§ 2.49 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS rose to call attention to the world refugee problem, with special reference to the Middle East; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion which I am moving to-day calls attention to the world refugee problem, with particular reference to the situation which exists to-day in the Middle East. On October 20 last year the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, afforded this House an opportunity, on the eve of the European Appeal, to debate the general problem of refugees, and I think the country was indebted to her for doing so. I thought it right to keep my Motion equally wide, for two reasons. First, there may well be noble Lords who want to express views on the pressing refugee problems in parts of the world other than the Middle East; and, secondly, I do not want to give the impression in any 170 way that my colleagues and I are uninterested in the human misery suffered by refugees in Africa and elsewhere.
§ On the other hand, the problem of the Arab refugees in the Middle East has been forced to the forefront again by the recent war. The immediate problem, and probably the long-term problem, have been aggravated by recent events. Yet I believe that the peace settlement which must inevitably follow offers us the opportunity to lay the foundations for a long-term solution to this terrible problem. I do not believe we can afford to miss this opportunity. I do not wish to suggest that the problem can be solved overnight. Faced with a task as huge as this, one can feel only the deepest humility.
§ I do not want to job back over the many mistakes which have been made by all Parties over the last few generations; but I want to make it quite clear that I am not neutral in this matter. I do not pretend that all that is right belongs to Israel and that all that is wrong is for the account of the Arabs. But I believe most firmly that every nation has the right to live. I was in favour of going to the help of Czechoslovakia. I was appalled at the speed with which Austria lost its independence. Nations such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are now mere memories. So in approaching this matter I start from the premise that the world must recognise the fear that exists in Israel of losing an independence which has been very hardly won—won not only in the Middle East but in Europe during the Second World War.
§ I find it difficult to assess the present size of the Arab refugee problem in the Middle East. I have seen many estimates. So far as I can make out, the number of refugees in Syria is said to be about 150,000, in the Gaza Strip about 350,000 and in Jordan 430,000 or more. Some of those in Jordan are, I believe, in casual seasonal work. Whatever the estimates, it seems certain that not less than about 600,000 people are urgent candidates for relief, redeployment and rehabilitation. It may be more. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is better informed on this subject and able to give us later figures.
§ It is not, however, so much the size of the problem that is important—though 171 it is important—but the principles on which a solution might be found. I would begin by asserting a number of factors which are important in seeking a foundation for a permanent answer. First, no matter what offers may have been made in the past, I think it is unrealistic to believe that Israel can any longer contemplate the return to her territory of refugees who left there during and after 1948. In saying this, I make the exception of those who may have moved in the last few weeks, and I hope that every effort will be made by both sides to see that families are reunited as quickly as possible in these tragic circumstances. But all Arabs outside Israel have been indoctrinated from Cairo with an incessant incitement against and hatred of Israel, and I can fully understand the fear that Israel has of increasing its security risks by taking many more people into its territory.
§ The next question which arises is compensation. Even if it were possible, I doubt very much whether at this late stage individual compensation can do more than trifle with the problem. Next, I believe it is most important to differentiate between relief, rehabilitation and what I would describe as planned reconstruction. In this connection, I should like to pay tribute, as has been done before in this House, to the work of Dr. Michelmore and his UNRWA colleagues for what they have been able to achieve with such relatively slender resources. It is not their fault if Arab countries refuse to help in the resettlement of refugees and force them to put most emphasis on relief rather than on rehabilitation. It is all the more to their credit, I think, that, even in these circumstances, they have managed so much by way of education and training of those for whom they are responsible.
§ But superimposed on this is the immediate and urgent problem of what is to be done in the next few days if we are to avoid mass starvation. I have seen an estimate of something of the order of £10 million being required immediately to provide the relief necessary. I hope that the Government will be able to tell us what practical steps are being taken to this end. I am sure that this problem will be well to the forefront of the mind of Lord Caradon, our representative in the 172 United Nations. But, as I understand it, this is a matter of the utmost urgency, and it is not one where we can be asked to be patient. Nevertheless, aside from relief, I believe the time is opportune for a major change of emphasis. Of course we must continue with relief—and we have to continue it, I think, at a higher level than the 1,500 calories which we have had up to now. But we have to make a major effort to embark on imaginative schemes of reconstruction and development.
§ We must take advantage of some of the new technical advances which have been made in the last few years. Apart from the political difficulties, one of the major problems in settling people in new areas has been the total absence of adequate water to sustain human life, let alone to transform the arid desert into profitable pasture land. This is no longer the case, thanks largely to a great deal of work that has been done in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, but particularly in the United Kingdom. The Atomic Energy Authority has a first-class record in this matter, particularly under the leadership in this field of Dr. Kronberger. We can desalinate seawater; we can desalinate brackish water—it is no longer difficult, and in terms of human needs is, indeed, no longer too costly.
§ One does not know without a detailed study what are the requirements of peoples and communities, but if one takes a rough figure of, say, 25 gallons per person a day for domestic water, and thinks in terms of a community of 50,000 people needing 1¼ million gallons a day, one finds that a desalination plant to purify this amount of water can be provided, depending on the circumstances, for somewhere between £600,000 and £1 million. This is some measure of the achievements which have been made. The power for this task—it does not need a lot—can be oil or natural gas, both of which are available in the Middle East. Such a plant can also be associated with a small generator to provide electricity for local industry. This is what has been achieved over the past few years.
§ There was an admirable letter in The Times to-day from Mr. Edmund de Rothschild. He pointed out that where much larger schemes are needed or contemplated atomic energy could produce 173 something of the order of 100 million gallons per day of pure water at a capital cost of about 200 million dollars or £65 million. By any standards, this is a lot of water. In addition, a considerable amount of electricity is produced as a result. This may be a problem, but I believe that if you produce power, somebody will come along to invest money to develop it and to develop industry. I believe that a study along these lines has already been done for Israel, and I am sure that it will be made available to all others who are interested. Domestic water can be provided by desalination at costs now similar to water produced from reservoirs. For irrigation, water can be produced economically if the rate of interest on the money is kept to a nominal figure. It should not be impossible for nations to get together to find the means to do this sort of thing.
§ The point I wish to make is that water need no longer be a problem. All those of us who have flown over the never-ending miles of scorched earth in this part of the world must now recognise that, providing there is the will to tackle the resettlement of refugees, one of the most formidable physical obstacles can now be removed.
§ So I ask: What could be done? I emphasise the word "could", because I do not want to under-emphasise the other major obstacles which have to be surmounted in the political field. One thing we could do would be to plan the construction and settlement of new communities in different parts of the Arab world—communities perhaps of 50,000 each or more, partly agricultural, partly urban, partly industrial; communities properly balanced to cater for a proportion of the aged and infirm; communities organised to carry out useful and profitable work—an immense task, particularly with the plight of the refugees as it is now, and the lack of strength; but with imagination and leadership I believe it can be done.
§ Of course, such a plan would need agreement in principle of the various countries concerned. I believe that Israel could reasonably be asked to help to provide facilities for a number of the refugees in the Gaza Strip. I believe this could be done, but what we should need—and this is the urgency—is to set up a 174 team of planners to carry out feasibility studies and make recommendations as to what is practicable and what costs are likely to be incurred. I believe this could be completed in eighteen months—that is, the feasibility study, the plan. A lot of work has been done on this sort of thing already in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Russia and in Israel, and I am quite sure this would be available. Such a feasibility study would cover housing, light industry, factories, and so on. Houses could be prefabricated or made from local materials on the spot. I believe that such a team might work best away from UNRWA itself. I do not want to say that as a criticism Of UNRWA, but UNRWA has enough on its plate in looking after the problem of relief. I believe that such a team would work very closely with UNRWA, but it would be better if it worked, perhaps, for an organisation like the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, possibly supplemented by people from the best consulting engineering firms in this country, the United States, Russia or elsewhere. When the practicability and costs have been ascertained, I believe that such a team under the same auspices could implement the plan, negotiated with the different host countries who would benefit; and I see no reason why the money should not be raised mainly by way of long-term loans, not just outright grants, at low rates of interest repayable over thirty or forty years as the communities become prosperous.
§ People may tend to shy away from far-reaching solutions like this on the ground of cost, but I believe I am right in saying that the refugee problem in the Middle East has already cost the world more than £200 million in relief alone, and this has been keeping people on the bare minimum of subsistence. I am told that a family of five can be housed and settled and provided with water for something like £500 a unit. But supposing one doubles that and makes it £1,000. That is only £200 a head, £10 million for a community of 50,000. Where we are dealing with something like 600,000, it becomes £120 million. In addition, once it is seen that the basic plan is really going to be implemented, I believe that any amount of money will be forthcoming for industrial and agricultural investment in the area if this work is properly organised.175
§ If we add to that £120 million the three imaginative schemes for water production suggested by Mr. de Rothschild in The Times this morning, at a cost of about £60 million each—that is, £180 million—that adds up to £300 million. By modern standards of expenditure this is not a large sum of money to solve a problem of this kind. It represents the cost of one aircraft carrier, or the cost of six Polaris submarines without their rockets. In terms of civilian construction, the Mangla Dam in West Pakistan is being constructed, quite rightly, at a cost of £150 million. These are figures which can be faced up to if there is the will to do it. I believe we ought to make a start on these lines. If we did, I believe that we should begin to see some results in about five years' time, and we might be able to say we had broken the back of the problem in 15 years; and this would be far better than anything we have been able to achieve since the refugee problem in the Middle East started in 1948.
§ My Lords, this is only one broad suggestion. There is nothing new in this, except the opportunity which has now arisen to do something practical about the refugee problem. Other noble Lords, I am sure, will have other constructive proposals to make, but what I am saying is this. Despite the past and the formidable difficulties of the present, agreement in principle to try to resolve this refugee problem must be embodied in the peace treaty of the future, and we should look to a planned resettlement of these people into new communities. With drive and imagination, we could end much of the human suffering and gradually restore to these people their self-respect and dignity. In the meantime, there is this most urgent problem of immediate relief which is needed now in the Middle East, and I hope that we shall take a lead in helping to provide it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I have often had to speak in your Lordships' House for the late Government on this subject of refugees, and there is one thing that I should like to repeat from this Bench which I have said before from the Bench opposite. I believe there is no other country which has been more generous in what it has done for refugees from 176 all parts of the world than our own country, although we have not always perhaps received as much gratitude as we might have done.
One very eminent refugee to whom we gave asylum a long time ago was Karl Marx, whose disciples have now expelled from their homes in Eastern and Central Europe so many wretched human beings, while at the same time they have prevented from leaving their homes perhaps an even greater number who would have liked to escape if they had been allowed to do so. But the biggest refugee problem in our own time has been that of the Jews. Under the British Mandate of Palestine, we settled about half a million Jews without doing any harm to anybody. We were bitterly abused, I think unfairly abused, by nearly every country in the world, including the United States, because we would take only the maximum number who we thought could be economically absorbed in one year without displacing the people who were there already.
When the United Nations decided that we should withdraw from Palestine, and that a new sovereign State should be set up by the authority of the United Nations, there was perhaps not a great deal of good will for the new State here on the part of those whose friends and relations had been murdered by Jewish terrorists in Palestine or by booby traps sent through the post, which was about all the thanks we got for building the Jewish home. But the decision of the United Nations was accepted both by the Labour Government and by the Conservative Opposition. The United Nations was not able to give military protection to its new creation, which was invaded immediately by all its neighbours. But the Jews were able to defend themselves. They either repulsed or contained all their enemies on every front.
And then the great new wave of Arab refugees from Palestine which followed was set in motion, not so much by the Jews as by the neighbouring Arab countries, who appealed to their fellow Arabs in Palestine to leave the new State, which the Arab Governments all declared they would never recognise, and they promised them that they would soon be repatriated when the Arab forces had grown strong enough to expel the intruders and destroy the State of Israel, which has always 177 been the openly declared aim of the Arab League. Between 500,000 and 600,000 refugees were put by the Arabs in camps to await this repatriation. They have been fed, and some of their children educated, by UNRWA. They have increased, mainly by natural breeding, to a figure, I think officially estimated by UNRWA, of 1,280,000, before the recent fighting began. But it has always been doubtful how many of them are genuine. The American Secretary of State, Mr. Dean Rusk, in giving evidence last July to the United States Senate Committee on Refugees, said that to the best of his belief about 500,000—that is, between one-third and one half of the total—although they retained their refugee status and registration, were in fact fully employed; and Mr. Rusk said that he would like to get the roll revised so that the money available might be more usefully spent.
I think it is often forgotten that at the same time the Jews had an entirely new refugee problem of their own. Besides the constant flow of fugitives from Europe, there were also between 400,000 and 500,000 Jews—in fact, I think it is about 470,000—who were expelled from the Arab countries in the Middle East and in North Africa; and all those Afro-Asian Jewish refugees came to Palestine, entirely destitute. But the Jews did not put them into camps as a kind of atrocity exhibit; they settled them on reclaimed agricultural land or in new industries and gave them a good and useful life. The Arabs could have done the same with their refugees at any time, I think, as easily as the French have lately absorbed their compatriots from Algiers. Jordan, who had most, did settle some, but Egypt would never co-operate in a comprehensive plan. I think in 1964 the Government of Iraq requested Egypt to send them 2 million immigrants to help in their shortage of labour in Iraq, but Nasser preferred to keep his refugees as a spectacle of human misery in the camps, awaiting the day when Israel should be destroyed, with nothing to live for or to hope for except the hope of revenge and recompense from the conquest of Israel. And now the events of the last few weeks have increased the number of refugees, by how many we do not yet know.
As the noble Lord, Lord Byers, rightly said, these refugees will certainly need food and medical supplies. I am entirely 178 confident that our Government and people will contribute towards their need, either multilaterally through UNRWA and the International Red Cross, or individually and privately as we have done before; and I am sure that we shall hear in a few minutes from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the Government are making a contribution to this purely emergency need, which I hope will be generous and proportionate to that which been made by the United States of America.
I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said, both about the immediate relief and also about settlement, but I should like to stress the subject of resettlement in this debate, if I may. In 1962–63, we had what was called "Refugee Year", when my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood was chairman of the British Committee for Refugee Year. Her committee, beyond all expectations, raised in Britain alone the sum of £10½ million. The main purpose was to finish the settlement of the European refugees, which was accomplished, and I am glad to say it did not go unrecognised, for I was present at the ceremony when the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, was decorated by the Austrian Ambassador for the work she had done for the refugees from Communist countries who had settled in Austria.
However, there was a surplus left over from this money which was collected, which was more than necessary to do what was needed in Europe, and I think the surplus of £2 million or £3 million was given for the benefit of the Arab refugees in the Middle East—not for relief, but purely for retraining and settlement. Of course, there was not too much co-operation from the Arab Governments, but a large number, chiefly of the younger men who could not remember Palestine, were trained, jobs were found for them, where they could be found; and if that had not been done the number of refugees would have been a good deal greater than it is to-day.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said, both about the urgent emergency need and also about resettlement. But I hope that the Government and your Lordships will agree that one pound spent on resettlement may in the long run be worth more than £100 spent 179 on temporary relief. What rather worries me at present is the number of speeches which are made about a peace settlement, implying that resettlement must form part of a general treaty of peace. But if resettlement is dependent on a peace treaty, and if the peace treaty is delayed, perhaps for years, then human misery will multiply to an extent which we cannot foresee. Therefore, I think that resettlement should be undertaken and should proceed now in advance of a peace treaty.
There have been reports in the Press that the Israelis contemplate resettling some refugees in the Arab territories which they now occupy, taking them from the existing refugee camps. If that is so, then I think other Governments, including ours, ought to help them with money and with technical aid, for there is no rule of war or of humanity which obliges a victorious army to maintain a horror exhibit, which is really what some of these camps are, in the occupied territory until a treaty of peace is concluded.
I know that a great many Arabs have an almost unlimited capacity for self-deception. We have seen some examples of that lately. An Arab will sometimes tell you with a happy smile that he thinks a certain statement is wholly untrue, but nevertheless he proposes to believe it because he would like it to be true. This makes him a very difficult person to argue with. Your Lordships may have seen a report in the Daily Telegraph last week that when the Sudanese Ambassador went to meet somebody at London Airport, the airport officials stupidly refused him entry to the V.I.P. room because they said that Sudan had broken off relations with the United Kingdom, whereupon the Ambassador indignantly replied that the Sudanese had done nothing of the kind; they had only proclaimed their intention to do so. I think it is correct that our Ambassador is still in Khartoum and the Sudanese Ambassador is still here, and I hope they will both remain where they are.
I know that these refugees in the camps have been subject to continual propaganda for a very long time, but I hardly think that many of them really believe now that they are soon going to be enriched by the spoils of the conquered 180 Israelis. I think most of them would be glad to be given a decent job and a decent home. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, mentioned the apprehensions of the Israelis. I think they have said in the past that they would be willing to pay compensation to refugees who are resettled, and I think they have also said that they will be willing to take a limited number into their own territory, subject, of course, to proper security precautions.
In advance of a peace treaty we must now prepare for a big scheme of resettlement, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, rightly envisaged. I myself do not know whether UNRWA are the best means of doing this. Lord Byers thought that what they had already to do was too much for them but they have got the experience and the know-how. Anyhow, whether it is done by UNRWA or by some other organisation, I think the funds will have to be found by Western countries. It would be hardly likely at present that the Arabs could subscribe much, and the Communist countries refuse as a matter of principle to recognise that any refugee problem exists. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consult with the United States of America about the best way of raising a special resettlement fund, as was done in Refugee Year in 1962–63, and I hope that France will also help, particularly since the standing of France with the Arab countries is so much higher than either ours or America's.
When Her Majesty's Government were unsuccessfully seeking support for keeping the Gulf of Aqaba open General de Gaulle remained silent, while he continued to send plentiful supplies of Mystères to Israel. When Her Majesty's Government rather plaintively announced they were banning the export of arms to both sides, and wondered whether anyone else would like to follow their example, the General redoubled his exports of aircraft and spare parts, while at the same time beginning to shake his head rather severely against the bellicosity of the Israelis. Now, when the Israelis have won an overwhelming victory, the General has accused them of aggression, and so enjoys the friendship and respect of the Arab countries. No Arab observer, I think, has claimed to discover on radar photographs of hostile French aircraft approaching Egypt from the direction of France.
181 I should hope also that some Arab Governments would not be uncooperative in a comprehensive and urgent scheme for resettlement. The King of Jordan, the day before yesterday, made an eloquent plea in New York on behalf of the Arab refugees, and the King of Jordan, whose resources are much smaller than those of most Arab countries, has done far more than any of them to improve the condition of the people. Although he has often complained that we and the Americans have not given him more arms than we did, he has made good use of our economic aid by the rapid development of agriculture and large-scale afforestation and industry in Jordan. I have often wished that the Government would give as much money to the Highlands Development Board in Scotland as they have given to Jordan. Your Lordships will have seen the figures published a day or two ago by the Government showing our economic aid to all the countries in the Middle East, and the enormous preponderance in favour of Jordan. That money has been very well spent. If our balance of payments could enable it to be augmented by even a little, and if the augmentation could be linked with a scheme of resettlement of refugees in the Jordan area, it would do so much more good than if the same money were used to dole out weekly rations to a homeless and unproductive people or to patch up the wretched dwellings in which they have to live.
My final observation is only a guess, and I hope that it may be wrong. But my guess is that it may be a very long time before we shall see a peace settlement or, to use the not very eloquent terminology of the moment, a package deal. Some of your Lordships will remember, and others may be surprised to hear, that Mr. Gromyko in 1948, when he represented Russia in the United Nations, condemned the Arab aggression against Israel. That, of course, was before the abdication of King Farouk, and it was not until a few years later that the Russians began to see the great advantages they might gain by arming the new nationalist States of Egypt and Syria and by encouraging and supporting Arabs in their xenophobia against Israel—which was about the only issue on which Arab nationalism could always be united 182 —and by playing the part of "Big brother" and protector of the Arab nationalists, thus acquiring political ascendancy in the Middle East, with its reserves of oil, which were more indispensable to the rest of the world then than they are now, although it is still inconvenient to do without them.
This Russian policy, although it has suffered two military reverses, in 1956 and again this month, has brought very great gains to the Russians. There has been the fall of the pro-Western monarchy in Iraq, the political impossibility of any Arab State joining in any pool security arrangement, such as CENTO, which used to be called the Baghdad Pact, the great difficulty of even the most modern Arab rulers, for fear of seeming to be unpatriotic, in restraining the frenzy and hatred of their people against Israel, which they have been taught to regard as representative of Western imperialism. You can never tell what the Russians are going to do, but they may possibly decide that it is to their interest to prolong tension and instability in the Middle East, keep the Israeli armies mobilised and stretched to their limits, and raise the hopes of the Egyptians, even though they may not have made up their minds to fulfil those hopes, that Russia will once more spend £600 million to re-equip the Egyptian army and perhaps send also some technical Russian volunteers who would understand how to use the material. If this should happen we shall have to wait a long time for a package deal. Meanwhile, what is going to happen to the refugees? I put it to your Lordships that humanity requires that the resettlement of the refugees should be undertaken now, package deal or no package deal, with or without the consent of all the Arab Governments, if possible through the agency of the United Nations or of UNRWA, but anyhow with the economic aid and support of the free nations of the West.
§ 3.27 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (LORD CIIALFONT)
My Lords, I think we should all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that the world refugee problem and its particular manifestation in the Middle East at the moment is a grave one and 183 an urgent one, and one in which consideration and sympathy and a determination to help must have the primary place in all our minds. We are grateful, I am sure, therefore, to the noble Lord for inspiring this debate and for opening it with a brevity that served only to add to its obvious sincerity. I listened, too, with appreciation to the quiet and balanced remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and I hope that some of the things I have to say will go some way to satisfy both noble Lords that the Government are not idle in efforts to deal with this great human problem.
Before turning to the situation in the Middle East, which must naturally be in the forefront of our minds at the moment as a consequence, if nothing else, of the recent tragic events between the Israelis and the Arabs, I should like to deal very briefly with some of the aspects of the refugee problem elsewhere in the world. It is unfortunately true that refugee problems and all the agony and suffering that they entail are known and have been known for many years in countries outside those which have dominated the newspaper headlines recently. International efforts to meet the human needs involved, partly through the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and partly through voluntary organisations, are having some success; but I have to say that the need for aid and assistance in terms of cash and of human resources remains largely unfulfilled.
The campaign to raise funds for refugees in European countries, which was much in our minds when we last debated this problem on October 20 last year, received a generous response, and I think the organisers and the people who contributed in this country deserve special commendation for their efforts. I understand that the central fund finally amounted to some £70,000, but of course the total amount received by the voluntary organisations as a result of the campaign must be much larger than that. Those involved in the campaign are aware, however, as I believe more people outside it should be aware, that even when the proceeds of the campaign are put to their full use in the field large problems will still remain unsolved.
184 I referred a moment ago to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Her Majesty's Government have given strong support to his programmes of assistance to refugees, and indeed have made the second largest financial contribution towards them. In 1966 we increased our contribution by £20,000 to bring our total contribution for that year to £120,000. In spite of all the difficulties in our economic situation and the measures that we had to take to meet our difficulties, that total was maintained unchanged in 1967.
Of course, the High Commissioner is concerned with the requirements for legal protection and material assistance of refugees in many parts of the world, but his major preoccupation is in Africa, to which he at present devotes about half of all his resources. On January 1 of this year there were estimated to be 740,000 refugees under the mandate of the High Commissioner in Africa, compared with about 630,000 one year earlier. This is a measure of the rate at which the problem is increasing. But he has made considerable progress towards resettling these refugees. Of the total of 740,000 that I mentioned earlier, about 250,000 still rely on assistance from the Governments of the countries of asylum and through multilateral channels, including, in particular, the High Commissioner's Office, although about one half of this number no longer require assistance in the matter of food and rations.
In Europe the vast mass of people who became refugees as a result of the Second World War was reduced to about 270,000 by 1951, when the High Commissioner's Office was founded and when he assumed responsibility for them. Another 300,000 people became refugees in the next nine years—that is, from 1951 to 1960—and of this total of 570,000 many succeeded in settling somewhere, mainly through their own efforts. But it was only with the help of the High Commissioner that well over 100,000 of these people were finally settled. To-day there are only just over 7,000 people in Europe still in need, and I hope and believe that we are approaching a solution to their problems.
As well as contributing decisively towards solving the problem of the war refugees and those who became refugees in the years up to 1960, which includes 185 the resettlement of 200,000 Hungarians who are included in the figures which I have just mentioned, the Office of the High Commissioner has dealt with, and still deals with, the flow of refugees into Western Europe from elsewhere. This is now of the order of about 10,000 a year.
In Asia the High Commissioner provides assistance to Tibetan refugees in Nepal, where their numbers are estimated at about 7,000, and to Tibetan refugees in India where they number about 50,000. In addition, he is giving assistance to refugees of Chinese origin in Macao, who number about 74,000, and numbers of European refugees from mainland China in Hong Kong who are awaiting their departure for countries of resettlement.
In Latin America there are approximately 115,000 refugees, mostly of European origin, all under the High Commissioner's mandate and receiving his protection or assistance. I think this gives some indication of the wide scope and tremendous vigour of the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, to which, as I have said, Her Majesty's Government make a substantial, indeed a leading, financial contribution.
I should like to turn now to the Middle East, where we in the Government, like everyone else in this country, have been deeply concerned at the suffering that has followed the recent fighting. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked for the latest assessment in figures of refugees in the Middle East. These are difficult to arrive at with any confidence of accuracy, but we have had reports that as a result of the war something over 100,000 refugees have crossed from West Jordan to the East Bank. Reports late last week suggested that this flow had virtually ceased, and I reflected this fact in an Answer I gave earlier in your Lordships' House, I think in reply to a Question by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. But it is with great regret that I have to say that we have learned that it has since started up again, and that there is now again a flow of refugees from West Jordan to the East Bank.
In Syria, too, there has been a movement of about 50,000 refugees northwards from the territory of Syria occupied by Israel. But these figures really are just figures. They make the whole refugee 186 problem sound like statistics; and, of course, refugees are not statistics: they are human beings, almost always wretched and hungry, terrified and helpless. Our deepest sympathy must go out to these thousands of uprooted, homeless and helpless families.
But sympathy is not enough. It is obvious, as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has said, that it must be our immediate aim to ensure that this problem shall not get any worse; that these numbers do not grow still further. We are devoting all our efforts to this; and I may say that in reply to our representations the Israeli Government have assured us that they have no wish to see the Arabs leave. We have made it clear to them that we hope that they will go further than that, and that they will indeed take positive steps to encourage them to stay. But in the longer term, as I have said, our real and our great and deeper anxiety is that this movement should not crystallise into a new refugee problem which would be superimposed on the already formidable refugee problem in the area.
After the Arab-Israel war in 1948–49, 900,000 Palestinian Arabs left those parts of Palestine which became the State of Israel. This was the beginning of the refugee problem. A small number of this 900,000 moved on to other countries, but the vast majority stayed in the Lebanon, in Syria and Jordan, or in the Gaza Strip, continuing to live as refugees. While they have been living like that, an average of 45,000 children have been born in these refugee communities every year, and until now these children have had little prospect of experiencing any life other than that of a refugee. By 1967, the original 900,000 had increased to 1.3 million, of whom approximately 700,000 before the recent war lived in Jordan, 300,000 in the Gaza Strip, 160,000 in Lebanon and 140,000 in Syria.
United Nations Resolution No. 194, passed at the 3rd Session of the General Assembly in December, 1949, provided that the refugees should be permitted to return to their homes, and that those who chose not to do so should be compensated for their dispossession. This resolution has been endorsed by the General Assembly on many occasions since. But the Israel Government have not been prepared to deal with this problem in isolation and have held that a general 187 solution of the refugee problem properly belonged to a final peace settlement, which in their turn the Arab States have been unwilling to negotiate. Obviously the next best alternative, from the point of view of the refugees, would be that they should become integrated into the societies that have become their hosts.
There has indeed been some progress towards integration and rehabilitation, particularly in Jordan. There is a limit to the absorptive capacities of the societies in which the refugees have settled. It is not in every case a question just of absorbing a very small minority) although in Syria the refugees are only 3 per cent. of the population and in the Lebanon 8 per cent. This presents in statistical terms a comparatively small problem, but in the Gaza Strip the refugees are 69 per cent. of the total population and in Jordan already before the flow began at the end of the recent war they were 37 per cent. of the whole population of Jordan. But in any case, the Arab Governments and the refugees themselves have held that repatriation was the only acceptable solution of their problem, and consequently they have not done much to encourage integration or resettlement elsewhere.
But unlike most refugee problems we are used to, this one, instead of tailing off naturally and disappearing with the passage of time, has perpetuated itself for almost twenty years, and indeed has increased. Many of the refugees have lived in camps and depended entirely on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which has been referred to previously in this debate. UNRWA has had to provide for their increasing numbers not only rations but also in medical services, basic educational services and secondary and vocational education. In 1966 UNRWA spent on these services over 35 million dollars. Her Majesty's Government regard this refugee problem, which arose out of the creation of the State of Israel by an act of the international community, as a responsibility of the international community. Since the inception of UNRWA which is the reflection of this international responsibility, Her Majesty's Government have played a leading role in meeting this responsibility. By the end of 1967 Her Majesty's Government will have contri 188 buted over 100 million dollars, which is about 14 per cent. of the total governmental contributions, and represents a share of contributions to UNRWA second only to that of the United States, which has contributed about 70 per cent. of the world's contributions to UNRWA. A little quick mental arithmetic will show that the British contribution of 14 per cent. is almost equal to the contributions of all other Governments in the world. As I think the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has said, this is a record of which successive Governments and the people of this country can rightly be proud.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, while my noble friend is dealing with the proportions of contributions to UNRWA, and as he has mentioned the contributions of the United States and of our own Government, would he mind saying what the Soviet Union has given?
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, I rather expected that my noble friend would ask that question at some stage in the debate. The answer is, None. Her Majesty's Government have always had the greatest admiration for the resources and humanity with which this Agency has attacked this difficult problem, although we have felt from time to time that if the host Governments had been more co-operative in keeping their records up to date UNRWA'S funds might have been deployed to better advantage. However, that is a small and passing criticism.
The reports we received in the week immediately following the fighting in the Middle East showed that among the movements of refugees which followed the war, 80,000 UNRWA registered refugees were amongst those who moved from West Jordan to the East Bank, and those who moved northwards into Syria from Israel-occupied territory also included 8,000 UNRWA registered refugees. But in spite of its already formidable task in looking after those who have been refugees since 1949, the Agency has been prepared to co-operate with local Governments in dealing also with the immediate problems of the new refugees. Noble Lords will agree with the fact that they have been prepared to extend themselves to deal with this new problem at a time when their normal services have been almost totally dislocated by the fog of war, and this fact deserves our gratitude and admiration.
189 In recognition of UNRWA'S urgent need for extra funds to deal with these immediate problems, Her Majesty's Government have made a special contribution of 500,000 dollars. We are glad to know that British voluntary organisations have also made special contributions to UNRWA for this purpose. By way of illustration, I would mention that Oxfam and Christian Aid jointly have given £10,000, the United Nations Association £1,000, and the Standing Conference of British Organisations for Aid to Refugees, £5,000. These are not rich organisations and those who subscribe to them are sometimes rich and sometimes very poor. We salute them all and everybody who has responded so promptly.
The new refugee problem in the Middle East now moves outside the immediate scope of UNRWA, whose mandate is to look after those refugees who fled as a result of the war in 1948. The problem is most acute in Jordan, where a Ministerial Committee has been established to co-ordinate the work of relief and rehabilitation. UNRWA is working with this Committee to co-ordinate all the necessary measures to receive the refugees who have now come to the East Bank. In the first days after the war the most urgent need was for emergency shelter, medical supplies and food; and to give assistance with the minimum delay, we provided blankets, tents and medical supplies from Ministry of Defence stocks in Cyprus. We have since made an offer to the Jordan Government to make available £500,000 for expenditure on projects of reconstruction and rehabilitation to be agreed between the two Governments.
My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have emphasised in numerous public statements that Her Majesty's Government regard it as vitally important that the eventual settlement in the Middle East should tackle the root causes of conflict and should aim to establish a lasting peace. They have also repeatedly said that one urgent element of such a settlement must be progress towards a solution of the refugee problem. Indeed, the best hopes for a solution of this problem lie in the change of political climate in the Middle East which a peace settlement would presuppose. We know that lengthy consultations will have to take 190 place before a settlement can be achieved, but we most sincerely hope that a settlement can be found which will take account of the honourable interests of all sides and which, by recognising and establishing respect for the political and territorial integrity of all states, will reduce tensions and fears in the area to the point where the refugee problem may cease to be one of the issues of conflict. It is not, I think, too extreme to hope that it may become one of the areas of co-operation between all the peoples of the Middle East, to improve the living standards of everybody in the area, of all religions and nationalities and including, of course, the refugees themselves.
So far as the Government are concerned, nothing could give us greater satisfaction than to see the resources at present devoted to arming nations against each other in the Middle East diverted into constructive and co-operative projects of development which, in a Middle East returned to peace, would very soon create conditions in which the refugees could return to a normal life with a stake in the increasing prosperity of the countries who are now their hosts. I am confident that the international community will want to make a generous contribution to this settlement. It is, as I have said, a great human problem. It is not a matter of statistics, either of the number of refugees or the number of dollars and pounds that we contribute to their relief.
No one who has been involved personally in a refugee problem is ever likely to forget it. We have seen the refugees in the Far East—refugees from the Japanese invasion; we have seen the terrible plight of the refugees in Korea; we saw after the war the appalling conditions in which the refugees in Europe lived. The Middle East refugee problem, as I have said, was bad enough already before the last war began, and now it is worse. I do not think any of us could fail to be deeply moved by some of the pictures which we have seen on the television and in the papers recently; pictures of little children crawling, weeping and hopeless, across river bridges to a life of what on the other side?—hunger, misery and perhaps even worse. It has probably become one of the clichés of this kind of debate to quote or to refer to John Donne's concept that "No 191 man is an island." But if any of us anywhere in the world does stand by, and lets this misery go on, through callousness or cynicism or apathy, he will diminish himself and the whole of mankind.
As I have suggested, successive Governments of this country have been consistently in the forefront of the struggle against this outrageous affront to human dignity. This present Government will do no less. This is not a problem that we can solve on our own, but if everybody in the world, and especially those of the rich, developed, industrial countries, were to contribute to the cause a proportion of their national resources similar to that already contributed by this country and by the United States of America, a great deal of suffering could be relieved at once. But whatever other people do, we shall continue as we have done in the past to help to the limit of our resources.
§ 3.53 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, we who have grown up in this country find it very hard to imagine what it is like to be born, grow up, eat, sleep, wash and die on the street, as one can see them do almost any day in cities like Madras and Calcutta. Those of us who have hardly ever felt the pangs of hunger find it hard to envisage, for example, the situation in Bihar, where currently the OXFAM organisation is feeding some 400,000 children and other people in need, and drilling for water to prevent a repetition of the disaster which has recently struck that State. Those of us who have always had a secure home find it difficult to imagine what it must be like to be one of "the dispossessed".
It is not, I think, that we are callous or hard-hearted. We just tend to get confused by the sheer mass and variety of the problems which are flashed before us, either on the television screen or in the headings of our newspapers. There have in the immediate past been so many heart-rending stories from the Near East that the stories of refugees from the Congo or from Rwanda, with which we were regaled only a very short time ago, have almost slipped from our memories. Yet it is a fact that in Africa, South of the Sahara, the figure of refugees has risen in the last few years to something very near 750,000.
192 Our concern in this debate to-day is with the homeless, the dispossessed; those who have had a home—many of them—but who now, more often than not with very little understanding of the political reasons which have brought it about, find themselves homeless. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for the clarity with which he has introduced this subject to us to-day. It is not to be wondered at if, in the light of the past very few weeks, our minds turn now to that aspect of the problem which is affecting the Near East. But we must not forget that this is only one facet, one part, of a problem which afflicts many other parts of the world.
Our first task, surely, is to seek to establish peace—as distinct from a mere cessation of hostilities—on a firm foundation. Only then will it be possible for the relief organisations of which we have heard to do their work with a decent measure of assurance that that work will contribute to the long-term welfare of the people for whom those organisations exist. It seems clear that such a peace must be sought within the framework of the United Nations and with the return of the United Nations peace-keeping force to the Middle East, operating on both sides of the Israeli/Arab frontiers. This nation must be prepared to bear a considerable measure of the cost involved in such action as well as in the solution of the immediate refugee problem itself.
Further, I think we must take another long, hard look once again at the mad situation which allows nations to participate—to their great financial gain, very often—in a Middle East arms race, and then, with puckered brows and hands piously wrung, to plead with the nations whom they have armed to end the conflagration to which they have contributed. No wonder that the Executive Committee of the British Council of Churches approved this month a resolution which urged Her Majesty's Governmentto work for an international agreement on the supply of arms to the Middle East and to review the controls Britain at present exercises on such arms sales."!Then the Council comments:It would be wrong to allow commercial considerations or the desire for political influence to dictate the sale of arms. The stability of the area must be an overriding consideration".193 It may well be that we should look for an agreement whereby there would be a considerable area of land which would be internationalised; an area which would presumably include Jerusalem, with its airport, and Bethlehem, and perhaps even Ramallah, to the North. A large measure of magnanimity will be called for if this is to take place. There is a Jewish saying:Who is the strong man? He who changes an enemy into a friend".It is clear that the peace of the recent combatants, the peace of the Middle East and, it may well be, the peace of the world may depend on the measure of magnanimity shown in the hour of their triumph by the Israelis toward their neighbours. Can the world look to Israel to be generous in their hour of triumph? If such generosity is not forthcoming, there is little hope for the ending of this sterile bitterness. Nothing less than freedom of access to all the holy places, freedom of worship and freedom for the propagation of the faiths of the people concerned will avail.
Against that background, and even while every effort is being made to make such a background possible, immediate succour, as has already been said, must be sent to the refugees in their plight. This succour, it seems to me, must take two main forms. First, there must be immediate relief to keep body and soul together, and to keep sickness and plague at bay. This means food, clothing, means of shelter and medical supplies in vast quantities. Before the latest Arab-Israeli war the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, and various voluntary bodies were looking after 1.3 million refugees, but this number has now been greatly swollen by the pathetic human torrent across the Jordan. Here is a great tide of human suffering waiting for relief, but unable to wait very long. Secondly, there must be help to integrate the refugees into the local community. This involves the provision of work, which is desperately difficult to find in, for example, such a place as the Gaza Strip, where the number of refugees is about 430,000 and the population density over 3,000 to the square mile. With this figure of 3,000 we may compare the figure in, for example, the Netherlands, where it is 900 to the square mile. But without 194 work men lose their self-respect and, in time, they rot.
Reference has been made by some of your Lordships to a letter in The Times to-day by Mr. Edmund de Rothschild. As some of your Lordships may remember, this was a reply to a letter in the same paper on June 20 from Mr. Maurice Edelman, who suggested that a common functional interest might do something, as it has done in places in Europe, to unite traditional enemies. He suggested in that letter a Middle East water and development company working on a desalination scheme, which might be useful at once in bringing a measure of work, a measure of prosperity and a measure of peace; and I was very glad to see that Mr. de Rothschild corroborated the suggestion made by Mr. Edelman. It seems to me one worthy of consideration at high level.
But integration into the local community also involves the provision of education for the young and training in craftsmanship and skills of all kinds for the not quite so young. Operating from Beirut, UNRWA recruits people to train the refugees on an international basis, and so far has succeeded in training some 2,600 people every year. This programme will presumably have to be stepped up very considerably in view of the recent terrible increase in the number of refugees.
Such succour as I have touched on under these two heads may, I think, be looked for in three main directions—first, through Governmental aid. The British and American Governments have regularly supplied a considerable amount of aid, and I am sure that all your Lordships will have been thankful to hear in this afternoon's debate, as I have been, that Her Majesty's Government are to make immediately a special contribution of half a million dollars, and that they are making the offer of a half million pounds worth of aid to Jordan. No doubt these figures will be kept constantly under review. Secondly, there are the voluntary agencies. The Christian Aid Department of the British Council of Churches has recently announced that the World Council of Churches has made an emergency appeal for the Near East, asking for an initial £650,000—this figure agreed on after full consultation between the World Council's Inter-Church Aid 195 Division and the Roman Catholic relief organisation, International Caritas. Other voluntary agencies, such as OXFAM, the International Red Cross, the Save the Children Fund and the British Council for Aid to Refugees, are hard at work, and deserve wide and generous support. It is a helpful development that the Jordanian and Israeli Governments have recognised the United Nations organisation for purposes of co-ordinating the supplies being sent in.
The third area from which succour may be sought is the one with which I close, and that is the area of personal assistance. There must be many, especially young people, equipped with professional training who would be ready to put in a spell of months, or years, in work among the refugees. It would, I think, be of help if the agencies at work could cooperatively produce a list of needed personnel. There is much idealism among the young, but it needs harnessing; and if it is to be harnessed then the necessary information must be made readily available. Such a list as I have envisaged, setting out needs and the required qualifications in personnel and training, if circulated widely in colleges and universities, might well produce, without great delay, a response which would make a significant contribution to the diminution of the misery of the army of the dispossessed.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, this is a tragic story of hatred and of fear. That the hatred has come recently, and in the main, from Cairo cannot, I think, be denied. For nearly twenty years now Cairo has beamed the doctrine of hatred and of the destruction of Israel, in increasingly hysterical terms, over the radio—terms, indeed, reminiscent of Hitler and Goebbels.
I want to take just one glance at the immediate background of the present crisis—because crisis it is. Egypt acquires a large amount of very modern armour and a large number of aircraft from Russia—and this, I think, is perhaps the answer to what the most reverend Primate said in his speech just now about our giving arms to the Middle East. It is difficult to see arms of every kind, and of the most modern kind, being 196 poured into Egypt by Russia, and to refuse to give any arms to Israel for defence against them, when their avowed purpose is the destruction of the State of Israel. This, I think, is the arms problem. Then Egypt mobilises, tells U Thant to get the United Nations Force out of the light, and closes the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel then strikes back in self-defence, and is branded in many parts of the world as an aggressor—I think not entirely justly in the circumstances. My Lords, so much for the background.
I suppose that I am the only speaker in this debate who has been in Israel during the past week, and that is the principal reason why I am on my feet: because in a few of the most strenuous and exhausting days I have ever spent in my life—and also the most interesting—I have actually seen what is going on. I went to the Gaza Strip, and I spent some hours last Saturday in the Old City of Jerusalem, in Bethlehem and on the West Bank of the Jordan. What strikes me most on my return is the extraordinary distortions of fact and of the truth which are now appearing everywhere; and the contradictions—and, I must add, the lack of knowledge. They come, in the main, from Amman, Damascus and Beirut sources. But these are sources that are, for the moment, contaminated and must be so regarded. I think this is perhaps inevitable in the aftermath of armed conflict and defeat.
On my return I read an astonishing despatch from The Times correspondent in Beirut in which he quoted a Lebanese doctor as saying that the state of the walled city of Jerusalem was now desperate; that starvation had begun; that thousands had been evicted from their homes; that soon there would be no food at all; that houses had been flattened by bulldozers; that 70 per cent. of the shops in Old Jerusalem had been looted, and that there was no transport in or out of the city. This despatch was dated June 23. All I can say is that there must have been a transformation in the course of a single night which can only be described as miraculous—because I was in the walled city of Jerusalem on the following day, the 24th, and this is what I found. I think I ought to tell your Lordships this, because we tend to "play up" the horrors, and seldom see any of the good side at all.
197 I found an atmosphere of great—one might almost call it serene—tranquillity. I found children playing happily in the streets; I found plenty of fruit, bread, meat and other foodstuffs with which the bazaars were well-stocked. All the shops were busy; and none of them, so far as I could see, had been looted—certainly, not 70 per cent. of them. I saw no flow of refugees, and I gathered from the responsible authorities that this had stopped. And I was sorry to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that Government information was that it has begun again. The military presence was practically invisible, except at the gates. Christians, Jews and Moslems were worshipping freely at their respective shrines for the first time for nineteen years. Arab police, nearly all of whom have been restored to their jobs, were in quiet and confident control. I was able to go where I liked, and I walked a very long way. I could see no trace of flattened houses. It was the same in Bethlehem, now rapidly returning to normal, and crowded with tourists. Buses, with Arab drivers, were running freely between Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem—which does not look as if there was no transport in or out of Jerusalem.
The truth is, my Lords, that neither Jerusalem nor Bethlehem has received significant material damage of any kind; and none of the Holy Places has been touched. This is remarkable in a war that was short but fiercely fought. And it is due primarily, to the fact that the Israeli High Command was determined to fight it out in the hills and not in the towns—which they did. Where I think the Israeli Government have made a great mistake is in encouraging the Arabs on the West Bank of the Jordan to cross it. This has enormously aggravated the refuge problem. So far as I could see, and find out, there have been no deliberate evictions, or very few. But buses have been put at the disposal of those who wished to go—at their free disposal; they do not have to pay. No serious attempt has been made by the Israeli Government to dissuade them from going—as was done in the war of 1948, when every effort was made by Israel to keep the Arabs—and all of the exodus was of their own volition.
My Lords, I think it was a mistake that this time they were encouraged to go. I see that General Dayan, in a Press 198 conference at Tel-Aviv, is reported to have said that if he were a Jordanian living on the West Bank he would wish himself to go to the East Bank. If he did say this, I believe him to be wrong. They should stay, and should be encouraged to stay. And in the long run—perhaps in the not so very long run—they can rebuild their country with the technical aid, and without the hostility, of Israel; perhaps on the lines that Mr. Edmund de Rothschild suggested in his letter to The Times this morning. As the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, resettlement on the West Bank is far better than having crowds of refugees crossing the river to the East. That should be our objective and our aim: resettlement in the existing territories.
This is not the time to discuss the possibilities of a peace settlement or a package deal: it is far too soon. And in any case it is not the primary purpose of this debate. I will therefore content myself with saying that the Jews will never give up Jerusalem—not even at the behest of Mr. George Brown. For them this is a deeply felt religious and mystical event, the fulfilment of prophecies made 2,000 years ago. What they will do—and I think that the right reverend Primate would agree that this is at least encouraging, because I was assured about this on all sides and by the most responsible Ministers in Israel—is to make it a free city where all can worship at their own Holy Places; and those Holy Places will be conducted and controlled by the various religions.
They will also need of course—and again pace Mr. Brown—a frontier which can be defended and which will give them some sense of security, after the continuous threat to their survival which has now continued for 20 years and which I think they cannot be expected to take any longer, having won a sharp victory—because, my Lords, there is a difference between victory and defeat. There will have to be some rectification of the frontiers, especially in the South, which at the moment are irrational and indefensible. They must have a defensible frontier. For the rest, I am certain that, given permission—I should like to put it that way—by Cairo, they could come to a good settlement, not only with the West Bank of Jordan but with Jordan as a whole; and perhaps even beyond it.
199 The urgent and burning problem now is that of the refugees. I have an immense sympathy for the Arabs. I have been a lifelong Zionist, but that does not prevent one from having great sympathy for the Arabs, particularly having just seen a great many of them, especially the children. Many of them are at present frightened and bewildered. When I was in Gaza I remarked to the Commanding General, with whom I spent quite a time, that the Arabs seemed to be going about their business all right again, and that the children, in particular, looked happy. "That", he replied, "is because they are gradually losing their fear. Don't forget that they were told over the radio, again and again, that this was to be a war of extermination; that when the Arabs won Tel-Aviv was to be sacked and the State of Israel destroyed for ever. So they thought, when we won, that we would do the same to them. And that accounts for any refugee problem I have now. My chief task, since the battle, has been to restore their confidence and to persuade them that we were not going to kill them. I have succeeded to a great extent." Then he went on: "To-day I am replacing my troops with Arab police; tomorrow I propose to re-arm those police. It is a risk, but a risk well worth taking". But he went on, pointing to the refugee camp of 400,000 people, "That is beyond me. It is absolutely intolerable." He said, "I cannot endure it. I cannot bear living so close to it. It must be stopped; and stopped soon. Do what you can. It is not a military job but a political one."
My Lords, it is true that in these camps babies who have never known a home, and who have since grown up living a life of hopeless, penniless, pointless and impoverished misery, are to be found in hundreds if not thousands. What I had not realised was that not only were the refugees in the Gaza Strip denied access to Egypt by Nasser; they were not allowed to go anywhere. They were not allowed by Egypt to move. They were, in fact, as we all know, being kept as pawns in the power game that has been played for so many years in the Middle East, at the price of human suffering and misery.
My Lords, we are all to blame. We talk often enough about helping the 200 underdeveloped countries. This is not a problem of underdevelopment; it is a festering sore from which we have all averted our eyes to a considerable extent—I do not say altogether, because we have made our contribution. But we have allowed it to go on for twenty years; and, in my submission, more active steps should have been taken to put an end to it long ago, and more active steps should be taken to put a stop to it now. Financial aid has been given by the rich countries of Western Europe, and by the even richer United States. We have done pretty well, and the United States have done pretty well, and the rest of them not so well; nevertheless, the result has been wholly inadequate by comparison with the need. The calory supply alone is far too low in these refugee camps. Russia has given nothing at all.
One fact must be faced. The refugee problem cannot be solved by Israel alone. Nor can it be solved within the borders possessed by Israel between 1948 and June, 1967, for one simple reason—it is a physical impossibility. This was a country the size of Wales—that is, the old Israel that existed until the other day—which had already taken more refugees than any other country known to history, with the exception of the United States. The refugees cannot now be rehabilitated in the Israel that was; it would be an impossible situation. The whole economy of Israel would collapse. It can be solved in a wider context, perhaps even in the context of the boundaries of the present cease-fire arrangements, under the auspices of the United Nations—if they still count for anything, which I sometimes begin to doubt. Failing that, it can be solved by the Western Powers acting in co-operation with Israel and, I hope, ultimately, with the Arab States, particularly Jordan.
My Lords, they asked me to give a broadcast over the radio the night before I left Jerusalem, and I did. My last words were, "Be kind, not cruel." That goes for all of us. It is the basic theme of this debate, and it is upon this note that I should wish to end my speech.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, we are grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating this debate. It follows on the pattern of debates in your Lordships' House inaugurated some years ago 201 by the late Lord Astor. I feel that we have concentrated in particular upon the Near East situation, but I should like in the first place to link up with our last debate in this House on October 20 last year, when the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, inaugurated yet another debate on refugees. It is exceedingly pleasant to hear that the campaign has had such far-reaching effects since last October, when it was given such a very good send-off in your Lordships' House. I am especially pleased, because of the small part I took in that debate, to see that the results have been most rewarding, particularly in Scandinavia, where they have contributed towards meeting the Tibetan refugee problem.
It is exceedingly unfortunate that the cause of this debate is the recent conflict. As I am following the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who has told us much from the Israeli point of view, I cannot but rebut his comments, if I may—and with kindness, not cruelty: I feel, my Lords, that the Press have not given sufficient publicity to the Arab case over the recent conflict, and I look to no better representative of the Arab cause than his Majesty, King Hussein, in his remarks at the United Nations very recently. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote his words. The full text will be in your Lordships' Library very shortly, but you will all have read what I shall quote in the daily papers.
King Hussein said:Specifically, I charge the Israeli invaders with the widespread use of napalm and fragmentation bombs; with inhuman and indecent treatment of prisoners of war; with looting and destroying other Arab towns and villages and driving the inhabitants from their homes; with adding to the refugee problem; with acts of vandalism, terror and confusion; with firing at, or over the heads of, refugees to prevent them from re-crossing the Jordan and returning to their homes"—
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, I am aware of the case which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has put. I think there has been a degree of exaggeration; nevertheless, there have been incidents of this nature. The quotation continues:Unless the whole world acts speedily and effectively the plight of the refugees will double in size, sorrow, misery and death.202 The political State of David lasted 70 years. It might be well that the Israelis should look at their history. It will be remembered that about ten invasions have taken place of the City of Jerusalem—by Persians, Turks, Romans and Greeks and, of course, by former representatives of your Lordships' House, acting as Christians, as part of the Crusades, when the City was under the government of the Christian King of Jerusalem.
Why are refugees still crossing the river Jordan despite assurances given by the Israeli Government? I suggest that there are three reasons: fear, hunger and unemployment. These are the most potent reasons for leaving that country, and it was interesting to hear a broadcast only a few nights ago by Dr. Josef Burg, the Minister of Social Welfare in the Israeli Government, who said:A settlement of the refugee problem will come about only when the Arab countries conclude a peace treaty with Israel. It is not likely to happen through the intervention of a third party.Here, my Lords, I would most warmly commend the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and confirmed by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the peace treaty is of secondary importance. It is the refugees who come first in priority, and we should concentrate our efforts upon achieving our aim, first, by the provision of immediate relief, and secondly, by resettlement. It has been stated already by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the UNRWA mandate covers only the refugees of the 1948 exodus. I seek that Her Majesty's Government should make special representations that the mandate should be extended to cover the 1967 exodus. No doubt, they have the matter fully in hand.
It is, of course, a vast problem for UNRWA. They have the task of re-registration and the problem of duality of names on the ration rolls. I am sure that they have the sympathy of all with experience of handling vast and complicated problems of civil administration. It is exceedingly fortunate that the Arab mayors of the towns on the West Bank of the River Jordan are co-operating to the full, and assisting both the International Red Cross and the officials of UNRWA in this very heavy task. I should 203 therefore like to ask Her Majesty's Government to establish telephone communications between the East Bank and the West Bank through the offices of UNRWA. This may appear a small point, but it is a highly political and very practical problem of immediate and great importance to those attempting to serve the refugees. I have heard only this morning that the officials of the Red Cross are trying to shout to each other across the Jordan to pass on messages. It is absurd that they should have to do so. I feel that this is the first priority: to establish communications under the supervision of either the United Nations or the Red Cross or of some other impartial body. It is extremely important, both for the reunification of families and for the purely administrative problem.
Secondly, I welcome most heartily Her Majesty's Government's special contribution of half a million dollars, but, seen in the context of the last few months, when UNRWA has had a tremendous short-fall in its budget and only in April was recommending a cut back in its programme, the sum does not perhaps seem over generous. With other Members of your Lordships' House I would seek to see whether this sum could not be increased. Finally, I would ask the Government to get an assurance at the United Nations that the status and the rights of the refugees from the 1948 exodus should not be impaired in any way if they are absorbed under the administration of the present overrun territories in Israel. These are the three practical points on which I would ask the assurances of Her Majesty's Government.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, first of all, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for introducing this Motion, because if there is any problem which is of immediate concern to anyone who is interested in human rights and the dignity of man it is the question of refugees. I am also glad that my noble friend Lord Chalfont took a wider survey of the problem, because the human needs of refugees in Africa and in Asia are just as much our concern as the needs of the refugees in the Middle East.
I find myself in considerable measure of agreement with my noble friend Lord 204 Boothby, but I was sorry that he made a gibe at the United Nations. It seems to be becoming very fashionable on the other side of the House to denigrate the United Nations whenever an opportunity presents itself. I would ask this question: What would the condition of these refugees be if UNRWA had not been established? UNRWA was established in 1949 at the end of the Israeli-Arab war by the United Nations. Like other Members of your Lordships' House I was associated with the Government at that time. We received reports that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were scattered across the face of Europe, living in conditions of the most abject misery. This led to the establishment by the newly born United Nations of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The noble Baroness who is to follow me has done a great deal of work in association with that organisation.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
, My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I agree with every word he is saying. I never intended to gibe at the United Nations. I thought that the recent debate on the crisis had not risen to the level of events, but I did not mean to imply more than that.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He and I have agreed and disagreed on many things and I am glad to know that this is one of the things on which we agree. The noble Lord referred to the recent debate of the Security Council. That is what I call the "world policeman role" of the United Nations, which has been bestowed upon the United Nations by the obligations imposed upon them under Chapters 6 and 7 of the Charter. If it has fallen down, it is not because of any inherent weakness in the concept of the United Nations, but because many of the nations associated with it will not accept their obligations under the Charter.
It is to the other facet of the United Nations, to what I call its world "Good Samaritan role", that I want to draw attention. I want to draw attention to the work of the Special Agencies, of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, of UNESCO and UNRWA, which merits the greatest admiration and support from every right-minded individual. UNRWA was instituted at the General Assembly 205 in 1949. My noble friend Lord Chalfont has referred to some of the educational activities of UNRWA. They have 54 refugee camps. Like other Members of your Lordships' House, I have been to some of them. I would ask the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate whether the newspaper report is correct that the camp at Jericho, which I visited the last time I was in Jordan, is completely denuded of its inhabitants. When I was there, there were something like 30,000 Arab refugees in the camp.
In these 54 camps there are 340 combined UNRWA and UNESCO schools, at which an average of 170,000 Arab children are educated every year. These are remarkable figures. I can only ask the question again: What would have happened to those children year after year if it had not been for the United Nations and for UNRWA, acting on behalf of the United Nations?
Then there is the practical point of what happens after all these hundreds of thousands of children are educated. What are the opportunities for employment? The noble Lord who has just spoken has said that the refugees are not allowed to leave the camps in the Gaza Strip. Is this correct? It is certainly not correct of the camps in Jordan, because, according to an official document issued recently by UNRWA, 40 per cent. of the 900,000 Arab refugees who crossed into Jordan are not living in camps; they have their own private accommodation. I myself have been waited upon at table at a hotel in Amman by Palestinian refugees, if that is the proper term with which to describe them.
Emphasis has been placed on the two main aspects of the refugee problem. Other speakers, including the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York and the noble Lord who preceded me, strayed on to some of the political problems that face us. I should like to do that myself, but I think we ought to confine our attention this afternoon to the vital human problems of the refugees. The first aspect of the immediate problem is the welfare of the refugees, whatever their number may be. I believe that the Government of Israel takes the view that the number is something like 500,000, but the view of UNRWA officials is that it is 1,300,000. I think that perhaps the truth 206 is somewhere in between those two figures.
I have seen this morning a document which supports the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and by my noble friend Lord Chalfont, as to the urgency of the short-term problem. Dr. Michelmore, the Commissioner General of UNRWA, made this statement on Sunday last:The conditions under which some 100,000 or more newly displaced persons of East Jordan are living require urgent and effective action. UNRWA estimates that 74,000 displaced persons from the West bank are accommodated in Government and UNRWA Unesco schools and in other public buildings, and a further 30,000 to 50,000 persons are being sheltered by relatives and friends.He goes on to say:The present situation of these displaced persons, particularly those in schools, is a matter of great anxiety to us.That is corroboration of the anxieties that have been expressed this afternoon with regard to the immediate future.
I agree strongly with those who have drawn attention to the main problem, which is the future of these 1 million or 1¼ million refugees and the need to work out some scheme for resettlement. I believe that it must be some kind of massive international operation, directed, if possible, by the United Nations, and certainly operated under the aegis of the United Nations. I should like to see considered a kind of Middle East Colombo Plan, which would go much further than merely relief and welfare, and would concern itself with the problem of resettlement.
When I was last in Israel they were experimenting with desalination, and I believe they have made considerable progress; and there have been similar experiments in this country and in the United States. But what impressed me most of all was the great progress that had been made in the Negev as a result of the water schemes under the responsibility of the Government of Israel, which have turned barren desert into areas of fertile country. And the Government of Jordan has something to its credit in this regard, because the Jordanian Government has taken water from the Jordan and transformed arid desert into fertile areas. It seems to me that if only we could get co-operation between Arab and Jew, under some such scheme as 207 the Colombo Plan, we could transform conditions in the Middle East, raise the standard of living of the Jews, and certainly of the Arabs, and go far to remove the basic hatred that seems to poison the relations between the Arab countries on the one hand, and Israel, on the other.
I believe that we need not concern ourselves at this moment with what the ultimate peace treaty will be—and it may take a long time to get to this. I agree with the view that the much more urgent problem is whether we can get the Arab countries to co-operate with the Government of Israel. The solution, I feel, is something based on the co-operation between all the countries of the Middle East in the form of this Middle East Colombo Plan. In my view, the Arabs would gain a great deal more in this way than by perpetuating their hatred. After all, money need not be a great problem. From the hundreds of millions of pounds a year that the Arab countries derive from oil revenues there is sufficient, even if the Western Powers did not make any contribution, to finance these great schemes of land reclamation and resettlement to which I have referred.
I only wish that the Soviet Union could see its way to play a part in this great work of reconstruction. I understand that £170 million has been spent since 1951 in facilitating the operations of UNRWA, but the Soviet Union has not contributed one farthing to that amount. I am bound to say that I find this appalling. I think the Soviet Union would get far better results from spending money in rehabilitating the refugees in the Middle East, and building up the standards of living of the people in that area, rather than by pouring hundreds of millions of pounds worth of armaments into the Arab States. On the other hand, I am realistic enough to take the view that if they are doing this for the Arab States, then the Government of Israel are entitled to expect from their friends the means to defend their security. Whatever the future holds for this part of the world, in my view Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Israel are all entitled to have their national security safeguarded, and I believe that any contribution we can make to build up the ways of life in that part of the world will pay dividends, not only for the people of the Arab peninsular, but for the rest of the world.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, with great pleasure, because he also has had the experience of knowing, working for and being in close touch with several High Commissioners for Refugees and with the work of UNRWA. I endorse entirely what he said about the work of UNRWA and what it has done under the terms under which it is allowed to operate. It has done a magnificent job, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will urge that, in this present crisis, and with the refugees now crossing the Jordan, UNRWA should be allowed to use its good offices to help them as well.
I should like to say, also, that I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, has said about the attitude of the Soviet Government to this question of refugees. Year after year I heard the same speech made by the Russian delegate. The burden of it was simply that there were no refugees; it was a method used by the capitalist, Fascist countries to get slave labour into their countries, and all that had to be done was to send the refugees back from whence they came. This was the burden of the Soviet delegate's speech every year at the United Nations. The result, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, said, is that they have not contributed one farthing to any of the great work which has been done by UNRWA, and also by the High Commissioner for Refugees. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, that this is a disgrace, and that the more it is pointed out, the more I hope will be brought home to the Soviet Government the shortsightedness of their views.
When one has been to a place two or three times and has seen the problems there one finds it even more difficult to make any constructive suggestions. I agree very strongly with what the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, that we must not wait for a peace treaty but take some immediate action. We must begin here and now with training and resettlement on an enormous scale. This is something which has been done by UNRWA, and done quite successfully. It has been done on as large a scale as they were able to do it with the money at their disposal.
I am sure that many of your Lordships have been to the Middle East and to the vocational training centres, and have seen 209 the splendid work that has been done there. One of the centres we were responsible for, with one other Commonwealth country—we were responsible for starting the only one for girls, at Ramallah—and I hope very much that that centre has not been in any way damaged by war. It was a magnificent new building, and the only one which had been set up for that purpose. But there are, as we know, many other vocational training centres which were a very great success. I am sure, knowing as I do many of the Israeli authorities, that they would be the first to want to utilise those centres to their fullest capacity.
I should like to see those centres doubled. What was quite obvious to me on the two or three occasions when I went there was that the moment you have trained young people for any vocational work, instantly they are able to get jobs away from the refugee camps, mostly in Arab countries. Thousands of young people have left Jordan, left the refugee camps, and found work and employment in other Arab countries, and some even in Europe. That has meant that they have been able to send back to Jordan and to their relatives at home quite a considerable amount of money. I believe that the vocational training centres are one of the ways in which one could really help to break this deadlock which we have seen now for so many years. But, of course, it depends upon the world recognising, and being prepared to recognise, that the State of Israel is an active, modern, forward-looking State anxious—as I know the Israelis are—to do what they can to help with the training of the refugees which they now find within their territory.
I have here a note from The Times newspaper of last Thursday, which has been written from Jerusalem, and I want to quote just one sentence:The Government"—that is, the Israeli Government—has decided to establish a refugee rehabilitation settlement authority with funds to come initially from the Israeli budget, but money will also be sought from world Jewry and international bodies. The first project, already approved, is a plan to train a number of refugees as farmers, artisans and industrial workers. Much depends on the co-operation from existing Arab administrative bodies.210 And there, of course, lies the crux of the matter. I believe it was the Archbishop who said that he hoped Israel would be generous to the refugees and would deal with them in as friendly a manner as possible. I have no doubt, my Lords, that Israel will do that.
When I was running World Refugee Year, we were raising huge amounts of money. It is true that a lot went to Europe to clear European camps, but a great deal went to UNRWA. I had enormous support from all the Jewish organisations in this country. Vast sums of money were raised and put into World Refugee Year. That was not because the money was going to Israel; because it was not. Only a very small amount went to the refugees in Israel. Far the largest proportion went to schemes under the auspices of UNRWA, as I have described, for the starting of the vocational training centres. So I have no fear and doubt in my mind provided that the Arabs are prepared to co-operate and to seize this opportunity; because in this situation at the present time, which has many dangers and many difficulties, I see an opportunity. I see for the first time a breakthrough in which we could at last get some co-operation between the Arabs and Israel, because it is there on the ground.
What the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said about the Gaza Strip is perfectly true. It was very difficult for any technically trained Arab to get out of the Gaza Strip, although there was an excellent training centre in Gaza, which I saw myself. Some of them did get out in various ways, but it was the policy of the Arabs to try to keep them inside the Gaza Strip all the time, and it was only with great difficulty that they got out. Here is the opportunity. We all know the vast areas in that part of the world which could be developed with the very know-how that the Israelis have. As the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, said, you have only to see what they have done in the Negev; you have only to see what they have done in areas which, before they went to Israel, did not approximate to what they are to-day.
We must hope to join together the know-how of the Israeli with this huge number of people longing for work—at least, the younger ones are; the older ones I would not like to speak for—and 211 give them an opportunity to go to vocational training centres. I remember talking to the heads of the Centres and discussing whether they could double or treble the numbers of trainees, but they had not the room. Here is the chance. Anything that our Government can do, anything the United Nations can do, should be done to bring about co-operation and the use of the great knowledge and skill of the Israelis in this particular sphere of settlement—to make grass grow where it has never grown before; to make oranges and citrus fruits grow in areas where trey have never been seen before. That is one of the ways in which, I am sure, we could help.
It has not been possible before because of the fixed position. When I went out there, if I was on the Jordan side, I could not refer to the State of Israel; it did not exist, and I could not mention it. I remember Lord Rowley telling me that once he came from Israel into Jordan. He talked to someone in Jerusalem and said that he had just come from Israel. The man to whom he was talking said, "But it doesn't exist". That was the attitude. Now they know it does exist, and the world has acknowledged that it exists. This is a great breakthrough, which I pray and hope we may put to good effect. I am perfectly certain that that is what the Israelis would want to do.
I have read, as I am sure many of us have, many articles in the newspapers on this matter, and it is very difficult to know what is true and what is exaggeration. One very interesting article I read, I believe in one of last Sunday's newspapers, by Mr. Colin Legum, was about his experiences in Jerusalem and how he had seen the Israeli authorities and Arab authorities sitting down together and discussing how best they could get matters back to as normal as possible. Apparently, according to him—and he is, I think, a reliable journalist—this was happening. It seems to confirm what was seen by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who returned only yesterday or the day before. He also found in Jerusalem close co-operation between the Governor (or whoever the official is) who represents the Israeli interests there and the Arabs. If they can do that, I feel there is real hope.
I also feel in some ways that if they could only do that face to face themselves 212 it would be very much better than if we, or Russia or America or anybody else, tried to negotiate for them. It is admirable and excellent to see Mr. Kosygin and President Johnson having talks together; it is something of enormous importance to the world, but what we have to get down to is co-operation between Israel and the Arab States. If they can get that by sitting round a table and talking to each other about something that is happening all round them every day, that will be much better than discussion in the, as it were, rather rarified atmosphere of the United Nations, with many speeches from the rostrum which sound all right but which, when you come down to hard tacks, are very difficult actually to put into effect. I hope very much that our Government will encourage as close as possible co-operation on the ground, because I am quite certain that that is the best way to do it.
I am suspicious—I cannot help but be suspicious—of the Russians. They never co-operate with the United Nations in all this. I do not know whether they are sending arms into the Arab countries still; I can only read what is in the newspapers. Perhaps it is exaggerated, perhaps it is not, but in any case I should have thought that the thing for us all to do was to stop sending arms into that area, either to one side or the other. But if arms go into the Arab States, then none of us could say that Israel should not have them, too. This is something for the United Nations to discuss, but I should like to see co-operation on the ground between the Arabs and Israel.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, I think it was, who said that we do not want to see more Arab refugees leaving the camps. I think that is right. The camps—especially those big camps around Jericho—are well-equipped and well run. UNRWA is used to providing food and relief there, and if the Israeli suggestion of a great campaign for rehabilitation was adopted I think it would be as easy to house the refugees in those camps as it would be if they were anywhere else. In any case, if they are the other side of the Jordan there is no accommodation for them, and they would have to go back to the world of tents and all the horrors which existed immediately after the 1948 war.
213 So I feel strongly that it is in the best interests of all of us, first of all to see that the influence of UNRWA can be made to cover these refugees as well as any others. UNRWA has the organisation to do it. We should also see that every opportunity is taken to let Israel and the Arabs get together on the ground where they are now, and not be preached to and interfered with by the great nations, who have not made a very good show of it anyway, and who might well learn from the fact that I believe, from what one has heard about the leaders of the Israeli people at the present time, that they are remarkable people who are much more likely to get on to good terms with their neighbours than if they were directed from above.
I congratulate the Government, because we have been told that they have given a lot of help. I hope that they will continue to give that help—presumably money—and I am sure it will be money well spent. I hope there will be understanding of the gigantic problem facing Israel, of having suddenly to cope with these hundreds of thousands of people who have been indoctrinated for twenty years with the most monstrous propaganda against Israel and who will find, as they are finding now, that the treatment being meted out to them is not what they were led to believe. If they are given the chance to get on good terms, I think we might see a breakthrough on a front which has completely baffled the world for so long.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, on these occasions those of us who have visited refugee camps feel impelled to make a contribution to the debate on behalf of those men and women whose plight leaves an indelible impression on our minds. They impart a sense of desolation and helplessness; and of course, as we have heard, as the years pass they are consumed with bitterness towards a society which permits such mass misery to be perpetuated.
There are a number of speakers still to come, and this will be a very long debate. Therefore I propose to limit my remarks strictly to a few comments on the present position in the Middle East—and I emphasise the words "the present position", because the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, speaking on behalf of the Government, 214 said his latest information was that the flight of the refugees had not ceased. I would remind the House that this was a very short war, a very fierce war. Nevertheless, on June 15, according to a Press release from the United Nations, UNRWA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Isreal agreed on basic arrangements to enable UNRWA to continue its humanitarian services to Palestine refugees in Gaza and the West Bank of the Jordan river, where conditions permit. That was established on June 15.
In the light of this arrangement, which of course the whole world must have welcomed, it comes as a shock to see pictures of old men and women and of children struggling across the Allenby Bridge or across the River Jordan, and it is in respect of this tragic exodus that I wish to ask some questions. And may I emphasise again that as we speak here, now, this is happening. How can we reconcile the agreement between UNRWA and the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs with Gavin Young's article in the Observer on Sunday last, written from Amman last Saturday, only four days ago? I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boothhy, is not here. He said to your Lordships, "You must not believe all you read." But I cannot believe that the Observer newspaper had an observer in Jordan who deliberately, last Saturday, for the Sunday newspaper, sent a report which was completely fictional. He said:The refugees are still coming. This morning, two weeks after the cease-fire, I stood on the bank of the Jordan and watched them scrambling across the twisted girders of the Allenby Bridge. An old, heavy woman was carried over, her feet wrapped in rags soaked in blood. There were very old men, … there were children of all ages and howling babies in arms. 200 must have crossed in half an hour while I was there.The questions I want to ask my noble friend (and I have indicated that I proposed to ask these questions) are these. First, why were the officers of the relief organisations unable to give advice and succour to the refugees at the most significant period of a refugee's life—when he is losing his home? should like to know whether the officers were advised to tell these unhappy people to remain where they were and that their safety was assured. Or were they hampered in their efforts to reassure the people? We have heard to-day that these unfortunate people were encouraged to leave their 215 homes and that trucks were provided, without any cost, in order that they could get away as soon as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has provided us with some information. As the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs had agreed that the Arabs should be treated in a humane fashion, one can only surmise that there were those who were not prepared to interpret these instructions in the letter or the spirit. I think it would be very good for Israel if the world knew that there was this division of opinion; that on the one hand the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Israel on June 15 had made it clear to UNRWA what he thought the attitude should be, and, on the other, what in fact it was, and is to-day. I should also like to ask whether the medical services have broken down—or are they not available for civilians? On Monday night "Panorama" showed us a picture of a refugee mother whose pregnancy had reached full term and who was delivered of her baby literally on the ground, after she had reached a desolate spot where a tented camp was in process of being erected. Even animals search for an appropriate place in which to have their young. I cannot believe that this woman insisted on leaving her home, ignoring all advice, and taking a journey in her condition, without any idea of where her child would be born.
Again, we are told that some refugees left because they were under a misapprehension. A large number of Palestinian refugees are living on remittances from their relations who live in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or the Persian Gulf. Because of a fear that these remittances would not reach them, we are told, families decided to go to Jordan. I should like to ask my noble friend why people were not reassured by the officials. Or is there evidence that they were told that these remittances would be withheld and that it would be better for them if they went?
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD)
My Lords, if I may intervene to ask my noble friend, on a point of verification, is she referring to UNRWA officials or Israeli officials, or both?
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I am going to ask in a moment 216 this question. During a war, when there is a question of refugees, at what point do UNRWA and these voluntary organisations who help refugees come into operation? The war has been over a fortnight. That is the point. These things are happening to-day.
My practical mind says, "What about this wonderful machine that we are all so interested in? Is it not operating? Has it not been operating in the last fortnight?" Is not the first thing to do to get in and advise the potential refugee before he leaves his home? Apparently applications are now being received by the Israelis to permit families who are living on the East Bank to be reunited with their families on the West Bank. I hope that we shall hear that divided families are to be reunited. The Jordan Government has certainly not encouraged this immigration from across the river. Each additional refugee makes the country's struggle to survive harder. We were told last night in a newspaper that the Allenby Bridge was closed in order that this tragic procession should cease. But late last night it was opened again because there was a fear that frightened women and children would try to swim across the river.
What I should like to have elucidated is whether the relief organisations were enabled to start operations immediately after the cease-fire, and whether they were given instructions to advise the people to stay in their homes. Apart from the immediate human considerations, it seems to me that any delay in giving succour after the cease-fire will increase tension and diminish the chances of ensuring the peace and stability which we all so ardently desire.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ LORD SIEFF
My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for calling attention to the world refugee problem, with special reference to the Middle East. The observations which I have to offer deal entirely with the problems of the Middle East, because I have had an association with that part of the world since the First World War. I ask for your Lordships' indulgence in making clear where I stand in this matter. I have been a Zionist all my life. It is very difficult, therefore, to avoid leaning over to one side of a problem or 217 the other, particularly where emotions are aroused. From a very early age my father and grandfather have recited to me from time to time with impressive passion the sentence from the Holy Bible,If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.I cannot help feeling a bias, therefore, in favour of Israel, particularly when I remember that she has had to fight against heavy odds and fight desperately for her life against enemies who have during these latter months, if not years, almost daily threatened to destroy her.
I have recently returned from Israel, and during the course of my speech I shall deal with one or two matters raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, because I believe that she is very much mistaken in many of the things which she describes and the conclusions which she obtains from those mistakes. I have seen, when I was in Israel, quite a different picture, both in the Old City of Jerusalem and on the road to Jericho.
The seat of the Jews, the Old City of Jerusalem, is something that has been lodged in their hearts and in their minds for 2,000 years or more. I saw thousands of Jews praying at the Wailing Wall, the last remaining section of Herod's Temple. I saw there what I would call, if your Lordships' will forgive the rather flowery words, a nation's ectasy. In the space before the Wall there were what appeared to me to be thousands of Jews, of all ages and professions, young and old, eager to touch the Wall and to pray, and I have no doubt in my mind that they were praying for peace. They have had enough of this cold war and here they saw an opportunity for perhaps a long-term peace. Their faces were transfigured by this highly charged emotional experience. It must be remembered by your Lordships that since 1948, when Palestine was divided into two sections, no Jew had been allowed by the Government of Transjordan to visit the Wailing Wall, the shrine which had been a Holy Place to them for close on 2,000 years. Can there be any surprise that it is expected that they intend to hold on to it for as long as is humanly possible, so that they may have free possession of their most sacred shrine and pray on it?
I believe, as many of your Lordships do, that the plight of the Arab refugees is at the very centre of the Middle East 218 problem. Unless it is tackled in a humane and reasonable way there can be no hope of a long-term peace. No settlement of the Arab refugee problem is possible unless the real and true facts of this tragedy—for tragedy it is—are faced with honesty and a brave desire to bring about a solution. Indeed, no settlement is possible unless the truth is discovered and faced courageously. There must, however, be eventually the elimination of propaganda and political emotion. We have been listening to a number of stories about refugees, and I want to engage the minds of your Lordships on the anatomy of one type of refugee in the Middle East. We cannot understand it unless we are aware of the psychology of the highly emotional Arab individual.
At the base lies fear, real or unreal. The prejudiced or terror propaganda practised continuously by most of the Arab Governments is accepted by them as the truth, particularly by the uneducated sections of the population. In cases of planned and projected war, the terror propaganda—that is to say, what the Army will do to the conquered people if the war is won—is believed by those whom it is desired to influence. Should the result of the war be reversed, and defeat be their lot, large numbers of the population believe that the threats heard on the radio and discussed in the market place will now be their fate. Hence they hasten to what they regard as a safety area far from the battle lines. The refugees have, alas!, become the victims of their own Government's propaganda.
I was able to discuss this aspect of the refugee problem with the Chief Administrator of the Western bank of the Jordan, who deplored the fact that so many Arabs had left the Old City of Jerusalem. The case of the Old City of Jerusalem is typical. Many attempts were made to dissuade Arabs from leaving their homes and their businesses, and, I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, some remained. But those who were quite fearful, unnecessarily so, in spite of the loudspeaker announcements suggesting that they remain in their homes and their shops, fled to the Plain of Jericho.
I maintain that cold and unprejudiced facts remain the only jumping-off point in our discussion in trying to understand the past and devise a constructive solution for the future. The speedy and decisive 219 outcome of the recent hostilities has forced the State of Israel to take over large areas of land with large numbers of people. But the State of Israel did not enter the war for this purpose. On the contrary, she was forced to take over the land in order to repel the threat to the security of her people and her nationhood. The first attack on the integrity of Israel was the blockade of the Straits of Tiran without warning. It was the real first blow in the war.
The Arabs' aims were clearly stated as the complete elimination of the State of Israel. Their broadcasts called for vengeance, merciless and total. The end of hostilities left in its wake the human problem of refugees added to those who were left over by the 1948–49 war. Had the war gone the other way there would have been a quite different problem: that of the remnant of Jewish refugees who had survived the massacre promised by Arab propaganda. The fact, however, that the Arab refugee problem should persist 19 years after its creation, is understandably of deep concern to an enlightened and humane public opinion.
I have no doubt in my mind that, in the main, the Arabs have looked upon the refugees as a pawn in their conflict with Israel. It must be borne in mind that had the Arab States not waged open war on Israel on the morrow of its legal establishment in 1948, this issue of refugees would never have arisen. Neither at this nor at any other time did the Jews envisage a mass Arab exodus. For months before the proclamation of the State, Jewish leaders urged the Arabs to abandon civil strife, and held out a hand of friendship. The very Proclamation of Independence of the Jewish State contained these sentences:Even amidst the violent attacks launched against us for months past, we call upon the sons of the Arab people dwelling in Israel to keep the peace and to play their part in building the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its institutions, provisional and permanent.That gives me the impression of a sense of justice.
Appeals of a similar nature were broadcast through every available means of communication. According to the British District Police, Haifa, report to Police Headquarters in Jerusalem on April 26, 1948: 220Every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab population to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe.But they marched on; the type of refugee of which I spoke before was born.
It is true to say that the Arab leaders relentlessly pressed the Palestinian Arabs to leave. According to a report of the Regional Development for Regional Peace, Public Affairs Institute, Washington. D.C., 1958—here I quote:The main burden of evidence now available indicated that the evacuation of Palestine was primarily in response to urging from the military or political leaders of the Arab States themselves.In a frank interview King Hussein said to the Associated Press (AP despatch, date-lined Amman, Jordan, 17 January, 1960):Since 1948 Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner. They have not looked into the future. They have no plan or approach. They have used the Palestine people"—referring to the refugees—for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous, and I could say, even criminal.The new wave of refugees in the wake of the victorious Israeli armies during the recent hostilities was partly the product of the Arab propaganda machine. During my visit to Israel I was able to see for myself that the Arab population residing in Israel has been well treated. I was able to talk to many officials who are responsible for the life and well-being of the population of the country and of the temporarily occupied areas. During my visit to Ramble, half way, more or less, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I was the guest at a luncheon party given by Arabs—Moslems and Christians. They explained to me how they had lived in harmony and peace with their Jewish neighbours.
Here is an extract from the words of welcome by the Reverend Father of the Franciscan Community. I quote him because he spoke in fair English and was anxious to talk to someone who came from England, and could take a message back to England. This is what he said:Welcome to this dear town where Jews, Moslems and Christians live together in a great fraternity of spirit, as is the case in all other towns of Israel. This brotherly love was put to the test this past fortnight"—221 he is referring to the period of the war—and proved genuine. All co-operated towards it peacefully and calmly … This is due in great part to the influence of those who govern us … Excellency,"—why I received that title I do not know!—when you return to your lovely country of England, tell all the English people that we live happy and free in this democracy of Israel, the land of 'milk and honey' … Our one wish and prayer now is for peace, lasting true peace, an atmosphere in which we can live together in brotherly love and fraternity".That was the message of a simple mind, a mind that probably deals with matters other than those with which most of us here—except perhaps the right reverend Prelates—deal. It expresses to me the real desire of all the people in this area for security and freedom in which to live their lives. This is the hard fact on which we must begin to construct a better future. Most of your Lordships will agree that nobody in the world can have a greater understanding of the problem of refugees than the Jews, so many of whom have been at the receiving end of it more than once. Israel's earnest desire for peace with the Arab countries cannot be doubted. Mr. Levi Eshkol, Israel's Prime Minister, in a statement to the Sunday Times on June 11, 1967, said:New vistas open up for Arab-Jewish co-operation reminiscent of the Middle Ages—a co-operation which can assure our region's proper place in the mosaic of human progress.It must also be remembered that between 1949 and 1958 476,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries were forced by the Governments of these countries—which included Egypt, Syria and Iraq—to leave their homes and possessions and were expelled from their homes. Many of the refugee families could trace their descent far back into the distant past. The majority of them came to Israel destitute and dispossessed of their worldly possessions. Many of them also came from the most primitive centres and possessed no skill or training of any kind. Israel absorbed these refugees. She did not go to UNRWA to demand money for the purpose of maintaining these refugees. She absorbed them, bearing the enormous financial, economic and social burdens of housing, education and training.
222 A policy for peace in the Middle East must contain a blueprint for a sound economic structure of the area. The collapse of the Arab military build-up has revealed how unsound it was. The outward sign of this instability was the annual debate concerning the world's contribution to the fund to feed the refugees. Its local manifestation was the vast military expenditure. The first precondition of economic consolidation is, as I have said, a speedy settlement of the refugee problem. International organisations will probably be willing to help, and I am sure that Israel will readily do her utmost both financially and by making her practical experience available. Once the camps are emptied and the refugees absorbed in productive work, the social and political scene in the Middle East will change beyond recognition. The second condition is the removal of the artificial barriers created when Palestine, an already small country, was partitioned. The diversion of Jordan's trade to remote ports to the North and South, away from Haifa, is only one example of the ways in which political dogma interferes with the economics of the area. A political settlement must precede joint action on the economic plane, but no political agreement would be worth the paper it was written on if it did not also open the way to economic co-operation.
My Lords, we have to be realistic. Even if the peace treaty is signed soon (and this is something we should all hope for, but shall not get) it will take many years of hard work to consolidate the economy of the Middle East. I am afraid that it will take even longer to change people's attitudes. The problem of the Arab refugees in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank has to be tackled energetically, and this is being done. Israel has already drafted proposals for settling in peaceful occupations tens of thousands of the refugees. A Refugee Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority is to be set up with the task of terminating two decades of idleness and frustration in the camps. This initiative is being taken without prejudice to whatever territorial adjustments may ultimately be agreed upon.
At an Israeli Cabinet meeting held on June 25 the Prime Minister, Mr. Levi Eshkol, stated that the nineteen-year-old problem of the Arab refugees must be solved as part and parcel of the general peace settlement which must eventually 223 be negotiated between Israel and the Arab countries. Mr. Eshkol was convinced that there was no hope of progress being made unless the problem was approached in the spirit of human social and economic development. This could be brought about by a co-operative effort of the Arab countries and Israel, with the help and assistance of the international community. I only wish that there were people of importance in this country who would go out to the Middle East and do likewise, and prepare the minds of the Arab leaders to the fact that this is the way their development ought to progress.
In the immediate aftermath of a war that threatened Israel's extinction there may be several unavoidable instances of people who move from one part of the country to another, whether fleeing from the ravages of the fighting or seeking a place of greater safety for security in accordance with their misguided understanding and fears. It is gratifying in these circumstances to learn that the Government of Israel has acted very quickly to enable UNRWA to resume its activities in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank area, and that all facilities were given to them to prevent any undue hardship, hunger or ill-health to the refugees in their camps and locations. It is likewise heartening to know that UNRWA has resumed responsibility for the immediate fate and care of those of the refugees who have crossed to the Eastern Bank. While passions are inflamed and exaggerations mount, efforts should be made to lessen tensions and increase rational and responsible thinking.
So long as threats, violent instigations and inevitable war will determine the fate of the Near East, the problem of refugees will be artificially and inhumanly perpetuated and intensified. While it is the responsibility of the concerned Governments and the international community to provide immediate relief to the relatively minor dislocations created by the recent war, it is by far the greater responsibility of all concerned to induce Arab countries to accept the offer to negotiate a just and equitable peace settlement with Israel, which would include a settlement of the refugee problem. The refugees have for a long time been treated as one of the reasons for instigating war, 224 and it is only through the establishment of peace that the solution to their problem can and should be sought. My Lords, now is the time for constructive work for peace in the Middle East, so that within this generation the hatred of the last twenty years can be forgotten, never to return again.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I should like, first of all, to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for introducing this Motion to-day. I think we all know that in war, whoever wins and wherever the war, it is always the refugee who loses. Therefore, the whole House is very much indebted to the noble Lord for bringing this tragic problem in front of us again to-day.
I for my part intend to follow the custom and concentrate on the Middle East, partly because I went there two or three months ago in my capacity as Chairman of the Standing Conference of British Voluntary Refugee Organisations to visit the UNRWA installations, camps and colleges; and partly because I think that at this present time there may at last be a real chance to hammer out a positive plan for peace and, of course, a solution to the refugee problem. Of course, I was there before the conflict took place, but even last winter one could sense that this half-buried crisis was going to explode—I should not have thought in the near future but, at any rate, before not very long. To-day we are seeing the familiar scenes of tens of thousands of bewildered, helpless and disinherited refugees on the baking roads of Jordan and Syria, to take two examples.
I should like to begin with UNRWA, which as I saw it then was making a fine attempt not only to minister to the basic physical needs of the refugees, but also at the same time to rebuild some dynamism out of the despair in which it was working. I should like to endorse everything which the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, and my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood have said about UNRWA. I understand that most of the vocational training centres are shut at the moment in order to accommodate the new refugees. But I sincerely hope that they will be allowed to reopen in time for the next academic year beginning in October, because I believe that in these training centres we have 225 the seeds of a reserve of Arab brain which will become of increasing importance to the development of the entire Arab world.
Most noble Lords here know of the work of UNRWA, and I will not add to what has already been said to-day. I had a telegram yesterday from the headquarters in Beirut confirming what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has told us: that most of its services are now operating again more or less normally, with assistance from the voluntary agencies, both within Israel and the Arab countries. I am sure we are all very grateful to hear this, and also to learn that a substantial volume of aid is now on the way to UNRWA, which, it is considered, is probably adequate to cope with their immediate first-aid needs. It is difficult to be certain about this, because I understand that even now nobody really knows how many displaced people there are.
The point made to me in this telegram was that it would be of the greatest possible benefit if the displaced refugees were permitted to return to the camps and locations from which they had gone, because that is where UNRWA has the facilities to look after them, that is where the medical services are, and that is where the distribution services are. If they were permitted and willing to return, it would to a tremendous extent avoid the risk of epidemic and a deterioration in an already critical situation. I hope that perhaps Her Majesty's Government will use their good offices to this effect.
I was also asked to convey the thanks of the Commissioner General, and indeed of his whole staff, to Her Majesty's Government for the special contribution of 500,000 dollars which has been announced. I am very glad to do this, and I might add myself that I hope it will be the forerunner of the restoration of the cuts which Her Majesty's Government have made in their annual contribution; and, indeed, that it may be the forerunner of a re-thinking over the whole system of the financing of UNRWA so that it is transferred from an annual hand-out into a proper long-term permanent budget. I understand that, unfortunately, the basic need at the moment is for tents. It may interest the House to know that, according to the estimate which I have been given, it costs 375,000 226 dollars to house 10,000 refugees in tents. So the House will see that the Government's contribution to this programme is considerable.
But all this really is, and has been, a holding operation. I believe that what we must all face up to now—that is, the United States, Israel and the Arab States—is the fact that the refugees are presenting a permanent problem which must have a permanent solution. For this is a situation which, in my view, can only be solved if it is built on a sense of reality and not on illusion. By this I mean any proposals which provide self-respect, justice and protection for both sides. I think it would be fair to say that for Israel reality means independence and security, but not, I hope, at the price of even more thousands of rootless refugees, unwanted by Israel and to some extent resented by her neighbours.
On the other hand, I suggest that for the Arabs reality lies in a solution which satisfies the needs, character and talents of the refugees; and for many, of course, this must mean land and farming. If this should involve any form of financing by the United Nations, I believe that the Arab States must be convinced that this is for the purpose of solving the problem permanently, and not just to further some political prejudice. In other words, as so many noble Lords have rightly said, we cannot allow the refugees to remain as pawns in the political game any longer.
May I now suggest, very humbly, two or three possible lines of approach? It may be convenient to try to discuss this problem in two halves: that of the refugees still in the Arab countries, and those now in territory occupied by Israel. So far as those in the Arab States are concerned, that is to say, in the Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, even if (and I think it is a very big "if" at the moment) these States were prepared to accept the permanent existence of Israel, it would be almost impossible, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, for them to absorb more than a small proportion of the refugees. In Jordan the economic position, now that the country does not have the city of Jerusalem or the West Bank, is apparently extremely grim, and in my view the refugees there are going to be an increasing burden on UNRWA, although at this stage we cannot possibly 227 predict what the eventual political solution will be. In Syria, where the percentage of refugees is pretty small, the economic development of the country is not such as will enable Syria, so far as I can make out, to absorb many more refugees than it has done; and in the Lebanon there is the added difficulty of the delicate balance, which has to be preserved, between the Christian and the Moslem.
There seem to be two possible solutions to this problem. One is that the United Nations should try to persuade the richer Arab States, the oil States, to take in a greater percentage of refugees. They might have to be financed initially to some extent by the United Nations with grants to cover removal costs, temporary housing, the first few months in the country and that kind of thing, but I believe this is an initiative that could be taken by the United Nations and which would be worth trying. The other and more long-term view is the suggestion that has been made that the United Nations should acquire some sparsely inhabited part of the country—for instance, parts of the Sinai desert—with the purpose of setting up a United Nations but self-administered Arab refugee State, whatever one may like to call it. The State of Israel was set up, in a sense, to redress injustice and suffering, and I do not see why a similar State, with a United Nations guarantee against aggression, both from outside and from the State itself, is not possible.
Certainly many people that I have met—people who know the area well, and who have worked there—are quite convinced that the possibilities of doing this would not be ruled out for physical reasons but that it would be feasible and viable in practice given sufficient funds for development—irrigation, roads, industry and that kind of thing. The other day I was talking to a very distinguished gentleman who has spent a great deal of his time working in the Arab countries, and he told me that he has always been perfectly convinced that Sinai could be turned into a garden. So I would ask the Government, if they have sympathy with this sort of approach—and I hope they have—whether they would press for its serious consideration, at any rate, by the United Nations, and not to be put off by the size and complexity of the problem. It might be, 228 too, that in this answer there would be the elements of a political face-saver for both sides.
I think it would involve two other factors. First, there would have to be some withdrawal, presumably, by Israel from newly-occupied territory, to be worked out by agreement. The other, more important factor, I think, is the necessity to avoid creating a sort of temporary community, like the Formosan Chinese, who are just sitting there planning for and dreaming of the day when they are going to return home. This sort of solution, I think, involves acceptance by the refugees of a new and permanent form of existence which is worth creating and worth working for. It would also mean that the United Nations would have to regain the authority and the strength to guarantee peace.
Now, very briefly, I should like to turn to the situation within Israel. Here, of course, it is very difficult to propose any hard and fast solutions, because so much will depend on the ultimate delineation of the frontiers. But it does seem possible that Israel may anyhow retain control of the Gaza Strip, with its 350,000 refugees. At the moment, I am glad to know, UNRWA is continuing to support them; and, indeed, there are encouraging signs, as we have heard this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, and others, that the Israeli authorities are beginning to accept some long-term responsibility for these refugees.
I was reading an article in, I am glad to say, the Scotsman newspaper the other day, from their correspondent in Jerusalem, which made this very point. I hope this is so, because I think it would do much to restore Israel's humanitarian image in the Middle East. But, again, much will depend on the build-up of the Israeli economy, and on her ability to absorb the refugees. But the fact that the problem is being looked at and, I understand, that the Arab administrators in areas that have been taken over are continuing in office is to be very much welcomed. The expressions of sympathy and understanding which have been made by the Jewish communities in many parts of the world are also most heartening.
The situation on the West Bank must, I think, depend on who ultimately remains in control. As we know, something like 100,000 refugees have fled 229 across the river to the East Bank, into Jordan. They may or may not return. Reference has been made to-day of the plan put forward in The Times newspaper by Mr. Edelman and Mr. de Rothschild for a joint scheme between the two countries for regional water development. I think that this sort of co-operation and the bringing into production of large barren areas can only benefit both countries, and also, of course, the refugees; and I am quite sure that there is here an opportunity for constructive and statesmanlike bargaining by both sides.
To sum up, my Lords, the point, I think, is that we now have a unique chance to solve this dreadful problem, a problem that has been dragging on for nearly twenty years. The United Nations has been brought face to face with it; the future of UNRWA is bound up with it. I certainly hope that both sides will put an end to this dreadful blot on civilisation—because the chance may not come again. So far as Britain is concerned, in the past we have always tried to administer justice in territories to which we owed responsibility, and I think that our task now—I hope the noble Lord will agree—is to try to support freedom and justice wherever there is a positive need for it, and particularly among the helpless and the disinherited.
So I would urge the Government to pursue these matters with all speed, both inside and outside the United Nations. For myself, I am convinced that in this great humanitarian field the United Nations still has a great deal to offer. UNRWA itself has tremendous technical skill; it has a staff, and it has professional "know-how". It is a machine that is working pretty efficiently; and, what is most important, it has built up a great reserve of good will. This must not be wasted or thrown away. Indeed, as I have already said, I believe that it needs reinforcing. I hope that we shall not forget—I do not think we shall—that while we are discussing these problems, and thinking about the refugees, we are dealing for the most part with poor, frustrated and helpless human beings who have very little dignity or self-respect left. This is something that must be restored by giving them a future that is efficient and secure.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for calling our attention to the world refugee problem. For myself, I wish that the noble Lord's speech had been longer, because it was so brilliantly constructive and practical. The refugee problem to-day has been once again underlined because of events in the Middle East during the last few weeks and the swollen number of refugees. The matter is urgent, but tragically, the moment for an overall solution of the problem is not ripe, because no final solution can be achieved before a peace is negotiated between the Arabs and the Israelis.
Our debate this afternoon is overshadowed by the fact that although the main fighting has stopped, there is still, so to speak, a state of war in the Middle East. Russia is in the process of rearming and re-equipping the Egyptians, and this keeps up the danger of small outbreaks of fighting. I cannot help reflecting that the long history of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union dies hard—even fifty years after the Revolution. Although to-day we have to take these factors into account in any ideas we may have about the refugees, delay means human suffering; and we should examine now the remedial measures and ways of clearing the path towards peaceful negotiation.
I cannot approach the present refugee problem in the Middle East without noting some peculiarities about many reactions to the war itself from Israel's friends and enemies; and I hope these peculiarities will not spill over to the problem of the refugees. First, although the war was fought between Israel and the Arab States, it reflected a kind of shadow boxing between Russia and America. Some people even thought that an Arab victory was Russia's idea of bringing the Vietnam war to an end. As everyone knows, Russia, America, France and Britain had poured arms into an area which was a political volcano.
Russia was none too pleased as she watched Egypt's brinkmanship. But it was France, Britain and America who reacted to Israel's victory in such an unpredictable way: they greeted the victory as a betrayal. For economic reasons, the "war game" did not suit any of them, and so they proceeded, so to 231 speak, to change the rules. Comments from the heads of States added up to a withdrawal of sympathy. Warnings and lectures on aggression went out from one country after another: nothing must be changed; frontiers must be kept as they were. The reason why the war had come about—that Israel had been fighting for survival and security—was forgotten. The defeated Arabs demanded that Israel should go back to the 1956 frontiers and, finally, back to the 1948 frontiers; and that all refugees, past and present, must be repatriated. They demanded, in fact, that the Israelis negotiate the peace as if they had lost the war.
My Lords, even in Britain some of our newspapers were seized with what I call the "Grand old Duke of York" syndrome; they spoke as if General Dayan had marched his troops into the desert just for the purpose of marching them back again—and that he had over-reached himself by winning the war. The fight against threats of genocide from Egypt was completely forgotten, and the hideous aftermath of any war, the sufferings and exodus of the civil and military population, caused sympathy to drain rapidly from the Israelis. In the present situation it is difficult for any of us, on whatever side we are, to keep a balanced judgment, as was seen from the speech of my noble friend Baroness Summerskill, who gave one instance, quoted from one journalist, about the refugees—just one. There have been dozens of articles, but she quoted one which gave a pretty bad picture. I should like to say to my noble friend—and I am sorry she is not here—that this was a war and not a boxing match, and in the wake of any war come lies and cruelty. And both sides are usually guilty of these.
The Palestine refugee problem had grown over the years while, as many have said, the Arabs kept it as a political running sore, refusing all offers to negotiate and solve it. In the beginning it was essential that an organisation like UNRWA, which has done a successful job, should distribute rations and medical aid and make provision for shelter. But this sort of hand-out aid, when maintained over 19 years, leads to corruption and loss of morale. There were 33,607 names removed this year from the lists and over 29,000 the previous year. As well as minimal rations, the refugees were fed on 232 hatred and revenge from Cairo Radio; and, finally, the Palestine Liberation Army was formed from these refugees themselves. We then had the ironic situation in which a supposedly peace-keeping organisation like the United Nations was distributing rations to trained refugee soldiers.
The picture in the Middle East is a very sombre one and we should examine the ways of alleviating the plight of the refugees in as practical a manner as possible. Here I think the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, were particularly useful. The truth is that, because a state of war still exists, neither Israel nor Jordan can cope with the moving populations. Yet the clamour for the immediate repatriation of refugees grows louder and louder every day. No account is taken of the small size of Israel; no account is taken of the 300,000 Arabs (about 11 per cent. of her population) already in Israeli territories—and it must be noted that it is to her credit that there was no Fifth Column from these refugees during the war. No account is taken that Israel accepted thousands of Jewish refugees who were driven out of the Arab countries. Perhaps the Israelies do not encourage the Arab refugees to stay because they simply are unable to cope with the numbers; and this makes them indifferent to the suffering.
My Lords, it is a tragic situation; and yet, desperate as it looks, I do not think it is hopeless. The reason for my optimism is to be found when I turn to the work done by another great United Nations international relief agency, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan is the High Commissioner, and anyone who has heard him describe the work of his organisation—as I have done on several occasions—can see that he is continuing the magnificent work for which his organisation was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1954. The Palestine refugees, however, do not come within his mandate. He channels and co-ordinates aid from diverse sources (principally from Government but also from voluntary organisations) and deals with problems that call for solutions that are immediate, practical and humane and adapted to the realities of life. This organisation seeks permanent solutions, either through local integration or resettlement in another 233 country. All its contributions are voluntary—and, incidentally, Russia contributes nothing, just as she contributes nothing to UNRWA and has never done so. It has an emergency fund of half-a-million dollars made up entirely of repayments of loans to refugees over the years.
I will give only a few of the numbers it has helped; the Minister himself has given some already. At the end of 1956, there were 1,300,000 refugees in Europe. By the end of 1966, and despite the arrival of 160,000 new refugees, the number of non-settled refugees was reduced to 7,400. All the camps in Europe have been cleared. However, the most spectacular achievements have been brought about in Africa, where changing political patterns brought with them a flood of African refugees—740,000 by the end of 1966. Over 450,000 of these are already settled. I cannot help thinking how sad it is for the world that Prince Sadruddin's organisation has not had the handling of the Palestine refugees over the last ten years. It is because the organisation has been concerned not only with immediate aid, important though that is, but also with a permanent solution that the work has been so humane and constructive. This organisation has the experts and is not hamstrung with political venom. The machinery is there, given a negotiated settlement of the Israeli frontiers; and also given the funds from affluent Governments and from voluntary organisations. And, among these, I should hope that Jews throughout the world would help Israel contribute towards compensating refugees and Arabs in their territory who have suffered from the war.
My Lords, the Palestine refugees have been used as a political weapon, as has been said so often; but now they are being used to alienate world opinion against the Israelis. To-day, after the Israelis have won the war, the plight of the old and the new refugees is once again the most potent weapon against the Israelis—more potent than the scientific armoury provided by Russia for Egypt. Human capacity for compassion, my Lords, is very circumscribed, and sympathy is a very volatile emotion. It comes down on the side of the loser in most events, and particularly in wars. For Jews, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, after centuries of persecution, was a miracle; but not everyone sees it in that 234 light. Jews have often been refugees throughout the ages, and this should give them a sharper awareness of the trials which refugees have to endure.
As I have said, neither Israel nor Jordan can cope with the refugee problem alone. It is for the big Powers to give immediate help and relief: they must not wait for the negotiations to begin or to end. Despite the bitter words of King Hussein, I think that this is an historic moment in the relationship between Israel and Jordan. I believe that, to-day they have a chance to make a permanent settlement for the Middle East refugees. In this settlement Governments of the affluent nations must contribute, and also as I have said, Jews throughout the world. I believe it is desirable that Jews everywhere should help Israel to be generous in compensation. Of course, a final settlement must wait on the outcome of the peace settlement.
Finally, my Lords, I should like to add a brief personal note. In my father's house I was brought up to expect Jews to be more generous, more compassionate, than other people—an attitude forged from the experience of persecution throughout the ages. I have come to believe that this is the cross that Jews have to bear. At this time, even in these difficult, hard days, and in their hour of victory, the Israelis are expected to show exceptional compassion and understanding towards their enemies. This they must somehow translate into immediate and practical help for Arab refugees, or they will forfeit much good will everywhere. Here, as I have pointed out, Jews throughout the world must help, and there will have to be a great deal of good will towards the Israelis before the Star of David can shine in a peaceful Middle Eastern sky.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ BARONESS ASQUITH OF YARN-BURY
My Lords, the tragic human problem we have been discussing here this afternoon transcends, or should transcend, the frontiers of nationhood and of political attitudes. Yet we must face the hard fact that if we are to meet this problem—if we are to solve it—we must somehow change the political attitudes of nations. To me, this is essentially a political problem. Philanthropy, relief and Red Cross aid, however necessary, can palliate, but cannot solve. In the 235 Middle East, to which our eyes are turned to-day, the agencies of the United Nations have given invaluable help in keeping refugees alive with food and medical supplies.
As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has reminded us, the organisations have received generous support from many nations and, of course, the United States has contributed the lion's share. I was proud and glad to know that this country, despite, its small size, our own country, had come second. It is an irony that the two most popular nations among the Arabs at this moment are, we are told, the Soviet Union and France, and of these, as has already several times been pointed out, the Soviet Union has not contributed one penny piece and France only a token sum of 14 million dollars. But just to be kept alive without a purpose, or a ploy, without a home, a function or a hope—this is not life, this is at best survival in a wilderness. And if we wish to restore their human birthright of life in its real, and fullest sense for these tragic victims of misguided policies and the wars which have resulted from them, it is to a political solution that we must look.
Israel, of course, has been denounced as the villain of the piece, quite unjustly in my view; for to do her justice, she did everything in her power to stop the first exodus in 1948, when Arabs were ordered out by their own Governments. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, who quoted from a report, which I had already read, of British police, then still in Jerusalem, who testified to the fact that every effort was being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab population to stay on and carry on their normal lives, to keep their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests would be safe. I was therefore rather surprised to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, in his most interesting speech, that he thought they were—I will not say driving the Arabs out, but facilitating their removal across the water into Jordan. In the early days of the war, we read pathetic stories of the Arabs; about old women and cripples who had no transport or help of any kind, who made no attempt to take any of their goods and chattels, and who were certainly not being assisted by Israelis to do so. It may be 236 that humanitarian motives have played some part.
And again to do her justice, Israel has again and again, as we know, proposed negotiations with the Arab States on the refugee and other issues. To give it in short chapter and verse, as long ago as 1948 she offered to take back 100,000 refugees. In the United Nations and elsewhere she declared herself ready to compensate the refugees for abandoned property as part of a general settlement. The Arabs refused both these offers and declared that they were at war with Israel. When just four years ago, in 1963, Mrs. Golda Meir, the Foreign Secretary of Israel in those days, undertook once more to negotiate on the refugee issue, her offer was not even acknowledged. Thus this human tragedy, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said, has dragged on for twenty years. But let us give some credit where credit is due. A few—alas! all too few—Arab leaders have been wise enough to recognise the inexpediency and inhumanity of their policy. King Hussein, to his honour, has been foremost among these, and his courageous words have been quoted this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Sieff.
A former head of UNRWA, Mr. Ralph Galloway, presumably a dispassionate observer of this tragedy, and one who saw it at close range, has written even more strongly in the New York Herald Tribune. He said:The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel".He went so far as to say:Arab leaders do not give a damn whether the refugees live or die".His candour, I must say, was matched by the Egyptian Government radio, "The Voice of the Arabs," which proclaimed:The refugees are the cornerstone of the Arab struggle against Israel. The refugees are the armament of the Arabs and Arab nationalists.And again:If the Arabs return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist".That was "The Voice of the Arabs", speaking exactly ten years ago.
No one can fail to realise that the dramatic events of the last fortnight have brought about a revolutionary change in 237 the whole situation. But is it a change for the better, or is it a change for the worse? Despite this new flood of refugees, still streaming into Jordan in their thousands, it could yet be for the better, if it has helped to create the two conditions on which, to my mind, a lasting peace may yet be built. These conditions are: first, that Israel, who through her single-handed victory, can now lead from strength, should remember and should act upon the words of one who was her true and constant friend, Sir Winston Churchill. His words were, "In victory: magnanimity". Secondly, the shock of defeat might now awaken in the Arab leaders a new sense of realism.
After the first phase of the summit meeting between President Johnson and Mr. Kosygin, the Press reported that there was only one single thing on which they were agreed—and that was the existence of Israel. Since this fact of life has been accepted by Mr. Kosygin himself—and, incidentally, it was Mr. Kosygin's country which was the first nation to recognise Israel—could we not hope that Arab leaders might surely follow suit without loss of face? I personally feel convinced that peace in the Middle East, a peace bringing new life and hope to hundreds of thousands of hopeless, homeless people, can only be brought about by direct negotiation between Israel and her Arab neighbours. But negotiations demand some recognition of existence. One cannot negotiate with non-existence.
I believe in the recipe of the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, which bears the rather bleak name of "functional cooperation". I would rather call it working together. I believe that, working together, the Arabs and Israelis could make the desert blossom like the rose, as I have seen it do in Israel. It has been truly said that Israel possesses the technical and scientific know-how which the Arabs lack and, working together, they could transform Arab agricultural methods and bring their living standards soaring. And to those Arab women, whom I have seen trudging to distant wells with heavy jars on their heads, it could bring the blessings of piped water, even electricity. To countless refugees, it could bring repatriation and a livelihood, perhaps even the benefits of a Welfare State, which Arabs living in Israel now enjoy. To make this dream come true demands 238 only the recognition of an obvious fact and the realism to come to terms with it. And in the end, perhaps—who knows?—a plant of slower growth may flower"In peace: goodwill".
§ 6.27 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to deal with one small point which has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian—that is, the problem of the Gaza Strip. In the Gaza Strip there are 135,000 settled inhabitants, most of whom are in the cities of Gaza and Khan Yunis (for which I was responsible some forty years ago, at the beginning of my Colonial Service career), and 315,000 Arab refugees from mandatory Palestine. These have been the most unfortunate of all the refugees in the last nineteen years because, as has already been pointed out, the Arab refugees who were in Jordan have been given Jordanian citizenship and can work elsewhere in Jordan. And a number of them (I have seen a figure of something like 100,000) have gone elsewhere in the Arab world, many of them, for example, to Kuwait, although they are still registered as refugees in order to keep alive their claims for compensation. Some of them are working as schoolteachers and others in the oil companies.
The Gaza Strip is administered by Egypt, although it is not Egyptian territory. The refugees are not Egyptian citizens and may not go from the Strip to Egypt proper. As Egypt is extremely overcrowded, particularly the Delta, that is understandable. They are confined to camps in a strip of land about five miles wide and twenty miles long. There these original refugees have rotted for the past nineteen years, and their families have increased meanwhile. The earlier children born in these camps are now of working age; but they have no work. The possibilities of finding work in Gaza are limited, and they are subjected to the irresistible urge of marauding in Israel or of joining Ahmad Shukairy's Palestinian Liberation Army.
I should like to throw out a suggestion—that is, that the future of these Arab refugees in the Gaza Strip, which is now occupied by Israel, lies in Israel. Israel has already readmitted 48,000 Arab refugees to re-unite families—they have 239 come from the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon—but that figure represents only about 5 per cent. of the total refugees to-day. In 1949 Israel made an offer to readmit a further 100,000. That offer was rejected, I imagine, by the Arab States, who took the view, "All or nothing". But even if some of these 100,000 were accepted, there is a great difficulty in settling refugees in Israel. First of all, who chooses the refugees to be settled? The Israelis would like the young and the skilled; the Arab countries would like to get rid of the decrepit and trouble-makers. Incidentally, the trouble-makers in the Arab refugee camps would be very good trouble-makers in Israel.
Israel is in no great hurry to decide the future of the Gaza Strip. She wants to have some assurances for her security. But it looks to me quite possible that a deal may be made and that Israel will take over the Gaza Strip in return for the settlement of some of the 315,000 Arab refugees there. Some Israelis think that these refugees in the Gaza Strip should be settled on the West Bank—that is to say, in what was until two or three weeks ago Jordanian territory. Others think there is a chance that some of these refugees could be settled in Israel itself. In my own view, Israel is more disposed to-day than in 1948 to consider the actual settlement of Arab refugees in Israel. In 1948 the total Jewish population of Israel was only about 600,000. To-day it has increased by one million immigrants and, together with the Jewish natural increase, this has brought up the Jewish population to nearly 2½million, with another 300,000 Arabs. But, of course, although the rate of natural increase of the Israeli Arab population is much higher than that of the Jewish population, the proportion of Arabs in Israel to-day is much less than it was nineteen years ago. If Israel could cope with 200,000 Arabs in 1948, she ought to be in a position to cope with more in 1967.
The second point is that Israel has been very successful with its integration of the Israeli Arabs. She has had an enlightened policy. The Arab Israelis have their own schools in which they are taught through the medium of the Arabic language, with Hebrew and 240 English as second and third languages; they have their own local authorities, and they join the Israeli trade unions. There has been a progressive reduction in restrictions for Israeli Arabs, and this has been rewarded by the remarkable loyalty of Israeli Arabs in the recent war. As has already been mentioned, there was no fifth column, although everybody predicted that as soon as war broke out the Arabs in Israel would start sabotage. It is quite possible that the Israelis took precautions to protect their power stations against a possible fifth column, but I know of no instances where water pipes or telephone lines, which are particularly vulnerable, were torn up by the Israeli Arabs. The Israeli fear of their own minority must be very much reduced. So it may be possible to hope that Israel will be willing to make a new effort to resettle some of the Arab refugees in the Gaza Strip in Israel itself.
Resettlement of Arab refugees is not an easy job. I have had to do some of it myself. Many of them come from dry farms, where they work twice a year, during the ploughing season and in the harvest, and they will have to be resettled on irrigated land, which, of course, gives a much higher standard of living, but they have to work all the year round. The 315,000 Arab refugees in the Gaza Strip form, say, 50,000 families. Not all of them are farmers. Some are artisans, some shopkeepers, and some labourers. Those who were farmers in their fifties, nineteen years ago, are now too old to work, and their children have had no experience of farming. So any idea that one can just transplant large masses of Arab refugees, dump them down anywhere and hope that they will "make a go of it" is based on a misunderstanding. Settlement has to be selective, and it will probably have to be with volunteers: those Arab refugees who want to be resettled in Israel will have to say that they wish it.
Many Arabs want to go back to their former farms—in fact, they want to go back, not to Israel but to Palestine. But Palestine does not exist, and their farms no longer exist; the houses have all tumbled down or been destroyed, and the land has been reallocated. But the United Nations has made a list of the Arab refugees' holdings, and it should be possible for Israel to offer Arabs who wish to be resettled irrigable land which 241 is at least the same in value, if not the same in size.
Israel has had immense experience in agricultural resettlement since the 1880's and has established hundreds of villages. In fact, the Israelis are much sought after to provide technical advice to large numbers of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, some under the auspices of the United Nations, others bilaterally. They have managed to settle in Israel large numbers of Jews who had had no previous agricultural experience, many of them coming from socially backward countries, such as the Yemen. In these villages, which I have visited, they have two advisers—an agricultural adviser, who is a man of some experience, and a social adviser, who tries to bring the inhabitants in the village into the twentieth century. It will probably be necessary, in the Arab villages, to have, not perhaps the agricultural adviser but some kind of social adviser who can undo the nineteen years of hostility that has been preached to the Arab peoples. They will probably be able to find either Arabic-speaking Jews or trained Israeli Arabs to undertake this work. The Arab settlers will need a little encouragement after so many years of idleness.
Israel has recently settled 5,000 Israeli Beduins in the Negev desert in order to prevent their being nomadic and wandering across the frontier into Egypt. They have also established a new village for some semi-nomads near Haifa. So they have had some experience recently in settling Arabs on the land. I doubt whether the idea of settling Arab refugees in the Sinai Desert is likely to be practicable, because the cost of water increases the further South you go. I do not think that Israel would settle the Arab refugees from the Gaza Strip in the Negev, for that reason; nor would they want to settle them on the frontier with Egypt. They would probably want to break them up and distribute them among other parts of the country, and not have a solid mass of Arab farms or Arab refugee villages.
In Galilee, for example, which is largely Arab, the town of Nazareth is almost entirely Arab. There is a new Jewish town which has grown up next door to it. There is a new Jewish town called Carmiel, between Akka and Safed, that has been deliberately planted in order 242 to try to mix the populations. Lastly, many of the Arabs in Israel work for Jewish farmers, and in the cities, so it would be desirable that any refugee villages that are established in Israel should be not too far from Jewish villages and from the cities. There is still plenty of cultivated land, and there is ample water from the North.
I have in mind a pilot scheme of 10,000 families, who all, of course, would have to be screened to make quite sure they were not involved in the Palestine Liberation Army. That would be roughly about one-fifth of the present number of Arab refugees in the Gaza Strip. Ten thousand families does not sound very much, but that is 100 villages; and if the scheme is successful I hope that Israel would be willing to settle more of them. The others, meanwhile, would have to be settled elsewhere or go to Australia, or stay in the camp and live off their rations. The terms of settlement would probably be the same as for Jewish refugees from other countries. They are not given land; they are leased land for 49 years, renewable, in order to prevent speculation.
Mention has been made of the enormous cost of such a scheme, and that Israel would need international help. Actually, it does not need gift money; it needs only loan capital, because the settlement of people on the land is an economic asset. It is not a liability; it is an asset. It is not something you do as charity; you do it because it is very good business. After five years new Jewish villages in Israel start to pay rent and to repay the capital invested in them. If Arab refugees be settled in Israel, for the first two or three years, until their fields become productive, they would need their United Nations' rations. But I think that very rapidly they would become self-supporting and economically viable.
This, of course, is a very modest proposal, but it has wider implications, because if Israel succeeds in settling Arab refugees who have been waiting in the Gaza Strip for 19 years, other Arab countries could not do less without losing a great deal of face among their own peoples. It would still mean that Israel would owe compensation for the land and property of the other Arab refugees which has been taken over. I quite agree 243 that it would be necessary to make block payments from Israel to Syria and Jordan, and that would probably need a long-term international loan.
I may be over-optimistic, but I should like to end on this note. I hope this pilot scheme, if it is suggested by Israel, will be encouraged in this country and abroad. A beginning will then be made to solve this intractable human problem. I think one must really get down to some practical proposals and not deal with generalisations and fine phrases. I have deliberately refrained this afternoon from speaking about the new refugee problems and about the final frontiers of the Middle East. I hope we may have a possibility of another debate on this subject before the end of the Session.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
My Lords, the distressing plight of the refugee, wherever he is and wherever he comes from, must always have an emotional appeal to all men and women of good will. But we must remember, if we are to make a useful contribution in the Middle East, not to let emotion blind us to facts. Our contribution must be founded on fact and on truth, not on fiction or on lies. Although this debate concerns refugees, we cannot view it in its true perspective unless we have in mind not only the recent Arab-Israeli conflict but all the strife and strain which has existed since Israel became an independent country. The recent conflict has so much in common with those that preceded it that I should like to start by giving your Lordships my viewpoint on it.
For some years an uneasy truce, broken by border incidents, has existed. All through those years President Nasser has kept the Suez Canal closed to Israeli shipping and has not only refused to acknowledge Israel's right to exist but, along with his Arab allies, has never ceased to threaten Israel with total destruction. Eventually he closed the Gulf of Aqaba, and if that was not an act of aggression I do not know what constitutes one. His aggressive intentions were further proven to the hilt by his demand that the United Nations forces should be removed from Egyptian soil. 244 Can anyone conceive his taking such action if he lived in fear of Israel aggression? Can anyone conceive his taking this action if he was not himself planning aggression, supported by his Arab allies?
To my mind, these events so clearly brand President Nasser and the Arab nations as the aggressor that the question of who fired the first shot is relatively unimportant, although I do not accept it as proven that the first finger to pull the trigger was in fact an Israeli one. In attempting to brand Israel as the aggressor, it seems to me that the Russian leaders have taken a leaf out of Dr. Goebbels' book: the greater the lie the easier it is to get people to believe in it. I cannot help regretting that American and British statesmen have not been more forthright in countering this lie. I fear that their failure to do so has encouraged President Nasser and his allies to continue to play the game of pitch and toss, a game where "Heads the Arabs win, tails the Israelis lose".
Of course, I accept the principle of the United Nations that an aggressor should not be allowed to make territorial gains through force of arms; but it is surely a strange interpretation of the Charter if it is held that the aggressor should never lose territorially, even if he is defeated. It would seem to me that such an interpretation could only encourage aggression.
My Lords, no refugee problem has been so easy to solve as the Middle East problem, if only there were universal good will and universal determination to do so. Reference has been made by others of your Lordships to the wealthy Arab oil States, and no doubt financial assistance would come from America and from this country and from elsewhere. There is no shortage of land, and Iraq in particular has plenty of land capable of development, and has already stated that she could take up to 5 million hands. If useful progress on a long-term basis is to be achieved, it seems to me that there are first three prerequisites. The first is that the policy of Her Majesty's Government should not be influenced by the fear of incurring Arab ill-will. The Arab countries owe more to the British than to any other nation, for it was largely through the victories of the British armed forces and the spilling of 245 British blood that they were freed from the Turkish yoke. But has it brought good will?. I submit to your Lordships that we shall never buy good will by pandering to lies or half-truths. We shall never buy Arab good will through money or appeasement. We may in time gain Arab good will by first gaining their respect through honesty, determination and generosity.
Secondly, President Nasser and the Arab nations must be brought to acknowledge that the refugee problem is of their own making and that they deserve outside help only when they are prepared to play their full part in solving it. Thirdly, President Nasser and the Arab leaders must acknowledge that the State of Israel is there to stay, and must categorically retract their intention to destroy her or to foist a fifth column upon her in the guise of refugees. Israel may, I am confident, accept gradually a limited number of refugees, in her own time and on her own terms, but to bring outside pressure to bear on her could only delay settlement and endanger the peace of the world. My Lords, unless we can first achieve these three prerequisites we shall make no lasting contribution to the problem.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, I, too, would join with previous speakers in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for having chosen this subject for debate this afternoon. Unlike our debate on Rhodesia last Wednesday, there can be no difference of opinion about the timing of this debate. The suffering of refugees has always been a subject of direct appeal to your Lordships' House, and the magnitude of this problem, the desperate plight of the Arab refugees, and the dire urgency of bringing to them immediate relief would justify our debating this issue at any time.
I should like to discuss first of all the points on which we can all be agreed. First, the immediate short-term solution. Help must be given immediately to those Arab refugees in desperate need. Help in the form of food and shelter, help for the immediate saving of life, help without "ifs" or "buts", and from every quarter—from Russia and from Israel itself, as well as from this country. On the short-term needs, I hope that there 246 can be no difference of opinion in this House. Whatever our personal feelings may be, I think we must all give to the immediate needs of the Arab refugees for the saving of human life.
Now we come to the long-term issues. How can the problem of resettlement best be solved? On this matter all of us can have, quite fairly, some differences of opinion. Therefore I will confine myself to a statement of facts—facts which I believe are beyond dispute but facts which can, nevertheless lay themselves open to varying degrees of emphasis. First of all, there are three broad lines of approach which we cannot ignore. One, the wishes of the refugees themselves; two, the role of Britain in this issue and, three, the lessons of history.
Many of us feel strongly that the Arab refugees must be resettled in the homes which they have abandoned, or from which they may have been driven out, on the West Bank of Jordan. But there is an element of tragedy in the framing of blue prints by us, who are living in safety, for those who are facing famine and suffering. I wonder how many of these refugees, given a free choice, would really wish to be resettled in a land which may yet become the cockpit of a fourth Arab war? How should we feel if we found ourselves in their position? Should we wish to face the risk of being made refugees once again within the next ten years? So long as President Nasser persists in proclaiming a holy war—and was ever a holy war proclaimed by unholier apostles?—what hopes of peace and tranquillity can these unfortunate people achieve in their former homes? For if Israel has already fought and won three campaigns against the Arabs, would it be reasonable to expect them not to fight, and to fight pretty hard, if a fourth campaign were fought to destroy them? So that if only Egypt and Jordan and Syria could be persuaded to call off the next round, and to make their peace with Israel, then—and then only—would the resettlement of Arab refugees on the West Bank of Jordan begin to make sense.
But even then would these unfortunate refugees still wish to return? Some of them may not; and it is their wishes we must consider, not ours. Under what terms can they be resettled? As an Arab minority within the State of Israel, or as 247 an Arab enclave under the United Nations? But here the guarantees must be absolute. After their recent experience of the United Nations peace-keeping force in that area who can blame them if they now feel a slight loss of faith in the workings of UNO?
However, the greatest argument they might well have against a return to their own homes is this. They were then an independent people, living under an independent Arab State, the Kingdom of Jordan. They are to-day still fiercely nationalistic. They still feel themselves as members of a great Arab nation, and, in their present misery they can have no hope at all of a strong, independent Arab nation ever being reconstituted again on the soil of Israel, or even on the West Bank of Jordan. At best they would be a weak nation, outnumbered and overshadowed by the more progressive Israelis. Yet these unfortunate people have a right to nationhood, just as much as the Israelis have—a right to complete, proud Arab independence.
So, if many of us were Arab refugees to-day, we might probably ask to be resettled among an independent Arabic-speaking people, whether on the East Bank of Jordan, among the proud people ruled over by their young King, or in the vast territories of Iraq, rich, well-watered, crying aloud for development, as the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, has just told us, and desperately in need of a large, progressive, energetic labour force, or else in the vast Arab sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf, bursting with wealth from their oil—Kuwait, Bahrein, Q'atar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Muscat. There the refugees can be received into their own, among their Arab kinsmen, who speak their own language and should welcome them, just as the Jews of Israel welcomed their own hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Aden and the Yemen; from Morocco, Tunis and Algeria; from Tripoli, Egypt and Iraq, all into the tiny land of Israel.
That, I submit, might well be our long-term policy of resettlement for the Arab refugees, to give them back their nationhood, their independence, their self-respect, just as the Israelis have done to their own refugees. One thing, above all 248 else if I were an Arab refugee, I would reject with scorn and abhorrence; and that is to be forced to rot away in idleness, to walk the camps for another nineteen years preaching hatred of Israel as my only hope of salvation. That is a fate which no Arab refugee ought ever to be made to face again.
But what if the independent Arab States, against their own interests, now refuse to accept the refugees? Here, I submit, the collective wisdom of UNRWA, and the moral force of UNO should be brought to bear. We should discuss the terms of our aid through UNRWA, so that from now on the vast and rich Arab States might be induced to come forward to aid some of their own refugees, in return for material aid from UNRWA, in those vast 3 million square miles of Arab land, larger than the whole of Europe, instead of in the tiny 8,000 square miles of former Palestine, a country the size of Wales. That would be one hope of a decent future for many who are Arab refugees to-day.
I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government squarely whether they would approve the holding of a plebiscite under UNO, after a real peace has been declared, and all fears of a fourth round have been removed, for all the Palestine Arab refugees to be allowed to choose for themselves, free from all duress and all threats, whether they wish for a permanent resettlement on the West Bank of Jordan or among their own Arab peoples. But if the first thought of the Arabs is still to punish Israel, then they not only betray the cause of the Arab refugees but they condemn them to be victims of their own desire for retribution, and they condemn themselves in the eyes of history. If only they could tear hatred from their hearts, and put their feelings of humanity first!
Among all the millions of refugees throughout world history, what other refugees have been condemned to hope in vain only for a return to their lost homes? Let us keep our sense of reality. The Huguenots settled in England; the Irish, many of them, in America; the refugees from the Baltic States, from East Germany, and from behind the Iron Curtain after the last World War, have all been helped to establish new homes in the lands of their adoption. Despite the 249 difficulties of their absorption and of the need to learn a new language, all these refugees have proved to be a source of wealth and energy to the nations that received them. How much more fortunate are the Arab refugees to-day, to have all around them independent Arab States that speak their own tongue, that stand in need to-day of all their ideas and resources and strength; Arab States that in years to come will have reason to bless the day when they held out a helping hand to their less fortunate Arab brethren!
But there are other considerations that we cannot ignore in discussing this problem of the Arab refugees. I believe that we in Britain ought to approach this problem with some degree of humility if not of remorse. In 1948, and under a Labour Government, we left behind in Palestine, perhaps through no fault of our own—and I would not presume to judge—a legacy not of peace but of war, when thousands of innocent lives were sacrificed, and when this Arab refugee problem was first created. We were the custodians of Palestine then, under the League of Nations Mandate, and we were forced through various reasons to abandon our trust. Let our Foreign Secretary now bring a fresh mind to bear on the future, rather than dwell too much on the past.
How much can Britain contribute today towards solving the problems of the Middle East? Judging by our record in Aden, and even in Rhodesia, I should say not very much. Our intentions are good, our motives are unquestionable, but our record in the Middle East does not evoke much admiration to-day in the breast of either Arab or Jew. So let us not pontificate to either. And if we must be neutral, as indeed we must, to avoid at all costs being embroiled in another war, then let us show the utmost restraint in our utterances. In the Middle East for Britain to-day, perhaps discretion is still the better part of valour.
Thirdly, let us heed the lesson of history. Sometimes I wonder whether we are not travelling in the wrong direction. Right through the centuries there has always been a two-way traffic in this part of the Middle East. That from the West into Palestine has always been transient and ephemeral; the Saracens, the Crusaders, the Turks, the British Mandatory Power, to-day they remain but a dim memory of the past. But from this part 250 of the Middle East, movements and ideas have gone out to the West, ideas that have endured because they are based on eternal values; Islam, Christianity and Judaism were all nurtured on this holy soil. Perhaps we may heed the lesson to-day, and allow the Holy Land once more to come into its own.
Let us also remember that it was the West that created the present boundaries of the Middle East. Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, the boundaries of all these are not Arab boundaries but were created by the nations of the West, who carved up the Middle East after the First World War. Before then, the Kingdom of Jordan lay entirely East of the River Jordan. The West Bank and the Arab part of Jerusalem were acquired only by force of conquest after the end of the British Mandate in 1948, just as Israel conquered them back less than three weeks ago. But to-day there is, I believe, one great Arab nation, speaking the same tongue, praying the same prayers, worshipping the same religion, united in its beliefs and in its ancient traditions, right across these artificial boundaries created by the nations of the West. That Arab nation sprang from the same stock as the Jewish people. It shares the same heritage. It can never know peace until it has first learned to live in peace with Israel, instead of preaching a Holy War.
What can we of the West teach to-day to the Middle East after two world wars, the hydrogen bomb, and even to-day Vietnam, Aden and Rhodesia? Can we really hope to bring peace to this complicated problem when we have brought so little peace to the world outside? Perhaps the Middle East may in the end do better to find its own peace in its own way, if left to itself to do so. That is why one may welcome in to-day's news the speech at UNO of the representative of Ireland, a Catholic country, whose delegate, Mr. Frank Aiken, turned away so courageously from the speeches of hatred and violence we have been hearing at UNO during the past week, and stood out boldly for sanity and peace in his suggestion of a direct meeting between the protagonists.
I believe this feeling will grow with the passage of time. I believe that way lies the only real hope for the Arab refugees. For how can any nation live 251 at peace with its neighbour, if the leaders refuse even to meet each other? Why do not Her Majesty's Government come out now boldly with Eire in favour of direct talks? What nation at UNO, or even outside UNO, opposed a direct confrontation between Prime Minister Kosygin and President Johnson? President Nasser may have opposed it in his heart, but, if so, he did it in silence. This was not a matter for taking sides. This was sheer common sense. So I ask Her Majesty's Government, will they now come out in support of the Irish Delegate at UNO in favour of direct talks, of a meeting between President Nasser and Prime Minister Eshkol? That would be a real step forward towards peace in the Middle East and towards solving the problem of the Arab refugees.
Now what of the Arab refugees left in Jerusalem, many of them Arab Christians? I am sure they will be left unmolested, free to carry out their daily round in peace and tranquility. I am sure they will ignore the outside threats from Cairo and Amman that they are traitors to the Arab cause if they collaborate with Israel. Many tributes have been paid in the past to the Kingdom of Jordan as custodian of the Holy Places in Jerusalem. But she remained for 19 years the custodian of the Holy Places of two religions only. The parent religion of them both was denied access to its own Holy Places. It is to be hoped that now, with a unified Jerusalem, there will be free access for all religions to the Holy City, and a glaring wrong will at last be righted.
If I may revert for a moment to the speech of the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York—I am sorry he is not in his place at the moment, but I can quite understand why he should not be—who spoke of the internationalisation of Jerusalem, I would venture to hope that all the custodians of the Holy Places will come there devoutly as pilgrims, and not under orders from the United Nations or anyone else. When we wish to denigrate the Jew we speak of him as the international Jew. But when he is in possession of the Old City of Jerusalem, holy alike to three great Faiths, then we forget him as the international Jew and speak of him as the rabid nationalist. I am reminded of the soldier in the First 252 World War who wrote home to his parents, "I am now in Bethlehem, where Christ was born. I wish I were in Wigan, where I was born".
Let us have no reluctant custodians in the Holy City. If that is what we mean by internationalisation, it could result in a desecration of all those spiritual values for which Jerusalem has stood throughout the centuries. We want the custodians not only to come to the Holy Places in Jerusalem; we want them to pray at the Holy Places, just as Israeli soldiers have been praying at the Wailing Wall, or else the true significance of Jerusalem may well be lost. I am convinced that Israel will rise to the height of her great opportunity and justify her victory in the eyes of the world.
And, finally, we are now told that the Arab refugees are fleeing across the Jordan out of fear. With the greatest respect to my noble friend Lady Summer-skill, she knows as well as anyone in this House that you cannot eradicate in a day, or in a week, or even in a month, the deep fears based on years of indoctrination, not even by the sympathetic pleadings of an UNRWA official.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, as my noble friend has referred to me, does he then deny what the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has already told the House, that trucks were provided for the refugees and they were encouraged to get in?
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, so far from denying it, may I say that I think that is all to the credit of the Israeli Government. Here you find these masses of refugees, driven out by fear, not knowing where to turn. Would you have them walk 25 miles on foot in the scorching sun of a hot day?
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, why not let them stay in their homes, not encourage them to get into trucks?
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, this is a question of people in a panic and in fear, desperate to escape from their homes. Would you have them walk barefoot to the Jordan? Whatever the House may think, I say that it will always be to the credit of the Government of Israel that, without urging them, without forcing them, without even encouraging 253 them, they gave the refugees the means of travelling to what may be their own idea of safety, at least without the physical endurance that my noble friend would have them subjected to.
I believe that by their treatment of the Arab refugees the Israeli Government in time may allay these fears. The refugees will see that they have less reason to fear the Israelis than to fear becoming involved in a fourth round of war, if the words of Nasser and King Hussein are to be believed. But we in this House can only hope that, given peace, patience and restraint, every Arab refugee may yet be able to live, in the Biblical phrase:Under his vine and under his fig tree "—and these are the truly operative words—and none shall make him afraid.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, I think all of us who have listened to most of the speeches to-day will take some pride in the contribution of ideas, of knowledge and of constructive proposals which have been made here. Whatever may be the future of this House in the legislative sphere, I think this debate, as with previous debates, has indicated the value of the experience and the information which so many Members of this House possess. Since the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, opened a debate on the subject of refugees last October, there have been two tragic developments of this problem. One has been in the Middle East, to which almost entirely the speeches have been devoted to-day. The other has been in Nigeria, where more people have been killed and where to-day there are more refugees than have occurred in the recent war in the Middle East. With the permission of the House, I propose to speak, I hope constructively, about both those subjects.
Already in the Middle East there were 1 million refugees. Now the recent war has brought 100,000 more. Few of us have had the opportunity which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has had of witnessing the actual scenes, but many of us have watched them on television and have been deeply moved by the sight of those refugees struggling across that wrecked bridge. I want as strongly as I can to support the appeal which was made by my noble friend Lord Rowley for a great international plan to deal with this prob 254 lem. He spoke of the Colombo Plan. I think we want something even greater, more urgent, more imaginative, than the Colombo Plan. I believe that we need immediately a great international emergency fund which should be initiated by the United Nations. I believe there should be a constructive international plan for the Middle East which will try to rise above the conflicts of the past between Jews and Arabs and seek to deal with this problem of refugees across the frontiers. That plan should be not camps for refugees, but great schemes for their resettlement. Any of us who have been to the refugees camps, lasting 19 years under sordid conditions, must reflect that during these two decades £200 million has been spent merely on enabling those people to survive, children to be born and to grow up. How much more usefully that sum could have been employed in constructive proposals for resettlement!
I want to make two suggestions, but I do not make them dogmatically. I just throw them into the pool of ideas—a pool to which I hope people who are concerned about this problem and who are constructive in thought will be contributing everywhere. The first is as regards the refugees in Jordan and to Jordan. Jordan is one of the casualties of this war. I had the privilege to lead a Parliamentary delegation of Members of this House and of another place to Jordan two years ago. We had our talks with the King and with the Prime Minister. All of us came to the conclusion that they had minds which could contribute to a solution of these problems and which could bridge the gulf—if they were permitted to do so—between the Arab nations and Israel. It is one of the tragedies to-day that Jordan should have been the greatest sufferer in the war which has just taken place.
There are Arabs from Jordan on the West of the river fleeing into East Jordan. I should like to see, as part of a great international plan for re-settlement, with the co-operation and agreement of the Jordanian Government, that the whole area which bulges into Pales-time on the West of the river should be made by the United Nations an area for the resettlement of the refugees. I should like to see that done with a planning of farming and agriculture, a planning of industries and of water supply—not only 255 water from the Jordan river, but water lying underneath the deserts, which could be brought to the surface. I should like to see a United Nations effort for the area West of the Jordan which would be equivalent to the almost miraculous achievement which the Israelis have carried out in Israel itself. If the United Nations could carry through such an imaginative plan within Jordan itself, I believe it would have the support not only of the Jordanian Government but of most of the refugees who have lived this awful existence for the last nineteen years, as well as of those who to-day are fleeing from Jordan on the West to the East side of the river.
I want to make another suggestion which I hope may be considered—the difficulty is big, and again I do not put it forward as a blueprint. It relates to Sinai, a great empty desert, again with refugee camps on the Gaza Strip and elsewhere I think that it has now been proved, not only in Israel itself but also in North Africa (and when we are speaking in praise of Israel, let us recognise that in the United Arab Republic, in Egypt, probably more has been done to reclaim the desert than in any other territory), that the desert can become fertile. This is particularly the case of the Sinai on the edge of the Mediterranean with the possibilities of desalination. To-day, water could be taken to that desert so as to make it fertile. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, who made such a constructive speech in opening the debate, referred to all the possibilities of desalination. Technically it is possible. The only problem is cost, and even the cost has now been reduced. I find it a little ironic that the one place on earth which is operating a desalination project is Kuwait, an Arab country which would seem to be so distant from modernisation.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, if I may be forgiven for interrupting my noble friend, may I say that another very good instance is in Cyprus, in the British Army enclave at Dekhaila, where a desalination plant has been working for many years.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, I am very glad of that intervention: it adds to my knowledge in that respect. I have knowledge of Kuwait, and I was saying 256 that it seems so ironic that a distant Arab country, although, perhaps the richest in the world because of its oil supplies, should be able to carry that so far. But, to return to what I was saying, there would be all the possibilities of developing Sinai, if the United Nations could act there in a way similar to that which I have proposed in the West of Jordan. If it remained territory under the United Arab Republic, I should hope that Egypt itself would contribute from the Sweet Waters to the West of the Suez Canal to enable that fertilisation to take place.
There is only one other thing which I want to say about the situation in the Middle East. I was deeply moved, as I think all of us must have been, by the conclusion of the speech of my noble friend Lady Gaitskell, when she spoke of her own upbringing where she was taught that generosity should be the first attribute of Jewish people. I hope and pray that when it comes to a settlement of these problems in the Middle East generosity may be shown by Israel.
Some noble Lords on the opposite Benches sneered a little when I put a supplementary question the other day supporting the Foreign Secretary's speech at the United Nations, in which he expressed the view that military occupation ought not to determine the terms of the peace settlement. I do not know whether they thought I was acting as a stooge to the Foreign Secretary; I am not that by any means—I criticise, perhaps, more than I praise—but I believe he was profoundly right when he said that. If there is to be hope of peace in the Middle East, it must not be on the basis of what military arms have achieved. It must be on the basis of principles of justice and of freedom, and of the possibilities of co-operation between nations in the future. I say to my friends of the Jewish race that they can make that contribution at the present time, and, if they do so, they will not only be making a contribution to the settlement of the problem in the Middle East, but will be making a contribution to peace itself. If we can begin to establish the principle that military occupation should not determine the peace which follows war, few Governments will find it worth while to make war at all.
The other sphere of refugees to which I wish to refer is Nigeria. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 30,000 people 257 have been killed in Northern Nigeria. The number of refugees in Eastern Nigeria now is certainly over one million and is probably approaching 2 million. A psychology has been left among the people, because of the deaths of so many members of their families and because of others coming back to their homes in a desperate condition, which makes any settlement with the Federal Government difficult to obtain. The United Nations Commission for Refugees is responsible for refugees in Africa, as it is not in the Middle East, and I am confident that it would be willing to make a great constructive contribution to a settlement of this problem. Again, I should like to urge that all Governments, and particularly those which have been associated with Africa in the past, should enable the United Nations Commission to carry out a great plan of provision, rehabilitation and construction in Eastern Nigeria, which would enable the million refugees to live with hope and would contribute something to modifying the psychology which is now there. I appeal very strongly to the Federal Government to agree to co-operate in such a scheme, because it would contribute so much to the conciliation between the East and the Centre which we desire.
One of the earlier speakers referred to the fact that Africa to-day, even more than Asia and the Middle East, is now the scene of most refugees. Before the events in Nigeria there were 740,000; now the number must reach almost 2,000,000. As one who has taken part in the struggle of African peoples for their nationhood, I am terribly disappointed by the conflicts which are occurring in many African nations to-day and which are leading to these large numbers of refugees. I would say only that we must look at this in historical perspective. When Europe and America were passing through the same stage as Africa is passing through to-day, the persecution and the cruelty, the oppression, the violence, and the wars were greater than are occurring in Africa at the present time.
Yes, my Lords, we need great efforts of aid for the refugees. We need great efforts for resettlement. But, above all, we need to deal with the causes which are reflected in the refugee problem. Only when we deal with those deeper causes shall we be able to end this disgrace of 258 our time, of thousands of human beings driven out of their homes in desperate wretchedness and poverty, because we cannot live together as human beings in the present world.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, as a comparatively recent Member of your Lordships' House, I hope that your Lordships will not consider me impertinent or presumptuous when I say that I cannot recall a Motion being moved so effectively and so informatively, and with such economy of words, as the one that has been moved to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Byers. At this hour of the day, when so many speakers have preceded me, there is very little new that one can say. Therefore I shall content myself with dealing with one particular matter.
I wish I could claim to have the same balance as some of my Jewish friends have shown, but I fear that I am not impartial in this matter. I am not a member of the Jewish community, but I find myself very strongly in support of Israel and not as impartial as some of the members of my Government appear to be. After we have discharged a good deal of emotion in respect of this problem, which adds to an already serious problem that has faced the world for a good many years, I am bound to have in the forefront of my mind the fact that this added problem could have been avoided; because behind all this was the desire of a small nation, small both in size and population, to preserve the right to live in peace.
I do not want particularly to deal with the political situation, but I find that there is an increasing tendency on the part of some newspapers—and I thought, perhaps wrongly, that I detected it in your Lordships' House to-day—to put a good deal of blame upon Israel for the present refugee problem. If my noble friend Lord Segal had not (if I may say so kindly) dealt with my noble friend Lady Summerskill, I should have felt inclined to say to her what he himself said; because I feel there is a danger of our thinking that this new refugee problem, this addition to the existing problem, has been brought about by Israel.
We ought to bear in mind that there are many reasons for the flight from 259 West Jordan. It has been said—and I think not unnaturally—that a large number of West Jordanians left because they were in fear. But there seems to be abundant evidence that many of them left because they had been receiving money from their menfolk who were employed in the oilfields in the Gulf. I understand that it has been reliably estimated that the Palestinian Arabs working in the Gulf were sending to their dependants in West Jordan a sum amounting to about £20 million sterling every year; and, rightly or wrongly, and perhaps understandably, they felt that, with the war, the likelihood of the money coming to them or of being received by them was very remote. I think there is abundant evidence that a very high percentage of them left because they felt that they would not get their money in the ordinary way.
I was interested to read, on Monday of this week in the Evening Standard, a report by John Kimche—and I quote from what he said. He said:But it is completely wrong to describe them as refugees, although the method of leaving the country makes them appear so. The great majority are going because their relations are soldiers who have escaped to Jordan. A good many are soldiers in civilian clothes".He goes on to say:Five thousand have now left Bethlehem. There was hardly a single real refugee among them.I do not feel that this new problem, touching upon the whole refugee problem, is going to be solved by the great Powers. I feel that if it is to be solved, as everyone hopes it will be solved, it can be solved only if there is some direct confrontation between the leaders of the Israel State and the leaders of the Arab States. I would say to the British Government that this is what we ought to work towards, as I hope other Governments will also. It is of supreme importance that the leaders of the Arab States get together round a table with the leaders of the Israel State, because it is important, in my view, that the Arabs should recognise, as they have not recognised for the past twenty years, that the State of Israel exists. This they have got to accept and this they have got to admit. Until they do, I do not think we can hope to have peace in the Middle East, re 260 gardless of what the British Government, the American Government, the French Government or the Soviet Union do.
Some of us, particularly on this side of the House, have tried for years to show sympathy to the Soviet Union. I confess to falling over backwards at times to understand the Soviet Union and to make excuses for some of the things that the Soviet Union has done; but a number of my friends and I find our patience very sadly tried. We may well have to re-examine our attitude to the Soviet Union. Here is a nation which is undoubtedly helping and has undoubtedly helped to create this situation in the Middle East and which, when it comes to the position in which the Middle East now finds itself, is not prepared to contribute, and has never contributed, so I understand, one penny to the refugee problem.
We have to keep in the forefront of our minds that whatever is said about the intransigence of the Israel State—and it has been said and is being said—ever since 1947 the Arab States have resisted international attempts to turn the refugees into self-supporting citizens. Over 530 million dollars of United Nations money has been spent on relief, merely keeping body and soul together. In 1949 the United Nations sent a survey mission to the Middle East, led by an eminent American irrigation engineer, a Mr. Gordon Clapp. A far-reaching regional development scheme to help solve the refugee problem was available; but Arab obstruction strangled the recommendation and nothing was done. In 1951 Egypt agreed with UNRWA to settle 70,000 refugees from the Gaza Strip in Sinai. Egypt went back on her signature.
In 1952 and 1954 there were negotiations with the Syrian Government to settle 85,000 refugees within its borders. This was to be on land reclamation and irrigation, charged to the International Fund. It had to be abandoned because, eventually, the Syrian Government would not take part. In 1959 the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, had a scheme which involved the resettlement of a large number of refugees. That, too, went because it was impossible to get Arab co-operation. I feel that if this problem is to be solved—and it must not be allowed to continue—it must be solved at Arab and 261 Israel level, because it is going to be very difficult to deal with it in any other way. There is always a danger that it will be left and that we shall have this continuing, festering sore which is going to make matters considerably worse.
I mention this because I do not think I am doing the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, an injustice when I say that I thought he implied that there was a need for Israel to do something to restore (I think he said) her humanitarian image. I think the facts reveal that she has not failed to show her humanitarian instincts and also her humanitarian image. One ought to put on record that after the 1956 trouble Israel offered to make the refugee issue the first item on the agenda of peace, but the Arab States would not have it. In August, 1949, Israel offered to take back 100,000 refugees. The Arab States rejected the offer. Since 1952 Israel has freed accounts and safe deposits of Arab refugees in Israeli banks to the amount of 10 million dollars. Far from breaking the log-jam of Arab obstruction, as friendly Powers hoped at the time, this gesture, willingly accepted by the refugees themselves, roused the Arab leadership to wild, anti-Israel outbursts.
So one could go on giving chapter and verse of the desire and the willingness on the part of Israel since 1947 to come to grips with this problem of the refugees. No one understands the problem of refugees better than the Israeli people themselves, for since 1947 they have absorbed both within Israel and in other ways hundreds of thousands of Jews who were evicted by the Arabs following the 1948 war. And they have tried over the years to come to some understanding with the Arab countries to deal with this particular problem.
The only thing that I would ask the British Government to do at this stage is to work towards a position whereby the great Powers can—shall I say?—bring pressure to bear on both the Arabs and on Israel (if that is necessary; but I think the evidence shows it is not) so that the leaders on both sides can get together and can themselves work out, as I believe they could far more effectively and far more beneficially, a system of dealing with the future peace of the Middle East, with the problems of the refugees and with the problem of demarcation of boundaries. If the two 262 sides can be brought to that position it is probable that a solution could be arrived at which would be more effective and more likely to be permanent than one imposed on them by the great nations of the world.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, as the 19th speaker in this debate, it is difficult to know what new contribution I can make, and it is inevitable that I shall cover much of the ground that has already been debated. First, I should like to add my congratulations to the number that have already been given to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for introducing this Motion to enable us to discuss this great humanitarian problem of the refugees. He has so worded his Motion that we may take it in two parts. Refugees have been with us in an accentuated form since the end of the First World War. The old League of Nations attempted to deal individually with each refugee problem as it presented itself; and eventually the United Nations, after the Second World War, established the Office of the High Commission for Refugees. This is now the chief instrument of the United Nations' attempt to create an international community spirit to assist refugees on a purely social and humanitarian basis irrespective of the political controversies that created the problem.
Originally, as I have already pointed out, the work of the United Nations was concentrated on dealing with the 1,300,000 European refugees. The success of World Refugee Year enabled UNO to deal very effectively with the refugee problem in Europe, and although some 10,000 refugees still enter Europe each year, the difficulty of dealing with them has now been overcome. This is a very creditable performance on the part of the United Nations. The chief problem to-day is dealing with the 2,300,000 refugees scattered over various parts of the world, but chiefly in Africa and Asia. The work of the High Commission for Refugees is mainly concerned with the immediate social problems caused by the uprooting of these people from their homes and their lands. Other United Nations' agencies such as the I.L.O., the World Health Organisation, UNESCO and U.N.D.P.— and one can go on naming other United 263 Nations' organisations—eventually help to integrate the refugees into the national economy of the land in which they are ultimately settled. But as I have said, the first task on the arrival of the refugees in the different countries is to provide the social and material assistance necessary.
The problem facing the United Nations Organisation is to create an international community spirit which will help provide a new way of life for these people. I am delighted that in 1966 this country increased its contribution to UNO by £20,000 and that there was a further increase this year. We all know that this is by no means the only assistance, financial and otherwise, that we give towards rehabilitating these unfortunate people; but I hope that as soon as our own financial position becomes more stable we shall be able to consider further increasing this aid. I was delighted to hear my noble friend Lord Chalfont indicate to-day that we have now decided, in view of the new problem of the Middle East refugees, to grant further assistance, and I welcome the immediate reaction of our Government in granting this additional help.
I should like now, my Lords, to deal more specifically with the second part of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, which relates to the refugees in the Middle East. The astonishing victory achieved by Israel has highlighted the immediate refugee problem in that area and has brought to the forefront of our minds a new problem of great magnitude involving human beings. As has previously been stated during this debate, a refugee problem has existed in the Middle East for over nineteen years. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was created to deal with this problem. According to the reply given last Thursday to a Question from my noble friend Lord Segal, the United States of America has made a contribution to the funds of this Agency amounting to over 387 million dollars. The next highest contribution came from the United Kingdom, and was of over 95 million dollars. It is unfortunate, as has been said on more than one occasion, that not one penny has been contributed by Russia. We and the United States may take pride from the fact that we have given a lead, in the form of financial assistance, to enable the 264 relief organisation to deal with the immediate problem. It is with sincere regret that we note that, although the United Nations has contributed so largely to the work of the organisation, no efforts have been made to rehabilitate and resettle the refugees in the country of their adoption.
We must face the fact that we have provided the finance for these people to remain in idleness, and they have suffered from the resulting demoralisation. We look with suspicion on figures quoted of the number of people involved. We have been given a figure of something like 787,000 as being the number of Arabs who were in what is now the State of Israel, and we have been told that over 580,000 were involved in the exodus to the Arab States. To-day we are informed that refugees from Israel in the Arab States number well over 1,300,000, and it is extremely difficult for us to understand the reason for the difference in the figures. The normal population increase in the refugee camps is in the region of 45,000 annually, and that does not acount for the tremendous difference.
Another important factor which has been overlooked is that the United Nations established a special fund of some £200 million which was earmarked for use in the resettlement and rehabilitation of the refugees following the immediate assistance which was accorded to them, provided that the Arab countries were prepared to attempt to resettle them. It is interesting to note that this money has not been used. The Arabs have kept the refugee camps in existence, largely with finance from the United Nations, and they have proved a festering sore. The retention of these camps has aroused human emotions and passions, and the occupants of the camps have suffered from the lack of a useful occupation. The charge has been levelled that this course of action was undertaken for the purposes of political propaganda, and it is justified. On the other hand, we have seen that about a quarter of a million Arabs have remained in Israel where they have adapted themselves to the Israeli way of life.
Those who have visited the Gaza Strip and the Jordan heights may have witnessed some of the bitter incidents which continually occur, and it is not 265 difficult to understand why they happen. People kept in idleness who look across the border and see that the barren land which they once occupied is now producing in abundance may well be tempted to indulge in sporadic outbursts. During the nineteen years hundreds of incidents have been reported to the United Nations, and no action has been taken. Against this background I suggest that it is nonsense for any of the big Powers to expect Israel to retire to her previous boundaries until this irritant which she has experienced over so many years has been removed.
Noble Lords may say that we cannot wait for peace until the refugee problem has been solved. I find it difficult to imagine that the refugee problem can be solved until peaceful co-existence is possible in that part of the world; and that will require a complete change in the Arab outlook. The State of Israel will have to be recognised by them as a permanent feature, and this is one of the causes of the difficulties. We must always remember that this problem has not all been one-sided. Some 476,000 Jews became refugees from various Arab lands. Many of them were dispossessed. Many of them wished to go into Israel when the State was fully established, but many of them had no option but to become refugees. It is as well that this should be mentioned in this debate, because I think it answers some of the loose charges made by the Press.
The boundaries of Israel are entirely unnatural. They are not based upon any careful assessment of need. They coincide with the points at which the troops were when fighting ended in 1948. It is this false boundary position that has led to so much of the trouble. I subscribe in general to the view that in this day and age no territory should be won by conquest. But these unnatural boundaries have been allowed to remain, and it was inevitable that adjustments would have to be made before there was any hope of a lasting peace. If this war has brought about a realisation of a need to change these boundaries, it will be a good thing. The raids on the Gaza Strip, the gun posts established on the Jordan heights, the difficulties experienced in allowing neighbouring Jordan water for irrigation schemes, all indicate the falseness of these boundaries.
266 It is alleged by the Arabs that the Israelis were the first to commence war activities. I think that we all know how to assess that position. When all the Arab States agreed to a United Egyptian command, and when that command moved their forces into a favourable striking position, it was not to be wondered at that Israel, in defence of her own territory, went into an offensive war. Israel is too small to conduct a war in breadth, and her only hope for survival was to adopt the tactics she adopted. I suggest that the Arabs must accept their defeat, and in accepting their defeat must realise that they have to meet the Israelis over the conference table and discuss ways and means for peaceful co-existence.
Many ideas have been advanced this afternoon about how the trouble in this part of the world should be dealt with, but, first and foremost, we must face up to the fact that it is not going to be the big Powers who will ultimately bring about a settlement in this area. In view of the bitter past, the settlement must be between these neighbouring States. Then, after a settlement has been reached, the big Powers must be prepared with plans, financial assistance and technological advice for dealing with the refugees, so that they are not kept as political pawns but are rehabilitated and turned towards a useful life. I am sure that the world Zionist movement, which has already contributed so heavily towards the wellbeing of Israel, will continue its contributions to help the big Powers to go forward with these schemes.
In conclusion, I would add a few words to my own Government. Some of us feel that probably we are sitting on the fence a little too much. We are talking as though we desired to appease the Arab States once more. We all know the bitterness there is in the Arab world against the Western World to-day. What happened after the Western World pulled out of financing the Aswan Dam, now years ago, was the first real indication that Egypt was turning to the Soviet Union. This was followed by the mistake we made at Suez, which led to an increase in the bitterness and hatred of the Arabs against the Western World. We should be playing false to the honoured traditions of our country if we allowed oil to influence us too much in not obtaining an honourable settlement. 267 It is as necessary for the Arabs to export their oil to the Western World as it is for us, as consumers, to buy it. The more we attempt these appeasement methods, the more shall we continue to be held in contempt by the Arabs. In my opinion, we have a good opportunity of straight speaking in this particular direction. I think the failure of the Soviet Union to grant material assistance to the Arabs in the difficulties they are experiencing as a result of their defeat by Israel has destroyed a lot of the Arabs' faith in the U.S.S.R. Therefore I suggest that this is the opportunity to write a new chapter. It may be regretted—and some of us have said this on more than one occasion—that we in this country have tied too much of our economy to imported oil, but, having done so, we ought not to allow it unduly to influence our determination to do all possible in helping to secure an honourable settlement, with freedom of movement for all the nations involved.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ BARONESS HYLTON-FOSTER
My Lords, I will try to be brief. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for moving this Motion, as it has given me the opportunity of drawing attention to the help given up to now by the International Red Cross, and the purpose behind it. I am doing this with the blessing of the Chairman of the British Red Cross Society, the noble Lord, Lord Inchyra, who unfortunately was not able to be here all this afternoon.
Perhaps it would be simpler if I explained the help given to the Middle East refugees and prisoners of war by dividing the Red Cross into three groups. First of all, there is the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is giving relief in the occupied territories; then the League of Red Cross Societies, which is giving relief where the refugees are under the control of their own Government; and thirdly, the British Red Cross, which is sending help to the International Committee.
May I deal first with the British Red Cross? As soon as the International Committee appealed to the world-wide National Societies of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and the Red Lion and Sun, our Society, sent £10,000 by return. Since then they have appealed through the 268 Disasters Emergency Committee on T.V. and radio for money for the relief of victims of the conflict. I am informed that up to this morning the total was £65,000, and I hope very much that after to-day's debate more will be given.
Next, dealing with the action taken by the League of Red Cross Societies, the League's relief director reported over a week ago, after a preliminary survey, that food and shelter were the first needs of the refugees. Later, after visiting the National Red Crescent Societies in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria to make a further survey of the needs there, a relief programme is being drawn up, in collaboration with UNRWA, and will be published in due course. But, as has already been mentioned this afternoon, the immediate need is tents and also, I am informed, blankets. These are the two things they need.
The International Red Cross Committee (and if I refer now just to the "Red Cross" this will mean not the British Red Cross, but the International Red Cross) came into action the day war started. They appealed to all countries involved to ensure strict application of the four Geneva conventions, which they have all signed. At the same time, the International Committee undertook to carry out the duty assigned to it by the Conventions, and at once started a campaign for the relief of suffering. The next day the delegates were on the spot in Syria with six tons of supplies. These contributions were quickly supplemented by donations from the National Societies, and I think your Lordships will be interested to know which ones have contributed so far. They include Canada, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Kuwait, Finland, France, Libya, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, United Kingdom, U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. A fortnight later, by about June 16, the Red Cross had been welcomed by the Government authorities and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent and Israeli Society in Jordan, the Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and they have all given the Society full support.
The Central Tracing Agency was then set up, and since then has handled over 45,000 messages. This can be a little tricky, as has already been said this afternoon, as the bridge over the Jordan 269 is very popular and full of the refugees trying to get over. On one occasion the Red Cross delegates from the West arrived a little ahead of schedule and were met with shots. But as soon as it was clear who they were, and the Red Cross arrived from the other side, that was all settled. Other messages have been exchanged waist high in the water from the delegates being in the middle of the river. But these are all the hazards of the occasion, and it is really all working quite smoothly.
The lists of prisoners of war have been despatched to the Governments concerned. Some of the Jordanian wounded prisoners of war have been flown back and welcomed by King Hussein himself. Children Have also been flown from the West Bank of the Jordan back to Jordan to join their families who had fled from their homes. Wounded Egyptian soldiers have been flown back to Cairo; and I think I am right in saying that an Israeli pilot was repatriated from Cairo and flown back to Israel.
Delegates visiting the Egyptian Red Crescent Hospital at El Arish found, contrary to some Press reports, that it had not been attacked or bombed, and that the Egyptian doctors were carrying on with their work as usual. The situation in the Sinai Desert, with Egyptian stragglers very hard to find, has been causing grave concern; but the Red Cross delegate in Cairo managed to contact the Israeli military authorities East of the Suez Canal, and he then crossed the Sinai Desert in transport provided by the Israeli Army. It was at the request of the International Red Cross that the water channel from the Ismalia area to Sinai was reopened.
UNRWA is continuing to give assistance, but the Red Cross is still needed to continue its work in visiting prisons and detainees, distributing relief, and to be on hand to help where others may not be able or allowed to go. The job of the Red Cross throughout the world is to help in an emergency, and to try to fill the gap and pave the way for the appropriate authority to take over. The refugee problem is alas! a continuing and long-term one, and help must be financed by Governments. It is only through Governments that a final solution can be found to this very tragic problem.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, I crave your Lordships' indulgence as the twenty-first speaker in this debate, started some six hours ago, after the noble Lord, Lord Byers, to whom we are all grateful for introducing the Motion. I will confine myself to two points. The area which has been the principal subject of this debate, namely, the Middle East, cannot, I think, be considered in isolation. For some nineteen years past the problem of the Arab refugees has existed, but throughout this period there have been other movements of population in the Mediterranean area.
I have myself been concerned for some years with the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief and Rehabilitation, whose prime purpose is the relief and rehabilitation of Jewish refugees. In that capacity I have visited North Africa and been concerned with those who have sought refuge in other countries, and particularly France. I mention this because it should not be thought that the total number of Jews absorbed by Israel from the Arab countries represents by any means all the Jewish refugees from those Arab countries. Particulars have already been given of those who have gone from the Arab countries to Israel. But elsewhere, for instance, the Jewish population of France increased between 1956 and 1962 from 280,000 to over 500,000; that is to say, it nearly doubled. A substantial number of these were French nationals, who went to France at the time these North African countries gained their independence. The French nationals went, of course, as of right; the rest were given refuge there. It is quite obvious, I think, that so many Jews would not have left their own homeland had it not been for the fear, justified or not, that they would be placing themselves in peril by remaining where they were.
Of course, not all Jews in those countries went to France and Israel. Some went to other countries willing to receive them, and some have remained behind. Apart from the rush to France when independence was granted to these countries, emigration has varied in numbers substantially according to the political climate. The attitude of the authorities in each of these countries concerned has been different. In some cases Jews have rather been prompted to move 271 while the going was good, when physical violence and sequestration of property had not been carried out but was feared. In some cases they have escaped in circumstances of the greatest difficulty, prompted by the danger to the lives of themselves and their families.
It would be unhelpful to those who are left there now to refer to such information as is available to me about the current position, except to mention that in some cases the Jewish populations remaining in the countries of North Africa are in extreme peril, and in others have been protected by the law of the land against incipient mob violence. One would hope that in the months to come the violent propaganda emanating from Cairo, inciting the population of other Arab countries to violence against the Jewish populations there, may cease; but at the moment there seems little ground for such a hope. I believe that there are at present about 100,000 Jews in the Arab countries of North Africa. It is only right that they should be able, if they wish, to leave with such property as they have, or to remain in their own countries as full and equal citizens, free from the fears to which they have in so many cases been subjected.
It seems to me quite clear that the longstanding problem of the Arab refugees can be solved only within the context of a general political settlement. The experience with UNRWA gives no hope that mere relief through United Nations Agencies, on however generous a scale, is likely to lead to a permanent solution. One might have thought—and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, referred to this matter earlier—that if the work of UNRWA were extended from the mere grant of relief to imaginative schemes of development on a grand scale, it might be possible to create new communities which were economically viable and would greatly strengthen and enhance the economies of the countries in which they were carried out that an attempt should be made not only to integrate the refugees in question into the country in which they are, but also to create a community in which family life and communal services flourish, so that that community can live and grow.
This is clearly what was in mind when Mr. Ralph Galloway, to whom reference 272 has already been made, and who was the UNRWA representative in Jordan, spoke to American Congressmen in Amman in 1952. He said:It has been the growing recognition of the international community that the solution to the refugee problem must be found through programmes of rehabilitation and large-scale development projects which will make the refugees self-supporting members of their host countries as well as contribute to the economic development of those countries. It has been increasingly recognised that such plans for a solution are constantly hampered and frustrated by political objection by the Arab countries which are not interested in any realistic solution to the problems but in keeping it as an affront against the United Nations and a weapon against Israel.There is no reason whatever to think that the remarks made as long ago as 1952 have not equal validity to-day. Therefore, until a general political settlement can be achieved it is useless to think of a localised programme for solving the problem.
The solution may lie (there has been much discussion on this point, and I do not wish to extend my remarks to cover it) in establishing some of the refugees in areas where they now are in the context of such a development programme. Others who wish to do so might go to other parts of the Middle East, if they would be welcome there, where again substantial assistance might be given; and some who wish to find a home in Israel might be enabled to do so, particularly where this enables families to be reunited. I abbreviate my remarks at this hour.
It would, however, be essential to the success of any such programme that the refugees should become integrated in the countries in which they are, or into which they move, so that they become as much a part of that country as any other citizen. It is clear that no country could accept a group of refugees if that group were merely to be the spearhead for attack by some neighbouring country. If a general political settlement could be achieved, then I believe that funds to make resettlement a real possibility and a real success would be available not only through UNRWA and possibly other, perhaps more appropriate, United Nations Agencies, or international agencies of one kind or another, but also from private sources.
Reference has been made this afternoon to the astonishing success in this country of World Refugee Year, when 273 some £10½ million was collected. It has always seemed to me to be an unsurpassed example of disinterested giving. I believe that in such a case as this, and provided that people were satisfied that there was a general political settlement, a similar response could be obtained to provide funds to secure a permanent peace in the Middle East. I have no doubt—and I am, of course, speaking for myself—that, given this precondition, such a campaign would have the wholehearted support of the people of this country, and that the Anglo-Jewish community would play its full, perhaps more than its full, part.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am sure that the House will have listened with exceptional interest to the final words of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan; and I am equally sure that my colleagues in the Government, and everyone else, will want to study them with proper attention. It is certainly a pleasure for me to follow the son of one who not only was an old friend of so many of us but did such immense work for so many good causes, without thought of publicity or reward. The noble Lord, from what he has been telling us in a modest way, has himself, of course, laboured very hard in the social fields, as has the noble Baroness who is next to us. Indeed, if I may say so without sounding a little patronising, it is often near the end of these debates—and here I am not referring to my own utterances—that some of the most interesting speeches are made. Anyone who listened to the noble Baroness's account of what the Red Cross was doing would, I think, be very much better educated than he was before.
I think that my noble friend Lord Chalfont has already paid tribute to the work of this and other voluntary societies, including that over which the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, presides, which will always be associated with his name and, also, that of Lord Astor.
My Lords, as has been said many times, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating the debate, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that his speech in opening the debate was a model of its kind, not only for all its other virtues but for brevity, which is a quality that 274 many of us have failed to display in past years when we were taking part in general debates on one side or the other.
The noble Lord allowed us to-day to discuss two far-reaching issues: the whole question of refugees throughout the world and the cause of peace in the Middle East. I think rightly there has been a general concentration, following the noble Lord, upon what might be called the point of intersection, the cause of the refugees in the Middle East. Other speakers, however, as they were entitled to do, have moved to some extent outside that area, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, among others, were right upon this fact: that in one sense the issue of the refugees, regarded as a human problem of suffering, is a single issue throughout the world.
I turn to the terms of the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, who spoke so very movingly, made one point among a number which was not, I think, made by other speakers and was very telling. She brought out the fact that the High Commissioner for Refugees, who is not, of course, responsible for the Middle East, had achieved remarkable results by proceeding in an atmosphere remote from politics. I felt that there she struck a note from which we could all profit.
Before I come to the main points which have been made I should like to say two things, quite firmly, about the position of the Government. One will not, I think, be resented or disputed. There has been a general and gratifying agreement in this House that we in this country, with whatever Government happened to have been in power, had nothing to be ashamed of. I think we have no reason to go boasting; when there is such a tragic situation in the Middle East any sort of complacency would be somewhat repulsive; but compared with other countries I think we come out well. The noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, referred to that in his speech.
There is one other general point I should like to touch upon, although I will keep as far as possible to refugees rather than upon the problems of the Middle East, which we discussed recently and may well discuss again. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, stated his position as not being neutral, and to illustrate that 275 he said that to him it was inconceivable that Israel should not be allowed to exist as a free country. I agree with him entirely about that. I said it not long ago and I say it again, and I am sure everyone in this House will say that we resist, with absolutely inflexible determination, any suggestion to interfere with the existence or freedom of the State of Israel. But, having said that, I would describe my own attitude, at least—I do not know the precise words the Government would apply, and sometimes when my colleagues try to define their position carefully trouble seems to result—as being absolutely neutral in trying to state the facts; and this was the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, and other speakers.
If I may say so, I thought the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, illustrated that kind of neutrality very well, because he has never left us in any doubt over the years of his support for Zionism. We know his emotions lie in that field; but so far as it lies within his power he confined himself to the facts as he found them. At one point, he corrected stories which he thought were unfair to Israel, and at another point he made certain admissions in regard to Israel which champions of Israel might have preferred him not to make. Indeed, I think it was as good a speech as the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has ever made in this House; and more than that I cannot say.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, we come now to the debate. I think there has been a difficulty in the minds of most speakers, which I certainly share myself and would share were I speaking for the Government as a Back Bencher. We are all agreed—and I will say something more about this before I finish—with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for example, and by other speakers, that there is a sense in which there may be no adequate solution to the problems of refugees until we get a general settlement. But as a House of Lords we have not been content to leave it there and to say that nothing can be done before that point is arrived at. In different ways, speakers have tried to make constructive sugges 276 tions of an interim character, but it is very hard to separate this problem from the general settlement. In that constructive spirit I would agree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. I think it was the noble Earl who said that a pound spent on resettlement is worth £100 spent on relief. That was undoubtedly the general sense of the debate. But when it comes to practical measures that can be taken now and in the immediate future, when passions still rage, it is extremely difficult to bring forward ideas which are capable of realisation.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has gone, but I think all of us realise that if anybody can be said to be more well qualified than anybody else to speak in this debate it is the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who spends most of the year in settling refugees and, in the past, in governing a part of Israel. So his particular proposals, coming from that source and with all that personal authority, particularly with his standing in Israel, are bound to be attended to in a special way. It would be impertinent of me now to say whether I felt, or whether, offhand, I thought the Government would feel, that one would be able to get far with the pilot scheme he mentioned. It would clearly depend on the co-operation and good will of the Israeli Government. But if that could be obtained, of course it would be splendid conception; and for that and other reasons we are grateful to the noble Viscount.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl on one point? There is of course one other thing which could be done, and done by the United Nations without the full co-operation of all parties; that is, to start now a proper feasibility study of what could actually be done, given the co-operation of the people. I did mention this in my speech, and I should not like the House to get the impression that at the present moment there is nothing which can be done, and which could be of tremendous advantage in advancing the progress of the later scheme.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, speaking for myself I regard that as a very practical suggestion. I cannot say more now, but certainly I cannot see any objection to it, although I am sure 277 that some objection will emerge from somewhere. However, it will not be from me, because it seems to be a completely sensible plan and I only hope that it will be possible to push it forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, is second, if I may put it that way, only to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in his knowledge of that part of the world. He has done immense work in the past and kept in touch with the whole subject on behalf of the refugees. There again he made a number of practical points which I should prefer were considered by the Government. I would mention one comparatively minor point, though I do not think he would say it was unimportant; nor should I. He referred to the need for telephone communication with Jordan. We agree that this is a useful idea, but it would require the cooperation, as would nearly all these things, except the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, of the Israeli and Jordanian authorities. I am afraid I am advised that it seems unlikely they would agree. However, do not let us turn these things down in advance because we think people will not agree; let us put up all these ideas and see whether we can get agreement on some of them.
There were various other practical suggestions. The noble Lord, Lord Segal, mentioned a plebiscite. Certainly we are quite ready to believe that a plebiscite may play a part in the settlement of this problem later. There were other proposals put forward—for example, by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, who has done such great work in this field. Speaking generally, I sympathise with the kind of suggestion that fell from the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, who was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, about this whole philosophy of what he called functional co-operation. For some reason the noble Baroness did not care for that phrase, but she liked the idea, and she thought of it as working together. Whatever one calls it, I think we all agree that if one can promote this sort of practical co-operation one might overcome these hostilities and suspicions more easily than in any other way. One has seen—even in my experience of business I have seen—how people whose ideology is very different work happily together and begin to develop a better relationship. Therefore, if I may make 278 a general comment on the suggestions made, I should have thought that success would be more likely to emerge from the kind of proposals outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarn-bury, and the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, than in any other way.
We come to what is undoubtedly the most painful and disputed aspect of all, that is, the continuing flow of refugees across the Jordan. I will not pretend that anyone in the Government or through their official position knows exactly what is happening, but we must accept the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, as a witness of truth. He has told us what he has seen. He told us that he has seen facilities provided for the refugees. I am not going to press him on the point of whether the facilities were provided on some high-level instruction, or some local error or idiosyncrasy on the spot. At any rate, he has seen these facilities provided and we must accept that as what he has actually seen. Certainly it is not in conflict with any information in my possession, although I would not, on behalf of the Government, wish to go further than I am going in a moment. I am not going to pretend that we have an exact picture of what is happening and who is organising it. Therefore, if I may say so to my noble friends, Lady Summerskill and Lady Gaitskell, I am going to confine myself on this particular aspect to rather careful words which I hope will be properly noted.
Certainly the Foreign Secretary has already made clear Her Majesty's Government's grave concern about the situation, about the revival of this flow of refugees across the Jordan, and certainly if it continues it could prove a most serious obstacle to a lasting and honourable settlement in the Middle East. We have made clear to the Israeli Government our concern that no action should be taken in the territories occupied by Israel that might, even by implication, encourage the Arab population to leave their homes. We have made it clear that that is our attitude. The Israeli Government have assured us that they have no wish to see the Arabs leave, and I accept that as the view of the Government, whatever may be happening on the spot. It is our hope—speaking for the Government, deliberately—that the Israeli authorities will take positive steps to encourage the 279 Arabs to stay. I repeat that the latest reports suggest that the flow of refugees across the Jordan still continues. That is all the evidence in our possession.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to intervene? There is the United Nations Truce Supervisory Commission, which has at its disposal observers. Would it not be possible to suggest that a number of those observers be sent to the Allenby Bridge area, and if necessary West Jordan, to observe whether or not pressure is being brought to bear on the Arab nationals to cross into East Jordan?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, presumably it would be possible, but I should not like to encourage that suggestion, or discourage it, without proper consideration. For example, I am not sure whether the acceptance of that proposal would prejudice the work of this Commission, whether it would impose on it a new burden which would make its other work more difficult.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, may I put this point? In the papers to-night there is a statement by the Israeli General in charge of this portion of Jordan occupied by Israel in which he says, "Come and see for yourself. We are not pushing anybody out". So the Israelis have no objection to being observed, because they themselves say they are not doing it.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, may I "chip into" this discussion. I should like to say that I thought the provision of the buses a pity, but it may have been done out of sheer charity. There was never any question—I am sure there is not any question—of eviction, or of pushing the Jordanian Arabs out and getting them across the river. I thought it was a pity even to give them facilities. I thought that they ought to have been dissuaded from going, as they were in 1948. But I want to make it quite clear I was never suggesting that the Israeli Government was pushing them out or evicting them in any shape or form; because they are not.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I entirely confirm what the noble Lord has said from my recollection of his remarks. He did not talk of pressure, 280 but of facilities. The word "encouragement" may have crept in, but there was no talk of pressure. I think the House will consider it right that I am being extremely careful and not hazarding an opinion as to what is happening. I am simply saying what the Government have said to the Israeli Government and they have said to us, and what our attitude is. I think it is not wise for a Minister to pretend to be omniscient. I think the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, would subscribe to that view. A Minister may pretend to be, but he may not get away with it for long.
This is a very serious aspect of the matter. I should say one or two more words about the Government's attitude. Clearly, the steps to be taken will have to include the recognition on the part of the Israeli authorities of the right of persons from the West bank, if they have crossed to the East bank, to return. That is also something we must insist on, so far as it lies in our province. There will also have to be recognition that those who were already refugees in camps on the West bank have as much right to go back there as others who until now were living on the West bank. These are stipulations we should wish to lay down, so far as it lies within the power of Her Majesty's Government to decide what happens there.
I do not intend to detain the House very much longer unless there are other noble Lords who feel there are points they wish to be dealt with here and now. We are all agreed with the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that this resettlement of the refugees cannot wait. That was the theme struck by the first two speakers. Unfortunately, no agreement on the refugees is possible without the cooperation of the Israeli and the Arab Governments, if only in making land available for their resettlement. This, I am afraid, is a painful feature of the situation, although the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has suggested that at least something could be done while that agreement is still not forthcoming. Without this co-operation all we can do—though it is not negligible—is to alleviate the suffering; and this we are seeking to do. But this is not, as has been said so often to-day, the root of the problem. The root is inextricably bound up with the 281 problem of a general settlement in the Middle East, and it is largely because of our concern for the human problems resulting from the recent hostilities that we are redoubling our efforts towards an early and lasting settlement.
If we were not so deeply committed to our concern, it would be easy to forget that these one million or so human beings have been living for the past twenty years in conditions which are beyond the power of the imagination of most of us, and unfamiliar to those who have not seen them. I will not dwell on the physical conditions which have been described by other speakers; but added to all the hunger and misery there is the apparently continuing absence of hope for the future. That has been the worst condition of life up till now: a seemingly endless vista of camp life. My Lords, we must accept this as a challenge and, difficult though it is to consider it in that light at the moment, we must consider it as an opportunity to find a solution: to see that those who are hungry are given food, and that those who are homeless are rehoused; and, even more important, a solution that brings hope to the hearts and minds of all these unhappy people. The Government claim no virtue which is not felt throughout the House, and I am sure that everybody realises that there is no cause which at the moment means more to Her Majesty's Government than the cause of the refugees. We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for having raised this subject.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I remind him that the terms of this Motion cover other areas than the Middle East; and, quite deliberately, I raised the question of Nigeria. There are more refugees in Eastern Nigeria than there are in the Middle East. May I ask whether Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to assist the proposal which I made: that the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees should continue efforts towards finding a solution of the problem in Eastern Nigeria and, with the co-operation of the Federal Government, should be encouraged in order that the present psychology may be ended and a solution obtained?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for saying so, I do not think he was present when I began speaking.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
At the beginning of my speech I said that I was glad that the wider issue had been raised, and if the noble Lord had been present I should have tried to say something about his speech. But I follow a rule, which I hope is fairly acceptable in this House, not to reply to speeches of those who are not present. I apologise to the noble Lord and I assure him that his point will be considered most carefully.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl. I came in quite rapidly, but I am sorry to say that I missed the first few sentences of his speech.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, I was afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, was going to start us off on another seven-hour debate. I should like to offer my most sincere thanks to all noble Lords, and particularly to the noble Baronesses, for what they have contributed to this debate. Many important ideas and suggestions have been put forward which I think merit a wider audience, and I am sure they will be taken notice of and studied in centres of opinion in different parts of the world.
I should also like to thank the Government for the way they have received this debate and for the practical reflection of their sympathy on this human problem. We are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, whose statement on the River Jordan and the Allenby Bridge may be helpful. I certainly hope it will be. As has been said, we have been dealing with a grave human problem. We have all recognised that here is a great opportunity. Pray God that it will be seized! My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.