Received from CAABU
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP this week called the situation in
Gaza "unacceptable and unsustainable" and declared that it is "essential
that there is unfettered access to meet the humanitarian needs of the
people of Gaza in order to enable the reconstruction of homes and
livelihoods and to permit trade to take place."
The comments were made during a debate on UK foreign policy in the Middle
East on Monday (June 14th) in the House of Commons. This was followed on
Tuesday (June 15th) by a more specific debate on Gaza, secured by MP for
Westminster North Karen Buck.
However further remarks by the Minister were not quite as forceful, as he
backed the Israeli proposed inquiry into the raid on the Gaza aid flotilla.
He declared the inquiry, which will be internal and not involve any
questioning of those involved from either side, as meeting "the United
Nations Security Council resolution requirement of an independent and
impartial inquiry with an international element." This international
element being Lord Trimble, founder this week of a new international
friends of Israel group, and former Judge Advocate General to the Canadian
forces, Ken Watkin. Neither of whom will be allowed to vote on the
Karen Buck, who CAABU took on a delegation to Gaza in March which she
frequently cited, declared that the situation in Gaza is an issue of
"proportionality and collective punishment" and that "Israel has remained
firmly in control of Gaza's sovereignty, controlling its borders, airspace
and coastal waters and retaining the right to enter at will. Gaza is
surrounded on three sides by a security fence, and a seam zone extending up
to 1 km into the territory is enforced by snipers to prevent anyone from
approaching the fence...Some 900,000 children and young people are trapped
in an open prison. What that is doing to them and to the next generations
of political leaders does not bear thinking about."
She finished by adding that the government's role she be more active and
that "Britain's longstanding connection with the area should be used even
more effectively to achieve a resolution."
Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, Richard
Burden MP, made similar comments a day earlier in the Commons chamber
"People can get food and medical treatment in a prison, but that does not
alter the fact that it is still a prison...the blockade is a collective
punishment of the people of Gaza. Not only is it unlawful, but it condemns
the people of Gaza to living in a prison. It is not enough for the people
of Gaza to get by on more food parcels. It is not just an international
humanitarian charity case. The people of Gaza need to be able to travel.
They need to be able to rebuild a functioning economy."
He called on more serious action to be taken to lift the blockade of Gaza,
"The European Union has an association agreement with Israel that carries
not only rights but responsibilities. It carries the right to trade
preferences and various other preferences, but it carries the
responsibility of Israel abiding by standards of international humanitarian
law. Israel is simply not abiding by those standards. The terms of the
EU-Israel association agreement are not being carried out. Therefore, until
Israel changes its attitude, that agreement needs to be suspended."
New Liberal Democrat MP David Ward re-iterated this argument for stronger
action to be taken against Israel, saying:
"We must take a lead with our European partners, as has been said. We must
go back to Obama, who started by making a very positive speech in Cairo.
However, we must also consider boycotts, divestment and sanctions, because
those were the only things that carried any weight in South Africa. Those
policies must extend not only to weapons but to sport and academic boycotts
as well. The United Nations has made a score or more resolutions. It is not
resolutions we need; it is resolve."
Fellow Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams MP, newly elected treasurer of the
Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, made reference to his
recent delegation visit with CAABU and spoke of hope for the future.
"For me, that visit to Gaza was one of those life-transforming experiences
that crystallised the issues in my head and made me see them more clearly
than I had done before. To set this in the context of my own constituency,
that is the equivalent of the whole of greater Bristol, Bath and all of
Wiltshire being blockaded off from the rest of the United Kingdom and
denied access to the most basic goods. This is a humanitarian violation on
a quite staggering scale."
"One of the touching scenes we saw while in Gaza City was at an UNRWA
school, where children were conducting a mock election. That shows hope for
the future, but I do not think there can be any hope for the future if we
do not talk to the people whom their parents have elected. We must have
engagement with all the political representatives of Gaza and the west
bank. We must lift the siege. We must have constructive engagement, and
from that point we might have a chance of building lasting peace into the
Members from both parties of the governing coalition urged the Government
not to completely rule out negotiating with Hamas, given their status as an
elected government, whether it is to the liking of the UK or not. Simon
Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat deputy leader argued that:
"People must be allowed to choose their own Governments. They are not
always comfortable choices, but the world must understand that it does not
help by alienating those Governments entirely... We must also understand
that we may well have to deal with Hamas for a long time to come. I know
that there are forces of enlightenment in the Government that want to make
progress, and other Governments are helping them to do that. May we please
be clear that precluding Hamas from being participants in the future is not
a realistic option?"
While also acknowledging that Hamas had responsibilities too:
"The Government of Gaza, Hamas, must understand-as they were moving to
do-that the renunciation of violence and acceptance of the right of the
state of Israel to exist have to be preconditions for international
acceptance." He argued for the need for an international inquiry into the
flotilla raid, "We cannot expect people to trust an inquiry carried out by
one of the parties to the event. It has to have international credibility."
Conservative MP John Barron asked the minister if, "he will do what he can,
and get his Department on board, to try to impress on the Israelis the fact
that Hamas is more than just a terrorist organisation?"
MP's from across the house including Conservatives Sir John Stanley and
Stephen Philips, and Labour MP Emma Reynolds all argued against the
futility of the blockade and how, despite Israeli protestations, it was in
fact doing no harm to Hamas and that the justification of self-defence by
Israel could not always be used.
In response to the launch of the inquiry by Israel into the flotilla raid
Labour MP Sir Gerald Kauffman argued that Israel has been allowed to flout
international law repeatedly and as it continuous to do so only entrenches
feelings of hate further in its enemies.
"Israel has invaded Lebanon three times. It facilitated the Sabra and
Shatila massacres. It also conducted Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza blockade
and the attack on the Gaza flotilla. Let us also dispose of the
distractions that impede action. It makes no difference whether the inquiry
into the attack on the flotilla is conducted internally by Israel or
internationally. Even an international inquiry would not change Israeli
policy. The Goldstone inquiry into Operation Cast Lead had no influence at
all, and Goldstone was vilified as a Jewish anti-Semite and a self-hating
Jew. We have heard mention this afternoon of the dreadful situation
involving Gilad Shalit, the young man who was taken into captivity four
years ago this week. I feel great sorrow for his family, but he was a
soldier on military duty. About 15 members of the Palestine National
Council are being held without charge by the Israelis, and about 300
children are being held in prisons by the Israeli Government. It is a
distraction to propose, as Tony Blair and Baroness Ashton have done, to
change the terms of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Neither of them has
challenged the principle of the blockade, yet it is that principle that
contravenes the Geneva Convention...the Israelis are creating a generation
of children who will grow up hungry and hating them."
A full text of both debates can be read via the following links to the
Commons Chamber debate on UK Foreign Policy in Middle
Westminster Hall debate on Gaza.