My Lords, I declare an interest as a patron of Caabu, the Council for Arab-British Understanding. I welcome the noble Earl to the Dispatch Box and offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Belgravia. If he speaks as well as he writes, we will do very well out of him.
There is no shortage of issues for this debate, as we have already heard. In welcoming the future noble Lord, Lord Cameron, to the office of Foreign Secretary, I at least have hope of a more productive dialogue with the European Union, but I suspect that the most urgent issue on his agenda will continue to be the plight of the Palestinians living, or attempting to live, in Gaza.
Let me repeat the two imperatives with which I began the last time we discussed this issue. First, there is no place for anti-Semitism, either in public or private, in our country. Secondly, Israel has a right to take proportionate action to protect its citizens and territory in light of the vicious, callous and barbaric attack of Hamas. But we, in turn, are entitled to question the exercise of that right.
Proportionality depends on circumstances. Let me offer this clarification: action in self-defence must be proportionate in method, but the results of any such method should themselves be proportionate. There are terrible and continuing events by the action of Hamas, but the Government of Israel do not have carte blanche. If you rely on international law for the advantage it gives, you cannot ignore the obligation it creates in return.
It is said on behalf of the Israeli Government that the damage to life, limb and property as a result of their military action can be described as “collateral”. It does not seem collateral to those who have been injured, and even less so to those members of families where whole generations have been lost. What does the euphemism “collateral” mean? I suggest that it cannot be used to describe severe damage that is known to be inevitable. The more damage done to civilians and property in Gaza, the greater the risk that similar organisations and countries sympathetic to Hamas may seek to intervene.
We should now ask what victory will look like. Who will take responsibility for the homeless, the recovery of the injured and the rebuilding of Gaza? The cost of reconstruction, social and physical, is increased by every action of so-called “collateral damage”. A military solution will not resolve these issues, but who would come to a political conference? Hamas, if defeated, is unlikely to do so, and Israel if victorious will see no reason to do so either.
Gaza will be a wasteland—just the circumstances Hamas will try to exploit for recruitment. Would it not be an irony if the present action became a recruiting sergeant for the terrorist organisation Hamas?
The truth is that the least-damaging outcome would be a ceasefire as soon as possible. That would ensure an opportunity for hospitals to be properly serviced and their patients properly cared for—no more pictures of premature babies fighting for their lives. For the preservation of the life, limb and dignity of the Palestinians in Gaza, there is no valid option other than a ceasefire.