Conservative MPs Matthew Offord and Bob Blackman on Wednesday voiced support for Israel during a Westminster Hall Debate, following the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) vote to adopt a resolution that backs the findings of its recently-released report into last summer’s Operation Protective Edge conflict in Gaza.
The resolution has been denounced for its imbalance against Israel, as it made no mention of Hamas or its role in the conflict, ignoring the report’s criticism of Hamas’s abuses.
The resolution was passed by a vote of 41 to one, with five abstentions. The United States was the only country to vote against the motion, with India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Macedonia abstaining, and the UK voted with the European Union bloc of nations in favour.
The UNHRC Commission of Inquiry’s report, which was released two weeks ago, concluded that both Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes. The report was criticised by many due to the controversial commissioning of the inquiry and its contested findings. At the time of the UNHRC commission’s foundation, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called the inquiry “fundamentally unbalanced” against Israel.
During Wednesday’s debate, MP for Hendon, Dr Matthew Offord highlighted the UN’s history of bias against Israel, and its common tendency to single out Israel in resolutions: “We should bear in mind that the UN has a long history of criticising Israel, more than it has any other country in the world—so much so that many of us feel that its criticisms are no longer legitimate”.
Dr Offord underlined: “In 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted 20 resolutions singling out Israel for criticism, but only three for the rest of the world combined. The Human Rights Council’s members include Qatar and Saudi Arabia—countries that perform human rights violations against their own people. We know that those things happen”.
The MP for Hendon drew attention to Prime Minister David Cameron’s quote from last year calling for “An end to the ridiculous situation where last year the United Nations General Assembly passed 3 times as many resolutions on Israel as on Syria, Iran and North Korea put together. No more excuses for the 32 countries in the United Nations who refuse to recognise Israel”.
MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman, described his experience of rocket-fire in Israel last summer: “Like many colleagues from all parties, I was in Israel at the time of the conflict. I witnessed individuals suffering indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire coming from Gaza. People were fleeing to air raid shelters to avoid completely indiscriminate attempts, made by a proscribed terrorist organisation from Gaza, to kill as many civilians as possible”.
Speaking about the IDF’s care to limit civilian casualties, Mr Blackman said: “The reality is that no other army in the world contacts people in advance, warning them of legitimate military targets and attempting to minimise casualties, as the IDF does. While we are talking about the tragic loss of life in Gaza, we should remember that more people are dying in Syria almost every week”.
On the UNHRC report’s inconclusive description of the role of Hamas’s cross-border terror tunnels, Mr Blackman contended: “Sadly, the terrorist group Hamas has diverted the construction materials and proudly maintains that it has recreated the tunnels of terror. Yet the UN report says that it is not possible to describe what these tunnels were for. Perhaps they were for tourism between Gaza and Israel—but I suspect that the military uniforms and military ordnance they contained demonstrates that they were used to kill the maximum number of civilians possible”.
Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood MP, condemned Hamas’s rocket-fire at Israel and explained the seeming disproportionate nature of the conflict: “We strongly condemn the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza strip, as detailed in the report. On the seeming imbalance of munitions going from one side to the other, hon. Members will be aware of the Iron Dome project in Israel, which has stopped many of the munitions fired by Hamas. That is why there is the disproportionate number of fatalities or injuries on one side. I simply state that as a comment, not to justify anything”.
He further underlined that the Government “would have preferred to see a text that gave more weight to Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence, and to the threat Israel faces from militant groups operating from inside Gaza, including Hamas”.
On Israel’s easing of the blockade on Gaza, Mr Ellwood stated: “We welcome the recent positive steps that Israel has taken in easing some restrictions, including doubling the water supply and permitting an increase in exports from Gaza”, but added that the Government wished to see Israel “go much further”.
After the UNHRC vote last Friday, UK Ambassador to Geneva, Julian Braithwaite expressed British reservations over the resolution: “[We] welcome the fact that Israel is conducting its own internal investigations into specific incidences … The UK would have preferred to see a text that gave more weight to Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence and the threat she faces from militant groups operating from inside Gaza including Hamas”.
Click here to read the full debate.