LDFI Vice President in Lords Debate on the Middle East

LDFI Vice President Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (Monroe Palmer) spoke in the House of Lords Debate on the Middle East on 30 October.

He said:

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Risby, on securing time for this debate, and I declare an interest as a vice-president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. I intend, as did my noble friend Lady Morris in her very moving speech, to use this opportunity to focus on Israel and the Palestinians. Sometimes in politics, there are points that seem so obvious that nobody ought to make them anymore, but some basic points about Israel seem often to be forgotten in the British political arena, so I need to restate some of them today.

First, in the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Israel was not aiming to kill innocent civilians, any more than Turkey was aiming to kill innocent civilians in its recent bombings of the PKK, or the Americans to kill innocent civilians in their attacks on Islamic State, nor any more than NATO ever aimed to kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan. In all four of those examples, and many others, many civilians have been tragically killed in bombings undertaken by a country’s forces against a non-state force, be that Hamas, the PKK, Islamic State or the Taliban. Yet I do not hear anyone accusing Turkey, the Americans or NATO of deliberately killing civilians; it is only Israel that is so accused. Surely this is the worst kind of hypocrisy on the part of world opinion.

However much one might criticise the Government of Israel and their sometimes confrontational policies—I would not vote for Likud, just as I am guessing that Mr Netanyahu would not vote for the Liberal Democrats—what other armed forces in the world would send warnings to civilians living close to military targets that they are about to bomb? Israel does, even at the cost of exposing its own troops to greater danger in the process. The world community’s failure to give Israel credit for that shows just how hard it is for Israel to gain a fair hearing on the stage of international opinion. We criticise Israel, but where is the criticism of Hamas for how it puts the lives and property of the people of Gaza at risk by sending more than 4,000 rockets into Israel and using the people of Gaza as the equivalent of human shields? I take all the points made by my noble friend Lady Morris, which were very moving.

Another fact that is completely overlooked is the amount of aid and goods of different types that Israel pumps into Gaza, as well as the amount of aid and goods that Israel allows others to pump in. Need I remind your Lordships that Egypt also has valid security reasons? What makes me despair is the absence of reporting in the media on the support that Israel has consistently given to the people of Gaza. Some formidable forces are lobbying against Israel in the British public arena. It is perhaps the unrelenting campaigns of such formidable forces that drown out the truth about what Israel is doing to help Gaza, even during hostilities.

I would like to give some examples. On 25 August this year, in the middle of a war in which a bombardment of Hamas missiles was forcing many thousands of Israeli men, women and children to run for cover whenever an air raid siren sounded—even in the middle of such a bombardment—111 trucks entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel carrying 2,190 tonnes of food. On that same day, three trucks entered Gaza through the same crossing from Israel, carrying 8 tonnes of humanitarian supplies.

On 24 August, one day earlier, three Israeli taxi drivers were waiting to pick up some residents of Gaza to bring them into hospital in Israel from Gaza through the Erez crossing. And what happened? Mortar shells fired by Palestinian groups wounded the taxi drivers, with two of them being seriously hurt. Israeli soldiers had to evacuate the wounded under Palestinian fire, as Palestinian mortars continued to fall on the Israeli crossing specifically designated for the passage of Palestinians in need of medical and humanitarian assistance. These three Israeli taxi drivers, who were doing their job taking sick people to hospital, were not Jewish, but Arab citizens of Israel—Israeli Arabs being bombed by Palestinian terrorists while attempting to take Palestinians to hospital in Israel.

To paraphrase Tom Lehrer’s reaction to the news that Henry Kissinger had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the world is now so satirical that it is impossible to satirise it any more. Medical aid for the people of Gaza is rarely mentioned. It was revealed this month that the daughter of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh was recently treated at a Tel Aviv hospital. In June, Haniyeh’s mother-in-law was treated in Israel for cancer and his daughter was also transferred to an Israeli hospital last year. However, these are only examples. Ichilov hospital said she is one of more than 1,000 patients from Gaza and the West Bank who are treated every year. This is a nation that cares.

Her Majesty’s coalition Government have made it clear that they will recognise a Palestinian state when one has been created through a process of negotiations between the Palestinians and the state of Israel. I see no ambiguity on that score and I see that as the way forward rather than the one proposed by my noble friend Lady Warsi.

To conclude, if the problems of the Israeli people are ever to be solved, there is no alternative to the difficult, painful and direct negotiations that will bring peace, justice and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that peace will include two states living side by side in peace and, hopefully, co-operation? It will only be achieved by Israel and the Palestinians sitting down to negotiate without preconditions. It will include the removal of many, if not most, of the settlements on the West Bank. It will mean a cessation of rockets fired at Israel. It will mean abandonment of Hamas’s claim to obliterate the state of Israel. It will mean that refugees in the West Bank and Gaza will be given citizenship of the Palestinian state—just as, for example, Israel gave citizenship to 600,000 of the 800,000 Jews who fled Arab lands.

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