Palestine

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In summer 2014 I attended the rallies in Wolverhampton protesting against the actions of the government of Israel in Gaza.

It is most regrettable that the current MP Mr Uppal has accepted money from the group “Conservative Friends of Israel”.

I am a regular attender at the Wolverhampton meetings of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. They have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/167943526632859/ where you can read about current events.  Please do consider joining the page and attending meetings.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is asking a series of questions of the Parliamentary candidates of all major democratic parties.

Below are those PSC questions, and my answers.

1. Urge the UK Government to uphold the principles of equality, human rights and international law in all its relations and dealings with Israel. Yes/no

A.  Yes

2. Consider the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal and unjustifiable. Yes/no

A.  Yes, and in the Golan Heights.  Also, the Wall is illegal as well

3. Agree that one of the first acts of the next UK Government should be the recognition of Palestine? Yes/no/don’t know

A.  Yes

4. agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted immediately? Yes/no/don’t know

A.  Yes

5. Agree that UK should stop trade with Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land, and stop settlement goods being sold in Britain? Yes/no/don’t know

Yes.  I call them colonies, not “settlements”.

6. Agree that the EU Israel Association Agreement should be suspended until Israel meets its human rights obligations? Yes/no/don’t know

A.  I do not know what is in that Agreement.

7. Agree that the UK government should stop supplying arms to Israel until it complies with international law? Yes/no/don’t know

A.   Yes

In addition, below are copies of:

  • Various questions I asked regarding Palestine, when I was previously the MP for Wolverhampton South West;
  • The speech I made in Parliament in 2009, when I was the MP for Wolverhampton South West, which makes clear my views on Palestine/Israel;
  • My response dated 6 February 2015, to an e-mail I had received from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is the leading organisation representing Jews living in the UK.

 


HANSARD 21 July 2009:  Column 744

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): May I make another representation to my hon. Friend? The Israeli settlers in the west bank and Golan Heights are committing crimes under international law, so will she assure me that such settlers who visit the UK will be arrested and charged here?

Claire Ward MP (junior Justice minister):  Obviously, any decision to prosecute would be a matter for the prosecuting authorities, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that specifically.


HANSARD 14 Dec 2009:  Column 653W

Rob Marris: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for what reason guidance to retailers on the voluntary labelling of products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank no longer appears on his Department’s website. [304732]

Jim Fitzpatrick MP (junior DEFRA minister):  The earlier guidance on labelling goods from the West Bank was felt to be in need of revision because it did not offer assistance in the specific matter of distinguishing those goods which were of Israeli settlement origin from those which were from Palestinian producers. As I explained in the debate on 2 December 2009, Official Report, column 106WH, the Government hope to be able to make an announcement shortly on this matter.


HANSARD 15 Dec 2009:  Column 1037W

Rob Marris:  To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he received from the organisation Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights on 30 March 2009; what consideration he has given to these representations; and if he will make a statement. [304734]

Mr. Ivan Lewis MP (junior Foreign Office minister):  We have received several letters from the organisation Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights throughout 2009. They highlighted human rights concerns including border restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities in Gaza and the administrative detention of Palestinian prisoners without charge.  We take the protection of human rights very seriously. The UK have consistently pressed the Israeli authorities to ease border restrictions in Gaza and have also urged them to ensure that their legal processes are in accordance with international law and democratic norms.


HANSARD 19 Jan 2010:  Column 157

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary today repeated that the UK Government favour sanctions against Iran because that country might be trying to develop nuclear weapons.  However, the UK Government do not support sanctions against the state of Israel, which already has nuclear weapons.   Will he please explain that contradiction?

David Miliband MP (Foreign Secretary):   I do not think that that is a contradiction because, first of all, we are clear that the possession of nuclear weapons by any state in the Middle East is not a contribution towards peace in that region.  That is why we have long supported a middle east that is free of nuclear weapons.  Secondly, Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty.  I would have liked to see Israel itself sign the NPT a long time ago, but it did not do so.  Thirdly, it is very clear in the Arab world that although the Israeli programme may be viewed with disdain, it has not been the basis for mass proliferation in the Middle East.  The danger of the Iranian programme is that it will be the basis for precisely that sort of proliferation right across the Arab world.

HANSARD 21 July 2009:  Column 193WH

Westminster Hall, Tuesday 21 July [Mr. David Amess MP in the Chair]

Israeli Settlements (= a debate I arranged in Parliament)

9.30 am  Motion made, and Question proposed:  “That the sitting be now adjourned” [Mr. Watts MP].

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. I want to put on the record my thanks to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for its briefing, to the Library for its excellent debate pack, to Oxfam, with which I had a brief telephone conversation, and to the excellent Chris Doyle from the Council for Arab-British Understanding. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) who had the previous Westminster Hall debate on this subject on 17 December last year, and has been a tireless advocate for the rights of Palestinians in the middle east.

When the United Kingdom was an imperial power, we went to places such as Canada, Australia and Rhodesia, and occupied them militarily. We stole the land, and people went to live there. Those countries, under UK control, were called colonies. “Settlement” is a cosy word, and I will use it because it is the common word, but the west bank, the Golan heights, Gaza and East Jerusalem are colonies, and we should not lose sight of that.

I have no quarrel with the people of Israel, but I do have a quarrel with the successive Israeli Governments whom some Israeli people chose to elect, and it is sad that the bright ambition for a better future of many Jews who move to Palestine has been tarnished by a state that is, although in many ways successful, in some ways a failed state. It has fallen out with most of its neighbours, so it cannot guarantee the security of its citizens, which is sad. I emphasise that I support the right of Israel to exist, and I also support a two-state solution, but how is that to be achieved, given the fragmentation of land, particularly in the west bank?

What would be the size and shape of a Palestinian state? Gaza, East Jerusalem and the west bank extend to about 5,600 sq km, which is much smaller than historically was the case. When the mandate expired in 1948, 54 per cent. of historic Palestine was ceded to the Israelis and 48 per cent. to the Palestinians. After the six-day war in 1967, which I am old enough to remember vividly, the figures were 78 per cent. for the Israelis and 22 per cent. for the Palestinians. Let us consider what that 22 per cent. constitutes. It includes 48 closed military areas in the west bank. It includes nature reserves, which too often become settlements years later. It includes roads for the use only of settlers, and they are not just little roads, but are 125 m wide. There are many of them, and they take up a lot of land. There are innumerable closures in the west bank-my latest count is 614, including checkpoints, partial checkpoints, road gates, roadblocks, earth mounds, trenches, road barriers and earth walls.

21 July 2009 : Column 194WH

The Israeli wall, which is illegal according to the International Court of Justice, will extend to 725 km. About 60 per cent. of it has been built and-surprise, surprise- parts of it are not along historic boundaries, but nick more Palestinian land. The west bank has about 121 settlements and dozens of outposts, which could be described as nascent settlements. The World Bank estimates that about one third of settlement land is on private Palestinian land, the remainder being on communal land under Ottoman law. It is agreed by the Palestinians that built-up settlements constitute 1.7 per cent. of the west bank, but the municipal boundaries into which those settlements have expanded historically constitute 9 per cent. of the west bank. As we all know, we have ended up with fragmentation of Palestinian towns and villages in the west bank with around 227 separate Palestinian areas, which the Israeli Government are connecting with tunnels, which-surprise, surprise-are also subject to closures and checkpoints.

All those factors-the military areas, the nature reserves and so on-have resulted in about 12 per cent. of historic Palestine being left with the Palestinians and 88 per cent., one way or another, with the Israelis. That is down from 1948 when the Israelis had 54 per cent. and the Palestinians had 48 per cent., and that makes it extremely difficult to have peace in the middle east. Successive Israeli Governments promised seriatim to free settlements and to remove outposts, including, in March 2001, in phase 1 of the road map, in April 2001 following the Mitchell report, in November 2007 following the Annapolis conference, and recently in discussions between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Barack Obama of the USA.

We must examine the situation on the ground. In 1972, there were about 10,500 settlers in the west bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan heights. The latest figures that I have, for 2007, show that there are about 474,000 settlers in the west bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan heights. They are no longer in Gaza because in 2005 the settlements there were evacuated. The Golan Heights are often overlooked, but in 1972 there were 77 settlers, and in 2006 there were more than 18,000 in 32 settlements, so in the west bank and the Golan heights in the past six years the number of settlers has risen from 211,500 to 289,500-a 37 per cent. increase in six years.  That trend is deeply disturbing and continues apace.

In 2008, the population of the state of Israel increased by 1.8 per cent., but the population of the settlements increased by 5.6 per cent., a threefold greater increase in the settler population than in the overall population of the state of Israel. Successive Israeli Governments have been totally complicit in encouraging settlements. Pinchas Wallerstein, Director-General of the Yesha Council of Settlements, a leading figure in the settlement movement, said:  “I’m not familiar with any (building) plans that were not the initiative of the Israeli government.”

Successive Israeli Governments have provided settlers with grants and tax breaks, although they have now been stopped, but preferential loan arrangements are still available.

It is clear that settlements are not simply about population or military security. Uzi Arad, national

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security adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, was reported in the Financial Times on 11 July to have said:  “Damacus should know that neither this government nor the majority of Israelis would agree a complete withdrawal (from the Golan heights) since that would compromise national security, water and settlement needs.”

Part of the problem concerns water.

I will discuss the legal position, but I will not discuss the many attacks by settlers on Palestinians, most of which, as far as one can tell, are not punished. I will not talk about the intricacies of labelling goods and products from the settlements, but I will talk about the legality of some of those issues. I will not talk about the labour standards suffered by the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Palestinians who work on settlement land now controlled by Israelis, and who do not often get minimum labour standards such as the minimum wage.

The legal position is clear. There have been successive UN Security Council resolutions-for example, resolution 465 from 1980, which stated that “all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof have no legal validity and…Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”.

That is one of several Security Council resolutions on the issue.

In the advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice in 2004 on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, it unanimously ruled that settlements were illegal. It stated that “since 1977, Israel has conducted a policy and developed practices involving the establishment of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, contrary to the terms of article 49, paragraph 6, of the Fourth Geneva Convention which provides: ‘The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.'”

The opinion continued:  “The Court concludes that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.”

There are important legal issues for our Governments. There is a strong argument that Israeli settlements are explicitly a war crime, because when one occupies territory, there is, under international law, a limit to what one can do there. The allegation that the settlements are a war crime was re-emphasised in the Rome statute, and it was incorporated in English law in the International Criminal Court Act 2001-section 55 in particular. The UK’s Geneva Conventions Act 1957 criminalises those who aid and abet violations.

The UK Government position has been very clear. For example, the then Foreign Office Minister, who is now the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), wrote to me on 12 March 2009, saying:

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“We have made very clear that we oppose the expansion of settlements. Settlements are illegal and their expansion is an obstacle to the peace process.”

I wrote back about the E1 area, which is a large area just east of East Jerusalem, which is where, arguably, the Government of Israel are trying to create what they are pleased to call “facts on the ground”. The same Minister wrote to me on 20 May, saying:  “We agree that activity in the E1 area is of great concern…Continued settlement activity is contrary to Israel’s commitments under the Road Map…We, and our EU partners, continue to condemn illegal Israeli settlements…On 20 February the EU issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity”.

That condemnation is fine. It should be there. Let us consider what the Harvard programme on humanitarian policy and conflict research said in January 2004 about the status of occupied land and what an occupying power could use it for:  “The Hague regulations…require that the Occupying Power administer public lands, but only under the rules of usufruct, i.e. title to the public land is not transferred to the Occupying Power. The Occupying Power only acquires control over the ‘fruits’ of the land, and may engage in profitable use of public lands only for the benefit of the local population, as well as to cover the cost of the occupation itself…Further, an Occupying Power cannot requisition or seize private property on grounds other than security, unless such action is undertaken in accordance with local legislation in the occupied territory”.

There have been clear cases of seizures of private property in the occupied territories leading to settlements on that seized land. As I said, the World Bank estimates that one third of settlement land is on private land.

We therefore have the background legal position. For those who are not lawyers-I am fortunate enough to be a lawyer by training, although I do not moonlight, so I have not practised in the eight years for which I have been a Member of Parliament-let me say that under that legal doctrine, public authorities are under an obligation not to take any action that would imply recognition for the consequences of an internationally criminal act. For example, collecting customs duties for goods from settlements could imply recognition. There is a strong argument that the United Kingdom Government are in breach of that and have, de facto, recognised those settlements and the produce that comes from them.

On 22 July 2008, my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) asked the Government about customs duties. He asked, “how much in duties has been collected from companies importing produce into the UK from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory”.

The then Treasury Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), replied:  “Between 1 February 2005 and 31 January 2008, HM Revenue and Customs have issued demands for approximately £338,000 customs duty on products imported into the UK from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory under the provisions of the EC-Israel Association agreement.”-[Official Report, 22 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 1393W.]

When my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) asked a similar question less than a week ago, on 16 July 2009, the successor Treasury Minister, my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, replied: “In the 12 months ending 31 March 2009, HM Revenue and Customs have issued demands for £21,494 customs duty on

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products imported into the UK from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory under the provisions of the EC-Israel Association Agreement.” [Official Report, 16 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 689W.]

Products are coming into the United Kingdom from what many of us believe to be illegal settlements-there are strong legal arguments at international level that they are illegal settlements-yet we are accepting them into our country quite openly, to the point at which we are collecting customs duties on them. There may be other products being sneaked in, but we are collecting customs duties on them.

Understandably, therefore, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) asked: “for what reasons the Government is not seeking a prohibition on the importation of goods from illegal Israeli settlements other than under the Preferential Trade Agreement.”

The Minister who is with us today replied: “The Government believe that the best way forward is to seek ways to offer consumers better advice on whether goods have been produced in illegal Israeli settlements.”-[Official Report, 8 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 856W.]

We certainly need much more consumer information. There will be several hon. Members present who, like me, search on supermarket shelves to try to find the origin of this stuff, to ensure that we are not buying stuff that would make us complicit in what is going on in the occupied territories in terms of production and export from settlements.

The then Foreign Office Minister, now the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, wrote to me on 12 March, saying:  “We are…looking at what practical steps we can take to discourage settlement expansion, such as ensuring that goods produced in illegal settlements do not benefit from EU trading agreements with Israel.”

I have to say, however, that I am deeply disturbed about the position on such products.

Commendably, the Government agree that there should be a freeze on settlements, and that is to be encouraged, but I would like it to go further. I therefore have some questions for the Minister. First, do the Government agree that there should not only be a freeze, but that all existing settlements should be evacuated? If not, why not? Secondly, will the Minister confirm that UK-based charities should not donate money to settlements? That is certainly the pattern in the USA, and I would appreciate some clarity about the legal position of charities in the UK.

Thirdly, will the Minister confirm that the EU-Israel association agreement, which gives tariff breaks, does not apply to goods exported from settlements to the EU, including the UK? Fourthly, why do the Government allow any products from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be imported into the UK? Fifthly, why do they condone such imports by allowing them in and then levying customs duties on them? Have they obtained a legal opinion on the legality or otherwise of such imports? If not, why not? If they have, when did they obtain it? Will the Minister or one of his ministerial colleagues release the conclusions-not the entirety-of that legal advice?

The position in international law is clear: the settlements and the wall are illegal, but the settlements continue to expand. Every now and then, there is the fig leaf of a freeze on settlement building, but the freeze is lifted

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when nobody is looking, and the settlements continue to expand, even though they breach several UN Security Council resolutions and international conventions.

The Government have raised the issue of settlements with successive Israeli Governments, but to no avail, and the settlements continue to expand. Having repeatedly tried diplomatic pressure on successive Israeli Governments, they should now ban not only imports from settlements, but all imports from Israel, as well as introducing a defence embargo, until Israel abides by its international legal obligations. If, surprisingly, the Minister does not agree with a total ban on imports, I would be grateful if he could explain why.