NGOs: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons on 25th June 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

What steps he is taking to ensure that Human Rights Watch and other civil society organisations can conduct humanitarian and advocacy work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

We firmly believe that civil society organisations should be able to conduct humanitarian work in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and I saw some of that work in action on the ground during my visit last month. We are aware of reports of pressure exerted against NGOs, particularly those critical of Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We continue to make it clear that a vibrant civil society is in Israel’s interest and encourage the Palestinian Authority to ensure that NGOs can work unimpeded.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

I thank the Minister for that refreshing answer, but I ask him to pursue the case of Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch, who has been harassed for two and a half years. Is the Minister also concerned by the wider hostile environment for NGOs, which has seen the Daily Mail pay £120,000 in libel damages to Interpal this month for impugning its humanitarian work in Gaza, and by the summit taking place in Manama this week on the future of the Occupied Palestinian Territories that does not even have the word “Palestine” on the agenda?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

There was a lot in that question; I will do my best to answer it. The Manama conference is in train right now, and that gives me the opportunity to say again, so that there is no confusion, that Her Majesty’s Government are fully behind the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital. I hope that makes it clear.

The hon. Gentleman mentions Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s dismay at what has happened to him. I note that his deportation has been stayed and I encourage that stay of deportation to be made permanent. It is important that Human Rights Watch continues to do the important things that it does in Israel and the OPTs. I very much encourage both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel to ensure that NGOs such as Human Rights Watch are able to continue doing what they do. It establishes credibility for both of them in the international community and any attacks on them, I am afraid, does them inestimable damage.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

My right hon. Friend will be well aware that numerous NGOs operate both in Israel and Palestine. Does he agree that NGOs that encourage Palestinians and Israelis to come together, such as the Parents Circle-Families Forum and MEET—the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow—should be encouraged, and that the refusal of Palestinian Authority to allow these NGOs to operate causes more dissension and concern?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

My hon. Friend speaks from a position of some strength because he takes a great deal of interest in these matters. Dialogue is terribly important. When I have spoken to both my Israeli and Palestinian Authority interlocutors, I have made it absolutely clear to them that the only way forward for peace in the middle east is for dialogue to be facilitated and continued. NGOs of the sort that he has described are an important part of that.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

The Israeli NGO, Save a Child’s Heart, which I had the honour to visit recently, just performed its 5,000th life-saving operation. The children come from all over, including Africa and the Palestinian territories. Will the Minister join me in commending and celebrating this fantastic achievement by this wonderful organisation?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

It does sound like a wonderful organisation, and it is important to commend the activities of NGOs and particularly medical charities, large and small, that operate in this space. Too often we hear about the large ones and not so much about the small ones. I am particularly conscious of those operating in relation to Gaza and the west bank and the difficulties that some are having, particularly with their patients gaining the access that they need. Organisations of the sort that the right hon. Gentleman describes are very important in that respect.