The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 8 November.
“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to update the House on the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A tragedy is unfolding. Israel has suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. Palestinian civilians in Gaza are experiencing a devastating humanitarian crisis and violence is rising in the West Bank. The best estimates emerging from a confused situation are that 2.3 million people need access to safe drinking water, food supplies are running out, one-third of hospitals have been forced to shut down and 1.5 million people are displaced. I know that the whole House shares my pain at seeing so many innocent lives destroyed on and since 7 October.
Britain is working intensively to get more aid into Gaza, to support the safe return of hostages and British nationals, to back Israel’s right to self-defence and to prevent a dangerous regional escalation. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been engaging extensively, and Lord Ahmad has been constantly in the region. This morning I met a group of charities and non-governmental organisations involved in getting life-saving support into Gaza. I spoke yesterday to the Jordanian, Lebanese and Egyptian ambassadors and early this morning once again to Martin Griffiths. I wish also to pay tribute to our diplomats and development experts who are striving to make a difference in the most difficult of circumstances.
Despite the many challenges, the whole Government are determined to do all that we can to continue to stand up for what is right and to do the right thing. Immediately after Hamas’s brutal assault, the Government brought home almost 1,000 British nationals safely on charter and military flights, but the safety of all British nationals is our utmost priority, so we are in regular contact with those in Gaza registered with us since the conflict began. Working with partners, we have been engaging intensively with Israel and Egypt to allow foreign nationals to leave Gaza via the Rafah border crossing. This has proved possible on five of the last seven days, and I can confirm to the House that, as of late last night, more than 150 British nationals had made it through to Egypt. A forward-deployed team of consular officials is in el-Arish, close to Rafah, to meet them and provide the medical, consular and administrative support that they need. We have also set up a reception centre for British nationals in Cairo and have arranged accommodation. We will do everything we can to ensure that all remaining British nationals in Gaza can leave safely.
Sadly, some of the British nationals in Gaza are held hostage by Hamas, among the more than 200 innocents cruelly kidnapped on 7 October. Their plight is a stark reminder of what Hamas represents. The terrorists continue to launch rockets relentlessly at Israeli homes and families. Their stated aim, repeated publicly in recent weeks, is the destruction of the Israeli state and the eradication of its people. That is why the Government unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself. However, we have also repeatedly stressed that Israel must take every precaution to minimise civilian casualties in line with international humanitarian law. We continue to press Israel to ensure that its campaign is targeted against Hamas leaders, militants and military infrastructure. We also condemn settler violence. Israel needs to take concrete measures to address it and hold the perpetrators to account.
All parties to a conflict must ensure that their actions are proportionate and necessary, affording innocent civilians the protection that is their right under international law. Who can doubt that this is true, because the Palestinian people are also victims of Hamas? My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has expressed his condolences to the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, for the deaths of Palestinian civilians caught in the aftermath of Hamas’s attack.
Since 7 October, the UK has made available £30 million of additional aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, more than doubling our existing aid commitment for this year. So far, three UK flights carrying a total of 51 tonnes of aid have landed in Egypt. The shipments included life-saving items such as wound care packs, water filters and solar-powered lights. We have also sent humanitarian advisers and vital equipment including the fork-lift trucks, belt conveyors and lighting towers specifically requested by the Egyptian Red Crescent Society to help it to manage and deliver all the international aid received in Egypt more effectively. For this aid to meet escalating needs, however, it must enter Gaza and do so in much greater quantity. The Government have been working closely with partners including the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Egyptian and Israeli Governments to achieve this.
Since 21 October, a limited number of trucks of aid have crossed into the strip, but the volume going through the Rafah checkpoint is nowhere near enough to meet civilian needs and it cannot be, even were it operating at full capacity. We are therefore urgently exploring with partners measures that can help to increase the flow of humanitarian support. These measures must include effective humanitarian pauses, as agreed by all the G7 countries in Tokyo this morning, and we are urging Israel to consider utilising the facilities at other land border crossings into Gaza, such as Kerem Shalom.
This reflects our current assessment that delivery by land remains the only safe option to deliver aid in the quantity needed in Gaza while ensuring the necessary control and oversight. Control and oversight matter, given the absolute imperative of ensuring that aid reaches those in need and is not diverted or misused. Aid diversion is a real risk—more so during conflicts—and I will set out to the House how we are managing those risks.
All UK aid undergoes rigorous oversight. No funding goes to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. Our humanitarian programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories already operates with enhanced sensitivity, with the Government having introduced additional safeguards in 2017. They include measures to verify and map downstream partners, non-payment of local taxes, and enhanced due diligence processes. We constantly review the due diligence assessments in place with all partners involved in delivering aid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The whole House recognises, however, that to prevent further conflict and terrorism and truly alleviate civilian suffering there must be a political solution to the conflict. This issue is uniquely polarising. We have seen across the world and in our own communities its potential to radicalise. The long-standing British position on the Middle East process is unchanged: we want to see a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. The urgency of a political track—extraordinarily difficult today—has never been clearer. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live in peace and security.
We have moral clarity over Israel’s right to self-defence and we reject all forms of anti-Semitism, but we are also committed to discharging our moral duty to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Palestinians and we reject all forms of Islamophobia. The current turmoil must act as a further impulse towards realising a peaceful future for the region, and the UK will be doing all it can to achieve that. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I wanted to wait a few moments for people to leave because we are moving from one sad and serious subject to another very sad and serious subject.
Yesterday, I met the brother of one of the hostages. He showed me a photograph of his brother’s family, all of whom had been murdered. It is shocking that that horror was four weeks ago. I cannot believe how that man is able to stay so sensible and concerned about the future of his brother. But it is also hard to comprehend the scale of the devastation in Gaza: 1.5 million people displaced and more than 10,000 killed. We need to stress that every one of those lives matters—every one. We also have to appreciate that two-thirds of the dead are women and children. These civilian deaths are shocking and cannot be ignored. There is a desperate need in Gaza for food, water, medicine and fuel. Although it is welcome that 93 trucks went through Rafah on 6 November, they are totally inadequate to meet the humanitarian emergency that Gaza faces.
Yesterday, in response to my honourable friend Lisa Nandy, Andrew Mitchell acknowledged the importance of fuel, as without it water cannot be pumped, hospitals cannot power their incubators and food cannot be cooked. He said:
“We are negotiating for it”.
Could the Minister explain where we are in these negotiations to get fuel into Gaza? What is his assessment of their likely success? Can he explain where we are in terms of routes for access? Andrew Mitchell referred to the efforts of the American envoy, Mr Satterfield. He also indicated that the FCDO would continue to do all it can to work out whether we can speed up other routes, using Kerem Shalom and Rafah. Again, what is the Minister’s assessment of whether this will happen? What is his view of Lisa Nandy’s call for us to follow the US example and appoint a humanitarian co-ordinator to scale up the passage of aid?
We have heard a lot of debate recently about ceasefires. With Hamas leaders doubling down on their determination to attack Israel, and Israel ruling out a ceasefire until hostages are released, the reality is that humanitarian pauses are, as Martin Griffiths wrote last week, the “only viable” prospect. Andrew Mitchell said that he was arguing for humanitarian pauses, but said we needed to be cautious
“when vulnerable people were brought together whom we were unable to protect”.
He said that they would not be viewed as stand-alone events. Can the Minister provide an update on the recent meeting of G7 Foreign Ministers to discuss the prospects of pauses?
It is essential that humanitarian aid gets through and that we protect not only the people we seek to help but those people who are working to help the people of Gaza. It is truly shocking that a higher number of UN aid workers have been killed in this conflict than in the history of the UN. I am sure the whole House will join in mourning their loss and paying tribute to their bravery and humanity.
I share the concerns in the Statement about the settler violence in the West Bank. As the Minister knows, I visited the West Bank in May and I saw the level of violence then. I have read that that violence has continued unabated. In fact, supplies of arms have gone to those settlers to attack Palestinian villages. Can he elaborate on the Government’s engagement with Israeli counterparts over the situation in the West Bank?
Echoing the comments of Lisa Nandy, the Minister Andrew Mitchell said that
“support for Israel is not a blank cheque”.
“Good friends deliver hard messages, and they are able to do so precisely because they are good friends”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/11/23; col. 142.]
The Statement acknowledged the importance of international law, so can the Minster state when the protection of hospitals, schools and refugee camps was raised with the Israeli Government? What response was given?
Lisa Nandy called on the Government to join Labour in calling for
“an emergency plan to support the children of Gaza”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/11/23; col. 141.]
More children have died in Gaza in four weeks than in all of the world’s conflicts in each of the last three years. It is a children’s war, with a million caught up in the devastation, orphaned and displaced, sleeping outside as the weather grows colder, short of food and forced to drink dirty water. In his response, Andrew Mitchell mentioned that he had met UNICEF yesterday. I hope the Minister can tell us what the outcome of those discussions were. How will the Government ensure that the priority of children, which Andrew Mitchell mentioned, is recognised fully in all the humanitarian work we do? Without a long-term, co-ordinated plan for the children of Gaza, the cycle of violence will not be broken. We must do more, and show that we are doing more and that we care.
My Lords, I too thank the Government for the Statement. I commend its tone and the way that the Minister for Development responded in the House of Commons. I am sure the Minister in this place will do so in his characteristic way today. I wish to say at the outset that this is in stark contrast with the polarising terms used by the Home Secretary this week.
On 19 October, on behalf of these Benches, I called for us to support the UN Secretary-General’s call for a cessation of hostilities so that life-saving aid, food and water are provided and restored to Gaza, and to allow for this to be enduring, to lead to a ceasefire and for intense diplomatic activity to be carried out to prevent a wider escalation. We know, and we are hard-headed enough to know, that this is incredibly difficult, because we do not accept Hamas’s legitimacy to continue within Gaza and we also wish to see a situation where the rockets can stop and the hostages are released, but equally we need the killing of children to end. Since 19 October, a further 2,500 children have been killed—now totalling over 4,100. More than 2,500 women have been killed. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to, according to the United Nations, since 7 October 147 Palestinians, including 44 children, have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces, and eight, including one child, by Israeli settlers. I hope the Government are working hard to de-escalate the tensions within the West Bank.
There was only one passing reference to the United Nations in the Minister’s Statement. But as we have heard, since the beginning of 7 October, more than 70 further UNRWA staff have been killed, the total now being 92. This is the highest number of UN aid workers killed in any conflict in the history of the United Nations. I hope that others may consider it appropriate that this Parliament has a book of remembrance for the United Nations staff, who work so hard on behalf of world peace and who are suffering so greatly.
I repeat my call for the full replenishment of UNRWA funding, which was halved between 2018 and 2021. I have welcomed the £30 million referenced in the Statement, but why has this not increased since two weeks ago, when it was announced, as the humanitarian crisis has grown? I call for a full restoration of OPT funding to pre-cut levels and I remind the Chamber that, even with the increase mentioned in the Statement, this is still less than 20% of pre-cut levels.
In the Statement, the Minister says:
“I wish also to pay tribute to our diplomats and development experts who are striving to make a difference in the most difficult of circumstances”.
I agree; I have met many in the region on countless visits in recent years. The Government also say in the Statement:
“We will do everything we can to ensure that all remaining British nationals in Gaza can leave safely”.
What is the current estimate of the number of British nationals still in Gaza who have not left? Can the Government estimate how many British nationals in Lebanon have followed some of the diplomats and left the country after the guidance and advice from the Government?
The Statement also says that the Government have
“repeatedly stressed that Israel must take every precaution to minimise civilian casualties in line with international humanitarian law”.
Why did the Government feel it necessary to remind the Israeli Government of this? The Statement says:
“We continue to press Israel to ensure that its campaign is targeted against Hamas leaders, militants and military infrastructure”.
I am equally concerned that the Government feel the need to stress this regarding the Israeli Government’s tactics and actions. Will the Government publish their legal position on what they consider to be international humanitarian law regarding this conflict? We have seen atrocities by Hamas; they are clear and determined. Those responsible need be prosecuted and if necessary brought to the ICC, but we also need clarity on international law.
Finally, the Government say:
“The urgency of a political track—extraordinarily difficult today—has never been more clear”.
I agree, but it can only be done during a cessation and then an enduring ceasefire with monitoring and verifiable progress, which not only removes Hamas’ military capacity but, as I saw in Mosul when I visited northern Iraq many times, creates the hope for civilians in Gaza that there will be a future without Hamas—that it will be safe and secure, and services will be restored.
In 2018, the UK endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration after many years of campaigning by many Members of this House. We welcome the Government’s endorsement of the declaration. The Government of Israel continue not to endorse that. We know that Hamas leaders need to be prosecuted for abusing schools and other learning facilities, particularly those operated by the UN. Will the Government make this a priority to ensure that the learning areas and children of Gaza are the absolute focus of a humanitarian presence? There is no reference to this in the Minister’s Statement, so will he state who the UK representative is at today’s Paris conference on humanitarian relief co-ordination?
I close by asking the Minister if he will agree with me on one point—the quote from the Government when we endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. They said:
“The provision of education in conflict zones and humanitarian situations puts affected populations back on track, establishes routine and purpose, shapes belief in the future, and supports the process of reconstruction”. [Official Report, Commons, 23/4/18; col. 18WS]
We will desperately need that, and if the UK can do anything, it can be a lead on these issues.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords. As we know, the situation is desperate for those in Gaza, but we also reflect that it is one month on from the horrendous and abhorrent attacks that took place in Israel, which shook a country built on many pillars, including security, and impacted many communities directly. It is a poignant note to remember.
We see the scale of human suffering in Gaza every day on our screens, and I am obviously in the midst of this. I will seek to answer some of the questions asked and issues raised in the time allocated, but I assure both noble Lords that we will continue to update the House regularly. I pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Development Minister for the proactive Statement, and for support on many issues. We continue to brief colleagues. I welcome the opportunity to brief Members of His Majesty’s Official Front Bench in my office and will continue to update them.
I myself visited Israel recently. I also visited the West Bank, so I will reflect on that. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked who was attending the Paris conference. The Second Permanent Under-Secretary, Nick Dyer, is in attendance there; the Foreign Secretary is returning from the G7 meeting, which I will come on to.
Of course, we endorse the Safe Schools Declaration; I personally championed it, and it is important that we do not lose sight of it. However, there are key priorities that we are focused on, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, addressed, specifically the humanitarian issue of access. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that ultimately, whatever is asked for—the pauses, the cessation of hostilities—no conflict ends until there is a ceasefire. We need to ensure that we build in the conditionalities, safeties and securities that are required to allow that humanitarian access to happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about Kerem Shalom. I have been involved quite directly in this during my conversations in Israel, and we need to really be concerned. Everyone points to the Rafah border crossing, but anyone who knows its operation knows that it was not the main crossing point. There are limitations at the Rafah crossing, so we are working with the Israeli authorities on the Kerem Shalom crossing in particular, and with other key partners. A number of announcements were made by Gulf partners, for example. I asked directly about some of the work done on our co-ordination on the ground, particularly in Gaza, so that we can also see what other partners are doing and support them. This needs to be a co-ordinated effort.
The shock and challenge being met by Israel was also very much at their hearts when I went to the West Bank. I commend the Palestinian Authority for condemning Hamas’ abhorrent actions. As I said, we must frame our discussions from a UK perspective—that we regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Hamas is not the future for the Gaza Strip. It is not the future for the Palestinian people. It is not a partner for peace. We need to stress that at each and every step. In doing so, we are supporting the Palestinian Authority on key issues, including the release of funds to ensure its sustainability. That was a key priority in my discussions with the Israeli interlocutors when I visited.
I will share information with noble Lords without going into a great deal of detail. On the issue of hostages, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will appreciate that we are in quite sensitive discussions and negotiations. I cannot say any more than that, but we are working to do our utmost. We have seen a large number of British nationals, more than 150, leave Gaza. A number—again, I will not go into detail—are currently still in Gaza, but I assure the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, that we are working on that issue as a priority. I am personally engaging with it at the highest level, as is my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. Indeed, the Prime Minister is engaging with many issues at the highest level, including in his meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
I share the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Collins: who cannot do so, when you turn on your TV screen and see, as a father of three, the devastation being inflicted on ordinary civilian Palestinians in Gaza? We want to bring their suffering to an end. They are not the ones who committed these abhorrent attacks. I was quite direct with our friends and partners. I agree totally with my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell that, as a friend, partner and ally to Israel, we are of course communicating quite directly, but we are also ensuring that on issues such as IHL, they also recognise their responsibility. They are a state and must take that responsibility; they recognise that fully and I assure noble Lords that we will continue to stress that upon them. When you are a friend and partner to a country, that also means that you deliver quite direct and candid messages. There are many in Israel who recognise that a sustainable peace in the region, the cessation of hostilities and ultimately, the realisation of stability, security, peace and justice for all can only be reached through the pathway to the two-state solution that we all continue to strive for.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the West Bank. It was part of my discussions in the West Bank and with the Israeli Government. We have seen that more than 155 people have died through settler violence, including 45 children. That echoes the point made by the noble Lord. That is why my right honourable friend the Development Minister also reiterated that there is no blank cheque. No country would offer a friend or a partner, whoever that friend or partner might be, a blank cheque, but our friendship and relationship with Israel means that we are able to highlight these issues. Reining in settler violence was a key focus of my engagement and that of the Foreign Secretary, and it continues to be the case.
Noble Lords will have seen the level of diplomatic engagement from day one, and that continues. I have just returned from Morocco, which is chair of the Arab League. I was there for a few hours to ensure that the meeting taking place there this week reflects that the UK is playing a direct role. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, on his way back from the G7, is in the region engaging on this very issue.
On what happens next, we are working with key partners in the region. Allocations are already being made. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about UNRWA. We are now at £57 million and looking at additional funding. We also need to ensure that the funding that is getting through is delivered in a secure and sustainable manner to those who need it and is in no way being taken for other purposes. The rigid process we need to follow currently is not enough. There were 500 to 600 trucks a day going into Gaza before the conflict. We need that sustained, and that must be a first priority.
Ultimately, we will achieve peace and security only when it is peace and security for all people. Our relationship with Israel and the Palestinian Authority and our friendships with near neighbours also lends itself. That the situations in Lebanon and the wider Gulf should not escalate remains part of our key priorities. I share with both noble Lords the shocking statistic—it should not be a statistic: real lives are being lost—that more than 90 UNRWA staff have lost their lives, as well as 73 other UN agency staff elsewhere in the world. That puts the nature of this conflict into perspective.
My Lords, I commend the Minister for the huge effort he is putting into efforts to reduce the tension, as have other Ministers. I also support the Government on humanitarian pauses, which I believe is the best and only practical first step. The Minister will be aware that Mr Netanyahu has spoken about Israel retaining overall security responsibility for Gaza when the fighting stops. Does he understand that also to mean that Israel will therefore be responsible for humanitarian efforts and for restoring basic services to Gaza, such as health, education and welfare, and for reconstruction? These are massive tasks. If not Israel, who will administer Gaza in the interests of the people of Gaza when the fighting is over?
I recognise and reflect on some of the comments the noble Lord has made from his insight and experience on this issue. I agree with him. You can have the noble intent of a ceasefire. Ultimately, in any conflict that is where we should be aiming. We are having a structured response to ensure that we deliver what we can. I am sure noble Lords have followed the progress being made even as I speak on this issue.
On who governs Gaza, that is an active discussion in which we are involved. It has been very clear, as has Antony Blinken, that this is not Gaza first. A complete settlement for the Palestinian people needs to happen. It means that reoccupation is not an option. While this operation persists, we are talking directly. It is not just us; the US, in particular, and other key partners are delivering those messages. We are seized of this and are working with key partners on the immediate priorities of ensuring that aid goes through, that people get out and that we create spaces for humanitarian aid to be delivered. The second priority is the interim period. That is why we are working on boosting and supporting the Palestinian Authority to ensure that n there is Palestinian Authority oversight supported by all key partners, including many Arab states. The noble Lord will know how complex this is, but I assure him that we are treating this as a priority.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register, particularly those related to friendship with Israel. Last week in Washington, I saw the full, unexpurgated photographs of the murder of children. I do not think I will ever lose from my mind the sight of those burned corpses. We should not forget that Hamas has consistently oppressed the people of Gaza. Prior to the 7 October assaults, it destroyed water pipelines and electricity. That is one reason why children are drinking dirty water now. It is stockpiling 760,000 litres of fuel. That is one reason why hospitals are running short of power. Earlier this week, it attempted to smuggle a non-medical oxygen compressor during the aid convoy. What are we doing to ensure that the aid we are supplying, which is so desperately needed, is going into the hands not of the corrupt terrorists but of the people of Gaza?
Just a point of reflection: when I was in Israel, I too saw the shock and some of the images, the videos of ordinary Israelis who were attacked during the terror attack. Equally, I was in the West Bank: we see the tragic nature of what conflict brings when we see children being buried under rubble. That means that we must be seen to be acting in a co-ordinated way. There is no option. We need now to use this extremely dark cloud over the Middle East to ensure that we get focus and pull out all the stops to ensure that there can be lasting and sustainable peace. I have already said what the Government’s vision is to ensure that happens.
On my noble friend’s point, and I recognise it, we are working directly with the Israeli authorities. He will be aware that aid going through Rafah is being co-ordinated by the Egyptians and the Israeli authorities to ensure that there is no smuggling, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, of items. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about fuel. We are seeing how we can create conditions for fuel to be delivered efficiently and effectively. We are talking to the Israelis about that. The Israelis’ checks and balances ensure that it is delivered through the agencies we are working with on the ground to the people who need it most.
My Lords, I welcome many aspects of the Statement and that at last the Government are properly acknowledging the calamitous effects of the Israeli bombardment on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. I regret that the Statement makes no reference to the terrible toll on children, not just the many deaths and the serious injuries but the trauma they are suffering which will affect their lives for ever. Does the Minister agree with UN Under-Secretary Martin Griffiths that a war crime is being committed by the Israeli Government in Gaza? Does he also accept that far more pressure needs to be exerted on the Government of Israel, who for more than a week have resisted the call by the US and many others for humanitarian pauses? Can he tell the House how long the pauses need to be and how many are needed for there truly to be an effective and lasting impact on what is happening in Gaza?
My Lords, I listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness said. I do not think in any Statement, or indeed in subsequent questions, such as we are doing now, that we have in any way underplayed any conflict, and this is particularly about the impact on children and children’s lives. We see it, we hear it directly and we are focused on ensuring that children are provided that glimmer of hope, but we are far from that point right now. That is why it is important that we engage directly. I talked about the additional crossing at Kerem Shalom. That is needed to allow the level of support that is currently needed because again I stress that Rafah was not the primary route for delivering humanitarian support to Gaza.
The impact on children is primary in our minds. Ensuring that we mitigate that is at the forefront of our discussions with our Israeli partners. The noble Baroness asked about the timeline. That is why we have experts deployed in Rafah right now. We have teams deployed in Jerusalem in Israel and in Rafah to ensure that the expertise, in terms of both logistics and the time needed, is amplified.
We are working directly with the likes of Martin Griffiths and others within the UN because of the time needed, for example, to establish a field hospital or to access a particular level of support for an existing facility. A cessation is required to allow time for that to be delivered. This is a matter not of minutes but of effective, well-managed and secured pauses so that delivery of aid can be sustained. I emphasise that, once it starts, it has to be sustainable.
My Lords, the Statement quite properly recognises the need for Israel to be proportionate in its response, but the law provides no definition of “proportionate”. Might I suggest a practical definition in the context of what we are discussing? The methods must be proportionate, but so too must be the outcomes of these methods. Particularly with regard to the second of these, are the Government satisfied that Israel is fulfilling its obligation?
I agree with the noble Lord about the issue of us reminding Israel of its responsibilities under IHL. I have said a number of times in public statements that we need to unpack it. It is not just a label; there are conditions and quite specific elements. This includes the forceful movement of people, for example. We are focused on that. The issue of how Israel is currently operating is also important. It is important to remind Israel of its obligations. I come back to a point I made in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. Israel is a state; in its operation it has obligations that it needs to stand by. Our job, as a friend and partner, is to work with Israel to ensure that those obligations are at the forefront of its operations.
I do not deny for a moment that the human cost of this conflict is immense. It is shocking to look at what happened on 7 October and to see the subsequent loss of life in Gaza currently. We have also seen what is happening in the West Bank. That is why we must focus on ensuring that contagion is prevented. The loss of life—every life, irrespective of who it is, whether Israeli, Arab, Christian, Muslim or Jewish, mother or child—matters. Every innocent life matters, and we are focused on that.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for all he has said and all he is doing. As we have heard, international humanitarian law exists to protect humanity at times of conflict and to shield us from acts of barbarism. In very different ways, as we have heard, both sides continue to flout that law; it is shocking. I want to return to the situation in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Does the Minister agree that the rising settler violence and movement restrictions are a matter of real concern, in terms not only of individuals killed but of families displaced and the undermining of UNRWA’s ability to deliver much-needed humanitarian support there? The reports we are receiving from the Anglican diocese in Jerusalem indicate a perilous situation, and one that is going to worsen if steps are not taken to uphold the rule of law.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate. The insight of the faith communities is extremely important. The right reverend Prelate will know the personal prioritisation I give to this issue. Together with the political dialogue and the political track, we must ensure that communities are fully immersed. Ultimately, it is communities that deliver the outcomes.
The right reverend Prelate may be aware that I met my dear friend Archbishop Hosam when I visited Jerusalem, along with other Christian leaders. I have also engaged with other faith leaders. It is important that we keep the strength of what community and faith bring. I have visited Jerusalem on many occasions, and it was very sad for me that the silence of Jerusalem was deafening.
It is important that we once again look at how communities are working together. Faith leaders, particularly in the Holy Land, have a key role in ensuring that we return to that vision of sustainable peace. Let us not forget that in Israel 21% of the population is Arab; it is Christian and Muslim. We have very fine examples of how communities are working together. I have said it before and I will say it again: the exemplary example of what we see in Haifa is demonstrable. I have always said—I stand by this, and I challenge anyone to say it—that, even with the challenges in our country today, our country and any country is judged by the strength of its communities and the resilience and cohesion they bring. By God, we have challenges, but working together is how we solve them.
My Lords, to follow the evidence presented by the right reverend Prelate, this morning I received a message from a Medical Aid for Palestinians worker in Gaza, who for safety reasons I will not name. She said, “This work is not about humanitarian aid any more. It is about where to get wood for fire in order to cook. It is about water queues, bread queues and how long the walk is in search of water or bread. Our work and advocacy are centred on dignity for Palestinians, and there is no dignity”. Many Members of your Lordships’ House have spoken about the aid workers from many different groups who are struggling so hard to survive themselves and support people in Gaza. Does the Minister agree with me that they cannot do humanitarian work unless there is a ceasefire, as was called for last night in a vote in the Senedd?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness about the phenomenal role that aid workers, agencies and doctors are playing on the ground. I know that some British doctors are still serving in the hospitals under such intense pressures; I pay tribute to them. There are doctors lining up to go into Gaza to provide support.
I also agree with the noble Baroness that we need to take stock of the human tragedy unfolding in Gaza. It is for us all not just to contemplate but to act upon. That is why the nature of the cessation required needs to ensure that support can get in, but it must also be done in a safe and secure manner. If we look at the example of the field facilities we are discussing with partners, including field hospitals within Gaza, they must satisfy the issues of security for Israel and for those working there. The access and supply routes should be equally secured. Those are some of the key priorities we are currently working on.
My Lords, I call on the Minister to make his first port of call the international Red Cross, whose job it is to take care of hostages. If it gets out the hostages and Hamas comes out from hiding behind civilians, the temperature will cool. It is also the job of the surrounding Middle East countries—among the richest countries in the world—to come to the aid of the Palestinians, not least through Egypt opening the border. But first, the hostages.
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness—I have said this before about the hostages—that we are working with many of the countries she highlights. Qatar, for example, as the noble Baroness will know, is playing a key role in this respect. That is a key focus for us in our priorities. There are three areas. We want those who need to leave Gaza to leave, the hostages to be released and the aid to go in. Those three things require that we work towards ensuring that the conditions on the ground sustain that. Let me reassure the noble Baroness, in terms of not just the hostage release but the future, that the near neighbours to Israel need to play a role as partners in peace. I can assure the noble Baroness that, from our conversations and the discussions and diplomatic engagement we are having, they are very seized of that priority.
My Lords, sooner or later there will be a ceasefire. The only question is: how many people will get killed between now and when the ceasefire takes place? We all know the pattern after that. It will not end the conflict: there will be a period of quiet and then another flare-up, which we hope will not be as bad as this one. There is no prospect of any peace in this part of the world until the Palestinians have what the Israelis have long had: a state of their own. I want to hear from the Minister an assurance that he will not turn his back, as the rest of the world tends to as soon as the immediate conflict is over, and that he will ensure that the British Government—despairing as they must currently sound about a two-state solution—realise that you cannot have two states when you recognise only one. The Palestinians deserve no less.
I can assure the noble Lord. I have been a Minister for a while, but I will share with noble Lords that this is probably one of the most challenging and toughest not only briefs but occasions when I am standing before your Lordships’ House, speaking about what is currently happening and the shocking events in Israel on 7 October. Subsequently, we have seen what is being endured by innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza—this has to stop. I mentioned this being sustained in my opening comments; I will not turn my back, and I hope that noble Lords will not turn theirs. There will not be a short-term solution; this will require long-term focus. Looking around this Chamber, I am sure that whoever stands in my place in the months and years to come will also reflect the importance of finding a lasting solution—it is not papering over the cracks, as the noble Lord said, because this will erupt again. We need to ensure that terrorist organisations such as Hamas are not in governance positions, which is why we support the Palestinian Authority. Ultimately, as we, the Americans, the Europeans and the Gulf states have said, sustainable peace can be achieved only when there are two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side—not just independent but ultimately, we hope, learning that coexistence is the way forward.
My Lords, we are all grateful to the Minister for how he is handling this, and he has the admiration of the House. We all have to bear in mind that Hamas has ultimate responsibility for every drop of blood shed over the last month, but we also have to remember that Israel is a mature democracy, and it is very important that a mature democracy exercises its power in such a way that the innocent are not massacred.
Suffice it to say that I totally agree with my noble friend. I assure noble Lords that putting humanity at the centre of our approach—in diplomacy, in the support, and in the private and public conversations and statements we are making—is the essence and heart of finding a solution. I have often talked about my considered responses, but I again thank all noble Lords for their considered positions on this important issue.