Gaza — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 8th February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Labour 3:13 pm, 8th February 2012

To ask Her Majesty's Government what contact they have had with the Government of Israel regarding the effect of Israel's blockade of Gaza on children's health.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

My Lords, the UK Government are very concerned about the impact of movement and access restrictions on the health of children in Gaza. We regularly press the Israeli authorities on the need to ease restrictions and to address the humanitarian situation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development raised these issues during his recent visit.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that only 5 per cent of the water coming out of Gazan children's taps is drinkable and the rest is not? Gastroenteritis is endemic among children in Gaza, about 70 per cent of whom are anaemic. Is she also aware that doctors working in the main hospital claim that about 500 people have died as a result of the shortage of basic medication, many of whom are children? Can we not approach the Israeli Government with a greater sense of urgency to secure a change in the situation of these children who are being collectively punished?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

I have been replying to the noble Lord on the issue of water so I am extremely well aware of the situation. We are very concerned about the situation in Gaza and it is a tragedy that people are living in such circumstances. Thirty-eight per cent of Gazans live in poverty, 66 per cent depend on food aid, and, indeed, 90 per cent of mains water is unfit to drink. We are pressing the Israeli authorities all the time to try to address these problems.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, last week representations about this were made even by the UN Secretary-General, which demonstrates once again the futility of all efforts by the international community to alleviate, let alone to resolve, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Can my noble friend tell the House what replies we have received to our repeated representations to the Israeli Government? In particular, will the Israelis facilitate the onward delivery of $1.5 million-worth of medical supplies which were landed in the port of Ashdod by a Turkish aid agency last Saturday?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

My Lords, the important thing is to seek a political resolution. It is only following that that some of these problems will properly be addressed. My noble friend is right to highlight some of the problems that are occurring at the moment. We have to emphasise yet again that it is in Israel's future interest to make sure that these problems are properly addressed and that it will never be secure while this situation continues.

Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Labour

My Lords, is the Minister aware that medical supplies for Gaza are shipped by Israel to the Ministry of Health in the West Bank, which then has to deliver them to Gaza? There is considerable mistrust and poor communication between the two ministries of health, and that is one of the main causes of the delay in the transfer of medical supplies. Is she aware of that?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

I am aware of that. The noble Lord is right that the division between Gaza and the West Bank, both geographically and politically, is indeed playing a part here. We urge all sides to co-operate together to ensure that medicines get across and do get into Gaza.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

Is the Minister aware that around 300 Questions have been tabled during this Session on Israel, Gaza and the associated areas, with, sadly, little effect? We have had only around 20 Questions on Iran, 30 on Syria and only one relating to the Arab spring. Is the Minister confident that this House is seeing the widespread crises throughout the Middle East in perspective and that British representations on Gaza are set in the context of the whole area? I find it very odd-maybe other Members do as well-that we have not had a debate on the Arab spring.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

The noble Baroness is right to flag up problems in other areas across the region. All these issues need to be addressed, and of course what happens between the Israelis and the Palestinians also plays out in those other areas. It is extremely important that we seize these issues right across the region.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative

My Lords, in her reply my noble friend referred to representations that the British Government have been making to the Government of Israel on this issue. That frequently is the form of reply which is given on many other issues relating to Gaza and Israel. Does Israel give assurances in response to those representations, and do Her Majesty's Government ever follow up any undertaking given by the Government of Israel? When are we going to have any positive action to redress this wrongdoing?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

The noble Lord is right: there is a lot of communication all the time. There have been some shifts-some of the restrictions on crossings have been lifted to some extent-but it is nowhere near what is required. Therefore, constant pressure is needed. However, I come back to one of my original points. It is necessary for both sides to see that it is in their long-term interest to find a political solution. It is only when we get people on to that path that we will start to crack some of the other problems.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

My Lords, is there not a ready solution available to hand? All that needs to happen in order for the remaining restrictions to be lifted is for the Hamas regime in Gaza to accept and adopt the quartet conditions; to accept existing agreements, including the Oslo accords; to recognise the state of Israel, and to abjure violence. Do the Government think that any of those suggestions are unreasonable; and if not, even though we do not have any relations with the Hamas regime directly, will they find a way of communicating that thought to it?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

The noble Lord's premise of a simple route rather defies the current situation. We welcome the reconciliation between the Palestinians, Hamas and Fatah, which we are monitoring very closely, and we welcome the moves towards elections. However, as the noble Lord and others will know, you have to take a balanced approach and recognise that one side will feel that you are not being fair if you demand X of them, and the other side likewise. That is why it is extremely important to try to bring the parties together and to seek a political solution which is in everybody's best interests.