The year 1948 is important in a number of ways; it saw the birth of the National Health Service in Britain, the State of Israel and a humble British backbench Member of Parliament – me.
I am a Christian and I have often been asked why I became a Conservative Friend of Israel and why I care about what happens to Israel. I sometimes ask myself the same question, particularly when the Israeli government does something with which I disapprove, such as allowing the continuation of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
But then I remember that my wife is Jewish and I remember a visit I made to Yad Vashem, which I found so emotionally disturbing l that I had to leave halfway through the tour.
Why was I so disturbed? It was because those graphic images of the Holocaust reminded me that but for the grace of God it could have been my wife who was murdered by the Nazis.
And being a friend of Israel fills me with dismay to see the daily terror with which so many of its citizens are confronted.
2013 has begun with a renewed sense of hope. As President Obama prepares to embark on a much-anticipated visit to the region, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has optimistically identified this as the “year of peace” for Israelis and Palestinians.
A long road lies ahead though. Many challenging obstacles lie in their way that will require serious determination and willingness for compromise. For Israel’s part, they will need to re-adopt the ‘land for peace’ doctrine that has secured landmark peace agreements with its neighbours in the past.
The Palestinians also have an important role to play. On Tuesday, I used a well-attended Westminster Hall debate in the British Parliament to raise awareness of one of the things they ought to be doing.
It is clear that a culture of hate has wormed its way into the very fibre of Palestinian society. Incitement is pervasive in Palestinian school textbooks, on television programmes and at cultural and sporting events. Palestinians have been consistently and unremittingly taught to hate Jews, Israel and the West.
While PA officials readily speak to Western audiences of their determination to reach peace with Israel, a very different story is presented to their domestic audience.
The imagery and language of hate broadcast in the Palestinian Authority’s name is well documented. From maps replacing the State of Israel with “Palestine”, to images of children carrying weapons, and cultural events named in honour of notorious Palestinian terrorists. And this has all been done with very little condemnation from the international community, including the United Kingdom.
This litany of inflammatory material fundamentally harms the peace process and hopes for a two-state solution. Ignoring incitement and hate education because we do not want to ‘rock the boat’ will not help us along the path to peace and it does not provide the steady foundations needed for peaceful co-existence.
The PA has even been found to financially reward terrorism through its practice of paying a monthly salary to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons convicted of terror offences. Prisoners serving multiple life sentences for involvement in deadly acts of terrorism, including suicide bombings, are receiving a monthly salary of anywhere between £240 and £2,100. The longer the time in prison, the higher the salary. To put it crudely, the more horrific your terrorist activity and the more Israelis you killed, the larger your salary.
I was shocked to recently learn that these payments are part funded by the British taxpayer. Indeed, the payments come from the PA’s general budget, into which the UK contributes more than £30 million each year.
These payments have gone unchecked for too-long. Initial enquiries into the matter were met with apparent denial from UK authorities and a declaration that the payments are simply “social welfare payments to the families of prisoners”.
In actual fact, the Palestinians themselves don’t see it this way. Just last December, PA Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs, Issa Karake, announced that the categorisation of the prisoners’ “salaries” as social “assistance” was an incorrect “rumour” and that the salaries are authorised to them “out of esteem for their sacrifice and struggle”. It not hard to see these payments for what they really are: a form of reward for prisoners’ terror acts.
With the support of a number of my parliamentary colleagues, I have put the issue in the strongest terms to the British Government and will eagerly await the results of a full investigation into this deeply deplorable practice.
The PA’s failure to deliver on its Oslo Agreement commitment to end incitement explicitly undermines the principles and conditions on which the peace process is built. Incitement highlights the extent to which Palestinian society has not publicly begun to absorb or internalise the changes which will be needed for practical and genuinely peaceful coexistence. What chance does a faltering peace process stand if one of the parties to it makes it official policy to permit the circulation of material denouncing their supposed peace partner?
Ultimately, incitement amounts to the abuse of Palestinian children. Remember, these are the next generation of peacemakers and state builders. Simply put, no peace agreement will be able to guarantee peace in the medium- to long-term if a generation of Palestinians are growing up indoctrinated to hate Israel, Jews and the West.
Following a long campaign in Parliament, I am reassured that this is an issue that the Government is starting to regard with increased seriousness. Indeed, Prime Minister David Cameron made clear his position at a United Jewish Israel Appeal dinner late last year:
Britain will never support anyone who sponsors a football tournament named after a suicide bomber who killed 20 Israelis in a restaurant. We will not tolerate incitement to terrorism.
The British Government rightly hold Israel to account when Israeli policies stand in the way of peace in the region. By the same reasoning it is imperative that they adopt a similar policy with the regard to the Palestinians. We must insist, as policy, that the PA ends the indoctrination of its youth with views that jeopardise a future of peaceful coexistence.
Widespread PA-endorsed incitement has gone unchallenged for too long. The Palestinian Authority isn’t making a concerted enough effort to educate its people towards peace and coexistence with Israel. As we move forward into the “year of peace” the need to abandon all messages of incitement is more important than ever.