Motion on the Israel-Hamas Conflict – Speech by Gerald Giam

Mr Speaker,

At the outset, I would like to affirm the Workers’ Party’s support for Israel’s statehood and for the creation of a viable Palestinian state, side by side in peace and security with Israel through a negotiated two-state solution, in line with the relevant United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolutions.

The killing of 1,400 people, most of them civilians, in Israel and the taking of over 240 hostages by Hamas on 7 October 2023 cannot be justified and must be unequivocally condemned. However, the ensuing retaliation by Israel in the Gaza Strip over the past month demands critical scrutiny and a response from the international community, including Singapore.

Since 7 October, more than 9,770 people in Gaza — including thousands of children — have been killed, according to health officials in Gaza. More than 1.5 million people have been internally displaced and northern Gaza has been laid siege by Israel. Israel said it dropped about 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip in the first week of the war. This number is surely much higher now, topping the record number of bombs the US dropped on Afghanistan in the whole of 2019.

The Workers’ Party supports Israel’s right to defend itself. However, this right must be wielded within the bounds of international humanitarian law, ensuring that the sanctity of human life, particularly that of civilians and children, is upheld even in the midst of a war. Israel was successful in securing its border with Gaza within days of the assault, but it continues to destroy civilian infrastructure, displace hundreds of thousands of people and cut off supplies of water and electricity.

Israel must recognise that executing this asymmetric response will only breed further hatred of it among the Palestinian population and provide fuel for extremists both in Gaza and around the world, perpetuating the cycle of violence and suffering. Former US President Barack Obama said that upholding international law and avoiding, to every extent possible, the death or suffering of civilian populations is “vital for building alliances and shaping international opinion — all of which are critical for Israel’s long-term security.”

Israel therefore must adhere strictly to the laws of war — not only for the sake of the suffering Palestinians but also for its own security. Proportionality, distinction and necessity must guide its military actions. Hamas must also immediately and unconditionally release all Israeli and foreign hostages. Failure to do so will only prolong this war, and lead to a greater loss of life and hardening of hearts on both sides.

Singapore’s potential role

The Workers’ Party supports Singapore’s vote on the resolution at the UN General Assembly on 26 October which, among other things, called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” as well as the “immediate and unconditional release” of all civilians being illegally held captive.

Singapore may be a small country, but we must do everything within our capacity, working alongside countries in the region and international agencies, to deliver essential humanitarian aid to the suffering people of Gaza during this current conflict.

Our assistance must go beyond alleviating the immediate suffering of the Palestinians. We can also contribute to post-conflict reconstruction and development by offering more technical assistance to the Palestinians, for example, in education, public housing, urban planning, water management and tackling corruption. Under the auspices of the Singapore Cooperation Programme, Singapore has provided training for many Palestinian officials. In 2016, Singapore pledged to double the Enhanced Technical Assistance Package for Palestinian officials to the quantum of $10 million. We must follow through with this pledge, as this technical assistance will be needed more than ever during reconstruction following this war.

Our longstanding ties with Israel go back to our early days of independence and national service. Singapore also has good relations with the Palestinians and with influential Muslim majority countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, some of which have established diplomatic relations with Israel. Singapore was also the first country to sign a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Singapore’s diplomatic standing and trade relations with these nations places us in a position to play a constructive role towards pushing for a long-term solution for peace in the region. We should work with like-minded partners to help establish the foundations for enduring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and advocate for the implementation of the two-state solution. We should seek opportunities to facilitate greater dialogue between all stakeholders, including hosting high level summits between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Singapore could provide a neutral venue for peace talks away from the conflict zone. This potential peacemaking role is consistent with past initiatives. In 2018, Singapore was the backdrop for the first ever summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea, and before that in 2015 we facilitated the landmark meeting between the presidents of China and Taiwan.

And lastly, our think tanks like the Middle East Institute could play host to more Track II academic exchanges and business forums between Israelis and Palestinians. These less formal dialogues are essential in building understanding and sharing Singapore’s experiences in nation-building.

Misinformation and political debate

Mr Speaker, I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to Singaporeans, especially the residents of Aljunied, Hougang and Sengkang, who have actively engaged with Workers’ Party MPs on this issue. Your passion, concern, and call for a balanced, humane approach have been instrumental in shaping our collective voice on this matter. Let us unite in supporting efforts that foster peace, dialogue and understanding.

I am mindful of the potential influence of misinformation surrounding this conflict. There have been various reports of supposed atrocities committed by both sides. Many such reports remain contested and lack independent verification. It’s important to acknowledge there is a possibility that some information might be a product of war propaganda. There are significant challenges faced by journalists in independently confirming these allegations, given the hazards of reporting from a conflict zone.

As Singaporeans, it is imperative that we individually take the initiative to guard against the spread of misinformation and disinformation. We should not look to the government to censor fake news for us. As an article on the website Vox advised, if a video, photo or post about the war makes you immediately furious or upset, refrain from instantly sharing it. Check the source by reviewing the account and its past posts and cross-reference it with reliable news outlets. This will help to keep our discourse on this issue rational and focused on what is most important — the welfare of the innocent civilians in Israel and Palestine.

Political debate occurring within Parliament, in classrooms or at Speakers’ Corner provides Singaporeans with a safe avenue to express their views and engage in discussions about international conflicts, including the Israel-Palestine situation. They also provide a crucial pressure release valve for discontent, helping to prevent individuals from becoming overly influenced by extreme rhetoric from foreign sources. Suppressing political debates does not prevent extremism; rather, it could lead to the debate being driven into radicalised corners of the internet, which is where the real danger lies.

Arguments against greater public debate have cited concerns about a general lack of understanding surrounding the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This raises two critical questions: What active steps are being taken to deepen Singaporeans’ understanding of this conflict? And are we as individuals proactively seeking to educate ourselves on this topic?

Schools and higher education institutions should more actively promote classroom discussions on this topic. This will not only provide young people with a platform to voice their perspectives and express their frustrations with the situation, but also encourage them to respect different viewpoints. With teachers or facilitators guiding these discussions, the conversations will be kept balanced and will avoid becoming overly contentious.

In our era, where information is widely accessible, there is no excuse for not acquiring a basic grasp of this important issue. Despite its complexity, it is essential for each us to make the effort to understand its nuances, so as to foster rational and informed public discussions.

Conclusion Mr Speaker, in summary the Workers’ Party calls for an immediate humanitarian truce, the protection of civilians and aid workers, direct humanitarian access, the swift release of hostages, and a return to negotiations towards a two-state solution to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, in line with the United Nations General Assembly resolution ES-10/21.