Yesterday the TV happened to be switched to “Parliament”. Before reflexively switching channels I spotted the word Palestine rolling across the bottom of the screen, so I turned up the sound.
Needless to say I kind of wish I hadn’t. It made me feel voyeuristic and angry all at once. You know when you see people rubbernecking as they drive past a motorway smack-up, sort of morbidly fascinated and revolted? Well.
On the surface it looked like a bunch of doddery old geezers trying to read aloud off trembly sheaves of paper. Some made half hearted attempts to dramatise their homily, you know, act it out with supplementary vocal expression, like a troupe of geriatric Fiona Bruces.
The weirdest thing was that each speech was completely independent. Unlike a normal debate, in which opponents tackle and try to demolish each other’s argument, after which the opposition gets a chance to redress the balance with rapier-like counter-arguments, his Lord and Ladyships just ignored everything that had gone before and carried on reiterating abject nonsense, regardless.
I do now see, if that’s the normal M.O. of the House of Lords, or the House of Commons, or western style democracy, no wonder people are asking whether any of it performs a useful function.
There was only one speaker, Baroness Deech, who seemed to realise that, in respect of the Israel Palestine scenario, we’re talking about a ‘western style’ democracy versus a corrupt, duplicitous, Islamic fundamentalist, antisemitic, chaotic ungovernable shambles.
Never mind. What ever truths she had to deliver floated past the rest of them like celestial petals off a cherub’s back.
Every single one of the other speakers obviously regarded the Palestinian people as though they were as rational and well-meaning as, say, citizens of Ambridge. Well, perhaps a poor analogy, as I don’t listen to the Archers. We’re talking about the Middle East, not East Cheam.
Even though some knew that the Palestinians were ‘not quite ready’ to run a proper state, and that making unilateral bids, preempting, subverting and undermining negotiations was not necessarily going to bring about the Shangri-la they all foresee, they carried on as if it were. “Everyone in this house would agree” people kept saying, "that all everyone here wants to see" is:
“Two States, Side-by-Side, in secure and sustainable borders”
..and the buuzzin of the bees
and the cigarette trees, the soda water fountain - the lemonade springs and the blue-bird sings in the big rock candy mountain I thank you.
They’d have more chance of resurrecting Burl Ives than creating such a state, unless the problems with Islamic fundamentalism magically melt away.
.....when the mail train stops/ And there ain't no cops/And the folks are tender-hearted. Where you never change your socks/ And you never throw rocks/And your hair is never parted’
The motion was the brainchild of former Liberal Party leader David Steel, aka Lord Steel of Aikwood. Needless to say he considers himself a friend of Israel, but was president of “the excellent charity Medical Aid to the Palestinians” and has been part of a delegation to the Middle East, and been snubbed by Israel’s then PM Begin “because he disapproved of the fact that in Damascus we had had the temerity to have a meeting with Yassir Arafat, the leader of the PLO.” And of course he’s been to Gaza. They all have.
That’s just to illustrate the ‘temper’ of Lord Steel’s razor-sharp cutting edge steeliness.
The fact that many of the Lords had been on parliamentary delegations to the Middle East, shmoozed by CAABU, been presented with extreme anti-Israel and pro Palestinian propaganda and thoroughly groomed by Pro Palestinian political activists might shed a light on the prevailing wind in that there semi deserted, red leather chamber.
Even the noble Lords who attempted to put ‘the other side’ believed the settlements were illegal under international law and were an insurmountable obstacle to peace, which they quite happily equated with the Palestinians’ immovable refusal to recognise Israel.
Lord Pannick (don’t!) was on the ball:
On the Palestinian side, which of course we are debating today,instead of the distraction of grandstanding international gestures, Palestinians need unequivocally to accept that the State of Israel is here to stay. They must give up the notion of a right to live in Haifa or Be’er Sheva. They need to throw away the schoolbooks that demonise Jews and deny that the Holocaust occurred, and unequivocally to condemn the attacks from Gaza and the suicide bombers, who are responsible for the blighting of the lives of other Palestinians, which we have heard about today. Perhaps most of all, they need to recognise that Israel, for all its faults—and which society does not have faults?—has much to teach Palestinians, if only they would listen, about how a society born out of tragedy can promote free speech, democracy, the rule of law, scientific and literary achievements and, yes, prosperity for its people, with standards achieved in very few other places in the world, and of course none in theMiddle East, all in the 66 years since its creation—a quite astonishing achievement in the most difficult of circumstances, surrounded by people who wish to destroy you.
Of course this went over the heads of the majority of the noble lords and ladies, especially those wearing the headscarf.
Several of the Muslim and quasi Muslim Ladies made mawkishly rambling speeches, and Lord Pannick was followed by Baroness Warsi, who has been there, done that and got the Caabu T shirt. Not only that, but she has had a heart-to-heart with some Israelis! Not just any Israelis, but special, ‘Breaking the Silence’ Israelis.
“They wanted neither praise for their bravery, nor sympathy for the abuse they receive in Israel for speaking out. They simply wanted us to be informed about the reality of the occupation— which has so changed the landscape of the Occupied Territories: the territorial area which, according to the 1993 Oslo accords, would be the future state of Palestine. In 1993 there were 110,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories. There are now 400,000 settlers—and more than 500,000 if we include Jerusalem.”
If Baroness Warsi is particularly interested in expanding populations, she might also have mentioned the fact that the original Palestinian Arabs displaced in 1948, numbering approximately 750,000, who use their refugee status to demand the right of return to what is now Israel, presently stands at over 4,000,000.
Baroness Hussein-Ece, a Lib Dem added to the nightmarishness of the debate:
“The continuing expansion of illegal settlements that we have heard about is a flagrant violation of international law. All that has contributed to the loss of Palestinian confidence in the peace process. More and more people in the United Kingdom and across the world have grown tired and outraged as we have witnessed terrible suffering. Anyone with an ounce of human sympathy was absolutely sickened by what we saw in the war last summer, when thousands of innocent people, including 500 children, were killed and schools and hospitals were blown up. This was abhorrent to us all.”
After muttering something about tolerance and British values this Baroness obviously saw no need to include anything more than unadulterated anti-Israel rhetoric in her offering.
Nearly all the good lords seem to have been chairmen of Medical Aid for Palestinians. Nearly all of them said they had ‘been to Gaza.’ It’s like going to Disneyland, something you have to do once in your life. Or not.
Lord Green of Deddington, or was that Lord Dead of Greenington? has been there and done that. He’s worried about Palestinian, Muslim and Arab frustration.
“We can no longer disregard the pressures building up in the Arab and Muslim world, with their inevitable implications for our own society. The time for movement on this issue is now.”
Is that the terrorism he’s afearin’? On home ground?
Lord Winston made several sentient points.
“I was very surprised to hear the right reverend Prelate talk about the status of Christians in Israel; after all, in Israel Christians are protected in a way that they are not in any other part of the Middle East, so it was a shock to me that he felt the way that he did.”
“I think that there are few people in this Chamber who read Arabic; I know that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, does. Anyone who does will know that since 1948, six and seven year-olds have been subjected to the worst kind of anti-Semitism in the writings they are given in their schools—far worse than anything that the Nazis put out at the time of Auschwitz. We have to say that that really is a very serious problem.”
His speech was followed by Baroness Tonge who has a special interest in this subject, though she selflessly confessed that she could read neither Hebrew nor Arabic. (As if one needed Hebrew just to make sure the Israelis were’t indoctrinating their children in a similarly demented fashion)
“In the mean time, the reconstruction of Gaza, paid for by the international community following the murderous war in the summer, is being obstructed by the Government of Israel. Gaza festers and anger is building. I wonder what the Palestinians should do next.”
What is a gel to do, but put on a suicide vest?
“The continuing injustice to the Palestinians and the hypocrisy of the West in regard to international law have sown the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, and we are now seeing the consequences.”
Islamic fundamentalism is our fault by the way.
Lord Farmer said:
How can Israel be safe and secure when Palestine is committed to its destruction? Further, I have grave concerns that this would be a state that violated the human rights of minorities living within its borders to practise their religion freely. The recognition of Palestine, without a negotiated settlement with security for adherents of all faiths at its foundation, would exacerbate the already precarious situation for Christians in the Palestinian territories, and especially in Gaza. Under Hamas, the official religion of Gaza is Islam, the country exercises sharia law, and the expression of other religions is challenged. “
Water off my lords’ back once again.
“Let us recognise the historic initiative of the unity Government formed last summer in Palestine, which finally brought together the divided factions of Hamas and Fatah. Now is the time to take the initiative to put an end to decades of human suffering and apartheid. Let us not find that, through our inaction, we have contributed to a process of ethnic cleansing, continued deprivation and inhumanity in the Middle East. It is already an almost impossible prospect to consider the relocation of the 550,000 illegal Israeli settlers who now occupy Palestinian land. What shall we do when this number becomes 1 million? It is time for us to stop dragging our feet and to stand on the right and just side of history”
A few extra thousand Israel settlers in the space of just a few moments! Never mind, now that the divided factions are but one, all that ethnic cleansing, deprivation and inhumanity could be a thing of the past, if only we’d stop dragging our feet. Is Baroness Uddin a real live fairy godmother?
Lord Gold said:
In its 1988 charter, Hamas, which controls Gaza, called for the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Palestine in place of Israel and the Palestinian territories, and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel. That demand has never changed. On that issue, Hamas has been and remains uncompromising. All here want peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Most would support the two-state solution, but this is not the way to achieve it. Just as we are debating here, in this mother of Parliaments, the proposition—
Here he was interrupted by Lord Dykes, who asked him somewhat rudely, to get on with it.
Baroness Deech gave a speech that demonstrated much more than a superficial understanding of the situation. It merits full reproduction.
6.45 pm Baroness Deech (CB): My Lords, with unfortunate timing, this debate is taking place two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, despite the millions spent on Holocaust education and remembrance, the museums and memorials and the school visits to concentration camps, there is a gap in memory and education that needs to be bridged. The desire and opportunity to murder 6 million people of a different religion whose presence on his territory the murderer resents must not arise again.
The message Jews took from the Holocaust was that their nationalism was necessary. It has been a success. Israel is not Saudi Arabia; it is not North Korea, Iran or Pakistan. It is a flourishing and democratic outpost in the desert with an astonishing record. It is a safe haven, an imperative for existence that can be applied to no other country in the world.
Yasser Arafat declared an independent state of Palestine in 1988 and recognition followed from 100 states. The subsequent failure to change anything on the ground demonstrates the truth of the international law on recognition: namely, that statehood has to be founded in fact, not in numbers of recognitions.