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9.17 pm

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak at this late stage in what has been an extremely interesting debate; in fact, it has been one of the best debates that I have heard in the House. The House has been shown at its best.

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to move away from the general discussion that has taken place and focus on a single tragedy arising from the situation in the middle east. Before I do so, I should like to make a personal observation: as far as I am concerned, there is no justification for the use of human bombs to kill innocent civilians in the streets of Israel, just as there is no justification for the suicide attacks on the United States of America. Attempts to seek such justifications are unwarranted and wholly wrong. I must also say that there is no justification for the actions of Israeli soldiers in the last 12 days—I speak as an ex-service man. Their actions bring disgrace and dishonour to the uniforms that they wear. They have no right to call themselves soldiers if they carry out such heinous crimes.

In the short time available to me, I want to draw the attention of the House and the country to the desperate plight of four young Welsh children who have been caught up in the terrible horrors that have been taking place in the middle east. The four children of my constituent, Mrs. Eileen Sutton of Barry, have been trapped in a house in Nablus for the past 12 days. They are unable to move, and the house has been occupied by 21 heavily armed Israeli soldiers. The occupants of the house—not just the four children and their immediate

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family but other children and adults—have been pushed into one room. These young children—constituents of mine—have been warned not to go near the windows because they might be shot dead if they do. There is no justification or excuse for treating children like that in any war or any situation.

These Welsh children are British citizens and British passport holders. Not only that: they are British wards of court. In other words, the legal guardians of the trapped children are the British Government. Everything humanly possible should be done to move the children immediately and to place them in the safe custody of the British consulate general in Jerusalem.

I have been in touch with my colleagues on the Front Bench, the Foreign Office and the British consul in Jerusalem. We have had regular contact. I also wish to place on record my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). She raised the plight of the children when she was in Israel last week. I thank her for her efforts to get them released into safe custody.

These children were born and brought up in the little town of Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan. Just a few months ago, they went to local schools, clubs, after-school clubs and discos. They enjoyed the life that our children and grandchildren take for granted. However, in just a short space of time, they have found themselves in the most horrendous and despicable situation.

I am aware that such cases involve desperately difficult diplomatic and political considerations. In fact, it has been put to me that moving the children right now might create a spark that could result in an escalation in the violence in Nablus. If that is the thinking, we have got it all wrong. There should be one consideration only: the children are in grave danger and should be moved to safety immediately.

I hope that the fact that I have been able to refer to this desperate case in the debate will mean that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do all in their power to return the children to the safety of their mother at home in Barry, in south Wales. I hope that they will not delay any further. The children are the only British subjects in such a position anywhere in the occupied territories or where the Israelis have moved in and attacked and threatened innocent civilians. These four young innocents do not deserve to find themselves in such a situation. For God's sake and in the name of humanity, get them out of there—and get them out now.

9.24 pm

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Although I sympathise greatly with my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) and I want to see his constituents returned, I should point out that the last time I saw children in Palestine, they were being put into graves.

The important point is that the Israeli state is waging a war on people who, in the main, are innocent. Although some may be taking up arms on the Palestinian side, or committing acts that some have described as atrocities, the reality is that we are facing the butcher of Beirut, who has also become the butcher of Bethlehem. There is a madness to current events there. The Christian bell-ringer at the church in Manger square was shot dead by Israeli troops, and an Armenian monk was shot in the back by Israeli troops and left to die. The bodies of Palestinians

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remained unburied because their burial in Manger square would probably have turned a shrine to the Christian birth into a shrine to Palestinian martyrs.

As I have only a few minutes, I shall skip many of the points that I wanted to make, some of which have already been made. In my view, the flaw lies in the original Oslo agreement, which was supposed to provide land for peace. It is no wonder that some on the Palestinian side left the negotiations. It became clear that what was on offer was not a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, but land criss-crossed by Israeli roads leading to settlements. Such an arrangement would have fragmented the west bank in such a way that a Palestinian state could never have proved viable.

Most people do not know that the majority of the land in Gaza is still under the control of the Israelis; in fact, Israelis go on holiday there. I have visited Gaza several times and walked on its beach. It is beautiful, but nearby Beach Camp is infested and rat-ridden. Along the coast, however, there are protected zones where the people of the cities of Israel can spend a nice summer holiday, protected by Israeli troops.

In terms of peace, when I was in Beirut, the people looked to Hezbollah to provide spokespeople for the Palestinian diaspora. When my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and I visited Gaza last year, it became clear that people were turning not to the Palestinian Authority, but to Hamas, and that those who had supported the Palestinian Authority were looking to other, more violent methods of extracting a settlement from the Israeli Government.

We must ask where the solution lies. Does it lie in Sharon, who clearly came to office on the back of a promise of peace and security? Jewish friends whom I used to visit in Tel Aviv have left Israel altogether, because they do not believe that Sharon can deliver peace and security. He is displaying not statesmanship but the worst form of militarism. His record—from events in Beirut to his election as Prime Minister—made clear what kind of Prime Minister he would be. He thinks that he can defeat the Palestinian people, and that they will have to accept whatever solution he offers, but that will not happen. He is creating bitterness and feeding future generations with the desire for retribution. I am amazed to hear that he enjoys 67 per cent. of the popular vote in Israel. That is a disaster for Israel, among other nations.

On the question of whether the solution lies with Yasser Arafat, my view is perhaps controversial. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) that Yasser Arafat represents the non-militant, non-Islamic view. However, as a European Union observer at the elections, I share the view of many who wanted the Palestinian Authority to come into being that they are failed and devalued. Arafat is accused of approving of Fatah members who participate in violence, but what other option did he have? It was clear that Hamas, Hezbollah and other fragmented groups that support Islamic jihad were getting popular support. The Palestinian Authority were being valued less and less.

What could Arafat do, given that Israel was killing children? I have not seen martyrs dying with bombs strapped to their chests, but on many occasions I have seen snipers or members of the official Israeli defence force shoot children who were throwing stones at, or shouting at Israeli soldiers when they were killing their

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brothers and their mothers, and even the nurses and drivers of ambulances who went to try to help those who could be rescued. Have we forgotten the sight of the man perched behind a bollard with his son behind him while the Israeli defence forces shot until they killed that child? Although Arafat has had to take a more militant stand, such events lead me to believe that he is either the rock upon which peace will be settled or the rock upon which the future peace of Israel will be dashed. It would be insane to encourage anything that would allow him to be taken out.

I do not believe that the solution lies with the United States of America. I was in Washington on 11 September. On 10 September when we met State Department officials they had no perspective on Israel and Palestine. It had no middle east policy and did not understand the demographic, geographic or economic factors of the region. Since 11 September, it has had to make up policy on the hoof. I do not believe that they can do that without our help. Do the Government really believe that they can influence the USA so that it takes seriously the one solution on the table—the proposal by the Arab nations which is almost the same as UN resolution 242—because that is the only way forward?

I am disappointed that I do not have more time to speak. This is the first time that I have tried to speak in the Chamber since 13 September and I am disappointed to get the fag end of the debate.


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