[Ian Paisley in the Chair]
It is extremely stifling in here today. If hon. Members wish to remove their jackets, I will permit that, given the heat. I know we will probably generate more heat and light during the debate. This is also a highly subscribed debate, so I ask people to bear that in mind when they make their introductory remarks. I will try to get everyone in, if possible, but quite a lot of Members wish to speak. I will try to accommodate everyone; if we can keep interventions to a minimum, that will help.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Paisley. This is a DFID debate rather than a Foreign and Commonwealth Office debate, and I am glad that the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), is present to bring his expertise to bear.
The situation for Gaza and its 1.7 million residents is appalling and inhumane, but before I turn to some of the specific concerns of the many in Gaza and the wider Palestinian community, I will briefly comment on the events of the past few months. Many hon. Members will be aware that there have been multiple protests along the border with Israel as part of the “Great March of Return”. The start marked the 70th anniversary of the exodus of as many as 750,000 Palestinians, many of whom were driven from their homes during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. According to Medical Aid for Palestinians, approximately 14,600 people have been injured by Israeli forces, and 55% of those were hospitalised. Tragically, 118 Palestinians were killed, including 14 children. Elsewhere, including in the west bank, a further 17 Palestinians were killed during the same period, including five reportedly shot at the fence or after crossing into Israel.
In particular, I pay tribute to Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old volunteer for a medical team helping wounded protesters, who was shot dead near Khan Younis. Razan was fatally shot in the neck while clearly wearing a medical staff uniform. That is a war crime, as the Palestinian Health Minister, Dr Jawad Awwad, has said. Razan was brave and inspirational, and will be remembered as such, but it is our responsibility as politicians in the UK Parliament to try to ensure that those responsible are held to account for her death. Dr Andy Ferguson, who is MAP’s director of programmes and was present at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, on Monday 14 May, said the following about what he witnessed:
“Any hospital in the UK would be utterly overwhelmed by such a massive influx of injuries as we saw in Gaza. Amid dwindling supplies of medicines and equipment and Gaza’s chronic electricity shortages, hospitals in Gaza were in crisis even before the protests began. It is testimony to the motivation and skills of medical teams in Gaza that, despite this, hospitals were able to keep receiving, triaging, referring and treating patients—both the newly-wounded and the hospital’s standard patient workload.”
Although it is apparent that some protesters may have engaged in some form of violence, that does not justify the use of live ammunition. International law is clear: firearms can only be used to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious injury. In some instances, Israeli forces appear to have committed wilful killings, constituting war crimes.
My hon. Friend will recall that I asked the Minister a question —I think it was about a fortnight ago—about an inquiry into what had been happening there. That was to go to the United Nations, but when it got to the UN, the British Government sat on their hands. What does my hon. Friend think about that?
I am grateful for that intervention and I am pleased that the Minister is here. He has some responsibilities and I hope we will have some answers. We need to have an inquiry and to hold those responsible to account, because Israeli forces were using not only live ammunition, but high-velocity weapons in particular, causing absolute maximum harm. Another issue of concern is that the UK Government have approved more than £490 million-worth of arms exports to Israel since 2014.
According to the latest figures from the UN, since 30 March this year, 135 Palestinians, including children, have been killed and thousands injured, half of them seriously, as a result of the use of live ammunition. Does my hon. Friend agree with Amnesty International, which has renewed its call on Governments worldwide to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel following the country’s extreme response to the mass demonstrations along the fence separating the Gaza strip from Israel?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is about not just the sale of high-powered rifles but the type of ammunition that is being used, all of which has been licensed. The licences include categories of arms and arms components such as sniper rifles, assault rifles, surveillance and armed drones, and grenade launchers. As yet, the use of UK-manufactured weapons in the current atrocities has yet to be verified, but US-supplied weapons of the same type are clearly being used by Israeli forces to kill and maim Palestinians.
The export controls under which our Government operate clearly state that export licences should not be approved if there is a clear risk that the weapons might be used in violation of international law or for internal repression. From the Government’s own figures, it is hard to see how current sales of military and security equipment to Israel are not in breach of those obligations, which comes back to my hon. Friend’s point. The Israeli Government must rein in the military to prevent the further loss of life and serious injuries, and the UK Government must immediately suspend all their current arms sales to Israel and support international efforts to set up a comprehensive arms embargo that applies to Israel, Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups.
The UN Human Rights Council has condemned
“the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians,”
and called for the urgent establishment of an “international commission of inquiry” to investigate the killing of Palestinians during the protests. In my opinion, it shames the UK Government that the UK abstained on the vote, objecting to the omission of references to Hamas and its role in the violence. The UK has, however, separately called for a full and independent inquiry. Indeed, the Minister told the House:
“Our abstention must not be misconstrued. The UK fully supports, and recognises the need for an independent and transparent investigation into the events that have taken place in recent weeks, including the extent to which Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement are in line with international law and the role Hamas played in events…The death toll alone warrants such a comprehensive inquiry.”—[Official Report, 21 May 2018; Vol. 641, c. 579.]
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. However, certain principles apply in relation to the use of lethal force. It is clear that the Israeli security forces’ response has been completely disproportionate, as demonstrated by the death toll and the huge number of Palestinians with gunshot wounds, many of whom are in a very serious condition and will have permanently disabling injuries as a result.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Is he aware of the high committee of the “Great March of Return”, which includes Hamas, posting on Facebook a request that people bring a knife or gun to the protests? Does he agree that it is a distortion of the truth to ignore the role of Hamas in this violence?
The last time we debated this in the Chamber, I asked the Minister if we had any statistics on Palestinians being arrested, but he was unable to give them. Those statistics would indicate whether the Israeli forces’ approach to the protest was one of “shoot to kill” or of arresting the protestors. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be looked into?
I know that my hon. Friend has visited the west bank and has seen some of the actions of the Israeli security forces. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that. The UK must press for an independent inquiry and ensure that its abstention at the Human Rights Council does not send the message that grave violations of international humanitarian law will be tolerated.
In 2012, the UN warned that Gaza would be unliveable by 2020. In July 2017, the then UN co-ordinator for humanitarian aid and development activities, Robert Piper, revised that projection, saying that
“that unlivability threshold has been passed quite a long time ago.”
I share that view. Chronic needs and injustices must be addressed now. Many right hon. and hon. Members present have actually seen the conditions there with their own eyes. The people of Gaza cannot wait for a successful peace process. The blockade must be lifted and the suffering relieved.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the former Conservative Prime Minister described Gaza as the world’s biggest open-air prison. That narrative has changed, as has the policy of the Government, who seem increasingly apologetic about the Israeli Government’s actions. I welcome the Government’s reference to an international inquiry, but they are shirking responsibility given our history in that country and region. I call on the Minister and his Department to work in the spirit he has always shown and make sure that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary start to show some leadership on this issue, rather than ducking and diving, as has happened over the past few years.
I absolutely agree. I hope that we will hear some positive responses from the Minister. Until Israel ensures effective and independent investigations that result in the criminal prosecutions of those responsible, the International Criminal Court must open a formal investigation into these killings and serious injuries as possible war crimes and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
The debate relates to the work of DFID, and the protests, attacks and deaths merely shadow a wider issue, which is that many Palestinians live a miserable life because of the Gaza blockade. It has now been 11 years since the closure of Gaza, which was intensified by Israel’s imposition of a land, sea and air blockade.
Despite Israel’s removal of its settlements in Gaza in 2005, it retains effective control over both the territory and its population. It therefore remains the occupying power, with all the humanitarian and legal responsibilities resulting from the fourth Geneva convention, including for the Gaza population’s access to adequate healthcare, the provision of medical supplies and the functioning of medical establishments. Hospitals in Gaza are suffering a drastic deficit in medical disposable equipment and vital drugs. The World Health Organisation warned that the health system in Gaza is
“on the brink of collapse”,
with more than 40% of essential medicines completely depleted, as well as shortages of electricity and fuel for generators.
Permit approval is needed from Israel for patients seeking urgent treatment outside Gaza. Last year saw the lowest rate of permit approvals for Palestinian patients since records began, causing the avoidable tragedy of the deaths of at least 54 people after the denial or delay of their permits.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful and informed speech, and I congratulate him on securing this important debate. He is absolutely right to say that healthcare is on the brink of closure, but so are other vital services, such as energy, schools and sewage management. Despite humanitarian efforts over 11 years, the situation has worsened year on year. Will he ask the Minister to set out what concrete steps he will take to end this illegal blockade?
Precisely. I am grateful for that contribution, and I hope that the Minister will respond positively and give us some good news about the potential for progress on a lasting settlement and relief for the hardship of those people.
Gaza’s unemployment rate is almost 50%, which is the world’s highest, while 97% of households lack access to clean drinking water. There has been a threefold increase of diarrhoea among under-threes, and in contrast to the global improvement in infant mortality the rate in Gaza has actually stagnated for a decade. Mains electricity is available for only four or five hours a day—less under certain circumstances—which undermines vital services and severely inhibits people’s everyday lives and wellbeing. Some 109 million litres of waste water is released into the sea every day, and almost the whole of the Gaza coastline is contaminated.
I know that the Minister shares my concerns, but we need to do more. We need to step up to the plate for the Gazans. We cannot allow the desperate situation of these innocent people to continue. Taking no action will be counterproductive. It will simply strengthen the position of those who advocate extremism. We need to hear a stronger voice from the UK in the international community.
The hon. Gentleman is making important points about the desperate humanitarian conditions faced by Gazans. However, unless he is willing to mention that the disruption to energy supplies for Gazans has much to do with the ongoing dispute between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the west bank, that the Rafah crossing is hardly ever opened to allow humanitarian supplies in from Egypt, or that Hamas runs Gaza with an iron fist and is guilty of numerous counts of misappropriating aid, we will not get the balanced discussion that this important issue needs.
We need an understanding of the situation and the appalling hardships faced. Let us not forget that Israel has obligations under international law and under the fourth Geneva convention. It must honour those commitments, and if it does not the international community must take action.
On our roles and responsibilities, I have seen at first hand the vital work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. I hope that the Minister gives us something positive in his comments today, because we need to ensure that those organisations are properly funded. I believe that we must consider sanctions against Israel if international law continues to be flouted. Most importantly, we need to ensure that the blockade is lifted and Gazans are allowed to travel, trade and have access to healthcare. If we do not do everything in our power, and the Government do not do everything in their power to achieve peace, the blood of many more people will be on our hands.
Order. Before I call Sir Nicholas Soames, I ask hon. Members to restrict themselves to as few interventions as possible or no interventions—I know it is impossible to order that. It will mean that everyone gets a chance to speak, but after Sir Nicholas speaks, I will be cutting the time available to each Member to, potentially, two minutes, depending on interventions. I want to get it to three minutes each, but that will be up to you.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this very timely and important debate. I wish to make only a brief contribution.
I speak today as a long-standing member of the Conservative Middle East Council and, now, its president, and as someone who has travelled extensively in the middle east for many years. At the beginning of my speech, I want to make it clear that I believe absolutely in Israel and I believe without qualification in the statehood of Palestine. I want to see a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine. However, I want today to express my deep concern about the truly appalling humanitarian conditions in the west bank and most particularly in Gaza.
In the 35 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, I have taken a very close interest in the middle east, with all its endless shifting alliances, problems and disasters, and it has always seemed to me quite unbelievable that a nation such as Israel—a nation that is cultured, sophisticated and democratic, that has triumphed over so much and whose people have, down the centuries, suffered so dreadfully—should even consider tolerating the grotesque situation that pertains in Gaza and the serious harm, desperate squalor and cruelty that the people there live with. It is immoral and contrary to all humanitarian norms. Israel acts with seeming impunity, imposing what is in effect a collective punishment on Gaza. Israeli actions against the Palestinians are legally and morally wrong and must be condemned, but more importantly, they must be put right. It is not enough just to express concern and to go on expressing concern. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who is indeed my friend and who has a deep and profound understanding of the middle east, that I look to him for something stronger.
A democratic, sophisticated Israel should know much better than to do what it is doing at the moment, not only in its recent violent behaviour towards the Palestinians —the position was very well expressed by the hon. Member for Easington—but as it continues to expropriate, absolutely illegally and against all advice from all its friends and its opponents, land for settlements.
This year is the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba—the terrible catastrophe that befell them, in which most of Palestine’s Arab population fled or were driven from their homes during Israel’s creation in 1948. Since 2007, an illegal Israeli-imposed blockade and three major wars have wreaked havoc on Gaza’s economy, its infrastructure and, above all, its people. Unemployment in Gaza stands at 43%; 39% of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians live in abject poverty, with 80% dependent on international food aid for their very survival. If that is not enough, 97% of Gaza’s entire water supply is contaminated by sewage and seawater. According to the United Nations, on top of all that are hopelessly inadequate health services. Essentially, the Gaza strip has been made uninhabitable and unliveable.
It is clear that the ongoing split between Fatah and Hamas has paralysed Palestinian politics, made it much harder to make any progress, and rendered very difficult reconstruction efforts in Gaza. However, the House should express today our unqualified and unreserved anger and our shock that Gaza should be kept as it is, with a devastated economy and desperate humanitarian needs.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, if the hon. Lady will forgive me, because I am coming to the end of my speech and many hon. Members want to speak.
I know many Israelis and many Jews in this country who are deeply, abidingly, desperately ashamed of their country’s behaviour—that wonderful, extraordinary country’s behaviour—in this respect, and we should not in the House let this moment pass without most strongly condemning such dreadful and barbaric behaviour.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing it. It is also a pleasure to be under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley.
Last week, Jamie McGoldrick, the director of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, spoke to the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group here. A very experienced UN diplomat, he took over recently, and he gave us a horrific picture of both the current and the long-term situation in Gaza. As has been said, there is very little electricity or clean water. There are appalling levels of unemployment, poverty and reliance on aid. One statistic that he gave stuck in my mind. It was that 1,700 people were shot in one day. It is not just the 135 people who have been killed but the thousands of people who have been injured recently. We are talking about really quite unimaginable figures. Nearly 15,000 people have been injured, and the injuries of a large number of those—4,000—related to the use of live ammunition. This is firing into largely unarmed crowds of people who do not pose a threat to the state of Israel.
We can go back 200 or 100 years to events in our own history, such as Peterloo and Amritsar, in which the military engaged in attacking civilian populations. The idea that that is happening now in a country that says it is a democracy and is an ally of this country is just horrific. I am waiting to hear the condemnation that we should hear on this, because it relates to an illegal occupation that has gone on for 60 years. What has happened over the last 25 years—long before Hamas came on the scene—is the separation of Gaza from the west bank so that a Palestinian state becomes impossible. It is no longer possible to travel, not just for health reasons but for any reason at all, out of Gaza. In effect, the people of Gaza are being told, “You are sealed off. You will continue to be occupied. You will be subjugated and humiliated, but you will no longer have the right, just as people in East Jerusalem do not have the right, to travel to the west bank.” This is the fracturing of Palestinian integrity and society in a way that is clearly deliberate.
I will give way—no, having looked at Mr Paisley, I will not; that was a stern shake of the head.
I end by asking this one question. Tomorrow Omar Shakir, a director of Human Rights Watch, will appear before an Israeli court. Can the Minister deal with the question of whether there will be British attendance there from the consulate or the embassy? It is important that voices in Israel speaking up against what is happening are defended and supported, because otherwise the truth simply does not get out. I ask the Government to do their bit, not just in condemning, but in supporting those who are trying to make a difference to the lives of people in Gaza.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing the debate, although I am saddened that this contribution is on a fraught and hostile topic that concerns many of my Jewish constituents in Southport. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I recently made a trip to Israel and the west bank with a number of colleagues—a trip that I will refer to.
Last Wednesday, a rocket exploded outside a nursery in southern Israel. No children were hurt, but the rocket was one of 45 fired from the Gaza strip that day. In recent weeks, dozens of balloons and kites with explosives attached to them have floated into Israel. One landed on a children’s trampoline. Fortunately, no children were hurt. We rarely hear about violence emanating from the west bank or the deprivation there. I ask hon. Members to consider why. What is the difference between the two territories? The answer is simple. Whereas the Palestinian Authority want to create a lasting peace, the regime that controls Gaza wants to wage war against the Jewish people. Such hatred informs its decisions, which worsen the lives of ordinary Gazans.
Even more worrying is the anti-Semitism of Hamas. If we want to understand the humanitarian situation in Gaza, we need to appreciate the importance of the hatred that drives Hamas to launch bombs attached to balloons in the direction of innocent children. Since its foundation, Hamas has promoted the sort of perverse anti-Semitic stereotypes that some in our own country now believe. Its original charter accused the Jews of controlling Governments and triggering wars between them. It asserted that the Jewish people needed to be broken and their dream of a Jewish state destroyed. Even its revised charter denies Israel’s right to exist.
Such unrelenting hatred causes obvious concern in Israel, but it creates only misery for Gaza. It is the reason why Hamas hides its weapons in the homes of innocent people; why it fires rockets from unprotected schools and hospitals; and why it channels tens of millions of dollars of international aid into maintaining a network of tunnels that terrorise Israel. This year I had the opportunity to see one of those tunnels. Only by seeing it can a person comprehend the true scale of the terror infrastructure that Hamas has created. It is nothing like what many anti-Semitic commentators would have us believe. The tunnels are not built to assist those who might be fleeing. They are the product of sophisticated technical engineering, built with the purpose of supporting Hamas in achieving a prescribed outcome. Concrete slabs support the walls and ceilings of the passageways, many of which have electric wiring and lighting.
It is right that we concern ourselves with the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, yet I ask hon. Members to keep in mind what continues to make the humanitarian situation in Gaza unfavourable. Is it a lack of support by the international community? No. Is it the chronic shortage of humanitarian funding? No. It is the anti-Semitic hatred of Hamas that keeps Gaza in its current pitiful state.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I want to associate myself with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). The hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) talked about seeing Gaza for ourselves. I have recently been to Israel and to the Palestinian territories. Seeing it for ourselves is important; it is what makes us turn up at 2.30 in the afternoon in Westminster to speak about these things. It is important that we all see it for ourselves. I appeal to the Minister to try to ensure that arrangements are made for Members of this House to go to Gaza, so that we can have proper oversight of British funding around Gaza and the humanitarian crisis. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) and I asked to visit Gaza as delegates, and were told in no uncertain terms that it would be almost impossible. That does not fill me with hope that the system is fair, especially given all the points raised in the opening remarks. It worries me when we stop being able to see.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith raised the case of Omar Shakir from Human Rights Watch. It appears that there is a closing down of dialogue, which is aimed at silencing human rights voices in the west bank and Gaza. The only way in which we can exert power to try to change that is through the use of our missions in the region. I urge Ministers to seek support on the case regarding Omar Shakir’s deportation, and to urge the missions to attend tomorrow’s court case in Jerusalem. Something must be done, so that we are not left guessing about the propaganda and the different groups. Let us call a spade a spade. We are all associated with different groups that have different feelings and ideologies on this issue, but we can put all that aside. I watched myself and the people I travelled with put some of our preconceived ideas aside when faced with the reality. I ask the Minister to try to make sure that we can go into Gaza and see it for ourselves.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this very important debate.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is severe and extremely difficult, and I am pleased we are having this debate. I want to focus first on the good work that is being done. We often think the problems are insurmountable and ignore the really serious efforts to improve the situation. Israel has doubled the amount of water it provides to Gaza to relieve the water crisis that Gazans face. Furthermore, Israeli healthcare and charitable bodies continue to provide their services to Palestinians. Some 6,000 children have been examined in the weekly cardiology clinic run by Save a Child’s Heart in the city of Holon. Each day, around 700 trucks of supplies of medication, food and building materials enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing. In total, 10 million tonnes of construction material have been delivered to Gaza since 2014. Those are all positive signs.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s giving way. The World Health Organisation has stated that in Gaza, there is only a month’s supply of half of the items needed for essential medicines, and of a third of essential disposables. Does he find that acceptable?
These things are extremely difficult and it is not up to me to say whether that is acceptable. I will simply highlight what I think is happening to some of the resources directed towards Gaza.
As I said, there are positive signs, but clearly they have not alleviated the very serious humanitarian situation in Gaza. It could be said that Israel can and should do more, but when we ask why it does not do more, we come across the root cause of the Gazan humanitarian catastrophe. Hamas won in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election, and emboldened by that, it militarily seized the Gaza strip in 2007. Since then, Hamas has been the undeniable root cause of the suffering and devastation in Gaza. It is committed to the destruction of the state of Israel, aided and abetted by its Iranian paymasters. It antagonises the situation by being a bad, unhelpful and corrupt Administration.
The reconstruction material that Israel sends through the Kerem Shalom humanitarian crossing is frequently misappropriated to build terror tunnels. In 2016, it emerged that $36 million had been diverted from the international relief group World Vision directly into Hamas’s coffers. Additionally, 369 Palestinians are alleged to have abused their medical permits to seek treatment in Israel, using them instead to plan and prepare terrorist atrocities. In such circumstances, given the rampant maladministration and deception that Hamas oversees, the Israeli and international aid efforts are amazing and optimistic. It is a credit to all involved that they continue to do the right thing, despite the real risk that their good intentions will be subverted for evil ends. Hamas is not just a corrupt administrator; it is a genuine threat to the security of Israel and the wider region.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this important debate and on his excellent speech.
Following the killings of Palestinians protesting on the “Great March of Return”, a senior UN official rightly described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as a
“crisis on top of a catastrophe”.
And it is a long-running catastrophe.
The illegal blockade of Gaza is entering its 12th year. That is more than a decade of occupying forces violently locking nearly 2 million people in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, in what David Cameron described as an “open-air prison”. It is more than a decade of Palestinians being terrorised by an Israeli army that still effectively occupies Gaza, with Israel retaining control over Gaza’s borders, air space, sea space and public utilities. It is more than a decade of the Israeli army making frequent and devastating military interventions in Gaza, and it is more than a decade of its control being used to suffocate Gaza.
The poverty rate is 40%, with 80% of the population dependent on foreign assistance. Just 20 years ago, Gaza’s water network provided safe drinking water to 98% of households. Now the figure is less than 4%. Today there are just three to four hours of electricity a day in Gaza. In 2012 the UN warned that Gaza would be “unliveable” by 2020. That judgment was revised last summer: Gaza is already unliveable.
We could spend all day cataloguing the severity of the de-development of Gaza but throughout it must be remembered that the humanitarian catastrophe is human-made, perpetrated through military might and with international backing. Because it is human-made it can and must be unmade, but rather than seeking a political solution our Government facilitate the disaster. Just last year the Government approved more than £490 million-worth of weapons exports to Gaza, including sniper rifles like those used to kill Palestinian protesters in recent months. Since we know that the Israeli army’s military arsenal is crucial in the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, will the Government review the sale of arms to Israel?
The human-made disaster in Gaza can be unmade. Palestinians and Israelis can live in equality and peace, and on just terms, but it will require political courage to bring that about. I look forward to that day and pray it will be soon, when we have a Government who are willing.
Since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated drastically. Hamas does not use international aid for the benefit of its citizens, to build schools or hospitals. Instead it uses it to build sophisticated tunnels into Israel, with the intention of committing terror attacks.
It has gone relatively unreported, and has certainly not been mentioned in this debate, that Israel has facilitated the passage of well over 10 million tonnes of construction materials into Gaza since Operation Protective Edge in 2014. It has expanded and developed its Kerem Shalom goods crossing to increase its capacity to 800 trucks a day, which carry food, medical equipment, fuel, building materials and more. Yet on at least three occasions in recent weeks Hamas has set fire to the crossing and to the gas pipelines that serve the people of Gaza. It has refused and destroyed aid supplies, including the medicines whose severe shortage other Members have highlighted, when it has been realised that they came from Israel. That attitude is completely incomprehensible and only compounds the suffering of Gazans, who are living in the most horrifying situation.
Israel regularly allows Gazan patients to get treatment in Israel, and helps Gazan doctors and nurses to receive further medical training at Israeli hospitals. When I visited Tel Aviv I saw Israeli doctors at Save a Child’s Heart providing life-saving heart surgery to Palestinian children and training Palestinian doctors, who will return to Gaza where they will be able to perform the surgery themselves.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which is a good one. Senior officials in Hamas are always too ready to allow access to those high standards of healthcare in Israel, although they seek to block it for their own citizens.
The moments in that Tel Aviv hospital gave me hope that peace could be achieved, because Palestinians and Israelis worked together there as equals with mutual respect. When we debate the disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza we cannot ignore the role of Hamas, as others have sought to do. What struck me when I was in the west bank and met the Palestinian chief negotiator was the fact that his overriding emotion was not frustration, anger or upset; instead there was a sense of despondency and guilt, because he keenly felt that the loss of the Gaza elections to Hamas in 2006, the battle of Gaza in 2007 and the political violence of 2009, when opponents of Hamas were tortured, shot and thrown off buildings, have created an insurmountable obstacle to peace and left the innocent people of Gaza at the mercy of an authoritarian militant jihadi regime.
No, I am sorry but I do not have time.
It is important to note that the Palestinian Authority are not reconciled with Hamas. They cannot work with it or bring it to the table. They do not want Hamas to be in control of Gaza. They have sought to use financial measures to isolate it, and in the past couple of weeks President Abbas has really tried to increase pressure on the regime to transfer power over to Ramallah. Until Hamas renounces violence, seeks to work for peace and co-operates with the international community, the humanitarian situation in Gaza will only get worse.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), on obtaining the debate, and associate myself with all his remarks. I also agree with every word that the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said.
I want to deal with a couple of issues that have not been mentioned in the debate. One concerns the truth. The debate is about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, not the politics of the region. We should remember that. It is about the men, women and children who live in an absolute hell hole. The media reporting this week of the visit by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge has been inaccurate. I welcome his visit—it is a good one—but the media have been referring to the Palestinian territories, and not the occupied Palestinian territories. We should never forget that point, and the BBC needs to do better.
Another thing that has not been touched on today is the issue of permits. To get access to hospitals in Israel, the west bank or East Jerusalem, people need a permit to leave Gaza. I visited the west bank last year and the number of people refused permits was enormous. With the recent increase in violence on the border, after the “Great March of Return”, children are being refused permits to seek medical attention in better equipped hospitals outside Gaza. By any parameter—by any civilised metrics—children should not be refused medical treatment. They are not a security risk or political operatives, but children. We should remember that.
We are talking about the enormous suffering of people who live in Gaza—an area that is beautiful, if only it can be given the resources to succeed. I feel strongly that British parliamentarians have a huge responsibility to shine a light on what is happening there. That is what we are doing today. The Government have a responsibility to step up to the mark and do something. We need to stand tall and act on what is happening, and not allow it to continue. I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say to call out that unacceptable situation, and what meaningful, purposeful suggestions he will make for what can be done to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing the debate, and draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is most worrying. The people of Gaza live in difficult circumstances, with high unemployment, particularly among the young. There are no real export markets to speak of, and GDP is at low levels. The territory suffers from intermittent blackouts, and access to water is deteriorating. However, it is important to note that for many years Israel has provided electricity to the people of Gaza, and it was the Palestinian Authority who last year put pressure on Israel to reduce the electricity supply temporarily, when they refused to continue paying for it.
The only way to end the humanitarian crisis is to improve the prospects and life opportunities of the people of Gaza. Israel has an important role to play in that. I particularly welcome reports today that Israel and Cyprus are working together to build a sea port to facilitate Gaza’s rehabilitation, while also ensuring that Hamas will not be able to exploit the port for smuggling weapons. Hamas has, for too long, taken humanitarian aid away from the most needy in Gaza, for the purpose of terrorism. I hope that with the support of the international community the sea port will be able to open up a new and more hopeful chapter for the people of Gaza.
Sadly, today’s debate is set against rising tensions along the Gaza-Israel border. The Hamas-orchestrated riot on the border and the highest levels of rocket fire into Israel in years have been a painful reminder of the volatility of the area. Less well known, however, are the new arson terror attacks being deployed in Gaza, which have devastated Israeli communities along the border. Almost 1,000 incendiary kites and helium balloons bearing inflammable materials and, occasionally, explosives have been launched from Gaza into Israel, causing more than 1,000 fires in Israeli communities.
Make no mistake: this new form of terrorism is led and co-ordinated by the Hamas terror group. It is inexpensive and straightforward. It must stop. The cycle of violence fundamentally highlights why Hamas must abide by the Quartet principles and immediately renounce violence against Israel.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Paisley. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) for initiating this debate.
It has been heartbreaking to follow the ongoing situation in Gaza. Time after time, we have had the opportunity to ease people’s suffering around the world, yet in Gaza we have failed to do so. We are witnessing ongoing massacres and conflict. In the past three months alone, 135 Palestinians have been killed and almost 8,000 people have required hospital treatment. That is the largest loss of life in Gaza since 2014. Violence was directed at protestors, many of them children. The massacre on the border on 14 May was triggered by the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. On that tragic day alone, 52 Palestinians died. How, as an international community, can we allow our actions to lead to such a senseless loss of life? How can we welcome President Trump here next month, when his actions have led to the death of civilians and the slashing of funding for UN relief work for Palestinian refugees?
In my capacity as a humanitarian aid doctor, I worked with Palestinian refugees for three years, with the Red Cross and the humanitarian aid department of the European Commission. Through that work, I witnessed the aching and suffering of a marginalised population who have been repeatedly displaced, are without hope and are continually at the mercy of the international community. Gaza is suffering from a protracted health crisis, which is inhumane. To restrict access to healthcare for an already marginalised population is nothing short of disgraceful. Basic infrastructure such as healthcare, electricity and sanitation is not being developed in Gaza.
What makes Gazans less deserving than anyone else in the world who Britain, as an outward-looking country, fights for day in and day out? Why should parents continue to witness their children—children like ours—dying in their arms? We have a duty to ensure that we use the honourable power bestowed on us on the political stage to protect those at risk. Britain has always been an outward-looking country that does not shy away from the challenges that face us all. Our country’s response to this crisis goes to the essence of who we are as people. We must stand up and call out the human rights offences in Gaza when they are taking place. We have a duty. We cannot turn our backs on those in Gaza.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this important debate.
It is clear that the situation in Gaza represents a major humanitarian crisis, which is getting worse, not better, and which has dangerous consequences for the whole region. It makes the likelihood of a Palestinian state seem further away than ever.
Some 2 million souls are living in cramped urban conditions under a blockade by land, air and sea, as if they are in a prison. Some 1 million Palestinians are reliant on food aid. Just 10 years ago, that figure was 80,000. Ninety seven per cent. of households are without access to fresh running water. There are regular, frequent power blackouts. The reduced electricity supply puts strain on hospitals, as well as water and sanitation supply, with over 110,000 litres of raw waste or untreated water released into the Mediterranean sea every day. Six in 10 young people are unemployed. A Palestinian in Gaza is twice as likely to be unemployed as a Palestinian in the West Bank. That situation is simply unsustainable, so there is an immediate humanitarian need for aid.
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady and I hope the Minister will answer that point.
At the International Development Committee on 19 June, Rachel Evers, director of legal affairs at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, gave shocking evidence about the pressures on the relief on the ground. I ask the Minister to address the important point about the impact of cuts to the UNRWA budget. Can more be done by the UK in the short term to ease the humanitarian crisis? We all know that the long-term solution will be a political one, pursued by calm heads with a genuine desire for peace—alas, I do not see too many of those in Washington and Jerusalem at present.
We should absolutely condemn the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem as a provocative and reckless act. But what of the medium term? Here the answer may be economic as much as political. The Israeli Government must relax their blockade and allow economic development. People in Gaza must be allowed to develop their own infrastructure and economy. Finally, I ask the Minister to share his views on economic development as a route to a better future for the Palestinians in Gaza. In conclusion, Gaza is collapsing. Its people are suffering. The world is watching. We must act now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I will concentrate my remarks on children, who have never had a say in this conflict, have never done anything to add to it and have committed no crime whatever except being born. They are suffering the most. I visited Gaza in 2012 and what I saw will stick with me for the rest of my life. I remember the people who were making the most of a very difficult situation. They were welcoming people, with aspirations for their children, as we have for ours, but above all, they wanted freedom.
I also remember the mothers showing me pictures of their children locked up in Israeli prisons after being sentenced—contrary to international law—by military courts. They could not visit their children, because the Israeli Government would not permit it. I also saw the fertile land and stunning beaches, but the land could not be fully exploited and the beaches were polluted because of the lack of sewage treatment. The potential for a vibrant nation was there, but people had little optimism that it could be achieved. It just gets worse.
I want to make a brief comment about children. A 10-year-old child in Gaza will already have lived through three conflicts, with no end in sight. Already, Save the Children is reporting that children are facing huge mental health problems, bed-wetting and all sorts of issues.
Indeed, that is the case. I wanted to address mental health, but I do not have sufficient time. I thoroughly believe that it is the responsibility of Governments and countries around the world to help those unable to help themselves, yet countries trying to help the Palestinians are restricted by the harsh regime imposed on the movement of goods and aid by the Israeli Government.
It is not just about aid but about development and a nation that can sustain itself. I know it is an old cliché: give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day; teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime. It is about allowing people to develop and reach their potential. Although that does not do the Palestinian fisherman any good, as they are banned from their own fishing waters. It cannot possibly be right to have two nations living cheek by jowl, with one firmly in the 21st century, developing and thriving, while the other is left behind in poverty and need.
We have seen how the nations of the world react in times of disaster. We have seen countries devastated by famine, others ruined by catastrophic weather and refugees fleeing war zones across the world. They all have one thing in common. Other countries can get access to those people. We cannot get access to the people of Palestine. It is time that the nations of this world made it clear that they are prepared to tell Israel that they want and will have access to these marginalised people. That is not just my message. I attended an Eid festival event at Stockton Mosque on Friday and heard a series of speeches, most from young Muslim women, about the middle east, particularly Palestine. They want a peaceful world. They want to reach their potential, but that is also their wish for the children of Gaza.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. To improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, what must happen is self-evident but, unfortunately, intractably difficult to achieve. There are steps that the UK Government can take to help. They must take the long-overdue action they know is required to improve the humanitarian situation.
There are three main things the UK can do. The first is to demand an end to the 11-year blockade of Gaza. Not only is the blockade illegal under international law—as has been mentioned, it is in contravention of the Geneva convention on human rights—but it is preventing the rebuilding of infrastructure, hospitals, schools, electricity supply and sewage systems. Indeed, the GDP in Gaza has halved in recent years. The blockade is highly restrictive to the work of local and international humanitarian organisations, not to mention the local economy and the ability of Gazans to support themselves. Humanitarian and development organisations are extremely limited in obtaining basic supplies, such as building materials for shelter and medical supplies, which undermines their ability to provide support and take a sustainable approach to development assistance. The restrictions need to be lifted and, until they are, I hope the Government will urge the Israeli authorities to go much further in easing them.
Secondly, the UK Government need to review their defence sales relationship with Israel. In response to a written question that I tabled earlier this month, the Minister said:
“The Government…have been keeping the situation in Israel under review. We have no information to suggest that UK supplied equipment has been used in contravention of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”
However, as the Government’s review found that the UK had issued 12 licences for defence equipment that they believed were likely to have been used in the 2014 war, and as equipment sales have continued unabated ever since, serious questions remain as to whether the UK-made weapons supplied to Israel were used by the Israeli Government during the recent horrific violence in Gaza, and there needs to be a full investigation into that.
Thirdly, we must push for an independent investigation by the UN or the International Criminal Court into Israel’s use of live ammunition against civilians in Gaza, particularly during the recent protests for the Palestinian right to return. After 70 years of intractable conflict, the only sustainable future is a comprehensive peace deal based on a two-state solution of a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable Palestine. Sadly, that vision—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing the debate and on making such an eloquent and heartfelt speech. It is always a pleasure to listen to him.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the shocking number and nature of the casualties sustained by Palestinians in Gaza due to recent events. In particular, he spoke about the fatal shooting of the volunteer paramedic, Razan al-Najjar, despite the fact that she was clearly identified as a paramedic. He said that that was a war crime, and I endorse that. He stressed the importance of an independent investigation of that death and of all the other deaths that took place, and the importance of people being held to account.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the nature of the weapons and the ammunition used, and made the demand, which many hon. Members agree with, that until those matters are looked into properly, arms sales to Israel should be suspended. He spoke about the humanitarian conditions on the ground, which was taken up very eloquently by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames).
Like me, and the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex supports a two-state solution, but recognises that that is becoming less likely because of the situation on the ground and the settlements in the occupied territories. In connection with that, I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In October 2016, I visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the Council for Arab-British Understanding and Human Appeal. It was sobering to see the size and nature of those settlements and the way in which they make the two-state solution unfeasible. I agree with his description of what is going on in Gaza as “collective punishment”, and he is also right that it is legally and morally wrong.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) has long worked on these matters. He spoke about a briefing by Jamie McGoldrick last week that several hon. Members present attended. Mr McGoldrick described the situation in Gaza as polarised and visceral—a crisis on top of an unfolding disaster, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) said. He said that there would be no humanitarian solution without a political solution. I asked what his key asks were, and he said that we had to address the United Nations Relief and Works Agency shortfall; shore up the health sector in Gaza; and support education so there can be a depolarised place for children to spend time, rather than getting sucked into the conflict.
Mr McGoldrick also said that the parties to the conflict must exercise restraint, and that is the message that the UK Government must put to the Israeli Government. Of course, Hamas must exercise restraint, but democratic Government should speak to democratic Government, and we must tell the Israeli Government to exercise restraint too.
Mr McGoldrick also indicated not just that there had been a lack of restraint but that the weaponry used against civilians was designed to cause maximum injury. In contrast to some of the bizarre things that we have heard from Government Members, there was no attempt to treat the injured, so even minor wounds are causing amputations and infections. I also refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; I travelled to Palestine with Medical Aid for Palestinians last year.
Mr McGoldrick made strong reference to the terrible injuries that have been sustained. He said that Gaza was running out of external fixators because people have suffered such terrible fractures from a bullet going into their foot and essentially exploding it, so that it does not even look like a foot any longer.
I had better make some progress, so that the Minister can respond.
Many issues have been raised today, and because of the lack of time, I will not go over them again in detail. The Minister is a good man, and he recognises the gravity of the situation. I would like the United Kingdom Government to have a stronger voice on this issue. Earlier, the hon. Member for Battersea referred to what David Cameron said years ago about Gaza being an open prison. We need that sort of language to be made real.
Last month, the Israeli ambassador visited Scotland, and my colleague, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, met him. She delivered a forceful message on the Scottish Government’s behalf that the 50 years of Palestinian oppression, the illegal occupation of the west bank, the illegal expansion of settlements and the illegal siege of Gaza must end, and that there must be genuine work in good faith towards a peaceful two-state solution. The Scottish National party also supports the UN Secretary-General’s call for an independent investigation following the recent massacre.
The Scottish Government have spoken decisively, but they do not have the foreign affairs competence of the British Government. I want to hear what the Minister will do. Will he give us a cast-iron guarantee that the United Kingdom Government will not shirk their responsibility and that they will join others in the international community in speaking out clearly on this matter?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. It gives me great pleasure to follow in the footsteps of distinguished hon. Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), who has spent many years campaigning on this topic. I well remember when he played a vital role in securing a vote in the House of Commons to recognise the Palestinian state, but the UK Government still refuse to give that recognition. I am limited by time, and I want to give the Minister as much time as possible to answer all the questions that have been asked, but I will start by saying that, importantly, this is a different debate. It is about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We want to know what the Government can do to alleviate some of that pain and suffering.
The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) spoke strongly, with great experience and passion, and as president of the Conservative Middle East Council, about how what has taken place in Gaza is legally and morally wrong. He was very plain with his words and I am grateful to him for that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) mentioned Jamie McGoldrick. We are all putting a lot of hope and faith into his role for the future of the conflict. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and I travelled to the west bank together and had an emotional and educational visit. Many hon. Members have had similar trips. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) focused her contribution on the problems with the water and electricity supplies and the real humanitarian situation on the ground. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) talked about the permits. I saw at first hand how children who were leaving Gaza to try to get medical assistance in the west bank had to travel with family friends or others, because they had to leave the country with someone who was over a certain age, so they could not be assisted by their parents.
This debate comes at a vital time for the Palestinian people. It is no exaggeration to say that their whole future in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is now under direct threat. If we do not act in Britain, Europe, the United States or the middle east, or through the United Nations, millions will suffer from continued violence, from a lack of the most basic public services and clean water, and from a shortage of places to live.
The Trump Administration substantially cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The EU has partially stepped up to the plate by announcing €3 million of new humanitarian aid to help civilians in Gaza in need of urgent assistance. In response, the UK decided to advance £28 million of agreed funding. Yesterday, the ad hoc committee for voluntary contributions to UNRWA met for the first time, and my reading is that the United Kingdom has donated a further $51 million, or £38.5 million. I welcome that contribution whole- heartedly. Will the Minister report back fully on yesterday’s meeting and what money will be targeted specifically at Gaza? We know that will be reliant on Israeli co-operation.
More than 120,000 people are still disconnected from public water networks, and 23% of Gaza is not connected to the sewerage system. Some 96% of the water from Gaza’s coastal aquifer is contaminated with nitrates and chlorides. Only a quarter of wells in Gaza meet World Health Organisation safety levels.
We are here today to offer advice to the British Government on what they can do economically, socially and politically to help the Palestinians in their hour of need. Last week, to mark the UN’s World Refugee Day, the leader of the Labour party visited two of the biggest Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. This week, Prince William is visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territories in an important symbolic act aimed at showing that people in Britain do care about the plight of the Palestinians. What is the Minister doing to argue for better access to Gaza so that the international community, non-governmental organisations, charities and politicians here can visit, so that the crimes perpetrated on Gaza are not hidden behind blockade walls?
We have to begin by acknowledging that the humanitarian crisis is man-made. It is vital to resolve Gaza’s catastrophic lack of clean water and electricity, as well as its health system, which is hanging by a thread, and other life-threatening problems that experts say will make the strip uninhabitable in a matter of years. The utter desperation rife in the squalid, bombed-out settlements of Gaza has in recent weeks manifested itself in huge protests and an Israeli response that has shocked and appalled. As Members have said, we condemn any acts of terror by Hamas, just as we condemn the appalling actions of the Israeli Government.
Since the first protests on 30 March, the Israel Defence Forces have killed 135 Palestinians, including a young medic, 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar. Nearly 15,000 people have been injured, with 4,000 of those injuries caused by live ammunition. Sixteen children have been killed. Five Israelis have been injured. This puts further pressure on Gaza’s health system, which was anyway already on the brink of collapse, according to the World Health Organisation. I do not have the time to go into the details of those outrageous, disproportionate and illegal acts, which have been covered many times in previous debates and today. Instead, I will use my time to pin down some of the humanitarian situation and what DFID can do to improve the lives of these people in the most dire of situations.
Protecting the Palestinians is an international obligation —let us be clear about that, too. In fact, it is the international community’s collective responsibility as states party to the fourth Geneva convention to provide protection to Palestinians in the occupied territories. The British Government should not be ordering their diplomats to vote against or abstain on resolutions that uphold international law.
I will move on to some questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer. Currently the Government do not disaggregate their DFID spending for Gaza and that for the west bank. Will he consider reviewing that approach, so that our development work in Gaza, which is clearly a separate and defined area under blockade, can be more readily reviewed by this House? At present, the movement and access restrictions imposed by Israel significantly constrain the health system in Gaza. Access to treatment is impeded by the inability to import medical equipment, and administrative constraints are placed on people seeking medical attention outside Gaza. What progress has the Minister made in talks with the Israeli Government on expediting medical permits for those who require treatment outside Gaza?
The UK is supporting water and sanitation needs through £1.9 million-worth of support to UNICEF and £1.5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross, helping support patients in 11 hospitals in Gaza. Will the Minister tell us more about those projects? Are those the only Gaza-specific aid contributions made by the UK Government to Gaza, outside obviously of their contributions to UNRWA, which supports 1.3 million people in Gaza? If I am allowed a crude calculation, if the population of Gaza is near enough 2 million, that money works out at just £1.70 a person in Gaza over one year. That funding finishes in September 2018. Will the Minister tell us when we will hear about future years’ funding?
In answer to written question 144778 in May, the Minister said he is reviewing how the UK can best support the health system in Gaza. What does that review involve and when will he report to the House? If elected, Labour will recognise the state of Palestine immediately. The Minister has been asked before why his Government do not recognise Palestine right now. If not now, when? He often talks with great empathy about the polarisation and worsening of the situation between Israel and Palestine. The reality of this Government’s actions is that they are providing very good critiques of the situation, but are failing to act robustly when they should be upholding international law. They should be taking action, not simply offering words.
On America, we often hear the Minister take a different line from that of US counterparts. That is of course welcome, but this Government must have the courage to tell President Trump that he is wrong. What is the Minister doing to work with other European and global partners so that all the UK’s eggs are not in the Trump basket and we are not reliant on the peace plan of Jared Kushner?
Finally, in his response to a House of Commons debate on 15 May on violence at the Gaza border, the Minister said:
“we are supportive of that independent, transparent investigation.”—[Official Report, 15 May 2018; Vol. 641, c. 139.]
When the UN Human Rights Council resolved to set up a commission of inquiry to undertake precisely that investigation, the UK failed to join 29 partner countries and abstained in the vote. We are still waiting for an explanation of that decision.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I begin by once again thanking the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) for securing the debate. His long-standing commitment to and passion for the Palestinian people is well known and appreciated by many. The conviction with which he speaks is noted.
There have been a number of powerful speeches on all sides. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) went through them, and I do not intend to add to that. It is impossible to pick out all the speeches, but I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames). He spoke about his admiration for the state of Israel and his worry about where Israel policy has gone in relation to Gaza and the humanitarian concerns. I am sure he spoke for many in expressing not only the interest that the House has in the future security and existence of the state of Israel, but the worry, because of the humanitarian situation we have all described, about policy in terms of Gaza.
It is difficult to approach the issue in a new way, but I will say something towards the end about that, if I may. To begin, I would like to concentrate on the humanitarian issues. As so many Members have spoken and so much has been said, it is impossible to cover everything, so I hope colleagues will bear with me.
Last month, I visited Gaza again. I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) that we will do what we can to assist Members of Parliament in going, because there is nothing like seeing things on both sides, but it must be for Israel to decide in terms of security. We are all subject to caution about that. While I was there, I once again saw the extreme humanitarian difficulties that the people of Gaza now face. As Members have noted over the course of the debate, people there are living without enough fresh water, with only four hours of power a day, with some of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world and, perhaps most important, with diminishing hope for their own or their children’s futures.
I will pick out a few key parts of the humanitarian system. Without additional support, the health system is unable to cope with the high casualty rates from the demonstrations. Between 30 March and 12 June, 14,605 people were injured and a further 135 died. Between 30 March and 3 June, two health workers were killed and 328 were injured, including by live ammunition and tear gas. An estimated 80,000 additional non-trauma patients have had limited access to emergency healthcare services. Shortages of medicines are chronic in Gaza. An estimated 1.2 million Gaza residents have no access to running water. A lack of adequate sanitation facilities poses a serious health risk. Approximately 1.45 million people in the Gaza strip are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases from the consumption of unsafe water. Gaza has three main sources of electricity supply: Israel, Egypt and the Gaza power plant. The most stable of those sources is from Israel, which supplies 120 MW of electricity through 10 feeder lines, but those are unstable, as we know.
[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]
The food and nutrition situation remains difficult. An estimated 1.6 million people do not have reliable access to nutritious food in Gaza and are judged to be food-insecure. As I will say later, someone doing an objective assessment of whether the policies in relation to Gaza are working would come to the answer, “No”.
Before I come on to the politics, colleagues rightly want to know what we are trying to do. There are three key issues: first, the need to alleviate the urgent humanitarian need; secondly, the need to unlock the barriers to an improved quality of life for Gazans through economic development; and thirdly, the need to work with international partners to secure political agreements that will ease movement and access restrictions to Gaza.
The Department for International Development is stepping up its support to alleviate humanitarian need. When I was in Gaza I announced £1.5 million for the International Committee of the Red Cross appeal. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton asked for a little more information. That money will help 11 hospitals. I went to the al-Quds hospital in Gaza city, which was spotless. I met some of the doctors involved in treating patients there and some of the patients. Our work will help some of those 11 hospitals and their patients with the restocking of surgical equipment and medicines and with providing physical rehabilitation.
We are also committing an extra £2 million to UNICEF to address urgent water and sanitation needs. That will help Gazans to have access to clean water to drink, cook and bathe. Our support will provide more than 1,000 roof water tanks for families to help them to store scarce water, drinking water tanks, and chemicals to treat water in 280 wells and 38 desalination plants, making water safe for human use.
Colleagues have mentioned access. We value the role of the UN in co-ordinating humanitarian worker access and in supporting the safe reconstruction of Gaza. The UK is committed to an extension of support for the UN access and co-ordination unit, which works to ensure humanitarian access for UN and non-governmental organisation workers.
The UN Relief and Works Agency plays a vital role in providing basic services. We are, of course, concerned about the lack of finance for Gaza, particularly as a result of the United States’ decision to reconsider its financial commitment. UNRWA will struggle to survive unless we can find a way around this. Accordingly, I have announced £28.5 million, which I committed at the UNRWA pledging conference in Rome. Yesterday, at the UN Security Council, we pledged a further £10 million, making the £38.5 million that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton mentioned. That is money being brought forward to give to UNRWA now to help it to meet the shortfall. I hope that that is appropriate.
It is money brought forward, so of course we will have to consider what will happen in future years. However, the immediate need for UNRWA is money now, which is why we have done what we have done. The hon. Gentleman’s question is perfectly appropriate, and that is our answer.
That deals with the immediate term. On the slightly longer term, we are looking hard at what we can do on a new economic development package, designed to lift the standard of living in Gaza by increasing trade and job creation, enabling greater movement and access for people and goods, and enhancing the supply of electricity and clean water.
We are also looking at the proposals of Nikolai Mladenov, the UN special representative, that I mentioned the last time I spoke. They are being confirmed in the next month, but I anticipate that they will include measures to catalyse the Gazan economy and ameliorate the energy and water situation. We are very committed to supporting the special representative’s plans. That will deal more effectively with medium and long-term needs.
I will now move off the script, to the worry of my officials. In trying to find something new to say about a situation with which we are all familiar, I thought of this. As I said earlier, if someone looked objectively at Gaza, they would say—whatever party they were from—that whatever is being devised by way of policy just is not working. Israel has put pressure on Hamas for 12 years or so in order to effect political change in Gaza. It has clearly not worked. Hamas is still there. Rockets are still being fired. People on the border areas are still under threat, in Sderot and other such places.
Equally, Israel has not crumbled and is not at risk from Hamas. Hamas has achieved nothing politically and has damaged the people it purports to represent. The Palestinian Authority have had no success in dealing with Gaza. Attempts at reconciliation should be encouraged and should go forward. Those who live in Gaza have seen no evidence of the success of polices purportedly put forward in their defence, including politically, to give them a right to protest against the state of Israel. The same applies to protecting those in Israel from a terrorist organisation that is clearly hell-bent on killing them if it gets the chance.
I suspect it will come as little surprise if I tell colleagues that there is much truth in everything they have said. I do not agree with everything that has been said, but if hon. Members look at one another’s speeches, they will see that there is no great contradiction. Colleagues are talking about two sides of the same coin. It is true that Hamas was involved in exploiting—
No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman should just listen for a moment. We get nowhere if we listen to only one side of the argument. It is no more effective to talk about Hamas’s rule in Gaza and blame everything on Hamas than it is to blame everything on Israel and not understand the context of the political discussion and what is going on. My point is that none of that helps the people of Gaza. If that is what we want to do, we have to do something new.
I am saying very clearly that I do not think that the policies in relation to Gaza are working; I think they are failing. There is now greater recognition in the state of Israel that those policies are not working. A search on the internet for “Israel in talks with Hamas” will produce an article from 9 May this year titled, “Western country said to be brokering Israel-Hamas talks on long-term ceasefire”; an article from Haaretz on 6 June titled, “Israel Has to Talk to Hamas. Otherwise, It’s War”; and an article from 6 June, again from Haaretz, titled, “Israeli Army Believes Hamas Willing to Negotiate Deal”.
The only extraordinary thing in politics is that we assume that these two different sides will go on forever. This must not go on. The people of Gaza are not being served, and we would all be amazed by who talks to whom. The truth is that there has been a comprehensive, international and partisan failure for the people of Gaza, and this debate, like previous ones, has made it very clear. If the United Kingdom is to have an impact, we first have to say very clearly that these policies have not worked, and stress the urgent need for a political settlement and for immediate attention to be given to humanitarian aid in Gaza. We also have to be very clear that those who exploit the situation politically, whether it is non-state groups or state groups, also have to bear their responsibility. We get nowhere unless we understand that.
Now I will, of course, give the Floor to the hon. Member for Easington.
I simply wanted to say very briefly that it is not two sides of the same coin. We are dealing here with an asymmetrical situation where we have an oppressor and an oppressed. To present it as two sides of the same coin is wilful misrepresentation of the situation.
No, it is not. I entirely accept that it has an asymmetric element to it, with regard to Israel and Hamas, but that is a description. It gets us nowhere, because unless the two sides are engaged in finding an answer there will not be one. That is why it is interesting that people are starting to talk to people.
What worries me is that the PA, who for years have accepted the state of Israel, have been non-violent and co-operated in relation to security, must not be left out of ultimate settlement talks. It cannot all depend on Hamas and what it has been able to achieve over the years with its policy of destruction towards the state of Israel.
Colleagues have accurately described what is happening is Gaza, but my point is simply that, in trying to get something done, believing that only one side or the other has the answer is not, in my view and that of the United Kingdom Government, sufficient. We have to do more and call out everyone, saying, “Actually, the policy is failing, so everyone needs to provide something new.” Perhaps the settlement proposals from the envoys of the President of the United States may start that, but unless we each accept that there is some truth in what the other says, we will not get very far.
I thank everyone who has participated in the debate from both sides. There has been great interest, with contributions and interventions. I thank the Minister for his response, and the Front-Bench representatives of the Scottish National party and my own party for their responses.
I urge the Minister to do all he can to seek to resolve the problem and bring relief to the people of Gaza. I say to Government Members: please do not mistake our empathy for the suffering of the people of Gaza with support for Hamas. It does not make us anti-Semitic or anti-Israel; it makes us human.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.