Shireen Abu Aqla

– in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 16th May 2022.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 3:34 pm, 16th May 2022

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if she will make a statement on the killing of Shireen Abu Aqla.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The United Kingdom Government was shocked to hear of the very sad death of the respected and renowned journalist Shireen Abu Aqla while working in the west bank. On 11 May, the Foreign Secretary and UK Ministers made clear our concern, and we have called for a thorough investigation into the events. On 13 May, in company with the other members of the United Nations Security Council, we strongly condemned the killing and stressed the importance of an immediate, thorough, transparent, fair and impartial investigation. We also stressed the need to ensure accountability.

The work of journalists across the globe is vital and they must be protected to carry out their work and defend media freedom. We were also deeply distressed by the scenes at the funeral of Shireen Abu Aqla on Friday. Her death was a tragedy and those mourning must be treated with respect and dignity. The situation on the ground makes clear the need to make progress towards a peaceful two-state solution and the UK stands ready to support.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

Shireen Abu Aqla was a veteran correspondent of al-Jazeera’s Arabic news channel and on Wednesday 11 May she was killed while covering Israeli army raids in the city of Jenin in the northern occupied west bank. Her killing has been widely condemned by world leaders, the UN and civil society, and it has shocked the world.

The killing of Shireen Abu Aqla was not only an outrageous act, but an attack on the freedom of the media and the independence of journalists working around the world, playing a crucial role in reporting conflicts, seeking truth and telling the stories of those affected. On Friday, deeply disturbing footage was released from Shireen’s funeral. The scenes of violence at the funeral were appalling: Israeli police were seen firing teargas at mourners and attacking them with batons, almost causing the pallbearers to drop the coffin and send it crashing to the ground. The attacks on mourners were indefensible and only heightened demands for justice and the pain felt by Shireen’s family.

The Labour party unequivocally condemns the violence by Israeli forces. International and human rights must be upheld, and we stand with all those demanding accountability for the killing of Shireen. There must be an urgent, independent and impartial inquiry to secure that. More widely, we will continue to support justice and the protection of the human rights of the Palestinian people and a sovereign Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. Tensions in the region were already high: Israel has seen a number of deadly terrorist attacks and both Israelis and Palestinians have been killed in what has been the worst wave of violence and attacks in Israel in years. We are deeply concerned that Shireen’s death and the treatment of mourners at her funeral could spark further cycles of violence.

Has the Minister made any representations to her Israeli counterparts on the killing of Shireen Abu Aqla? Will she condemn the violence at Shireen’s funeral? Can she confirm that her Department will stand up for international and human rights by encouraging an independent inquiry into Shireen’s killing so that we can ensure that there is accountability for her death?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank Bambos Charalambous for his comments. He is right that Shireen’s death was outrageous and shocked the world. He is also right to mention the very disturbing scenes at her funeral. It is so important that mourners are given respect and dignity, and indeed that the deceased is shown respect and dignity. That was immediately called out over the weekend by my fellow Minister, Lord Ahmad.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the investigation and we are working with other members of the UN Security Council to give that firm statement that we want an investigation, which needs to be immediate, thorough and, crucially, impartial.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer to the urgent question. Clearly there is a concern that we do not know exactly what happened on that terrible day when the journalist was killed. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority need to co-operate so that there can be a full and thorough investigation that is seen to be independent? Does she regret the fact that the Palestinian Authority are refusing to hand over the bullet that killed the journalist?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend, as ever, is right; it is absolutely key that the investigation happens swiftly, and that it is thorough and impartial.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

We on the SNP Benches unequivocally condemn the murder of Shireen Abu Aqla, one of the Arab world’s most respected journalists, who was shot dead by the Israeli army despite wearing full press coverings, body armour and a helmet. Shireen’s death takes to 50 the number of journalists who have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces over the past 20 years—deaths for which no one has ever been held to account. It is therefore absolutely essential that, along with the EU, the United States and the UN, all democracies unreservedly condemn the killing, and all who support a full, impartial and transparent investigation must be supported.

Does the Minister agree that the investigation should be carried out by the International Criminal Court, so that the person responsible for this awful crime can be found, tried and, if convicted, given an appropriate sentence? What sanction against Israel does she think would be appropriate in those circumstances? Finally, will she also unreservedly condemn the disgraceful actions of the Israeli police when on Friday they attacked Shireen’s cortege with batons and stun grenades, denying her even in death any sort of dignity or respect?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the killing has been condemned across the world, and indeed by us in the UK. As I have said, we have called for an immediate, thorough, transparent, fair and impartial investigation. It is really important that that happens soon and that it is very thorough. I think that we were all completely shocked by the scenes at her funeral. We are deeply concerned about the rise in violent attacks in the area, and we continue to call for peace, as we always have done; working to deliver peace is our top priority. She was an incredibly respected journalist and the hon. Gentleman is right to point to the risk to journalists across the world. I believe that across the world 26 journalists have been killed so far this year, including six in Ukraine—it might even be more since the last update I received. We must stand for journalists and for media freedom.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

My hon. Friend is entirely right to express concern about the scenes at the funeral of Shireen Abu Aqla, but given that there can be absolutely no doubt as to what happened at the funeral, when mourners and pallbearers were attacked by Israeli police officers, will she confirm that the Government have already made representations to the Israeli authorities expressing concern and indicating how deplorable those scenes were?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the deplorable scenes. We have already stated that we are deeply disturbed by those scenes, and we are looking at what further measures might be taken. Most importantly, we continue to call for urgent steps to de-escalate tensions and for restraint in the use of force. It is absolutely vital that tensions are reduced and that we get parties back to dialogue and working towards peace.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

First, I send my condolences to the family and friends of Shireen Abu Aqla, a true Palestinian heroine who was brutally shot in the head and murdered. Let us be clear: this is not a one-off attack on journalists by Israel. We cannot forget that Israel had a raid last May on the al-Jalaa building that hosted Al Jazeera and the Associated Press office. This is not just the story of Shireen either, but many other journalists, including the 55 Palestinian journalists killed since 2000. How can the Palestinians have any faith in Israel to hand over any bullet and with this whitewash of an idea that they are going to investigate when nobody has been held to account over lots and lots of years? What representations are the Minister and this Government making to their Israeli counterparts to make sure that we get justice on this occasion, not just for Shireen but for all the Palestinians who are continually being brutalised?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The UK is very concerned by the number of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli security forces in recent weeks. We continue to urge for thorough and transparent investigations into the deaths of Palestinian civilians and call again for restraint in the use of force.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

Is my hon. Friend aware that 19 Israelis, not including foreign nationals, have also been killed by terrorism since 21 March, and that Jewish lives, and Israeli lives, matter as much as the life of the journalist who tragically lost her life? Is she also aware that a Hamas leader recently incited the Palestinians to act in ways of terrorism with the use of the knife and the gun? What is she doing to help the Israelis to combat terrorism and these awful murders of Israeli citizens?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

This is an important point. Israel does have a legitimate right to self-defence and the right to defend its citizens from attack, but it is absolutely vital that all actions are proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law, and they must make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

I send my condolences to Shireen’s family, friends and colleagues at Al Jazeera. She was unlawfully killed while doing the job she loved and was greatly respected for, while clearly identified as a journalist, in what can only be described as a targeted attack for reporting actions of Israeli forces in the occupied territory of Jenin. Does the Minister agree that an international criminal court should undertake a full independent, not just impartial, investigation, and that swift action should be taken to bring those responsible to justice?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the hon. Member for reminding us that there are family and friends involved. I add my condolences and those of the Government to the family and friends of Shireen. In losing such a talented person in such an awful situation, my thoughts are with them. We have called for an immediate investigation that does need to be fair and impartial, because it needs to have the trust of all those in the area. That is why it is so important that it happens soon.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I draw the attention of the House to my declaration in the register as a founder director of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians. In that respect, I have since then avoided engagement on Palestinian issues in this House. However, this Opposition urgent question about the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Aqla, almost certainly by a targeted shot coming from the forces who are in illegal occupation of a Palestinian territory, allows me to ask how long we must wait for the United Kingdom to actually do anything to enforce accountability on the state of Israel for its gross and worsening breach, over 55 years, of the fourth Geneva convention, while noting the shaming contrast with our own brave and principled policy towards Ukraine.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend is right to be concerned. The UK Government are very concerned about the very fragile security situation in Jerusalem. We continue to call on all parties to de-escalate tensions. The British ambassador to Israel and the British consulate general in Jerusalem have been engaging with Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to support them in restoring calm. We have made it clear that there is a need to protect holy sites. This sort of horrific violence against civilians is truly contemptible. We absolutely call on all sides to de-escalate the situation and come to the dialogue tables to work towards peace.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I acknowledge my role as chair of Labour Friends of Israel. The killing and the events at the funeral are shocking by any standards. I absolutely condemn what happened at the funeral, but as I understand it Shireen Abu Aqla was killed during a gun battle; the facts have not yet been established, and the Palestinians have rejected an offer of a joint investigation with the Israelis. Surely in this place it helps no one to state as fact what people want or feel inclined to believe. Will the Minister do everything to offer British resources and assistance to ensure that an independent, impartial investigation is established, and that we participate in it, if that would be helpful?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are not only calling for that investigation but working with other members of the UN Security Council on that joint statement from countries around the world strongly condemning the killing and stressing the importance of the investigation.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

Shireen Abu Aqla has been referred to as the voice of events in Palestine as part of a much-needed open and free press, but there are fears that her killing will spark refreshed conflict in the west bank. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that if anything can come from this tragedy, it is that it is the Government’s priority to secure peace in the region?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Our priority in the region has always been to work towards peace; that is why it is vital that tensions are de-escalated now. That is what we are urging the authorities to do on the ground: de-escalate, come back to dialogue and work towards peace.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

I acknowledge my role as chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and of the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group. Will the Minister state exactly how the Government intend to support an impartial investigation, which needs to be independent? Under this Government this country has a poor track record on impartial investigations, including on the issue of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which the Prime Minister opposed, as well as the UN commission of inquiry report on Gaza, from which the UK abstained.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The immediate actions that we have taken have been, first, to condemn the situation and then to work with the UN Security Council on that joint statement of condemnation which also calls for the investigation. We are obviously using our own diplomatic links both in Israel and in Jerusalem, engaging with the leaderships; and, of course, we will always look at what further measures should be taken.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

The Minister is right to condemn the recent terror attacks on innocent Israelis, which are increasingly being directed from the west bank by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. She is also right to condemn this killing and to express her belief, which we all share, that journalists should be allowed to report anywhere safely. However, too many people, for whatever reason—sinister or otherwise—have already determined what the facts are, and did so as soon as the story broke. I urge my hon. Friend once again to ensure that the UK Government’s position continues to be in support of an independent inquiry, and emphasise that any inquiry, if it is to be worth anything at all, will require the buy-in of both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, or else it will simply become a political dividing line.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

That is precisely why it is so important that the UN Security Council has described in such detail the need for the investigation to be immediate, thorough, transparent and fair, as well as impartial.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Shireen Abu Aqla was a Christian Palestinian like my family, and her death feels like we have lost a sister. The scenes from the funeral were deeply upsetting, but the Minister may be aware that the Israeli police were trying to segregate the Christians from the Muslims in their mourning. Indeed, the day before they had stormed Shireen’s house. They went in, disturbed the wake and took a Palestinian flag from the room. It is disgraceful, and it is a clear provocation. I ask the Minister simply this: has she summoned the Israeli ambassador to make it clear how unhelpful to the peace process this is?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We have made very clear the need to restore calm, we have made it very clear that we condemn this action and we will always look at what further steps should be taken.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

Shireen Abu Aqla was a respected journalist, and I thank the Minister for her statement. I am pleased at the role the UK played, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, in securing unanimity in its condemnation. Does the Minister share my concerns about what this means to the relationship between the Palestinian and Israeli communities over the long term, and does she agree that the best action in memory of Shireen Abu Aqla would be an open and transparent investigation participated in by all parties?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said in my opening statement, both those who mourn her and she herself should be treated with respect and dignity. Again, that is another reason why this investigation needs to be so thorough. It needs to be deep, it needs to fair, it needs to be impartial and it needs to happen soon. We are very concerned about the escalating tensions we have seen over recent weeks and months with increased violence, and it is really important to fight for calm rather than see more violence.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Future of Work)

The reality remains that every time a Palestinian child is born there is one certainty—that in life they will face persecution, oppression and humiliation at the hands of an occupying Israeli military. However, the soul-shattering scenes we saw last week, with the funeral procession of Shireen Abu Aqla brutally attacked by the Israeli security forces, now mean that they will be stripped of their dignity in death as well. Yet again, all the international community and this Government do is offer empty words, so I ask the Minister: just what are this Government waiting for, and why will they not immediately recognise the state of Palestine? What message are this Government sending to Palestinians, who have now been stripped of their dignity in life and death?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We consistently call for an immediate end to all actions of violence, and we immediately call out—and continue to do so—against all actions that undermine the viability of a two-state solution. We are also a key development actor in the region, especially working to lift the overall standards of living for Palestinians and to meet humanitarian needs. The hon. Member asks about recognising a Palestinian state. We will recognise a Palestinian state at the time when it best serves the objective of peace, because achieving peace is our primary objective.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in relation to a recent delegation to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

As has already been stated, the Palestinian Authority have so far refused to participate in a joint investigation into the tragic death of Shireen Abu Aqla. An initial autopsy has found that it is not possible to tell whether she was killed by Israeli or Palestinian gunfire. Facts matter, so does my hon. Friend agree that those who, for whatever reason, are jumping to blame Israel will only deepen division and make peace harder to achieve?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

It is really important that there is a proper investigation—a thorough, fair and impartial investigation—but I repeat that we are concerned by the number of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli security forces in recent weeks, and we urge thorough and transparent investigations into the deaths of civilians as well. It is really important that there is restraint in the use of force, and we will continue to say that again and again.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

A constituent of mine who went to school with Shireen Abu Aqla has been in touch to share her sense of helplessness at what seems to be yet another state-sanctioned killing in the occupied territories. She said to me at the weekend that it seems to her that it is always incumbent on the Palestinians to prove their innocence and fight for basic human sympathy for the events that befall them. I fully accept that the killing has to be investigated independently, but having regard to what followed—the raiding of the home, the appalling behaviour of the Israeli authorities at the funeral—can the Minister please answer the question she was asked earlier: will she summon the Israeli ambassador? Clearly, the Minister feels outrage at what has happened—she has been very honest about that—so will she summon the Israeli ambassador to communicate her outrage?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We have been very clear that we have condemned this killing. We absolutely share the hon. and learned Member’s concern for the distressing and disturbing scenes at the funeral. We have called for a thorough investigation, we have called for respect and dignity, and we call for all parties to reduce the tensions and to come and work together towards peace. Delivering peace is what Shireen would have wanted and is what we all want.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

As Steve McCabe, the chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, said earlier, this was in the middle of a gun battle between Israeli forces and Palestinian forces. The Labour Friends of Israel chairman is right, and my hon. Friend Greg Smith is also right in saying that the initial autopsy—which was conducted by the Palestinian authorities, not the Israeli authorities—said that it was impossible because the bullet removed was a 5.56x45 mm NATO round used both by the Israelis and the Palestinians. Therefore, may I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure and put pressure to ensure that this is an independent inquiry, because justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend is right about justice: justice is really important. We absolutely condemn this killing and will continue to stress the need for the investigation to be fair, impartial, thorough and prompt.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I am secretary of the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group and we have raised these issues before, but, with regard to this killing, let us put it in the context of the systematic abuse of Palestinian journalists. The International Federation of Journalists already a month ago referred these incidents to the International Criminal Court. May I therefore, in that context, and in view of the happenings subsequent to the killing, which were disgraceful, repeat the question for the third time? The minimal action any Government can take is to call the ambassador in to express the concerns of the Government about the Israeli state’s behaviour, so can we ask for the third time: have the Government invited, or do they intend to invite, the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for that discussion?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I have been very clear about the actions the Government have taken to date. We continue to condemn this, we have called for an investigation, we have, through our ambassadors and the British consul in Israel and in Jerusalem, made very clear our position supporting the leaders to restore calm, the need to protect holy sites and the need for dialogue to move towards peace, and of course we always take any future measures into consideration.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The Minister will have heard Members across the House calling for not just an impartial investigation, but an independent investigation. I will tell her why it matters: because in this modern world, independent fact checkers have been able to put together compelling, open-source evidence that points clearly to the responsibility of the Israeli forces for the murder of Shireen Abu Aqla. Given that, will the Minister confirm that the UK’s official position is that there should be an independent inquiry, not just an impartial one, so that the Israelis and the Palestinians can both have confidence in the outcomes? Will she clarify that: yes or no?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I think that it is really important that we work with partners across the world through the UN Security Council. It is the UN Security Council’s wording, agreed among all those countries, that calls for an impartial investigation. That is the wording that has been agreed by the UN Security Council.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Justice)

I find it heartbreaking that, after decades of violence, illegal occupation, demolition of Palestinian homes and complete disregard for human rights, the UK has failed in its obligation and duty to recognise the state of Palestine. It took the Foreign Secretary more than 24 hours to put out a statement after the murder of al-Jazeera’s esteemed journalist Shireen Abu Aqla. What message does that send to those responsible for Shireen’s tragic murder? In the light of the history, why are the Government not pushing for a full independent inquiry? Given the close relationship between the UK and Israel, now, for the fourth time of asking, will the Minister summon the Israeli ambassador to demonstrate the outrage at the behaviour of security forces during Shireen’s funeral?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Shireen’s death was a true tragedy and we have condemned it. On 11 May, the Foreign Secretary condemned it. We have also worked very rapidly with our colleagues at the UN Security Council to deliver the joint statement of condemnation and to call for the investigation that I have mentioned. We continue to press for peace. We saw those very distressing images at the funeral and will always look at what further steps should be taken.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, including my role as co-chair of the cross-party National Union of Journalists group and on various Palestinian groups. I want the Minister and Members to imagine for a moment attending the funeral of a family member or friend. In what circumstances would what we witnessed on our TV screens happening to the pallbearers carrying the coffin be reasonable or proportionate? How can it be acceptable for the police or security services of any nation to attack pallbearers to the extent that the coffin falls on the ground? Not only do we call for the Minister’s condemnation, but, for a fifth time, I call on her to summon the Israeli ambassador here to account for her actions.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I have attended many funerals in my life, from early childhood, and that is one that will always stay with me. Mourners should always be treated with respect and dignity. Shireen and her family should have been treated with respect and dignity. We totally condemn her death and the manner in which she died. We believe that this really urgent investigation is needed to help to rebuild peace. That must be our priority.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. The International Federation of Journalists’ complaint to the ICC about the treatment of Palestinian journalists is about not only protecting the human rights of journalists, but safeguarding the work that they do as a profession to protect collective human rights. The Secretary of State has spoken many times about the need for an independent and impartial investigation. To ensure that independence and impartiality, will she support the IFJ’s complaint to the International Criminal Court to ensure those very virtues?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As I said, we have been working with our friends and other members of the UN Security Council on the joint statement about the investigation. I do not have any further details that I can share with the right hon. Member at present.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

As if the ongoing dispossession and discrimination faced by the Palestinian people was not enough cruelty, Israel continuously targets Palestinian journalists. There is not only the murder by Israeli snipers of Shireen Abu Aqla, who for decades bravely reported the crimes inflicted on her people. Since 2000, Israel has killed an estimated 51 Palestinian journalists and an independent UN commission of inquiry found that, during the 2018 march of return, Israeli snipers intentionally shot Palestinian journalists who were clearly marked as such, killing Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein. What will it take for the Government to stop equivocating over these horrific crimes and hold Israel to account for its routine violations of international humanitarian law? And for the seventh time, will the Minister summon the Israeli ambassador?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We stand by journalists all across the world and it is a tragedy that so many journalists have been killed in recent years, and particularly this year. That is why we continue to raise issues of media freedom on the global stage. In February in Estonia, we announced support for the secretariat for the Media Freedom Coalition, which we founded and which now has 52 members. We will absolutely stand for media freedom and for journalists all across the world.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

It is important that the Minister has condemned this killing this afternoon and I thank her for doing so several times. Many of us are puzzled by her reluctance to summon the Israeli ambassador; that seems like the first step that should have been taken. Will the Government now commit to supporting the International Criminal Court investigations into not only this incident, but the wider behaviour of the Israeli Defence Forces in the occupied territories?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Not only have we worked with other members of the UN Security Council in strongly condemning this incident and needing to have this investigation, as I have mentioned, but we have been very clear that we are very concerned about other incidents of Palestinian civilians being killed by Israeli security forces in recent weeks. We continue to urge further transparent investigations of those killings as well.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

Another journalist is murdered in occupied Palestine. Next, the occupying power raids her family home, and then its forces brutally attack pallbearers and mourners at Shireen’s funeral. In the light of that, the Government’s response has been pathetic and inadequate. The Minister will not even call for an independent investigation—that is, independent of the Israeli forces, who have whitewashed previous deaths in this way. Will she do that? Will she say what single step the Government have taken—not said, but taken—to oppose the occupation of Palestine, which is at the root of this violence? Will they recognise Palestine? Will they ban trade with illegal settlements? Will they sign up to the ICC inquiry? If not, her words are completely empty.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As I have said really clearly, we have led work at the UN to make sure that there is a joint statement not just from us, but from the entire security—

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am answering the question—please do not heckle me.

This is a tragic death—a really tragic death. We have led the work at the United Nations to put the pressure on to make sure, to the best extent that we can, that this investigation happens, that it is fair and transparent, and therefore, to use the word that the UN has used—I will repeat this, because it is the word from the statement—that it is “impartial”. The hon. Gentleman asked about the settlements. We are very clear that settlements are illegal under international law. They call into question Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution. We urge Israel to halt its settlement expansion—that threatens the viability of a Palestinian state—and we will continue, always, to press for peace.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does the Minister appreciate that everyone in this House regrets the killing of men and women in Israel, whether they are Israeli or Palestinian? It is quite wrong to imply anything else. There has been talk of the necessity of establishing the facts. Does she appreciate that the facts of the terrible scenes at Shireen’s funeral are beyond doubt? Millions of people around the world have seen those images. Finally, does she understand that it is no use telling us that Shireen’s death is a tragedy? We know that. We will take her words seriously only when she commits this afternoon, in this House, to calling the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign Office. Otherwise, her words are just words.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that all deaths in this situation are a total tragedy. What happened at Shireen’s funeral should not have happened. I cannot give further comment at this point; I have told her what we are doing, and that Ministers always consider what further steps can be taken. Our fundamental priority must be to continue urging a de-escalation of tensions, an end to violence and a pathway to peace.

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford

The murder of Shireen Abu Aqla and the attacks on mourners at her funeral have shocked the world. It is not enough to condemn those actions; we must take action. When will the UK Government stop authorising arms sales to Israel, as we know they are killing innocent Palestinians?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We take the export of arms extremely seriously. As has been said many times in this House, the United Kingdom has one of the most robust arms export control regimes anywhere in the world. I hope all hon. and right hon. Members would agree that the important thing now is to call on all parties to de-escalate the tensions and to work towards peace.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

In the Minister’s statement and subsequent answers, she mentioned her attempts to get a statement at the United Nations. The problem is that Israel has consistently ignored any critical statements coming out of the UN, and has even sought to undermine the legitimacy of the UN and other international institutions. Why does she think this time will be any different?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

It is important that voices from across the world have condemned this awful deed.

Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham

This is not the first time this has happened; nor will it be the last. Under occupation, Palestinians’ human rights are abused, and as we have seen, they cannot even bury their dead with dignity. Does the Minister understand that until we have a lasting peace, we will not tackle the situation at its root? Does she understand that although the UK has committed to a two-state solution, we cannot have two states if only one is recognised? Perhaps she would like to reconsider her answer to my hon. Friend Imran Hussain and tell us when exactly she will recognise the Palestinian state.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

It is clear that unilateral recognition, by itself, will not end the occupation. We need the parties to come to talks and to work towards peace.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

The killing of Shireen Abu Aqla by the Israeli military and the subsequent attack on her funeral in Jerusalem demonstrate the reality of the occupation of the west bank. Amnesty International has said that it constitutes apartheid, which is a crime against humanity as defined in the Rome statute and the apartheid convention. Will the Minister not only condemn this act of inhumanity but commit now to summoning the Israeli ambassador? Will she take steps to ensure that the UK ceases all arms trade with Israel, and to ensure that Britain is not complicit in the illegal occupation of Palestine?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I have already stated many times the actions that we are taking. Of course Ministers consider, at all times, what further steps might be taken.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I have had a great many letters from my constituents since the brutal murder of Shireen Abu Aqla, as have, I am sure, many other Members from across the House. They are saddened. They are sickened by the scenes at her funeral. They are also deeply angry about the lack of reaction. The Minister said the word “impartial”, but can she not press the Government to push for an independent investigation into this death? Will she please place on record for the House the dates and agendas of the meetings she has had with the Israeli ambassador? We need some sort of resolution, and to establish a two-state solution in that land.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The most important thing about the investigation is that it be accountable and ensures that those who carried out this act be held to account. That is why we worked towards wording that says it should be immediate, thorough, transparent, fair and impartial; and the most important thing is accountability. I cannot, from the Dispatch Box, tell the hon. Gentleman what meetings I have had, as I am not the Minister with responsibility for the middle east, but I am sure that we can follow up in writing.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough

Surely the appalling desecration of the funeral of Shireen Abu Aqla is evidence, if any more were needed, of the crime of apartheid that is being inflicted on the Palestinian people and has been rigorously documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem. Instead of passing laws to ban local authorities and civil society from taking action against this brutal occupation, is it not time to accept the legal analysis of those human rights organisations, and do the right and moral thing and impose sanctions in response to this appalling criminality?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am afraid I need to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, because we do not believe that boycotts, divestment or sanctions would help to create an atmosphere conducive to peace. I note that he used the word apartheid. We do not use that terminology, and we do not agree with its use, because it is a legal term, and a judgment on whether it can be used under international law needs to come through a judicial decision; that is really important. One thing I agree with him on, however, is that civil society always plays an important part in a democracy.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

The sad reality is that the horrific murder of Shireen is just another tragedy in 74 years of unaddressed ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, yet rather than sanction Israel for that behaviour, 55 years after occupation began, the UK Government are busy strengthening relations with it through new trade deals. I ask the Minister, for the first time: why will she not summon the ambassador of Israel to the Foreign Office?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The most important thing we need to do is try to work towards peace. That is why we condemn this incident and are working for it to be condemned internationally, and why we called for the investigation. We want people to be held to account. That is why we are working with our ambassadors and the British Council in Jerusalem in Israel to try to de-escalate tensions.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

We know that Shireen was wearing a press vest and helmet, yet in addressing the circumstances of her murder, an Israeli military spokesperson said:

“They’re armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so.”

Will the Minister be unequivocal in her support for journalists and transparency in Palestine, condemn any sense that to carry a camera is to be armed, and reaffirm that respect for a free press should be fundamental in any state calling itself a democracy?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The United Kingdom stands on the side of journalists all around the world, wherever they are. Media freedom is a vital part of our democracy and our freedom as individuals, and we stand for journalists.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

May I first declare an interest as a member of a Friends of Israel group? May I also thank the Minister for her response to the urgent question? I have seen innocent bystanders killed on numerous occasions in Northern Ireland. As the Minister will know, similarities are being drawn with Lyra KcKee, a journalist reporting on the unrest in 2019 who was killed by the new IRA. Does the Minister not agree that the loss of life is truly tragic, and that all possible steps must be taken to ensure the safety of those who seek to report the news from an unbiased position? What steps does she feel her Department can take to send that message internationally?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We absolutely continue to call out attacks against journalists and media internationally. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that attacks against journalists have happened in the United Kingdom in our history, and I remember that particular tragedy well. We are one of the leading countries in the world standing for media freedom. We founded the Media Freedom Coalition; it now has 52 members, and we should like to see more.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I send my condolences to the family and colleagues of Shireen Abu Aqla. Can the Minister confirm that, contrary to the statement of the Israeli military spokesperson, the fact that a journalist is armed with a camera does not make that journalist a target?