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Volume 739: debated on Monday 23 July 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent report by Medical Aid for Palestinians and Save the Children on the health of children and pregnant women in Gaza.

My Lords, the UK is very concerned about the health of the people in Gaza, as highlighted by this report, and we are already acting on the issues raised. We provide multiyear funding for food security and service delivery. We also work with partners to promote humanitarian access and the entry of medical supplies and materials for infrastructure rehabilitation.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Despite the claim by the Foreign Secretary in this year’s Foreign Office report that human rights lie at the heart of our foreign policy and DfID’s annual report trumpeting value for money in delivering overseas aid, humanitarian assistance in Gaza has not worked. This report tells us that since the deliberate destruction of the sewage plant in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead five years ago—

My Lords, this is important and I beg noble Lords to listen. The children of Gaza are denied their human rights. They have become malnourished and anaemic; they suffer from chronic diarrhoea; they are stunted in growth and psychologically disturbed; and they are being poisoned by 10 times the safe level of chlorides and nitrates in their drinking water. Three children have already drowned in sewage.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has been in this House long enough to know that she is now abusing Question Time. I know that she feels strongly about this matter but she must ask a short question.

I am glad to ask a short question. Can the Minister tell this House when the Government will demand that Israel pays for the damage it has done to the infrastructure of Gaza and allow materials through the crossings? In the light of these conditions and the continuing expansion of the settlements in the West Bank, will we be supporting the upgrade of the EU-Israel Association Agreement in Brussels tomorrow?

My Lords, the UK is very concerned about the state of the sewage system in Gaza. Indeed, 90% of the drinking water is undrinkable. This is clearly unacceptable and we call on Israel to allow the entry of essential items to permit the rehabilitation of the water network. On the noble Baroness’s last point about the meeting tomorrow, this is of the EU-Israel Association Council. It will discuss various matters in line with the existing EU-Israel action plan. It will not upgrade EU-Israel relations. The EU is very clear that no progress can be made on upgrading the wider EU-Israel relationship until there is substantial progress towards a two-state solution.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the World Health Organisation has blamed, in no uncertain terms, the problems of the import of medical supplies into Gaza on the lack of communication between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas? Can the noble Baroness assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government are doing everything they can to persuade the Palestinian Authority to improve its relations with Hamas, at least in relation to the import of medical supplies into Gaza?

We call on all parties to improve their co-ordination. Israel, too, needs to provide uninterrupted access for medical supplies, personnel and patients in and out of Gaza.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has virtually agreed that we are facing a public health disaster. Can she say how soon that will happen if things just drift on as they are at present? When will UNRWA be able to build the schools and houses for which it has both plans and funds?

At the current rate of depletion, the Gaza aquifer will become unusable by 2016 and the damage will be irreversible by 2020. We are urging Israel to allow supplies to come in through the crossings so that the damage that has been done can be rectified.

My Lords, five years on from the start of this blockade the indiscriminate attacks from Gaza on civilian populations in Israel shows no sign of abating. While these attacks should be condemned as abhorrent, does the noble Baroness agree that the continued attacks show that the restrictions have not served their avowed objective of weakening Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza? Is there not a danger that the endemic poverty in Gaza, in itself so concerning and so painfully documented in this report from Save the Children, now also risks fuelling the conflict further by exacerbating the very conditions which provide a fertile recruiting ground for extremist organisations?

The right reverend Prelate makes a very cogent case. We condemn violence on both sides, but improving the economy in Gaza is essential, not only for the people of Gaza but also in Israel’s security interests. At the moment, the blockade of Gaza and insufficient access through the crossings has meant that use of the tunnels has magnified considerably, which assists Hamas and certainly does not assist Israel’s long-term interests.

Is the Minister aware that thousands of Palestinians are treated in Israeli hospitals and that Palestinian trainee doctors receive training there as well? The situation across the Middle East for women and children is dire—for instance, in Syria, where thousands of children have been killed. Could it be that non-governmental organisations go in to make a report only where they are allowed and that we therefore take our eye off much worse situations?

The noble Baroness might like to bear in mind that the OPT, the Occupied Territories, are the poorest part of the Middle East and North Africa, with the exceptions of Sudan and Yemen. It is against that background that we urge that everything possible is done to allow the economy of the West Bank and Gaza to grow. The WHO estimates that travel is denied to 10% to 25% of medical professionals and students who apply for Israeli-issued permits to leave the West Bank and Gaza to attend medical training. That does not help things either.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that no fewer than 16 internationally led projects designed to address Gaza’s desperate needs as regards water and sanitation have not yet been implemented since the easing of the blockade in 2010? In fact, only one fifth of the materials have been allowed through because of the blockade, with the rest left sitting in storage in Israel. What, specifically, is the UK doing to ensure that these 16 urgent projects are being implemented and to insist to the Israeli authorities that there is a timetable for completion?

What is vital here is that Israel recognises its long-term security interests. We understand its concerns about security, but these specific projects to help rebuild the economy in both the West Bank and Gaza are essential for the prosperity of those areas and the future security of Israel.