Violence in Israel and Palestine – Layla Moran’s Urgent Question

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The Urgent Question put by Layla Moran in Parliament yesterday exposed the gulf between government rhetoric and any attempt to deal with the real causes of the horrific violence unleashed in Gaza and elsewhere in Israel and Palestine over the past few days.  Asked time and again for the government’s response, James Cleverly told the House the government was ‘urging restraint’ on both sides.  Layla’s call for clarity on questions like support for UN Security Council resolutions was met with the bland response the government would be trying to “encourage an end to the violence”.  Asked by Layla when would be the time to recognise the state of Palestine, if not now, Cleverly just ignored the question.

The spark which ignited the current wave of violence was the proposed illegal evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, and it was Conservative MP Crispin Blunt who challenged Cleverly to spot the difference between the UK’s response to that and its response 25 years ago to illegal settlements in Har Homa.  Cleverly replied that “the UK’s position on settlements is of long standing,” unintentionally making Blunt’s point for him.  What we did in the past had no effect, and we intend to keep doing it.

Underlining the futility of the Cleverly’s assurances that we have strong diplomatic ties with Israel and can have a “powerful” influence, Benny Gantz, the Israeli defence minister, has announced that “we will not listen to moral preaching against our duty to protect the citizens of Israel”, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “we will inflict blows on (Hamas) that they couldn’t even dream of.”  The British government calls for restraint and a proportionate response, and Israeli ministers proudly announce they are not listening.  The disproportionate response the IDF boasts of carrying out in Gaza is explicitly outlawed under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and constitutes a war crime.

When asked by Labour MP Andy Slaughter why the Foreign Secretary was willing to act on ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang and impose sanctions on Russia for the occupation of Crimea, but was happy to allow trade with illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Cleverly simply said he found the comparison unhelpful, and moved on.  He told the House the government was in favour of a two-state solution, a baffling non-sequitur even by parliamentary standards.

These exchanges and others during the debate highlighted the hopelessly inadequate position of the British Government.  We utter a few fine words which we know will be ignored, and steadfastly refuse to do anything which might stop Israel in its tracks.  We talk of a hope that the violence will abate, but refuse to discuss the underlying causes, some of which can be laid at our door, and date back to the way we abandoned the Palestinians when British rule abruptly ended in 1947.   We claim to support a ‘two-state solution’ but at the same time refuse to recognise Palestine as a state, an absurdly illogical position.  We apply powerful leverage like sanctions and trade restrictions to other countries flouting international law, but give Israel a free ride.

MPs from all sides spoke of pressure from constituents for government action, and the shocking events we’ve witnessed have also hit social media in a way they haven’t before, awakening many young people to the injustices heaped on the Palestinians.  The mood is changing, and condemnation of Israel’s strong-arm tactics and decades long illegal occupation of Palestine is now common currency across all political parties.  We need the government to take heed, and let Israel know that ignoring world opinion will have consequences.


* Andy Daer is a member of the Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire

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  • Good article. One of the interesting things about yesterday’s debate in the Commons was the number of conservative MPs stepping up to criticise Israel for its treatment of Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah and for the provocative attacks by soldiers on worshippers in the Al Aqsa mosque. Some of these MPs were from red wall seats with significant Muslim populations who had been lobbied furiously over the last few days. It doesn’t take much imagination to reflect how people would react in the UK if people of other religions, or none, attacked Anglican worshippers in Westminster Abbey.
    There was a similar debate in the Lords this morning. Lindsay Northover, called on the UK government to condemn Israeli actions in East Jerusalem. Tessa Blackstone, an Independent Labour Peer in the House of Lords, called on the UK government to support the ICC investigation in the occupied Palestinian territory, and condemned the ethnic cleansing taking place in occupied East Jerusalem, notably Sheikh Jarrah. And former Liberal Peter Hain, famous for his campaigns against South Africa, drew attention to the Human Rights Watch report that accuses Israel too of practising Apartheid.
    Let’s hope a cease fire is agreed soon and that the extremists in the Netanyahu government and in Hamas withdraw to their corners. And let’s hope too that international pressure will get some serious negotiations underway to end the illegal occupation and bring about peace.

  • David McDowall 13th May '21 - 4:54pm

    Andy Daer lucidly summarises the position of our government regarding Palestine. A century ago it knowingly encouraged European Jewish settlement in blatant disregard of the well-publicised wishes of the 90 per cent Arab population, in Balfour’s words, ‘the Arab problem need not be regarded as a serious hindrance in the way of the development of a Jewish National Home’. Balfour knew and welcomed what this really meant: the establishment of a Jewish state, regardless of the Arab population. Britain’s partiality has remained largely consistent. Since 1967 Israel has breached the most fundamental rules of the international order, so as to colonise captured territory. Britain, however, has set its face against applying any penalties necessary to ensure Israel’s respect for international law and will continue to utter meaningless platitudes of ‘concern’ to avoid action until or unless (1) the US suddenly rediscovers the imperative of international law, or unless (2) public opinion here is sufficiently outraged that it takes substantive action to ensure Israel’s respect for the law and also equal rights for all who live between the River Jordan and the sea.

  • John Peters 13th May '21 - 4:57pm

    Why do you think other peoples are unable to solve their own problems without British involvement? There is a word for that.

  • Jeremy Chambers 13th May '21 - 5:24pm

    It’s an issue for Israel and Palestine to deal with, not for the UK to interfere with in the same way we would not expect Israel to interfere in the troubles in Northern Ireland. And in any case I abhor anti-Semitism and we certainly get enough of it over here.

  • Brad Barrows 13th May '21 - 6:05pm

    The world stood together against apartheid South Africa with trade boycotts and sporting boycotts. Sadly too many are willing make excuses for not taking a similar stance in a similar situation.

  • Helen Dudden 13th May '21 - 6:21pm

    I agree, I pray for peace. The many year’s I have had my beliefs insulted, has been incredible.
    As I said to a contact in Israel, I hate violence, the answer so do we.
    After war no one really offered a home to those who suffered so badly.
    Actually, I’m not commenting on blame I don’t know enough. As I was told previously, not only disabled but visit a synagogue.
    Now back to comments on cladding and category 3 homes.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th May '21 - 6:39pm

    @Jeremy Chambers
    “t’s an issue for Israel and Palestine to deal with, not for the UK to interfere with in the same way we would not expect Israel to interfere in the troubles in Northern Ireland. ”

    Jeremy – Britain has history in the area – the post WW1 Palestine Mandate and the Balfour Declaration calling for a national Jewish home.

    I’m not aware of Israel having any past involvement in Northern Ireland but Britain has played a fundamental role in the history of Palestine.

  • Simon Mostyn 13th May '21 - 6:50pm

    This is my first contribution to Lib Dem Voice so I thought I would choose a non-contentious subject to begin with.

    I have friends and family living in Israel and when I was growing up, I was fed a narrative of plucky little Israel surviving and flourishing against the odds, surrounded by enemies who avowedly sought to destroy it. Whilst there are still elements of this narrative which I subscribe to – I don’t think it can be denied for instance that both Hamas and Iran have an annihilationist, anti-Semitic agenda at their core – I have also been shocked and appalled by some of the images I have seen from Jerusalem and Bat Yam (where for those who haven’t seen RW Jewish extremists smashed the windows of an ice cream parlour owned by a Palestinian).

    Before we are Jews, Christians or Muslims; Israelis or Palestinians, we are all human beings. It is completely unacceptable for any place of worship – whether a church, mosque or synagogue- to be deliberately targeted. No family should have to live in fear of rocket fire or their home being demolished.

    There are reports of Israeli troops massing on the borders of Gaza. This would be a disaster – recent history shows that it would achieve nothing other than a devastating trail of carnage and destruction inside Gaza and increasing the bitterness, fear and hatred on both sides. There has already been far too much innocent blood spilled on both sides. I worry too about the conflict spilling over into other countries including the UK, resulting in an increase in anti-Semitism and harming relations between different communities and faith groups. I fully support calls for a de-escalation. #ceasefirenow

  • Laurence Cox 13th May '21 - 7:14pm

    The sight of Jewish right-wing extremists marching through Jerusalem reminds me of the Orange Order marches at the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Like them these were intended to show domination over the minority community. The reaction of the Palestinians is hardly surprising.

    Had the UK Government acted more robustly against the Northern Ireland Protestants at the time, instead of simply trying to maintain the status quo we might not have had 30 years of the Troubles. If the Israeli government cannot learn the lesson from this they will have to face the consequences of their actions, which increasingly resemble those of apartheid-era South Africa. One recalls that Arab Israelis have never been allowed into an Israeli government, while the Troubles only ended when Northern Ireland had a power-sharing government that represented both the majority and minority communities.

  • Miranda Pinch 13th May '21 - 7:43pm

    One of the problems to be tackled in order to achieve any kind of a real peace right now is that while so many say that Israel has a right to security and to defend itself I rarely hear politicians, here or elsewhere, say that Palestinians have an equal right to security and to defend themselves. Israel is the occupier and aggressor and, whatever you may think of Hamas, they are a product, not the cause of this situation.
    Not only has Israel been ethnically cleansing the Palestinians in the 60% of the West Bank where it has full control, but in East Jerusalem, which too many forget is not actually part of Israel, also under occupation.
    The 2 million civilians imprisoned in Gaza by Israel are separated form the rest of Palestine and under a relentless blockade. When Hamas says it is easier to send a rocket than to sip water, they speak a truth about the lack of drinking water and insanitary conditions in the Strip which are entirely down to Israeli policies.
    No violence can be condoned, but if Israel has the right to defend itself as the occupier, why the constant condemnation and blame on Hamas? Israel has been continuously provoking the Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim in East Jerusalem by being obstructive towards Christians celebrations of the Orthodox Easter and Muslims during Ramadan. The behaviour toward Palestinians during their holy days was inevitably going to ignite tension. Until the world considers the lives and rights of Palestinians as equal to those of the Israeli Jews and takes some real action such as sanctions to make Israel see some cost for their behaviour, the embers will remain ready to reignite again and again and each time Palestinians will fight harder as Israel and, indeed much of the world including the UK, has given them nothing to loose.

  • I think Laurence’s comment is apposite. Right-wing extremists marching through Jerusalem does resemble the Orange Order marches at the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. When the army arrived in force in Belfast, it soon became apparent that the mission was not to protect the minority catholic population but to preserve the status quo in the name of law and order when the status quo was the underlying source of the problems in the first place.
    The Northern Ireland peace process required the intervention of outside honest brokers like Senator George Mitchell to bring to fruition. It is likely that any settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict will require a similar type approach, most probably US led to avoid a third intifada.

  • Peter Martin 14th May '21 - 6:52am

    The word “Apartheid” is freely being used again about Israel. Yet when Labour activists used such terms they were deemed guilty of “antisemitism”, and in many cases were expelled, after the party adopted the working definition of the IHRA .

    The definition includes the action of anyone ” claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”.

    Is it time for a rethink on the IHRA definition?

  • Miranda Pinch 14th May '21 - 8:31am

    Peter. It is indeed time to rethink the IHRA definition because of the way the examples it gives are used, especially the one you quote. It is necessary to ask you what would be said about British democracy if we had a law that stated that only Christians in the UK were entitled to self-determination? It is not a law of equality. It is a law of discrimination. Even the BBC news now cites many examples where within the 67 borders of Israel the laws and behaviour of the government are discriminatory. B’tselem, an Israeli Human Rights organisation wrote a report describing Israel as an Apartheid state – In the land Israel occupies Palestinians are denied every human right and live under military law, while the illegal settlers are given every citizen right that Israel has.
    This has been going on for many years. Now it is common knowledge. For me as a Jew, the behaviour of Israel goes entirely against what I believe Judaism stands for. To call such criticism of Israel any form of anti-Semitism is to suggest that Israeli policies represent Judaism and for me that is a terrible insult to Judaism.
    So, yes, I agree with you.

  • Thanks to everyone for their contributions. The main point emerging from the debate in Parliament was the inadequacy of the British Government’s response to events in Israel and Palestine – now, and over many years. Commentators from around the world have woken up to the glaring injustices in Israel and Palestine, and the Foreign Secretary has not. His spokesman on Wednesday was out of touch even with his own party’s MPs, and he repeatedly mouthed what Middle East expert David McDowall rightly calls ‘platitudes’.
    As Joe Bourke has pointed out, comparison with Northern Ireland is useful. Israeli officials are still telling news broadcasters this morning that the way to deal with violence is with more extreme violence, until their opponents are beaten into submission. Precisely the same flawed thinking was behind sending in the Parachute Regiment to quell the IRA, and as we know, the Paras had exactly the opposite effect. The Israeli government needs to learn from that lesson. Beyond that, it needs to start listening more carefully to world opinion, instead of repeating past mistakes with its bellicose posturing and demonstrations of military might. That doesn’t impress anymore, and it actually stopped doing so a long time ago, if only they knew.

  • Meral Hussein-Ece 14th May '21 - 9:11am

    It was striking that there are now far more MPs from all sides, with numerous Tory MPs who took part in the debate, openly critical of the Israeli governments actions, and of Netanyahu. This could be they are more in step with and reflecting public opinion on this conflict, and with social media, far more evidence of the reality that this isn’t a a ‘ 2 sides’ argument, as the BBC & numerous media outlets have consistently reported. Palestinians are occupied & have little control over their lives, and none over Hamas. The Netanyahu government could choose peace & a solution, but has shown he chooses expanding illegal settlements, & human rights abuses, leaving little prospect of a 2 state solution.

  • John Marriott 14th May '21 - 9:39am

    Oh dear, where to begin? I seem to recall that, over 100 years ago, two British politicians, one Conservative and the other Liberal, had a rather large hand in creating the circumstances for the present mess. I refer to Arthur Balfour and Herbert Samuel. the former with his championing of a homeland for the Jews and the latter as the first High Commissioner for Palestine, where that homeland was created. I’m sure that Mr Bourke will be able, and probably willing, to offer us chapter and verse on the rest!

    Scroll forward to today and the ‘politician’ (I use the word cautiously) whose recent actions had much to do with ramping up tension again between Arab and Jew was one Mr Donald J Trump. I think the other contributors have largely said the rest.

  • Meral Hussein-Ece 14th May '21 - 12:52pm

    A very good round up of the Commons debate following Layla Morans Urgent Question. It’s disappointing the U.K. governments position remains weak & consists of apparent hand wringing. As of this morning 31 Palestinian children have been killed; women & children buried in the rubble of their bombed homes. Do not Palestinians have any rights to life or to defend themselves? If you support Palestinians right to survive and to live in dignity and with respect for their human rights in their own state, please join us in the Liberal Democrat’s Friends of Palestine, and support our cause.

  • David Foster 14th May '21 - 6:26pm

    Palestinians are tired of weasel words e.g. “Israel has the right to defend itself”. We provide arms to allow it to “defend itself” but we don’t arm Palestine – they appear to have no right to defend themselves. My wife (a Palestinian Christian) is in tears this morning watching the news. The Party needs a much stronger position on this. We sanction Russia when it invades and annexes Crimea but we never sanction Israel when they annexe East Jerusalem and occupy Palestinian land.

  • Pamela Manning 15th May '21 - 5:01pm

    Totally agree with David Foster. As the party with human rights at it core we should apply sanctions equally. We should take a stance to highlight the complicity involved in buying goods, mostly agricultural grown on stolen land. In 2012 after a BDS campaign the Co op stopped trading with Agrexco whose produce came mainly from illegal settlements. Trip Advisor, AirBnb and all feature properties located in illegal settlements. Every booking finances the occupation and British banks have branches in illegal settlements.

  • @PeterWrigley – the Party has not developed policy (yet) as to how to put pressure on Israel. Personally I don’t support a total ban on trade with Israel, but I do support a ban on trade with settlements along the lines suggested by @Pamela Manning and definitely a ban on arms sales.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th May '21 - 10:38pm

    It’s good to hear of demands in Parliament for protests to be made against the discriminatory actions of the Israeli government against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and I should like to see our party adopting a policy to attempt to put pressure on that government, particularly with regard to the continuing expansion of illegal settlements. Meanwhile I have tried to personally boycott Israeli exports and to buy those of Palestinians, such as the olive oil and other goods stocked in Oxfam shops, but obviously collective action is needed to make an impact. Perhaps our Friends of Palestine have advice on this, and I will certainly join them.

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