do not think there is any clear pathway yet beyond what I have already indicated: the inquiry must have a transparent and independent element.

John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con): Does he agree that Israel is the only properly functioning democracy in that part of the world, and that it is right for it to be able to defend itself against aggression and terrorism, as it has done so successfully for the last 70 years?

Alistair Burt: By supporting an independent and transparent element in its inquiry, Israel has an opportunity in these circumstances to ensure that its long-standing statement of democratic principles is demonstrated to the rest of the world.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Government of Israel will not tolerate any independent scrutiny of their actions, and increasingly obstruct and persecute international and domestic human rights organisations. What representations has the Minister made about the current plan to deport Omar Shakir, the well respected director of Human Rights Watch in Israel?

Alistair Burt: The first part of his question demonstrates the difficulty of dealing with the issue. He has already made up his mind about all this, and he is welcome to do that, but, as I have said, the United Kingdom Government cannot.

I have made no personal interventions in the case of that gentleman. I said last week that immigration processes were for each individual state, but we have made representations about the closing down of political space. We believe it is much better to interact with people than seek to bar them from a country; however, that is Israel’s own immigration right, as it would be ours.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): The UN Human Rights Council has held a total of 28 urgent sessions; not one of them has focused on Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Russia, China, Venezuela, Yemen, Crimea, Pakistan, Somalia and so on, yet eight of those 28 have ​been on Israel. Does he agree that that organisation lacks any credibility whatsoever as an impartial observer?

Alistair Burt: The hard truth of what he said stands for itself, and illustrates the degree of difficulty the Human Rights Council now has in relation to Israel in demonstrating its independence and therefore being a credible body. That was one of the influences on the United Kingdom, besides the unbalanced resolution, that a number of our European allies supported.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): The Minister has stated that the UK decided to abstain because the UK Government accept that the process is likely to be biased. Given the UK’s position that the Israeli Government should lead the inquiry, how can we continue to play the role of honest broker, which has been a very important role for our Government historically, given our unique historical relationship with that region? Can the Minister explain how that is possible?

Alistair Burt: I will endeavour to do so; that is a perfectly understandable and fair question. I draw attention to what we said in terms of the explanation of the vote: “The loss of life, casualties and volume of live fire presents a depressingly familiar and unacceptable pattern. This cannot be ignored.”
We called on Israel directly to “carry out what must be a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border fence and to demonstrate how this will achieve a sufficient level of independence.”

Difficult as it is, the UK taking a more balanced position on this than some enables us to remain in an impartial position in relation to this, which would be lost completely if we jumped one side or the other.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): The House of Lords recommended last year that the Government stop treating Israel with kid gloves and display some political robustness.

This Government’s abstention is worse than weak; it is deplorable. How can the people of Palestine trust our Government when we refuse even to look seriously at these issues, let alone challenge them?

Alistair Burt: I understand the force of her response; she is always honest about all these things. I would point to what we said in the explanation of the vote, which clearly raises questions about Israel’s conduct. We seem to be one of the few Governments prepared to consider both sides of these dreadful incidents, and that is why we want to find the truth about what happened.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The United Nations commission of inquiry will be mandated to look at all violations of international law and calls for co-operation from all relevant parties. How do the Government see that as being unbalanced?

Alistair Burt: Mention was made of Israel’s activities a number of times throughout the resolution. There was no mention of Hamas, when it appears to be clear that there was engagement and involvement by Hamas, although no one knows how much. That is a vital part of the investigation, but there is no confidence that it would be part of it.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): When the Government came to the conclusion that they could not support the resolution, what efforts were made to try to bring together a resolution that everyone could support, so that there could be a fully independent inquiry?
Alistair Burt
He asks a good question. Before any of these resolutions come together, there is a great deal of contact between member states to try to find a way to broker an appropriate resolution. It normally works on the basis of someone putting forward a draft and other parties coming forward with suggestions, but if there cannot be an agreement, something then gets tabled on which people have to vote.

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
Both America and Israel are our allies, yet we are powerless when the US moves its embassy and we are onlookers when the UN votes to hold an inquiry into the killings in Gaza. True friends offer advice and criticism, but are we now content just to hold hands rather than holding anyone to account?

Alistair Burt: No, I do not think that that is the case at all. As I said earlier, true friends take a position in which they try as best they can to learn all the facts of the circumstances before coming to any conclusions, particularly in an area as sensitive and difficult as this. That is what we have sought to do.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
Will the UK set out its criteria for assessing the independence, impartiality and effectiveness of an internal Israeli investigation? What action will we take, should those criteria not be met?

Alistair Burt
It was indeed, and her questions are always relevant and to the point. Discussions are still taking place among members of the international community to define exactly what the terms will be. I said earlier that I had spoken to the Israeli ambassador last week, and representations have been made in Israel as well. I have indicated what we believe ought to happen in terms of there being an independent element to any investigation carried out by Israel, and we would like to see that delivered. There will be further consultations on this, as she would expect.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
As I understand it, one Israeli soldier has been injured, and 104 Palestinians have been killed, of whom 14 were children, and 12,500 have been injured, more than 2,000 by live ammunition. Has Israel’s response been proportionate?

Alistair Burt
Other allegations include 50 or so Hamas operatives being involved and improvised explosive devices being placed at the border fence. There has been a whole series of allegations about what has happened. That is why it is essential to get to the truth. We have already expressed our concern about the amount of live fire, and we stand by that.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)
The Minister has come to the House a number of times on this issue, and he has accepted the fact that there have been real abuses of the Palestinian people in Gaza through the use of poisonous water, through illegal settlements and through all sorts of cruelty to the Palestinian people, yet the international community rewards Israel with billions of pounds-worth of aid and armaments. Would it not be appropriate, instead of saying that we criticise Israel and condemn what it has done, if we actually took action over what Israel has been doing over the years?

Alistair Burt
She is right to say that I have been at the Dispatch Box several times since 2010 in relation to this matter, and we despair at the fact that the arguments are always familiar. As for the long-term fixing of the issues that she raises, it is we who call the settlements illegal and call for an easing of the restrictions on Gaza, but none of that will be accomplished effectively until there is the political settlement that we are all trying to work towards. The United Kingdom unerringly pushes its determination towards that aim, and we do not believe that continuing to call for that while criticising Israel is necessarily a reward.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
Do the British Government have any plans to seek support for a fresh resolution that requires an independent UN investigation, or is the matter now closed as far as they are concerned?

Alistair Burt
I do not think that any investigation is necessarily off the cards. In the first instance, the determination will be for Israel to carry out an investigation, and we have said what we have said about what should accompany that in order to convince the international community. What happens after that will depend on the response to that inquiry.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
Following the question of Steve McCabe, regardless of the outcome of the Israeli investigation, surely the Government should try to initiate a further resolution to resolve the problem?

Alistair Burt
It may come down to resolutions at the end of the day, but an agreed mechanism, whereby we can find out what has happened in order to ensure that the circumstances do not arise again, is more likely to be effective. However, that would involve a whole series of other issues that relate to Gaza, as I mentioned earlier, and much determination among the leadership of both Palestine and Israel to ensure that the circumstances do not arise in the future.

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
Protesting adults and children have been shot in the back and shot while standing hundreds of metres away from the border fence. The Israeli authorities are clearly killing and maiming people in Gaza who pose no threat to them. If this was happening in Iran, the Government would ​completely and utterly condemn it, so why will the Minister not condemn the Israeli authorities for such actions?

Alistair Burt
This is clearly set out in the United Kingdom’s concerns about the whole process: “The loss of life, casualties and volume of live fire presents a depressingly familiar and unacceptable pattern. This cannot be ignored.”

She comes to her own conclusions about what she thinks has happened, but others have different narratives. It is clear that the extent of the live fire has caused casualties that raise prima facie questions about what has happened, which is why we must find out what the answer to that is.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
The IDF and people here in this Chamber constantly refer to the “Gaza border” despite it not being internationally recognised. If it is a border, what state are the victims of Israel’s latest shooting spree in? If it is not a fence that entraps 2 million people, will the UK recognise the state of Palestine and push for an independent investigation, not just a whitewash by one party?

Alistair Burt
He makes a series of assumptions, and I understand where he is coming from. As I indicated last week, the United Kingdom will recognise the state of Palestine when it is conducive to the peace process, but there are more processes that must be gone through. If we are to find out what truly happened in Gaza, there must be a better option than that presented by the Human Rights Council last week.

Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
The international community’s immediate focus after last week’s events was on the number of fatalities, but it is also important to dwell on the consequences for the thousands of injured people. Have the Government offered any additional humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza to ensure that the injured receive the medical treatment that they so desperately need?

Alistair Burt
The short answer is yes. I am in contact with international agencies that are involved in delivering humanitarian medical aid. Gaza’s medical resources, which are already incredibly stretched, will have been put under even greater pressure following the events of the past few weeks. I am looking to see what further the United Kingdom can do beyond the support that we already give to those who provide such help.

The blockade on Israel’s heart

It’s hard to understand how one can look at tens of thousands of people in their cage and not see them. How is it possible to look at these protesters and not see the disaster wrought first and foremost by Israel?

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz correspondent

What a pleasure it was again Friday, journalists and pundits competing to be the wittiest. One tweeted that the Palestinians burned Goodyear tyres, another that the heads of Hamas stayed away due to their asthma. One referenced the “supertanker” fire-fighting plane Israel called in to battle nationwide fires in 2016. Someone posted a photo of a protester with a swastika, writing: “charming people to make peace with.” A “moderate” commentator said on television that this was a “foolish protest,” beneath his famous intellect. They all, as is their wont, praised the army on its accomplishment: No one crossed the border. The state has been saved from annihilation. Way to go, Israel Defense Forces.

As the witticisms and back-patting made the rounds of social media, 20,000 desperate Gazans were running around in the sand near the fence that imprisons them, crying out for help. Wearing rags, mostly young men, some 65 percent of whom are unemployed, breathing in the black smoke from the tires and knowing that their past, their present and their future are blacker. Some were holding the latest product of Gaza’s arms industry: mirrors. Bedroom mirrors and bathroom mirrors, meant to blind the sharpshooters. Such amusing sights have not been seen here for a long time: 1,350 people were wounded, 293 of them from live gunfire; of those, 20 are in serious to critical condition. Nine bodies as of Saturday morning.

Most were careful not to cross the death line, exactly the way it was in East Germany. The East Germans shot anyone who tried to leave the country, and it was shocking; the Israelis shoot at anyone approaching their fence, and it’s amusing. Soon there might be an electric fence, which will make the army snipers superfluous.

Among those killed was Hussein Mohammed Madi, a 16-year-old boy, and a news photographer who was wearing a bullet-resistant vest marked “press” in English, which did not protect him at all from the moral-army sharpshooter who aimed for his chest. Perhaps the sharpshooter couldn’t read English.

Yaser Murtaja was 30 and had never been out of the Gaza Strip. He recently posted a photograph showing a bird’s-eye view of the Strip. Murtaja wrote that his dream was to take such a picture. Now, perhaps his dream will come true from the heavens. At his funeral Saturday, his body was covered with his blue journalist’s vest.

He wasn’t the only journalist shot by army snipers Friday. Six more were wounded. Their blood is no redder than anyone else’s, but the fact that they were shot proves the army snipers fire indiscriminately and are not choosy about their victims. And all this led to clever comments on social media and compliments for the army in the press.

It’s hard to understand how one can look at tens of thousands of people in their cage and not see them. How is it possible to look at these protesters and not see the disaster wrought first and foremost by Israel? How can we absolve ourselves, putting everything on Hamas and not be shocked for a moment at the sight of the blood of innocents shed by IDF soldiers?

How can a former Shin Bet security service chief instigate a growing protest here over an empty speech by the prime minister at an equally empty ceremony, while this massacre rouses barely a hiccup? This time there are no Qassam rockets, no knives, not even scissors. There’s no terror except “tyre terror” and the “terror march,” as the daily Israel Hayom grotesquely put it.

This time the protest is not violent. Israel doesn’t see this either. It doesn’t see the whites of the protesters’ eyes, it doesn’t see them as human beings, it doesn’t see their despair; it doesn’t see the bitterness of their fate.

When the next natural disaster happens somewhere, Israel will once again send an aid team and everyone will laud Israel’s “Jewish” compassion and its humanity. But no one can deny the hardheartedness that has befallen it, so hard that it blocks humanity and compassion from reaching the heart, which has been scarred and blocked permanently.

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