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House of Lords Hansard
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21 March 2017
Volume 782

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the present state of public health in the Occupied Territories of Palestine; and the prospects for agreed international action, in particular action by Israel, to keep the Gaza Strip habitable.

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My Lords, health indicators in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are relatively good in comparison with regional averages, but they are at risk of deterioration due to conflict and restrictions on movement and access. Increased water and electricity supplies are a prerequisite to improving life in Gaza. We welcome recent initiatives by Israel to increase such supplies and are monitoring their implementation. Further easing of restrictions on materials entering Gaza is also needed.

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I thank the Minister for that full reply. The health situation inside Gaza is already bad under the partial blockade by Israel. In the interests of all sides, will the Government keep calling for water, sewerage and electricity supplies to be addressed without delay so that Gaza remains habitable from 2020 onwards? Will they make constructive proposals for all to consider, given the help that is available from British doctors who visit Gaza regularly?

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I reiterate that the Government will continue to make representations to ensure that the suffering of the Gaza people is alleviated as far as possible. We are doing a number of things, such as in the area of reconstruction. We are contributing to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which has rebuilt 2,100 houses destroyed in the 2014 conflict. We are urging the Israelis to honour the obligations they gave in 2015 about the supply of water, which is critical to Gaza. We are also urging them to progress with the connection of the high-voltage 161 kilovolt transmission line to the area. At the same time, we urge those militant organisations in Gaza to restrain themselves and resist and renounce those violent attacks that are at the heart of the cause of this conflict.

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Will the Minister outline what steps, if any, are in place to ensure that none of the £25 million that the UK has pledged to the Palestinian Authority for 2017 to fund salaries for 30,000 officials in the West Bank health and education sectors goes towards rewarding terrorism and teaching hate?

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This is a very good example of where we are working with our European colleagues. We work through the EU PEGASE fund to distribute that part of aid. There is strict vetting to ensure that the only people who receive that salary support are legitimately providing healthcare and other medical services and teaching support in those areas. It is very important that we make sure that British taxpayers’ money ends up exactly where it is intended, helping those in need, and not funding people who have been guilty of terrorist acts.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the health sector in the Gaza Strip is really on life support and that while the blockade remains and while there is a lack of public water, this will continue? Does he see any way of encouraging direct aid from the United Kingdom towards particular hospitals? There are two Anglican hospitals, for example, serving the whole community, often free of charge: the Al Ahli Arab Hospital; and the Al-Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital, which has had to be relocated because of damage to St Luke’s Hospital in Nablus. These are beacons of hope in a fairly desperate place. Is there a way of enabling direct funding there as we continue to urge an end to the blockade?

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As the right reverend Prelate may know, our support of healthcare in this area is directed through the UN Relief and Works Agency, which channels support into the health sector there. A number of hospitals, particularly in Jerusalem, are providing help, particularly for those in Gaza, but there has been significant difficulty, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred, in getting those in medical need to those hospitals to get that care, so we have been providing help at the border through an access and co-ordination team, to try to facilitate that. The situation is very fraught, tense and difficult, and there needs to be a political solution very shortly.

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My Lords, does the Minister share my concern that a lack of credible investigation and accountability for repeated attacks on medical facilities, such as the destruction of the Al-Wafa Hospital in Gaza in 2014, is hindering the development of grossly overstretched health facilities? Can the Minister reassure me that the UK will support the resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on Friday calling for accountability for such attacks so that hospitals can be rebuilt with some guarantee of future protection?

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For the people who are suffering so terribly in Gaza in a situation that looks so bleak as we move towards 2020, as the UN forecast, there should be several steps in addition to our supporting resolutions in various bodies. First, Hamas and the terrorist organisation should cease their terrorist attacks. Next, the Palestinian Authority should take over control of the operation of Gaza. Finally, we need to see the opening of the borders, not just with Israel but the border at Rafah with Egypt as well.

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My Lords, the situation in Gaza is indeed dire, particularly for children, and this is due not only to Hamas. Do the Government at least recognise that on the latest WHO figures, albeit they are a little dated, over 4,000 Gazans have been received in hospitals in Israel and well over 90% of applicants from Palestine as a whole are accepted by Israel? Would it not be better if Gaza were to seek to build bridges rather than tunnels to Israel?

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That lies at the heart of this situation. There will be no relief for the people in Gaza, who are suffering so terribly, until there is a political solution and an easing of the tensions, and those should be based on mutually recognised rights to exist. That has to be the only way forward and the noble Lord is right to point to it as we try to apply these urgent humanitarian responses. There needs to be a longer-term political solution.