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Israel and Gaza

Volume 833: debated on Monday 23 October 2023


My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, last week I visited the Middle East, bringing a message of solidarity with the region against terror and against the further spread of conflict. I met with the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to co-ordinate our response to the crisis before us, but also to renew the better vision of the future that Hamas is trying to destroy.

I travelled first to Israel. It is a nation in mourning, but it is also a nation under attack. The violence against Israel did not end on 7 October. Hundreds of rockets are launched at its towns and cities every day, and Hamas still hold around 200 hostages, including British citizens. In Jerusalem, I met some of the relatives, who are suffering unbearable torment. Their pain will stay with me for the rest of my days. I am doing everything in my power, and working with all our partners, to get their loved ones home. In my meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Herzog, I told them once again that we stand resolutely with Israel in defending itself against terror, and I stressed again the need to act in line with international humanitarian law and take every possible step to avoid harming civilians. It was a message delivered by a close friend and ally. I say it again: we stand with Israel.

I recognise that the Palestinian people are suffering terribly. Over 4,000 Palestinians have been killed in this conflict. They are also the victims of Hamas, who embed themselves in the civilian population. Too many lives have already been lost, and the humanitarian crisis is growing. I went to the region to address these issues directly. In Riyadh, and then Cairo, I met individually with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman from Saudi Arabia; the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani; President Sisi in Egypt; and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. These were further to my meetings with the King of Jordan last week and calls with other leaders, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary’s extensive travel in the region.

There are three abiding messages from all these conversations. The first is that we must continue working together to get more humanitarian support into Gaza. The whole House will welcome the limited opening of the Rafah crossing. It is important progress and testament to the power of diplomacy, but it is not enough. We need a constant stream of aid pouring in, bringing the water, food, medicine and fuel that are so desperately needed, so we will keep up the diplomatic pressure. We have already committed £10 million of extra support to help civilians in Gaza, and I can announce today that we are going further. We are providing an additional £20 million of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, more than doubling our previous support to the Palestinian people. There are major logistical and political challenges to delivering this aid, which I discussed with President Sisi. My right honourable friend the Development Minister is leading an effort to ensure the maximum amount of aid is pre-positioned, with UK support ready to deliver. We are also working intensively to ensure that British nationals trapped in Gaza are able to leave through the Rafah crossing when it properly reopens.

The second message is that this is not a time for hyperbole and simplistic solutions. It is a time for quiet and dogged diplomacy that recognises the hard realities on the ground and delivers help now, and we have an important role to play. In all my meetings, people were clear that they value Britain’s engagement. The UK’s voice matters. We have deep ties across the region—ties of defence, trade and investment, but also of history. President Abbas pointed to that history—not the British mandate in Palestine or the Balfour Declaration, but the UK’s efforts over decades to support the two-state solution.

That brings me to my third point. Growing attacks by Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, rising tensions on the West Bank and missiles and drones launched from Yemen show that some are seeking escalation, so we need to invest more deeply in regional stability and in the two-state solution. Last night, I spoke to the leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. We are all determined to prevent escalation. That is why I am deploying RAF and Royal Navy assets, monitoring threats to regional security and supporting humanitarian efforts. Our support for a two-state solution is highly valued across the region, but it cannot just be a clichéd talking point to roll out at times like this. The truth is that, in recent years, energy has moved into other avenues such as the Abraham accords and normalisation talks with Saudi Arabia. We support those steps absolutely and believe that they can bolster wider efforts, but we must never lose sight of how essential the two-state solution is. We will work with our international partners to bring renewed energy and creativity to this effort. It will rely on establishing more effective governance for Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank. It will also mean challenging actions that undercut legitimate aspirations for Palestinian statehood.

Hamas care more about their paymasters in Iran than the children they hide behind. Let me be clear: there is no scenario where Hamas can be allowed to control Gaza or any part of the Palestinian territories. Hamas is a threat not only to Israel, but to many others across the region. All the leaders I met agree that this is a watershed moment. It is time to set the region on a better path.

I also want to say a word about the tone of the debate. When things are so delicate, we all have a responsibility to take additional care in the language we use, and to operate on the basis of facts alone. The reaction to the horrific explosion at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital was a case in point. As I indicated last week, we have taken care to look at all the evidence currently available, and I can now share our assessment with the House. On the basis of the deep knowledge and analysis of our intelligence and weapons experts, the British Government judge that the explosion was likely caused by a missile, or part of one, that was launched from within Gaza towards Israel. The misreporting of this incident had a negative effect in the region, including on a vital US diplomatic effort, and on tensions here at home. We need to learn the lessons and ensure that in the future there is no rush to judgment.

We have seen hate on our streets again this weekend. We all stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people—that is the message I brought to President Abbas—but we will never tolerate anti-Semitism in our country. Calls for jihad on our streets are a threat not only to the Jewish community but to our democratic values, and we expect the police to take all necessary action to tackle extremism head on.

This is a moment for great care and caution, but also for moral clarity. Hope and humanity must win out against the scourge of terrorism and aggression. The 7 October attack was driven by hatred, but it was also driven by Hamas’s fear that a new equilibrium might be emerging in the Middle East—one that would leave old divisions behind and offer hope of a better, more secure, more prosperous way forward. It is the same motivation that drives Putin’s war in Ukraine—the fear of Ukraine’s emergence as a modern, thriving democracy, and the desire to pull it back into some imperialist fantasy of the past. Putin will fail, and so will Hamas. We must keep alive that vision of a better future, against those who seek to destroy it. Together with our partners, that is what we will do, and I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the Lord Privy Seal for repeating today’s Statement. He will have recognised that it was welcomed across the whole House.

Last week, following the previous Statement, I met Noam and Sharone, both of whom have parents who have been taken as hostages. It is impossible to imagine how any of us would react in such circumstances, but they both bore their fear and pain with a dignity that served only to emphasise the depth of their emotions. As they still pray for their release, they also pray for peace.

The horror and the suffering of the brutal attack on 7 October are seared into memories, with images of the dead and dying that can never be unseen, and Israel remains under attack, with rockets still being launched against it. That suffering is compounded by the continuing plight of over 200 hostages, with so many families not knowing whether loved ones or friends are alive. The glimmer of hope of the release of the two American hostages was a relief beyond words for their families, and noble Lords may have heard the news in the last hour that two older women have been released by Hamas. It just shows that Hamas can and must go further. These are innocent people—men and women, young and old, some ill and infirm. We stand united with all of those who have called for their immediate release.

As I have said, we understand the individual pain of those who wait, but there is also collective pain across Israel and the Jewish community worldwide. On Friday evening in Tel Aviv, the families of the hostages came together for the traditional Friday night Shabbat dinner, with 200 empty place settings marking each and every one of those taken. It was a sombre and almost unbearable scene.

Israel has the right—indeed, the duty—to bring home all hostages being held by Hamas and to weaken the capabilities which made Black Saturday possible. A military response from Israel is justified in these circumstances, and it must be within those sacred parameters of international law and the protection of human life. It is, after all, these values, and the upholding of international norms, which separate lawful states from terrorists.

The purpose of military actions will be to deliver peaceful security. Israel’s objectives—to bring home the hostages and to protect itself by defeating Hamas—are to ensure that no one should endure such suffering again. During this period of conflict it is imperative that humanitarian aid reaches those in need and that corridors are established to allow civilians to escape violence. Where Palestinians are forced to flee, they must not be permanently displaced. Hamas may not care for the safety and security of the Palestinian people, but we should make it clear that we do. We cannot and will not ignore their suffering. Life is precious and fragile, and we must play our part.

Gaza is now a humanitarian emergency. Life was a struggle before, and now hospitals are trying to provide care without the medicines they need, and with food, water and electricity running out. It is desperate and people are suffering. Gaza needs aid and it needs it now. The “logistical and political challenges” that the Prime Minister referred to will have to be addressed urgently, because without immediate aid more will die.

The Lord Privy Seal will know that the EU has promised to treble humanitarian aid and that the US has appointed a special co-ordinator. The opening of the Rafah crossing is welcome progress, but more is needed. We welcome that the Prime Minister has announced an additional £20 million today. Is the Lord Privy Seal able to say anything more about the ongoing urgent support to get aid to where it is needed, but also to help British citizens leave? Our international standing—our ranks of humanitarian experts and our role in UN agencies—means that Britain has influence. We must use it. Alongside our international partners, we need to ensure that the UN agencies have the resources and the expertise they need, and that this is not just for the short term.

As I said last week, we all know of Jewish and Muslim leaders and those active in their communities who seek to bring people together in support of mutual understanding, acceptance and the celebration of shared and diverse religious views and cultures. Yet when someone is afraid to leave their home for fear of attack or abuse, we must stand side by side with them. When someone is attacked, not for what they have said or done but for the very essence of their being, we stand with them. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have no place in the UK. All of us must unite in condemnation of those who seek to exploit the pain of the other community.

When we debated the Statement last week, we were rightly totally united in our support for Israel to protect itself against Hamas. We unite for a future where Israel can live free from the fear of terror and where the children of Palestine can enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we take for granted. The Lord Privy Seal is right to place so much emphasis on the two-state solution, but it can be a reality only when Israel and Palestine have confidence in a peaceful future—a future based on a two-state solution of a safe and secure Israel alongside the dignity of a Palestinian state, a future where peace can be a reality, and a future which together we have to work to deliver.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I commend the Prime Minister not only for visiting Israel but for undertaking a series of meetings in Egypt. At the beginning of the Statement, the Prime Minister set out the twin tracks of our immediate response to the crisis, both of which we support—namely, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks and the need to do so in line with international humanitarian law, taking every possible step to avoid harming civilians.

The Prime Minister takes three principal messages from his meetings in the region. The first is the need to work together to get more international aid into Gaza. We agree, but are baffled and frustrated as to why this is not yet happening at scale. The Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Archbishop of Canterbury have called for a temporary humanitarian ceasefire to allow essential supplies to reach Gaza and to provide time for the negotiation of the release of hostages by Hamas. We agree with this call. Do the Government also agree that such an initiative is now needed and, if not, why not? One of the problems around the supply of aid appears to be the constraints at the Rafah crossing. Given that Gaza has a long coastline and that the UK, the US and other allies have warships in the area, is there any reason why humanitarian supplies cannot be landed by sea? Again, a humanitarian ceasefire could surely facilitate such a move.

The second message the Prime Minister received was that this is not a time for hyperbole and simplistic solutions but for quiet, dogged diplomacy, and that the UK is in a strong position to play a full part in this because of its deep ties across the region. This is surely true and should be the basis of the UK’s response, not just by the Prime Minister and other Ministers but by our diplomats across the region. Is the Minister satisfied that our diplomatic representation is adequate for this task? Have the Government any plans to beef up the number of diplomatic staff who could be engaged in this work?

The third message was to invest more deeply in regional stability and the two-state solution. This again is welcome. Did the Prime Minister discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu the need to commit to the two-state solution and, if so, what was his response? As the Prime Minister points out, if the two-state solution is to be achieved, this will require more effective governance of the Palestinian territories and a situation where Hamas does not control any of them. Sadly, we are very far away from that today. Worse than that, there are very few practical steps which can be envisaged, in the short term at least, that are likely to bring this more closely to fruition.

The immediate prospects are truly exceptionally bleak. Intensified Israeli military action looks unavoidable. This will cause many civilian casualties in Gaza and probably many casualties among Israeli forces. In the north of Israel, intensified Hezbollah attacks look highly likely.

In planning its next steps, Israel must—at the same time—seek to hit Hamas hard, do so while minimising civilian deaths, and try to avoid igniting a greater conflagration. Getting this right will be exceptionally difficult. I suspect that none of us in your Lordships’ House would like to be a senior military or political decision-maker in Israel today, trying to make those really difficult judgments and strike that almost impossible balance.

Finally, we stand with the Prime Minister in supporting the Jewish community in the UK. We can understand why events in recent days have roused passions on both sides; but now is also a time for tolerance and for determination to seek a way forward that will make a repetition of the events of the past fortnight simply unimaginable.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their constructive and thoughtful responses in this difficult situation. I of course begin by echoing, as the Prime Minister did in his Statement, the profound feelings of concern and solidarity, and the prayers to those in all nations who are caught up in having family members who are hostages or who have lost members of their families.

The position remains that Israel suffered an appalling terrorist attack. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, to go after Hamas and free hostages, to deter further incursions and to strengthen its security for the long term, because the only basis of a long-term solution is for Israel’s security to be accepted and recognised.

Humanitarian aid, about which both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord spoke, is of course profoundly important. I am grateful for the recognition in the House of the Prime Minister’s concern and the practical actions that he has taken in this respect, both in seeking to promote humanitarian aid and, indeed, in his efforts to try to prevent escalation of the conflict.

As the noble Baroness said, we support Israel’s right to defence but, equally, we have to keep humanitarian support going. We must support the Palestinian people, who are victims of Hamas too. As I said in in the Statement, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have held calls. The Prime Minister has also seen the President of the state of Palestine to express condolences and discuss practical ways forward.

The noble Lord spoke of possible ways forward. I think that he and the whole House will recognise the extreme delicacy of the situation, given the activities and the presence of Hamas. I have to say to him that I think it is difficult for Israel to ask for a ceasefire when its citizens have been slaughtered and others are being held hostage by a terrorist organisation. I repeat that we support Israel’s right to defend itself and take action against these terrorists. As I said in the Statement last week, the Israeli President has made clear that Israel’s armed forces will operate in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Getting aid in is going to be a difficult task but we welcome the progress that has been made already. The opening of the Rafah crossing into Gaza is highly welcome. It is a testament to the power of diplomacy, with the US, Israel and Egypt brokering an agreement to ensure that vital aid reaches the Palestinian people. I will give credit to the Prime Minister for his personal engagement in that activity. I am struck by the open door that was shown to him by leaders across the Middle East on both sides; that is of great importance to our country and to the region.

I agree that we need to see a stream of trucks rolling in through that crossing to bring aid to the civilian population. We also need to see all water supplies to Gaza restored where physically possible, and all sides should commit to the sanctity of UN installations, hospitals and shelters. Some of the money that the Prime Minister has already announced is being made available for the positioning of humanitarian supplies in the region to ensure that they can be distributed as quickly and effectively as possible, and the FCDO is working with aid agencies to ensure that those supplies can be distributed.

The noble Lord asked whether we had the diplomatic capacity to achieve what we seek to. The endeavours that we have seen in the last few days underscore how fortunate we are to have a Diplomatic Service and a national effort working hard on the three strands that the Prime Minister set out. We are confident that we have that capacity, and that has been led politically from the top.

I strongly agree, as I tried to emphasise the last time we discussed this issue, that there is no place for extremism—for violence of tongue or of action that spreads fear to members of any community in our country. This is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. No one should live in fear, as I said last week, for who they are or where they come from. As the Prime Minister said, the Government will look extremely carefully at the activities of those who do not accept that basic, civilised tenet of coexistence in a society where disagreement is valuable but violent disagreement, terror and fear have no place.

I was asked about the Prime Minister’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Prime Minister underscored the UK’s firm belief in Israel’s right to self-defence but also the need to act in accordance with international humanitarian law. Both leaders underscored, once this crisis is surmounted, the need to prevent any regional escalation in the conflict and the importance of restoring long-term peace and stability to the region. Any sensible, civilised person must believe that there is something better than the prospectus offered by Hamas.

My Lords, the Statement and the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, rightly emphasise the plight of the hostages, more than 200 of them, including children, the disabled and the elderly, the taking of whom is a despicable crime. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that it is in

“sustained, daily contact with Hamas”.

Will the Government urge the Red Cross to demand access to the hostages and to do everything it can to ensure their welfare, pending what we hope will be their return home?

My Lords, we are making every diplomatic effort to secure that. Obviously, one is constrained by the environment in which everybody is operating and the people who have authority in that area. The United Kingdom Government certainly wish to see all hostages returned, and they should be returned forthwith. We hear that four have been released and that is very welcome, but these are human beings, not bargaining chips to be played with by terrorists to command media attention.

I focus on British nationals: we have to remember that not only were 10 British nationals, tragically, killed in the Hamas attacks but a further six British nationals are missing, some of whom are feared to be among the dead or kidnapped. Unfortunately, the reality of this situation is that the details of the effects of that monstrous attack are still only becoming clear, but we are working with Israel to establish the facts. We are keeping in close contact with other nations—and agencies, to respond to the noble Lord—to try to find a route to get the hostages released. The reality is that if Hamas had a single ounce of humanity, it would release all the hostages immediately but, sadly, they have already shown the type of people who they are.

My Lords, I agree with the Lord Privy Seal, and I thank the Prime Minister and congratulate him on his courage and moral clarity. In the Statement, he talked about the incident at the hospital and said:

“The misreporting of that incident had a negative effect in the region”.

It was far worse than a negative effect in the region. The Prime Minister went on to say:

“We need to learn the lessons and ensure that in future there is no rush to judgment”.

What conversations have the Government had, especially with broadcasters—the BBC, specifically, and Sky—and, if I may say so, some parliamentarians who were a little too trigger happy with their phones and made statements which ended up not being true? Perhaps I can point to one tiny shred of light. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, when she talked about the people she met. There is one tiny bit of good news: that Sharone’s mother has been released this evening and is in the hands of the Red Cross. Let us hope she is just one of the 200 or whatever to come out, yet the game is being played by Hamas because of Noam’s mother there is no news. Those are the games being played, so I repeat my thanks to the Prime Minister for his leadership.

I thank my noble friend for his comments about my right honourable friend and for his general comments. He picked up what the Prime Minister said in the Statement: that we must not rush to judgment before we have all the facts. I think my noble friend implied that it was something of an understatement by the Prime Minister on the effects of the misreporting. It is important that the Prime Minister is seeking to use measured language, but there is no doubt that widespread unrest followed the reporting around that hospital blast. As my noble friend said, misinformation also spread across social media from various sources.

The Culture Secretary has spoken to Tim Davie on several occasions. The BBC and other broadcasters recognise that they have a duty to provide accurate and impartial news and information, particularly when it comes to coverage of highly sensitive events. The BBC has admitted that mistakes were made. It should reflect on its coverage and learn lessons for the future, but it is an important part of our free society—I underline this—to recognise that the BBC is independent of government. Editorial decisions are rightly not something that the Government interfere with or should interfere with. However, we would expect all media outlets to report on this inflammatory situation responsibly and accurately.

My Lords, would the Leader of the House say a few words of gratitude and admiration, which I hope would be in the name of the whole House, for the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? It is reported that some 17 from that agency have lost their lives in Gaza. They are working day and night, in Gaza and of course in the West Bank, and it would be good if we could send them a message of support. The £20 million announced today is of course enormously welcome, but is that the final word or will a revisiting of that be possible if this crisis, alas, continues?

My Lords, on the second part I am not able to comment. I am grateful for the welcome that has been given to the degree of support the Prime Minister and Government have already announced.

The noble Lord is quite right about the important role of the UN agencies; they are, in effect, the conduit for aid going into Gaza. UNRWA has a unique mandate from the UN General Assembly, as the noble Lord knows, to protect and provide protection and core services to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. It is a vital humanitarian and stabilising force in the region.

The Government are clear that the final status of Palestinian refugees must be agreed as part of eventual peace negotiations. Until then, the UN remains firmly committed to supporting UNRWA and those who work with it. It is worth recalling that it provides basic education to more than 500,000 children per year, half of whom are girls, access to health services for 3.5 million Palestinian refugees and social safety net assistance for around 390,000 of the most vulnerable across the region. So, yes, I can give the noble Lord the assurance he asked for.

My Lords, I also welcome the kind and supportive Statement we have just heard. It comes as a ray of light in the farrago of disinformation that we are getting. I have three points to raise.

First, on the question of aid, over the last decades billions of dollars have been channelled into the Palestinian territories, largely through UNRWA. Where has it all gone? The concrete that was supposed to build houses has apparently been used for nefarious purposes and for hiding. What has happened to all that money from all over the world, which appears to have been used by Hamas to get rockets and to make trouble, rather than supporting their people?

Secondly, the two-state solution is all very well. However, as long as the call goes out “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, we know that “From the river to the sea” means the total annihilation of Israel and its replacement with one state. A state has been offered on four occasions to the Palestinians and rejected.

Thirdly, I hope the Government will have a mind to the trouble going on in our universities. Just today I heard from someone connected with Warwick University that two Jewish students there who refused to join a pro-Palestine march have been ostracised and made to feel extremely unwelcome, and that the Jewish society app has been hacked with all sorts of nasty messages. This is simply an example of the sort of thing going on in our universities. Vice-chancellors need to be told to take care of all their students, bearing in mind, of course, freedom of speech, but also bearing in mind the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. Our young people are on the front line and they are suffering.

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes three challenging contributions. It is not the case that every part of aid offered and sent is used for the purposes it ought to be. That cannot be the case, sadly, in what is effectively a terrorist-controlled entity. What we can do, working with the agencies and the UN, using them as conduits, is to ensure that as much as possible goes to the support of the people. I gave some figures in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The fact that some aid has in the past been stolen and misapplied, and may be in the future, surely does not absolve us of the moral duty to seek to assist those in danger and those who are in need.

On the noble Baroness’s second point on the security of Israel, it is obvious that there can be no diplomatic two-state solution while Israel feels that it does not have the basic security of the right to survive that any people and nation have.

Thirdly, having not strayed into trying to direct broadcasters, I will not try to direct universities. However, all in authority need to have a care that their campuses are not misused or penetrated by malign organisations. Every student, in that glorious nobility of youth, should realise that treating others with respect is one of the most wonderful aspects of the human condition. If the story that the noble Baroness told is true, it is appalling and I hope that it is not replicated elsewhere.

My Lords, I assure my noble friend of how much the Jewish community appreciates the words of the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and other Members of Parliament today. We have appreciated the messages of support we have received from not just non-Jewish but Muslim members of the public, and not just non-Jewish but Muslim Members of this House, who reached out to us. In this country, dialogue exists between moderate Jewish and Muslim people, and that is to be encouraged and welcomed.

The Prime Minister specifically said:

“let me be clear: there is no scenario where Hamas can be allowed to control Gaza or any part of the Palestinian territories”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, predicted—correctly, I am sure—there will almost certainly be a ground invasion of Gaza. Innocent lives will almost certainly be lost, and conscript soldiers will be injured and killed. Does my noble friend agree that it is now up to all of us to prepare the ground for what is ahead? We have to explain why electricity and, in particular, fuel are being withheld, and why every inch of aid, while it must be supplied, has to be examined when it goes through the crossing to ensure that what is in those lorries is not capable of being misused. We have to explain why a ceasefire is not possible at this time. An enormous task is ahead of us, and it is all very well to say these fine words now, but we will repeat them time and again over the next few weeks.

I agree with a great deal that my noble friend said, and I echo his words about the support that has come from all communities and across parties. There will be difficult and sad times, and Israel has the right to defend itself. We need to cherish not only the Jewish community but the Muslim community, because I believe that so many Muslims—my daughter-in-law is one—will recoil with horror and outrage at the thought of people crying “God is great” while they are butchering babies.

My Lords, in response to a question, the Minister referred to UNRWA, but is he aware of Medical Aid for Palestinians, a charity operating in the region? Have the Government made any contact with it in order to enlist, as part of the government position, its assistance as well?

My Lords, I do not have an answer to that specific question. A voice in my ear says that we are talking to all NGOs, but I will confirm the situation in that respect and must write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I join many other speakers this evening in welcoming the release of two hostages tonight, and in wishing that the other hostages are able to reunite with their families and communities as soon as possible.

In the other place, my honourable friend Caroline Lucas asked whether withholding fuel from Gaza is in line with the Government of Israel’s responsibilities under international law. The Prime Minister’s response was that they will “manage their behaviour” in line with international law, but surely the UK Government can and should make their own judgment about what is happening, in terms of international law.

The Leader of the House tonight said that water supplies need to be restored to Gaza. The Financial Times yesterday reported that Gaza is “consumed” by the “hunt for water”, and that UN agencies are warning that many are being forced to drink dirty water and are becoming ill as a result. The temperature in Gaza yesterday was 31 degrees Celsius. Much of the supply comes from Israel through a pipe currently opened for only three hours a day. Does he agree that these are issues on which the UK has to make its own judgment?

My Lords, the position that the Prime Minister expressed was that the United Kingdom would of course wish to see humanitarian aid flowing. I think the phrase that the Prime Minister used was “a stream of trucks”. But I repeat that the difficult and delicate situation arises from the activities of the people who have power in Gaza, who started this terrible war. The United Kingdom will support every effort to get supplies of humanitarian aid flowing for the people who are suffering—not from Israel but, ultimately, from Hamas.

My Lords, we have heard a lot about moral clarity and we have also heard some references to the United Nations. I suggest that the United Nations finds a little moral clarity. On the Monday afternoon—and I mean the Monday afternoon after the massacre, so 48 hours later, while the bodies were still warm—the United Nations Human Rights Council observed a minute’s silence. It observed that minute’s silence, to quote the council itself, for the

“loss of innocent lives in the occupied Palestinian territory and elsewhere”.

For 2,000 years, the Jewish people had nowhere. Now it would appear, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council, that they have an “elsewhere”. Does my noble friend the Leader of the House think that some moral clarity is also needed on the part of the United Nations?

My Lords, I had not seen those particular remarks. To say that they were disappointing would be a bit of an understatement. However, I repeat that there are many working with United Nations aid agencies who are doing outstanding and brave work for people in all parts of this crisis.

My Lords, throughout my political life I have always supported the right to peaceful protest, but the marches that have taken place in London, particularly during the past two Saturdays, supporting the Palestinian cause, have clearly been hijacked by hostile groups, chanting dreadful things, as the noble Baroness noted, along with calls for jihad. It was obvious to anyone that this would happen. Could my noble friend the Leader please find out who signed off on these marches and whether there will be another one this coming Saturday?

My Lords, marching is part of a free society, as is protest. I venture to say that my first move out into the streets was marching against the provision of arms to apartheid South Africa. That is a long time ago.

I understand what my noble friend is saying, and certain things that have happened will need very close examination. The Home Secretary spoke with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner today, as part of an extraordinary meeting of the Jewish Community Police, Crime and Security Taskforce, to discuss some of these matters. The Government recognise the complexities of the law in policing aspects of protest and prosecutor decisions. We will support the police as they continue to enforce the law against anyone suspected of committing an offence, and we will back them in that. There are currently more than 200 live police investigations over suspected offences, as a result of protests and online incidents linked to the Israel/Hamas conflict, but the House would not expect me to go into details of ongoing investigations.