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Volume 751: debated on Monday 27 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they have given to the people of Gaza over the last three months.

My Lords, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is precarious. There is a significant danger that food, water and fuel will run out later this year. The UK is a leading provider of humanitarian support, which includes supporting the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, to provide basic services, providing food vouchers to vulnerable households, supporting the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide humanitarian assistance and supporting the UN Access Coordination Unit to assist the passage of personnel and humanitarian aid.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that response. The humanitarian aid is terribly important, particularly when the 1.7 million people in Gaza are now living life at breaking point, with 11,000 people displaced by last month’s floods. Fuel shortages are such that donkey carts have replaced cars as a means of transport, the streets are overflowing with raw sewage and, with nearly 50% unemployment, the situation is like a tinderbox. The United Nations has said that Gaza will be unliveable by 2020, so what are Her Majesty’s Government doing to facilitate Hamas and Fatah talks, and more importantly talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, so that a final settlement can be reached for people to live in civilised form next door to each other?

My noble friend is right. The UN has described Gaza as being currently in a state of de-development. It does indeed predict that by 2020 the place may be unliveable. The recent blockades and closures of the tunnels have seen the further loss of 20,000 jobs in a dire situation. We strongly support the peace process. Meanwhile we are of course asking Israel to ease the blockade immediately, but in supporting the peace process we hope to see a two-state solution. The aim is to achieve a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, with all issues—borders, Jerusalem, refugees, all of them—addressed.

Is the Minister aware that the situation in Gaza has not become intolerable just in the last year or so? It has been intolerable ever since Operation Cast Lead. In the past six months, how many meetings have this Government had with the Israeli Government about lifting this blockade, which is a cause of great humanitarian suffering to the Gaza population, 50% of whom are children?

I shall write to the noble Lord with the number, but I know from all the Written Answers that I sign off the pressure that we have been seeking to put on the Israeli Government to lift this blockade, recognising that an improved economy in Gaza is essential for the people of Gaza, but also for the security of Israel.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and the Prime Minister has just announced the setting up of a Holocaust commission, but under Hamas in Gaza, teaching about the Holocaust is a crime and its official policy is to deny the Holocaust. What steps would the Minister advise in the interests of bringing peace, to ensure rationality and peace education for the children of Gaza, alongside accountability for funds, which is another matter?

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for the work she has done on ensuring that the Holocaust is never forgotten. I was pleased that my daughter asked me this year to take her to Auschwitz, which I did. I mark Holocaust Memorial Day—it must never be forgotten. The UK Government keep a very close watching brief over what is taught in schools both in Israel and the Occupied Territories to see what is put into textbooks. There have been improvements there, and in lessons, but there is still a long way to go. The noble Baroness is clearly right that trying to ensure that children in all communities respect each other and other communities is vital.

My Lords, following Egypt’s closure of the tunnels, which has already been referred to, will the Minister give an assurance that the Department for International Development will adjust its aid package accordingly, to try to address some of the terrible suffering to which we have already heard reference?

The United Kingdom and the EU are putting in a massive amount of assistance, which is much needed in Gaza for the reasons the right reverend Prelate has given. Gaza has suffered a lot from the closure of the tunnels. However, the tunnels themselves help to fund Hamas and this is an opportunity to encourage Israel to open the borders there and to support the moderate elements in Gaza. Certainly, at the moment, the international organisations are saying that the underlying causes of the problems need to be addressed. The immediate shortages are being dealt with adequately.

My Lords, I declare my interest as president of Medical Aid for Palestinians and the trade envoy to the Palestinian territories. On a more practical note, some industrial fuel went into Gaza between 14 and 20 January. However, it is not enough and much below consumption levels. Hospitals have regular power cuts and some families have only 12 hours of power a day. The most vulnerable families are suffering terrible burns from using inadequate heating and cooking utensils. What are we doing to ensure that more fuel is going in now? It will take a long time to solve the peace process but we can do something to alleviate the hardship now.

As I mentioned, those shortages are being addressed. Qatar and Turkey recently brought fuel into Gaza. However, the most important issue here is to address the underlying root causes of these problems.