UK's talk on Gaza and Israel. Frank and less filtered?

British MPs decry rockets from Hamas but say that's little excuse for Israeli behavior.

Alastair Grant
A London protest against the Israeli offensive on Gaza from earlier this month.

European political expression on matters Israel-Palestine is vastly different in scope and content than here in the US, certainly compared to what one hears when listening to members of Congress or to American TV.

That was palpably true when I was based in Europe during the 2008-2009 Israeli  "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza. I reported on the often high-voltage reactions from Paris, London and Berlin.

But one forgets how differently Europe views the conflict after a little while back home.

Now back from Paris, I was caught out this week by a Youtube video of a British parliamentary debate. It captures brief speeches on the current Gaza strike by Israel, "Operation Protective Edge," from MPs who obviously aren't in favor of the operation.

Yet the focus by both Conservative and Labour MPS was striking simply because one rarely hears anything similar stateside. Here are well-spoken, well-dressed people articulating points, some of them moral -- as well as a point of view -- rarely heard from their US political counterparts.

"...unless the Israelis are willing to make peace, the day will come when the Palestinians will explode in anger and despair," says Sir Gerald Kaufman who represents Manchester Gordon. 

Sir Nicolas Soames of Mid Sussex asks, "Would my right honorable friend agree that this is not just a war about rockets from both sides but it is actually a war about illegal settlements and stolen lands?" 

The British MPs seem more frank and less filtered and certainly less one-sided than those across the Atlantic.  

Whether one agrees with their views or not, there’s more focus on issues like “disproportionate response,” humanitarian law, UN safe zones, water and sewer damage, and possible war crimes in Gaza.

There’s “no truck,” as former British foreign secretary Jack Straw puts it, with terror or Hamas (see below). But there is less willingness by the Brits to take at face value the specter of Hamas as a rationale for any and all behavior by Tel Aviv.

A friend who closely follows the Middle East writes above the Youtube link, “British MPs tell is like it is.” Maybe. What seems refreshing is the freer expression of views on significant matters of war and peace.

The origin and evolution of US discourse on the Middle East could fill libraries. Some decades ago there was arguably a more sympathetic and balanced approach to the Middle East among, for example, mainstream Protestants. An echo of that voice was heard recently as American Methodists divested their holdings in a firm that sells equipment to Israeli prisons. But since the rise of American evangelicalism and fundamentalism in the 1980s, and its political expression and fusing with pro-Israel lobby groups, there’s clearly been a broad shift towards the state of Israel and a diminution of the old balance.

A new study by Zogby to be released July 29 finds that Americans in general are less trustful of Arabs and Muslims who take part in local government – but that Americans who know Arabs or Muslims have a “significantly higher favorable attitude” toward them.

Below, text from some of the House of Commons statements: 

Sir Nicolas Soames, Conservative, Mid Sussex

Would my right honorable friend agree that this is not just a war about rockets from both sides, but it is actually a war about illegal settlements and stolen lands? And what is the next big political move? I have sat here these last 30 years and heard the same statement every year for 30 years, and nothing has happened.

Jack Straw, Labour Blackburn [former Foreign Secretary]

Thank you Mr. Speaker. The whole house condemns the killing of those three Israelis and the burning of the Palestinian, and none of us have any truck with Hamas. But is it not clear that, for all the vacuous words of the Israeli government and the IDF spokesman, that they have no regard themselves for international humanitarian law. That they place a completely different and much lower value on Palestinian life as compared to Israeli life and that this cycle will go on as long as the international community, in an effort to be even-handed, fails to say to the Israelis that the actions they are taking are completely [outside] the United Nations charter….

Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

Even US Secretary Kerry and his own Middle East minister have clearly said it was the Netanyahu regime’s relentless expansion of illegal settlements that brought prime responsibility for the collapse of the Kerry talks. When, rather than this routine language of condemnation on the settlements, can we instead have some real and meaningful action?

Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

The foreign secretary is absolutely right to call for a permanent end to these intolerable rocket attacks on Israel. But right too that too many … Palestinian civilians and children are dying. Will he consider whether or not the favorable economic and political relationship with Israel, between Israel and the European Union, should now be reconsidered in light of the Israeli governments disproportionate response?

Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

My right honorable friend has quite rightly said that the only foundation for lasting peace and a safe and secure Israel must be a viable and a contiguous Palestinian state. Would he therefore agree that there can be no peace til there is an end to the blockade of Gaza for even the most basic economic materials, like building materials and a withdrawal from the illegal settlements which prevent any possibility of a contiguous state on the West Bank?

Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham Northfield

You may be aware, along with other honorable members, that I was in Gaza just weeks after the 08/09 Operation Cast Lead and saw for ourselves that humanitarian centers by the UN had been hit by Israeli strikes. As he said, 17,000 Palestinian civilians are now sheltering at UN centers, and the UN reports 49 of those already being damaged. As a high contracting party to the Geneva Convention, what can Britain do about this? And will he confirm that hitting humanitarian centers is a war crime?

Rushanara Ali, Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

In 2010 our prime minister described Gaza as being like an open air prison, with its people living under constant attacks and pressure. The latest escalation of the violence and killings has made matters unbearable. When will our government, working with the international community, actually apply pressure on the Israeli government to adhere to international law and humanitarian requirements because this is just completely unacceptable.

Sir Gerald Kaufman, Labour, Manchester Gorton

Is the right honorable gentleman aware that among the 173 innocent civilians slaughtered by the Israelis in Gaza was the inhabitants of a disabled peoples home which was hit … and that a hospital was hit as well. But whatever one says in deploring the role of Hamas, and I have told the Hamas prime minister to his face that I deplore what they do, nevertheless if this goes on we shall have yet another cycle, the third so far. There will be a fourth. It will go on unless the Israelis are willing to make peace, the day will come when the Palestinians will explode in anger and despair.

(Robert Marquand is former Paris bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor and is now the Africa editor on the foreign desk).

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