The Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) and the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) took the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister David Lidington MP to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) on a joint fact finding mission. Dr Lidingon was formerly Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and was appointed as Shadow Middle East Minister in July 2007. As number two to the Shadow Foreign Secretary Dr Lidington is a full member of the Shadow Cabinet reflecting the importance of the region to the Conservative leadership.
Dr Lidington had not visited Israel and the oPt for approximately 15 years and was therefore keen to meet with Ministers and peacegroups from both the Arab and Jewish communities.
The visit commenced with a briefing from Risa Zoll, Director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, followed by a tour of East Jerusalem revealing the locations of Israeli house demolitions, land confiscations and illegal settlements.
In Jerusalem, after a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum, Dr Lidington met with Knesset member Gideon Sa’ar, Chairman of Likud Faction, and received briefings from the research, legal and West Europe department at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also met with Isaac Herzog, Minister for Social Affairs and Services and for Diaspora Affairs.
CMEC and CFI take David Lidington to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Dec 2007In Ramallah he met with the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Riad Malki and Dr Saeb Erekat, Chief Negotiator at the PLO Negotiations Support Unit. Dr Lidington also met with Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) who asked for support in releasing the 45 elected Members of the PLC, who have been detained in Israeli prisons.
Graham McNeil from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA) provided a tour of the Am’ari Refugee Camp in Ramallah to visit a health clinic and a girls school. The camp has approximately 10,000 registered refugees of whom one fifth are dependent on emergency food rations. Like most of the camps in the West Bank and Gaza Am’ari suffers from overcrowding and poor sewerage with detrimental effects on the health of its residents.
Israel’s security concerns were defined via a helicopter trip to the Golan Heights and Israel’s Northern border with Lebanon by a retired IDF General. He explained the securty arrangements between Israel and Syria and showed the group the location where Hezbollah kidnapped the two missing Israeli soldiers Goldwasser and Regev triggering the war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
In Tel Aviv the British Ambassador Tom Phillips kindly invited the delegates to a dinner following their meeting with the friends and family of missing soldiers Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev.
CMEC and CFI take David Lidington to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Dec 2007On the final day of the visit Dr Lidington, Miss Hutchings and Mr Polak received a presentation from the Office for the Coordination of Humitarian Affairs examining the fragmentation of the West Bank caused by Israeli settlements, settler roads, the separation wall and other infrastructure such as roadblocks and closures that prevent the access and movement of Palestinians. Their maps show that more than 38% of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure which in turn prohibits the viability of a congruous Palestinian state.
OCHA also organised a tour of Hebron’s Old City with the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee which showed up the problems caused to local Palestinians by hostile Israeli settlers.
Continuing on to Sderot Dr Lidington was given a tour and briefing by a local council member and IDF reservist who showed us the proximity and resulting vulnerability of the town to the frequent Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza militants. At the local police station, he was shown the shrapnel remains of the Qassam rockets that leave the civilians of this town in a state of constant fear.
The delegates were unable to visit Gaza but OCHA was able to provide an analysis of the humanitarian situation there which has deteriorated rapidly since Israel closed its borders in June 2007 when Hamas gained power of the coastal strip. The group was reminded that whilst Israel has the right to defend itseld from rocket attacks against its civilians, it must also ensure that any response is in accordance with international law and it should seek to avoid civilian casualties.