Yesterday I posted a hasty response to the parliamentary debate on Gaza. Standing back a bit, it calls for some further observations.
I don’t really know how significant that particular debate was in the overall scheme of things.
In his necessarily truncated summing up speech, Tobias Ellwood (the parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) hinted that although he had been listening carefully, he wasn’t wholly convinced by what he had just heard.
He even brought up something that hadn’t been specifically aired in the course of the debate:
“I am afraid, however, that the Palestinians have not taken the steps needed for progress on reconciliation and for the Palestinian Authority to resume control of Gaza. That is one of the main causes of frustration here: the Palestinian Authority are denied access because of Hamas. “
I hope this indicates that he is more cognisant of the situation than the rank and file MPs evidently are.
Philip Hollobone introduced the debate: ”
There is clearly a lot of interest in this very important debate....”
The significance of those few words ought not to be underestimated. Why was there such interest, and from whom? It came from a familiar group of well-known anti-Israel activists and MPs whose constituents are predominantly Muslim. By force of numbers, these voices dominated the debate. Pitted against a small number of Israel supporters who were heckled by hostile pro-Palestinian MPs, the hostility in the atmosphere during the proceedings and the unevenness of the dialogue was a foregone conclusion.
With the exception of the few pro-Israel MPs I mentioned in my previous post (and I’m assuming it is an exception because none of them explicitly said so) none of the speakers acknowledged or appeared to understand that there is a religious aspect to the conflict.
Owing to the atrocities in the Middle East and North Africa that are reported day after day, everyone is now aware that there is a problem with radical Islam; some Muslims have even confessed that there is a huge antisemitic element within the religion of Islam in all its manifestations - from moderate to radical - but the lengths to which people and politicians have gone to distinguish the savagery of Islamic State from ‘Islam proper’ have enabled pro-Palestinian activists to pretend that the problem of antisemitism does not exist or is not the driving factor behind the Israel /Palestine conflict.
The entire debate was conducted as though the Palestinians, Hamas included, were open to reason and logic. It seemed that all these elected politicians believed that the religious element had no bearing on the present situation, when in fact it’s the fundamental cause of the Middle East conflict.
It seemed that it hadn’t even occurred to them, which made me wonder how many of the speakers were aware of the history of the conflict. Here they were, exercising their parliamentary privilege and trying to influence Britain’s political policy when they knew next to nothing about it.
If you read Holly Lynch’s opening statement, you won’t see the word Islam. It’s just not in the script. The premise that Hamas and the PA are open to reason, and honest, steadfast and true 'just like us' is the order of the day. Any cynicism amounts to racism and bigotry.
A theme that ran through the debate was that “we” must restrict arms sales to Israel; echoes of BDS. The theory being that if Israel’s ability to retaliate or defend itself were limited or denied altogether, the outcome would be ‘peace’.
Holly Lynch listed her advisers. Pro-Palestinian activists, some with strong links to Hamas, all notoriously pro-Arab, all ideologically opposed to Israel’s existence as the Jewish state.
She set out strings of statistics, omitting contextual and mitigating factors, seemingly unaware that there were any. "The open prison, densely populated, nowhere to go, dead children, water, electricity and education, the failure of rebuilding, aid not materializing" and so on.
The entire case for the prosecution amounted to reiteration of figures; of homes destroyed, of over-population, and most of all of civilian casualties. It is as if Holly and her pro-Palestinian colleagues believe that any or all civilian deaths constitute a war crime, per se. They appear to be arguing that the disproportionate number of deaths on the Palestinian side is enough to prove that it is only Israel’s retaliation that is morally wrong. It’s the ‘not enough Israelis’ ploy.
This is tantamount to sanctioning Hamas’s use of civilians and children as human shields. Holly doesn’t ‘get’ that the party that doesn’t care about Gaza’s children is Hamas. It’s precisely because they know that Israel does care that they adopted that tactic, and they soon realised that it also brought down the world’s condemnation upon Israel. A double benefit and win-win situation for the Islamist terrorists of Hamas..
She refers, preemptively, to ‘the people of Palestine’. I wonder if she knows what she said.
This debate was supposed to be about Gaza, yet many speakers referred to settlements. Mainstream reporting on settlements has influenced public attitude to that topic ever since Mahmoud Abbas’s insistence that freezing or dismantling settlements had to be included in his ever expanding ‘preconditions’ to peace talks. Settlements, the definition of which is elastic, are now accepted, regardless of the facts, as a major obstacle to peace.
The participants of the debate, to a man, never mentioned the word Islam.
Andrew Slaughter said:
“ I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on her measured speech and agree with her that we should welcome the report, even though, in an attempt to placate the Israel lobby, it does not address the issue of asymmetry in last year’s conflict...”
The substance of his contribution, like those of the other anti-Israel speakers, amounted to little more than a reiteration of the death toll. Gerald Kaufman, who now resembles Mr. Burns, is a kind of spectre at this feast.
“There are children whose brains will never develop..”
he asserted with unintentional veracity.
Quite right. Indoctrinated with hatred, from infancy, through UNRWA’s holocaust denying education system and the Islamic principles of martyrdom and paradise, how could they develop healthily?
Now let’s deal with the only speaker who was singled out for special mention.
Philippa Whitford, who said she was a surgeon, and had worked in Gaza for 18 months in 1991 and 1992.
Initially, by way of establishing her credentials as an impartial witness, she said she had been:
“brought up to be pro-Israel because of what the Jewish people suffered in the second world war.”
Superficial and disingenuous, because far from enhancing any claim of even-handedness as that might at first appear, it was a subtle allusion to a theme Gerald Kaufman had already expressed more overtly. ‘Israel uses the holocaust as an excuse for its barbarity’
“However, living there and watching how people were treated—watching people being lifted; watching my hospital being raided and having to hide injured people in panels in ceilings and walls, like something out of a world war two movie”
I do wonder. Who were they hiding in panels and ceilings, and why was the hospital being raided?
Then she made the ‘Jews are like Hitler’ analogy.
“—made me realise that one of the saddest things was that a lot of what is done to Palestine and Palestinians is like a pale version of what happened 70 years ago.”
Softly spoken language with poisonous intent. She continued:
“I hate hearing how Hamas “seized power”. Hamas was elected. There have not been any new elections, but Hamas was elected because 11 years after the peace process, life was worse for people in Gaza. They had no work. Young people there know nothing other than how they are treated. They have zero future and no investment. Is it any wonder that they can be attracted to terrorism or extremism? It has been mentioned that recent rockets may have been associated with ISIS.
She was working in Gaza in 1981, (during Israel’s occupation.1967 - 2005) Later in her speech she said:
“If we were to go back to before 1987, before the first intifada, we would find that the Palestinians were one of the most educated populations in the world. They had lost their land, so people invested in education for their children. They sent them to eastern Europe. Doctors and engineers were their biggest production. I visited people and saw their wedding photographs with women in modern clothing and people travelling everywhere. They were very secular and pro-western. What drove them to the intifada were years and years of occupation and seeing no alternative.”
She must have been talking about the time during Israel’s occupation here, too.
That made me think of something I have written about a long time ago. Conditions in Gaza before Israel began its occupation after winning the 1967 six-day war.
I remembered a speech I’d once written about, delivered by Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour in a debate in the House of Lords on 3rd July 2007. That speech also concerned Gaza. Baroness ramsay said:
“Those responsible for turning Gaza into a ‘hell-hole’ were the Egyptians who controlled the area 1948 - 1967,From Hansard.
I wonder if Ms Whitford has ever heard of that speech?
Here it is in full:
“My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for reminding us of 40 years ago, at least in the Question if not in his speech. Too often, commentators speak as though the whole Palestinian-Israeli problem started in 1967, and it does us all good to remember the real situation then. Israel was under a dire threat from surrounding hostile armies poised for war. Israel expected Egypt and Syria to fight, which they did, Egypt losing Gaza and Sinai and Syria the Golan Heights. However, Israel did not also expect Jordan to attack, which it did—unfortunately for it—losing the West Bank and east Jerusalem, with the old city.
I was in Israel in August 40 years ago and remember, in the weeks after the six-day war, the euphoria and high hopes of peace at last that permeated Israel, and the mad rush of Israelis to see places—many of them holy to Judaism—that they had not been able to visit since 1948. They fully expected that many of those places would, under any hoped-for settlement, not be in Israeli hands for long.I would like to put on record that I visited Gaza then for the first time. It was a hellhole, and it was only a matter of weeks since it had been in Egypt's responsibility. We now know that the hopes for peace were dashed, and after some ups and many downs we are where we are now. There are some signs of hope again. First, on 25 June, Egypt hosted a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh of Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to advance the peace process and to consider the Saudi initiative. The Saudi peace plan was first proposed in 2002, and it is now being reconsidered by all the interested parties. Israel has restated its commitment to withdrawals of West Bank settlements, and it is releasing funds for the Palestinian Authority under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.Last—because it is all I have time for—but by no means least, Tony Blair is now the Middle East envoy of the quartet. He said on appointment that a solution was possible but required, "huge intensity and work". None of us who know him doubt that he is capable of both, as he so amply demonstrated in Northern Ireland and throughout his premiership. Given all his other talents of negotiation and persuasion, we have grounds for hope. I am sure that theMinister will agree that the whole House and all people of good will should wish him well in his formidable task.”
It is (or should be) a well known fact that under Israeli occupation things looked up considerably for the people of Gaza. Life expectancy rose and as did commerce and industry, health and education. Things went rapidly downhill when they withdrew.
Phillipa Whitford continued her speech:
This state of affairs, including the blockade is the responsibility of Hamas and the PA.“What do we expect? People in Gaza are trapped in a large open-air prison.”
“We talk about the warnings that people got from the IDF, either from leaflets or roof knocks. I am still in touch with people in Gaza through the wonders of Facebook. The gaps to get out were far too short, and people fed back to me that they had no idea where to go because schools and vulnerable buildings had been bombed. They stayed put because they thought that going out on the street was probably dangerous.”
No. not according to the IDF. Schools etc had been bombed because those were the places from where Hamas chose to launch their rockets and hide their military commanders and equipment. The people stayed put because Hamas “encouraged” them to do so. Hamas gambled on a safe bet. If civilian presence deterred the Israelis, Hamas lives to fight again, if not, children die and Hamas scores another victory in the propaganda war.
Surely Ms Whitford is aware of this? Does she understand why Shuja’iyya was bombed?
“The place is intensely populated. Almost half of it was being saturation-bombed. Where were they meant to get to following a five-minute warning? They had nowhere to go. If we look at the maps in the report, Shejaiya, which is at the east end of Gaza city, where I lived, was almost carpet-bombed. There is no way that those people could have got anywhere.
As for Shifa hospital, I do realise that not a lot of people know this, but if you’re going to engage in a debate you should make it your business to find out.
“Proportionality has been mentioned. Of course Israel needs to be secure. We will never get Hamas to recognise Israel if there is no safety for Palestine. Hamas sees the situation as a war. I am no fan of Hamas—I was no fan of Hamas when I lived there—but we must realise that the more we do not allow a future for the Palestinians, the more we offer people into the hands of extremism.”
Of course Israel needs to be secure, she says, but she should have stopped after “We will never get Hamas to recognise Israel.” They never will. It’s in their wretched charter.
“I went back in 2010 and I could not get into Gaza because of the blockade, but I spent time working with a doctor I had trained, who is now a consultant in East Jerusalem. I spent a day in the breast cancer clinic, because that is my specialty. At every appointment, half the time was spent on how the person had got through the wall and through the checkpoint, on how we were going to get them back, and on making sure we did the paperwork so that they could come back for their next breast cancer clinic appointment. It dominated everything.”
Has Ms Whitford heard of the female suicide bomber who had been treated for burns in an Israeli hospital, to which she returned, packed with explosives?
There are very good reasons why it is difficult for Palestinian patients to travel in and out of Israel. The Palestinians are the architects of that particular misfortune. Yes, it must be frustrating for patient and doctor, but the answer does’t lie in abandoning vital precautions, nor disarming or boycotting Israel.
I have put the case for the defence because it was absent at that debate. I know the Palestinians are in dire straights. The answer isn’t simple. It has to do with education, reconciliation and, frankly, secularisation. If “we” even had the ability to tie Israel’s hands behind its back, it would be the last thing that would bring about peace. It would hasten blanket Islamisation of the region, and shortly, everywhere else. I’m sure some individuals from the influx of new Muslim MPs would be happy about that, but is that really what the UK wants?
Let’s hope Tobias Ellwood and whomever else this concerns has a bit more sense than was on display in this dreadful HoC debate.