The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-08835, in the name of Claudia Beamish, on thirsting for justice. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament understands that the average daily consumption of water of Palestinian people to cover domestic and public service needs is around 70 litres per person; believes that this is well below the 100 litre limit recommended by the World Health Organization; understands that Israeli policies and practices limit access to water for people in Palestine to less than they are entitled to under international law; believes that only 31% of West Bank residents have access to the sewage network and that there is only one waste water treatment plant operating in the area; considers that there are significant barriers to access to water for agricultural use; condemns what it sees as Israel’s refusal to grant the necessary permits or military security clearance for the construction and operation of sanitation and waste water treatment facilities; understands that the situation is far worse in the Gaza Strip where, it believes, over 30 kilometres of waterworks and 11 wells operated by the water authorities were damaged or destroyed by the Israeli military during its mission, Operation Cast Lead; understands that the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which is known as the Goldstone report, deemed that the Israeli actions were “deliberate and systematic”; applauds the Thirsting for Justice Campaign, which, it understands, works directly with communities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and notes the campaign’s aim to encourage European citizens, including those in the south of Scotland, to demand that governments put pressure on Israel to comply with international law and for human rights to be respected in Palestine.
As I open the thirsting for justice debate to highlight water challenges for the Palestinian people, I am acutely aware of the stark fact that many people will not have had enough clean water to drink, wash in or water their crops today.
I welcome to the public gallery many members of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on Palestine, who are here to witness the debate. Afterwards, they will attend a meeting to input their humanitarian and political perspectives. Many of them are actively working for the desired outcomes. They are people such as Jim Malone of the Fire Brigades Union, who took fire engines to Nablus and is about to welcome Palestinian firefighters to another training course in Glasgow to develop skills in water rescue, and the volunteers at the Hadeel shop in Edinburgh, where we can all buy fairly traded Palestinian goods and crafts.
I know that the Minister for External Relations and International Development is eager to hear the debate. Only procedure prevents it from being a joint members’ business debate with my colleague John Finnie.
John Finnie and I went to Gaza during the ceasefire after the pillar of defence operation in November 2012. We were part of a Europe-wide delegation of parliamentarians who were taken by the Council for European Palestinian Relations on a fact-finding visit. Our choice of water justice for Palestine as the subject for this debate is a symbol and proxy for all the other injustices that make Palestinians’ lives pretty impossible, despite all their resilience. The debate is timely, as Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, recently raised water issues in the Knesset.
On our Gaza visit, when we came in across the Sinai desert by bus, we were hit from the start by the stark realities at the Rafah crossing. Anxious people were milling about and others were just waiting, waiting and waiting. Amnesty International’s 2009 report “Troubled Waters: Palestinians denied fair access to water” tells us that Israel restricts the import of equipment that relates to water supplies. When we came into Gaza city, we saw people walking with small bottles of water. The “Troubled Waters” report says that many families in the occupied Palestinian territories
“have to spend as much as a quarter ... of their income on water” that is of questionable quality and from dubious sources. However, the 450,000 Israeli settlers who live in the west bank, in violation of international law, use as much water as or more water than the Palestinian population of 2.3 million.
During our visit, one of the presentations by non-governmental organisations came from the Emergency Water and Sanitation/Hygiene group—EWASH. In an EWASH report, a local resident, Um Helmi, says:
“We see that the nearby settlement is green and has grass growing all year and we feel pain that we are being robbed of water. All we want is justice”.
When we left Gaza by bus, John Finnie and I were told that we would have to make a major detour, as a bridge on one of the main tarmacked roads out of Gaza city had been bombed the week before. That targeted destruction not only caused long-term traffic chaos and hampered city access but destroyed a sewage pipeline going out to the sea, so there was polluted water in the river mouth.
During operation cast lead in 2009, more than 30km of water infrastructure was damaged or destroyed by the Israeli military. The United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict—the Goldstone report—deemed that destruction “deliberate and systematic”. Most of the infrastructure has not yet been repaired because of a lack of access to spare parts, which is partly due to the blockade.
Our reason for heading out a different way was to visit a newly planted date plantation run by a co-operative, which was irrigated by a fragile water system. It was a symbol of hope and optimism against all the odds. EWASH says:
“The Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and Israel’s military operation ... have exacerbated existing water quality and supply problems and caused increased damage to water resources essential for agriculture.
In the past, agriculture production in Gaza ensured food security. Currently, agriculture in the Gaza Strip is barely viable.”
When John Finnie and I returned, we made a commitment to regularly do something practical for Palestine, if possible. We are in dialogue with the minister, unions, water companies and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East—UNWRA—about support for possible partnership water projects, and with academia about a possible Palestinian scholarship on international water law.
The minister’s encouragement and support is much valued. We have also asked him to consider active Scottish Government support through the climate justice fund, when it is reviewed. Water resource management in Malawi has already been funded through the fund, so there is a precedent. As Friends of the Earth International stressed in its report “Environmental Nakba: Environmental injustice and violations of the Israeli occupation of Palestine”, there should be eco justice for Palestine.
Further, we ask the minister about active Scottish Government support through the international development fund, which as he will know, has
“a focus on working in partnership and achieving real and tangible outcomes on the ground”.
I ask the minister to consider providing support in the next review. Such targeted commitments would send a clear message from Scotland globally about our commitment to a just solution for the Palestinian people.
I have known about the plight of Palestine since I was a teenager, when I visited Lebanon with my father, who was then a member of Parliament. There, I met exiles and saw the refugee camps. How can it be that, so many years later, there is still no solution?
Working for better immediate conditions in no way diminishes the urgency of the present diplomatic negotiations. Thirsting for justice on water issues is of course symbolic of a political thirsting for justice. The visit to Gaza that John Finnie and I were part of had representation from many European Union countries. The clear message from our delegation leader, Northern Ireland Assembly member Pat Sheehan, to the world media was that all parties must be represented in the peace process. That resonated strongly with me, and I am clear that it must be the way forward. I hope that the minister agrees and that the Scottish Government will consider making that point in its representations to the United Kingdom Government on taking forward a just solution in the middle east.
Responsibility for the failure so far to resolve the on-going Palestinian crisis lies in many places and countries. I believe that, in the complex puzzle of middle eastern politics, we must send a clear message today that adds to the voices of many across the world—in America, Russia, Europe and Israel itself—that the time has come for a just solution for the people in the occupied territories and for the exiles across the world.
John Kerry’s framework agreement deadline of 28 April focuses minds yet again. Of course, a lasting solution will involve compromise, and it must be grounded in justice. I look forward to hearing the perspectives of other members on what I hope is not an intractable problem.
I congratulate my colleague and friend Claudia Beamish on securing the debate and on the content of her speech, which was much appreciated. Many people will be astonished that, in the 21st century, we are having this debate. Claudia Beamish has covered much of what took place during our visit. I found the visit humbling.
What the Israeli defence people call operation pillar of defence, the Palestinians call the eight-day war, which was a war that took a significant toll. Language is terribly important, and the Israeli defence people use words such as precision. Just a short while ago, I rechecked online and found that the website proudly shows the precision attack on a military leader, as they call him, in a street. Most certainly, something struck a vehicle and it exploded but, of course, the website does not share the fact that one of the victims was a nine-year-old child.
One of the first places that Claudia Beamish and I visited was the Al Dula family house, which had also been the target of a precision air strike. That precision strike had killed a large family, including women and children, who were gathering for wedding celebrations. Precision is important, and the Israeli authorities know precisely what they are doing. That is not just my view; it is the view of others.
I commend to members the Friends of the Earth report “Environmental Nakba: Environmental injustice and violations of the Israeli occupation of Palestine”, which talks, first of all, about the world’s apparent indifference to the plight of the Palestinian people, particularly those in Gaza. It goes on to say:
“Even more ignored has been the wholesale grabbing of fertile land and water resources and the environmental pollution and destruction due to industrial and nuclear waste dumping.”
Friends of the Earth talk about how
“environmental justice is intrinsically linked to social justice”— we would all agree with that—
“human dignity, respect for human rights and the self-determination of peoples.”
Those are all clearly absent in that population. It is a population of 1.5 million in one of the most densely populated places on earth, and 1.1 million of them are refugees.
During the assault, the Israeli defence force attacked a police station that was beside one of the food distribution points. It is a damning indictment on the world that 80 per cent of the population relies on aid.
In its report, Friends of the Earth goes on to talk about “Land grabs and water apartheid”:
“Land can be arbitrarily designated as required for security purposes or as closed military areas”.
It also mentions:
“The expansion of areas that are off limits to Palestinians”.
That was sadly apparent on Friday or Saturday, when a mentally ill woman who had wandered into such an area was shot repeatedly.
We are talking about basic things. What is more important than food, shelter and water? The water resources are being exploited, and they are extremely limited. In the short time that I have, I certainly cannot go into the detail that I would like to.
The blockade on Gaza is having a terrible toll. The Egyptian situation has not helped because of the closure of the tunnels. The sewage, which is dumped raw into the Mediterranean Sea, takes a toll more widely: the sea surrounds not only Gaza or Israel; many countries are affected by that pollution.
I would like the rule of law and basic humanity to be recognised. Climate change will affect us all, and the demands on water around the globe will be an issue, not least for countries that are upstream of other countries. Israel is in a position to do something. Claudia Beamish talked about deliberate and systematic destruction—that was referred to in one of the official reports—but I would call it mindless and brutal vandalism.
I am grateful to the Minister for External Affairs and International Development for his support and interest in the matter and for the all-party support that exists. I commend Claudia Beamish again for her work on it, and I look forward to hearing the other speeches.
I am a member of the cross-party group on Palestine and of Scottish Friends of Palestine. The latter organisation states:
“The occupation continues, as does the humiliation, the hardship & the violence suffered at the hands of the settlers & occupation forces alike. Millions of refugees, decades on, are still denied their rights.
With Israel trying to blame the victims for their plight, with the International community largely deferring to the wishes of Israel & her supporters & taking no effective action to protect the Palestinian people, they need your support more than ever.”
Therefore, I am pleased to speak in support of Claudia Beamish’s motion on thirsting for justice, but I apologise to members, because I have to leave shortly after my speech.
Access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right. It is worth repeating that article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family”.
I also reiterate that the Amnesty International report “Troubled Waters: Palestinians denied fair access to water” states that consumption levels in the occupied Palestinian territories fall well below the World Health Organization daily per capita consumption of 100 litres.
I also highlight the fact that, as the motion states and Claudia Beamish mentioned, the UN Goldstone report deemed that the Israeli actions in the Gaza strip were “deliberate and systematic”. There, the Israeli military damaged or destroyed more than 30km of water works and 11 wells operated by the water authorities.
It was predicted in 2012 that the water crisis would make the Gaza strip unliveable in. Some 113,000 Palestinians in the west bank are still not connected to the water network and are dependent on water that is transported in tanker trucks, which raises the price significantly. In many of those communities, which are extremely poor, the families are forced to spend up to 40 per cent of their income on that basic commodity. In 2009, a World Bank study found that Israelis had access to 4.42 times more water than the Palestinians in the west bank did. That is simply unacceptable.
One of the problems in and outside the Parliament is that, when we try to discuss human rights abuses in Palestine, there can be a charge of anti-Semitism. That is an unfair accusation, and it may well be levelled to try to stop the plight of the Palestinians being debated and highlighted. Indeed, only last week, as Claudia Beamish noted, the President of the European Parliament faced criticism merely for making remarks about difficulties that are faced by Palestinians in the west bank, including difficulties around access to water.
“As Jews, we can make the distinction between real anti-Semitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue to shield Israel from legitimate criticism.”
Jews for Justice for Palestinians, which is based in the UK, recognises that peace in the middle east will come about only
“with mutual recognition and respect and must be seen as just by both sides.”
That is something that Claudia Beamish pointed out. The group also recognises that peace requires the end of the illegal occupation and settlement. It states that
“Violence against civilians is unacceptable” and that
“Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza are breeding hatred and resentment.”
Endless conflict and occupation creates the conditions for human rights abuses, including the killing of children and the denial of water and sanitation to thousands. Condemnation of violence against civilians in the conflict, no matter by whom it is carried out, goes without saying, as does the fact that lasting peace must be seen as just by both sides. We all have a part to play in helping to bring that about. Britain, the EU, Russia and the UN must be persuaded to implement UN resolutions on Palestine.
As we approach world water day, it is important to highlight the plight of Palestinians, since that might not be as well known as the lack of water and sanitation in other parts of the world, such as Africa. Israel must stop denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water, give up its total control of shared water resources and stop pursuing discriminatory policies. Even my four-year-old niece recognises the right to have clean water. When she saw an advert for WaterAid on television, she said, “There’s lots of water. Why don’t they have any? Can we post them some?”
People in Palestine, including children, are dying for want of water and sanitation, and I hope that our voices tonight can contribute to raising awareness, changing conditions and delivering justice in Palestine.
I thank Claudia Beamish and John Finnie—I know that it was a joint effort—for securing the debate and for the informative blogging. I think that the work that they did in Gaza was commendable, and I got a lot of information from reading what they wrote.
I want to concentrate on what is, for me, the most important part of the motion: the situation in Gaza. As Claudia Beamish and John Finnie have, I—along with Jim Hume and others—have visited Gaza. One thing that sticks in my mind is our being taken on a tour to see the sewers that had been broken and destroyed by Israeli military action. I remember standing on a bank of mud, along with families and young children, looking at raw sewage running past us. The 1.5 million people there—who live in what I would call a jail or a prison and are among the poorest people in the world—have to buy water. Even though they are surrounded by water, they cannot get clean water, because of the situation with the sewage pipes.
I want to thank the thirsting for justice campaign, which has brought the issue to the attention of many people, including the people in the gallery who will be at a meeting later tonight. I also thank the minister for his interest in the subject; it is an important issue that has been raised before by others.
Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, and the Israeli blockade of the area has prevented development of essential infrastructure, including for water. The restrictions on importing into Gaza materials and equipment that are necessary for the development and repair of infrastructure have led to the water and sanitation situation reaching crisis point.
Poor maintenance of the sewage treatment plant is another issue. Sewage is left untreated and has been allowed to flow daily not just through the streets of Gaza and other areas, but into the sea, where it has contaminated the underground aquifer. Recent flooding in Gaza has exacerbated the situation beyond comprehension for the people who are trapped there.
Under the terms of the Oslo accords, the west bank and Gaza constitute a single territorial entity. However, no provisions were made to allow for transfer of water from the west bank to Gaza, which leaves Gaza’s water needs to be met from local resources. Hence, we might say that we have double trouble.
According to the UN environment programme:
“The state of the environment in the Gaza Strip is bleak from any perspective.”
It goes on to say that
“The aquifer is severely damaged and collapsing quickly. Unless the trend is reversed now, damage could take centuries to reverse.”
The people of Gaza are suffering tremendously from years and years of Israeli blockade. Claudia Beamish touched on the fact that it is time to do something. As I mentioned in the debate on Syria, we need to look at ways of ensuring peace in the middle east. Claudia Beamish mentioned John Kerry. I refer to President Obama and John Kerry’s dialogue with the Israelis on peace. Mr Obama said that if the peace talks failed and there was “continued aggressive settlement construction” in the occupied west bank, Washington would have limited ability to protect Israel from “international fallout”.
I ask the people of Israel to listen to the pleas of the rest of the world and to do something to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people.
I congratulate Claudia Beamish on securing a debate on Palestine. It should be the business of this Parliament to support improvements in human rights around the globe, and the motion certainly seeks to do that. The international community has strongly condemned the restrictions that have been placed on Gaza and the west bank, but little has been said about water there, so the debate is particularly welcome.
The Goldstone report in 2009 highlighted much of the largely unjustified immediate damage to water pipes and sewage ducts, but there has been a great deal of further analysis—particularly by the United Nations—of the longer-term humanitarian crisis that has ensued. What I want to say is drawn largely from a report that was published by the United Nations in 2013, which addresses the situation in respect of the occupation-induced water and sanitation crisis in the Gaza strip and the west bank.
With regard to Gaza, the report states that
“90 per cent of water in the underlying coastal aquifer beneath the Gaza Strip is unfit for human consumption as a result of pollution caused by raw sewage and rising seawater infiltration.”
That area of Palestine is almost completely reliant on one water source and, as the UN reported, to counteract dangerous consumptions, citizens are sometimes forced to purchase expensive alternatives from external vendors.
In contrast—the report states—Israel
“extracts a disproportionate share of the water from the coastal aquifer” and prevents access to
Finally, in relation to Gaza’s water situation, the extreme negative impact of the on-going blockade and military action cannot be overlooked, because it constantly undermines any chance of rebuilding. On that point, the report comes to what I believe is, in relation to the motion, an important conclusion. It says:
“Israel has destroyed at least 306 wells in the Access Restricted Areas of Gaza since 2005. In this context, the Special Rapporteur strongly condemns the targeting of water and sanitation facilities during Israeli military operations, which cannot be justified as a military necessity, and cannot be explained as a consequence of accidents.”
The west bank faces many similar problems. It was estimated in the UN report that
“500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem enjoy approximately six times the amount of water used by the Palestinian population of 2.6 million.”
As Claudia Beamish reminded us, that water is vital for advancing the agricultural interests of the region, but the crops cannot grow in Palestinian land, which suffers in arid temperatures. It is disappointing that diplomatic efforts to address this inequality through a joint water committee have failed because Israel has the power to veto any development that it deems to be inappropriate. It is, in effect, allowed to perpetuate the situation.
The special rapporteur recommended that Israel immediately end its
“discriminatory policies and practices that serve to deny Palestinians their rightful share of water resources”, and that it
“cease the demolition of water collection facilities, including wells and water tanks.”
In particular, the report concluded that Israel must cease its demolishing of water collection facilities—including wells and water tanks—
“on the pretext that they operate without valid permits.”
Israel must act on the recommendations in that UN report. I thank Claudia Beamish once again for highlighting this very serious problem.
I, too, congratulate Claudia Beamish on securing the debate. However, I have not signed the motion and I do not support the calls that the motion advocates. I intend to give a different perspective on the debate, if I may.
In the United Kingdom, we take access to clean water for granted. Unfortunately not everyone can say the same. In the occupied Palestinian territories there are complex issues with water resources that are in part due to the challenging natural environment, but are also due to mismanagement of water resources.
Israel provides more fresh water to the Palestinians than was agreed under the Oslo accords. That amount is set to rise by another 50 per cent in the light of the deal that was struck in December between Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
The proportion of households in the west bank and the Palestinian Authority area that are not connected to the water network and which do not have access to clean drinking water is less than 5 per cent. I suggest that the real issue is Palestinian mismanagement. Even the Palestinian Water Authority estimates that at least 33 per cent of its water is wasted due to leakage, mismanagement, defective maintenance and old infrastructure.
I think that I am the only member who is going to be putting this perspective in the debate, so I would like to use my time to cover the points that I want to make.
According to the water agreement of 1995, the Palestinian Authority should be preventing and repairing leaks in domestic pipelines and recycling treated waste water for agricultural irrigation, but it repeatedly refuses international funding packages to do so.
The problems in Gaza are more complicated. Since the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, Gaza has not had sufficient fuel to sustain its electricity supply and to keep its water and sewage facilities running. The Hamas Government refuses to buy alternative fuels, because the taxes would go to the rival Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority. It also refuses to pay the Israel Electric Corporation, to the tune of $175 million.
As a result of the power shortage, pumping stations ceased operation in November and in southern Gaza city many streets are now akin to sewers. With the pumping stations out of action, fresh water will soon cease to reach taps at all. The infrastructure is there and the water is there; the issue is electricity, and the blame for that lies entirely on the shoulders of Hamas.
In the water agreement of 1995, both parties agreed to prevent any harm to, or pollution or deterioration of, the quality of all water resources, yet the Palestinians constantly breach the agreement by drilling unauthorised wells in the west bank and Gaza, by not treating their sewage, by contaminating the streams, and by not developing any new sewage treatment or desalination plants. The problem is not so much access to water but the willingness and ability to treat and distribute it effectively.
The anti-Israeli movement states that Israel’s refusal to grant the necessary permits or military security clearance is behind the lack of sanitation and waste-water treatment facilities. However, Israel has publicly supported the construction of desalination plants in Gaza and is willing to provide its skills for the project, but Hamas rejects Israeli offers of assistance. The Palestinians have not made any effort to develop any new water resources. Only one sewage treatment plant has been built in the west bank in the past 15 years, despite there being $500 million-worth of international donor funding available for that sole purpose.
Israel has more water because it developed desalination technology and it recycles household waste water for agricultural use. Israel has stated clearly that it is happy to share expertise and is actually now providing training in both recycling and desalination to the Palestinians.
Although water shortages in the west bank and Gaza are part of a much bigger problem, water will be a key aspect in any two-state solution for the region. As the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has made clear, there is no more urgent global priority than the search for middle east peace. We see a two-state solution as being the best way to meet the national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, but without knowing the whole story it is irresponsible and unjust for members in this chamber to simply place the blame at the feet of the Israelis.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. None of us who has made a speech said that we are against Israel. Surely it was disingenuous of the member to make that statement without first finding out exactly how members here feel. Such an opinion has not been given by any of us.
Clean water is essential to life. We need it every day to drink, grow food and produce energy. We each use about 150 litres of water a day, but if we include the water that is used to produce the food that we eat and the products that we use, it is estimated that we consume more than 4,000 litres a day.
In 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the right to water and sanitation as a legally binding obligation on states. That step forward made it crystal clear that fair access to clean water was a right under international law.
In Palestine, water consumption is estimated at 70 litres per capita. I thank Claudia Beamish and John Finnie for bringing to the chamber the motion, which recognises that that figure is well below the recommended safe minimum set by the World Health Organization. An Amnesty International briefing from 2009 estimates that Israeli daily consumption per capita is four times as much. The briefing said:
“The inequality is even more pronounced between Palestinian communities and unlawful Israeli settlements, established in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in violation of international law. Swimming pools, well-watered lawns and large irrigated farms in Israeli settlements in the OPT stand in stark contrast next to Palestinian villages whose inhabitants struggle even to meet their essential domestic water needs. In parts of the West Bank, Israeli settlers use up to 20 times more water per capita than neighbouring Palestinian communities, who survive on barely 20 litres of water per capita a day—the minimum amount recommended by the WHO for emergency situations response.”
As the statistics in the motion clearly set out, access to sanitation, too, is well below what is fair and acceptable.
Dr Abdel Rahman Tamimi, director of the Palestinian hydrology group, is clear that history teaches us that access to and control over water resources in the Palestinian-Israeli region have always been key. After world war one, both Britain and France
“tried to include the most important water sources of the Basin inside the borders of their respective ‘Mandates’.”
The same is happening today, as deliberate Israeli Government policies increase Israel’s control over water. For example, the Israeli state has complete control over abstraction from the major aquifers and from the Jordan river.
The 1.6 million people who are boxed into the Gaza strip are facing multiple crises, one of which is access to water and sanitation. The World Bank describes the situation as critical and, according to the UN, the aquifer on which people are entirely reliant for fresh water may become unusable by 2016 and irreversibly damaged by 2020.
Without action, a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe will unfold before us. As colleagues have mentioned, climate change is expected to increase average temperatures and reduce rainfall in the region, which will add to water stress. A 2012 World Bank study predicts that the gap between water need and renewable water resource availability in the Arab world will go from 16 to 51 per cent by 2040 to 2050. It concludes:
“Countries that are wealthier and more economically diverse are generally expected to be more resilient.”
Real security is not delivered by weapons of mass destruction but by having guaranteed access to clean water and sufficient food. Let us use all the means at our disposal, such as the climate justice fund. Let us, under the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill, attach conditions to those who secure contracts that are paid for by public money. The Eden Springs UK contract was very controversial when I was a member of the City of Edinburgh Council. Our procurement must be ethical.
It is vital that Palestinians are given the means and the freedoms to deal with the problems that they face. Some problems are hard to solve, but in this case the first steps are easy. The unjust policies that prevent access to water and the blockade that hampers the development of a sustainable water and sanitation system must end before Palestinians can stop thirsting for justice.
While we work to convince local and national Government to take action and to boycott, divest and impose sanctions where appropriate and necessary, we, whether as individual citizens or as part of concerned organisations, can make choices that support the Palestinian people and highlight their dreadful plight.
I finish by saying that I do not agree with much of John Lamont’s speech.
In 2011, I visited Gaza as part of the largest delegation of parliamentarians from across the world, which included members of Parliaments from Venezuela, the United States of America, Malaysia and many European countries—and a Scot. I was struck by the resilience of the people who live in Gaza. They cannot move freely in or out, import goods or seek employment outside the strip. The necessities of life are impossible in a sieged land.
At the time of that visit, it was estimated that 70 per cent of the people living in the Gaza strip were refugees, and the number of people living there was forecast to double in 10 to 15 years. Gaza had 190 water wells, and 1800km of pipework. The motion recognises that 30km of that pipework, along with 11 wells, have been deliberately damaged. There was wastewater coverage of between only 60 to 70 per cent, and the salination of freshwater was an increasing problem due to the ingress of seawater. The freshwater problem was exacerbated by the setting of water traps for the natural water that should flow into the Gaza strip. Two thirds of that water was diverted away from Gaza at the time of the visit, and the situation is no better today. Natural water alone cannot be relied on and the extraction of water from wells below sea level is leading to more and more salination of underground sources of natural water.
There is a serious drying up of resource in what could be a very fertile strip of land. The Rafah zone is particularly badly affected by seawater intrusion. Since the period 2007 to 2009, nitrate levels in the water have also risen dramatically. The World Health Organization states that the amount of water needed for survival is 100 litres per capita. During my visit, the figure that was cited for Gaza was only 89 litres. That is down to 70, so the situation is getting worse.
Our presenter from the municipal water organisation mentioned plans for desalination plants and provision for stormwater collection. The plans for desalination plants were developed over seven years, but unfortunately foreign funding was withdrawn. The Rafah gate closure has made it near impossible to get the materials for that much-needed work in the Gaza strip.
Further problems for water provision were the common electricity cuts, which stops the water pumps, and a shortage of spare parts and general supplies. Chemical supplies—even supplies of water purification chemicals—are not allowed in as it is claimed that they can be used as weapons. The Palestinians are indeed a people under siege.
Young deaths are high, with most deaths occurring in the first week of life. Still births have increased by 40 per cent while the figure decreases in the rest of the world. Deaths due to trauma are at 20 per cent, which is a chilling thought.
I will end with by quoting a young woman—a writer, blogger and mother—whom we met. Her name is Rana Shubair—I hope that I pronounced that correctly—and she wrote a long piece on how children are affected by the conflict.
When an old man dies of old age, the grandchild asks, “Who shelled him?” When people are choosing a school, they pick the one nearest to the house because the shelling risk is lower. At age five or under, the kids can name the type of plane that is flying above them or say whether the sound made by a rocket comes from one that is falling towards them or one that has been launched away from them. Time that we mark as Christmas—or holidays such as shrove Tuesday, perhaps—in Gaza is marked by traumatic events such as shellings, deaths and phosphorus attacks.
The quotation is:
“But life still goes on. Moreover, this lack of everything almost including our basic necessities does not include our morale and optimism. It does not include our resolve or faith. The people of Gaza have seen their small cities tumbling down before their eyes during the war. They have seen their loved ones shot or burned to death in the most brutal way. These scars may be very hard to heal, but we Palestinians have also learned that sixty three years of struggle are too precious to waste.”
They are still thirsting for justice.
I begin by thanking Claudia Beamish for securing this very important debate and for her first-hand account of the realities on the ground in Gaza.
In Scotland, we take water for granted. We think nothing of having a shower every day, flushing the toilet or pouring a glass of water. Yet for millions of Palestinians living in Gaza and the occupied territories, clean water and sanitation are a distant dream.
It is six years since Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza because Palestinians elected a Government that Israel did not approve of. Life for the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza is becoming more desperate by the day. A staggering 50 per cent of the population is aged under 18. They are not even old enough to vote, and yet every single day they are collectively punished by the Israeli Government.
While the average Israeli consumes 300 litres of water a day, a Palestinian in Gaza gets by on between 20 and 70 litres a day—and sometimes even less during the summer when the Israeli national water company reduces water supplies to Palestinian areas. It is now estimated that 90 to 95 per cent of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption and too dangerous to drink because of a combination of overextraction and contamination by fertilizers and human waste.
We rightly dedicate a lot of time in this Parliament to discussing early years and our plans to make Scotland a better place to grow up in. That is a stark contrast to Gaza, where the Israeli Government has condemned a whole generation of children to a future that is bleak at best. Children who should have everything to look forward to are being denied the basic essentials of life, being punished simply for being a Palestinian and being denied the basic human rights of every child under international law.
The UN estimates that as many as 80 per cent of Gazans now have no option but to buy their drinking water. Shockingly, some families are now forced to spend as much as one third of their household income on water alone. Things are getting worse: Gaza’s sole aquifer is in serious danger of collapse, and it is likely to be too polluted for use by 2016 and redundant by 2020.
Before Christmas, we all saw the pictures of children in Gaza wading through sewage to get to school when a failure of the main sewage pumping station led to 35,000m3 of raw sewage flooding into the streets. Yet, as colleagues have highlighted already, that was no accident or natural disaster, and it was certainly not the result of mismanagement by the Palestinians. It was the result of deliberate actions and policies from the Israeli Government that have diminished existing water sources, diverted rivers, refused Palestinians permission for infrastructure projects and deliberately restricted the availability of water to the Palestinian communities, regardless of the human cost, regardless of how it affects a whole generation of children, and regardless of international law.
We all know that the water shortages are just the tip of the iceberg. The Israeli Government continues to ignore the fact that the world is condemning its actions. Countless UN resolutions have been passed, and yet Israel continues to defy international law. As Alison Johnstone pointed out, we all have the power as consumers to send a message to Israel. It is simply not acceptable for the international community to turn a blind eye to the atrocities that happen every day, to turn a blind eye when the life chances of Palestinian children are being undermined and destroyed by the Israeli Government’s actions, to turn a blind eye when family homes are bulldozed to make way for settlers, and to turn a blind eye when families are faced with a blockade that cuts them off from their families, communities and the wider world and denies them access to a basic essential of life—water.
I fully support the thirsting for justice campaign for Israel to respect Palestinian rights to water. The time has come for Governments to take effective political and economic action to demand that Israel respects Palestinian rights to water, to ensure that the Palestinian people can develop the infrastructure they so vitally need, and to hold Israel to account for its continuous violations of international law and human rights and its shocking treatment of the Palestinian people.
I thank Claudia Beamish and John Finnie for bringing this topic for debate in the Scottish Parliament. I do not know how else we can raise awareness of the appalling situation in Palestine. How do we in Scotland effect change?
I have not been privileged to visit Palestine, but I listened to members who have had that privilege and who have been in the Gaza strip, and it seems to me that, as Alison Johnstone said, water is a basic human right that is being denied. The issue is being raised around the world by the United Nations, and yet the situation persists.
This might be slightly irrational of me, but when John Lamont suggested that the situation, in which people must live in appalling conditions, is the fault of the Government in Gaza, I wondered whether Palestinians would say that people in Scotland deserve the welfare situation that we have here because it is our Government’s fault. The issue has nothing to do with that. I feel in my heart that real injustice is being done to the Palestinian people. It might be the case that the political situation needs to be resolved, and I know that the problem in the middle east is complicated, but we are concerned with a situation that is causing people to die and families to be driven apart.
There are many visual images of the hardship that people are suffering. Books have been written and films have been made that show us the arid lands and the results of a deliberate withdrawal of resources, including water for arable lands—to feed the olive trees, for example. Water is needed to give life to the Palestinians. It is the source of life, and to deny the Palestinian people their right to clean water and sanitation is despicable.
We can contrast those images with images of the lush growth in the settlements, where there is plenty of water. Members cited the facts and figures. We heard about people having access to 70 litres as opposed to 340 litres, and we heard that in the west some of us have the luxury of access to 4,000 litres per day.
I hope that the thirsting for justice campaign has huge success and that we can reach the hearts and minds of people who care about the Palestinian people. There are Jewish organisations and Israeli people who feel that the situation should not be allowed to continue. Not everyone in Israel thinks that the situation is somehow justified or okay.
If the Scottish Parliament can do anything, I hope that we will try to unite with such people to effect change. Change for the Palestinian people might have to come as a result of Israelis talking to Israelis. However, let no one be uncertain about the feeling in this Parliament. The situation is untenable and cannot be allowed to continue.
I thank Claudia Beamish and John Finnie again for bringing this timely debate about a desperate situation that we must all try to alleviate.
Anybody who thinks that the Parliament is too inward looking—that accusation can often be thrown—has only to watch this debate to realise that many members across the chamber are interested in the basic human rights of people across the world, not just in Scotland. Incredibly powerful speeches have been made in a debate enabled by Claudia Beamish; my thanks go to her for lodging the motion and securing the debate. I also thank John Finnie and many members of the Scottish Parliament who have campaigned over the years. They have been elected for many a term and have often spoken on the issue. Cara Hilton, who is one of the newest entrants, made an extraordinarily passionate speech.
As every member has said, it is vital that Palestinians have equitable access to dwindling water resources. I can count three glasses of water on my desk and the desk next to me. As Cara Hilton and many other members said, we do not give water a second thought; drinking it is second nature to us. We know that, when we need it, we will have that resource.
The shortage of water has been caused by a number of factors. I may touch on what John Lamont said. There has been a lack of rainfall in recent years, the population in that part of the world has grown, and the management of water resources could be improved, but it would be blinkered, incredible and an insult to ignore the fact that the main reasons why the Palestinians have inadequate access to water are political. The inequitable distribution of water resources is severely compounded by the main factor of Israeli restrictions on building and movement.
Difficulties often begin if we look at the matter through the prism of one side or the other in approaching the debate, although I understand why many people do that. I do not see myself as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli; rather, I see myself as very much pro-human rights and anti-injustice, as other members—including, I am sure, John Lamont—see themselves. It would be ridiculous, however, to suggest that mismanagement is the main cause of the shortage, and not the sewers that have been destroyed, the blockade that UN officials have described as illegal, or the illegal settlements. It would be absolutely incorrect to blame it all on mismanagement.
It is because all of us in the chamber, I am sure, are anti-injustice and pro-human rights that we are so shocked and disgusted that Palestinians have access to only 20 per cent of the west bank’s water resources, and why we are so shocked that, as many members have said, Israeli settlers—the foreign secretary, William Hague, describes the settlements as illegal, of course—enjoy at least 280 litres of water per person per day, whereas Palestinians have access to only 20 to 60 litres, as has been said.
As we have heard, in Gaza, as much as 90 per cent of water from the aquifer is not fit for human consumption. The Israeli blockade of Gaza is severely inhibiting the development of major water-related projects. John Lamont talked about how it is really for the Hamas Government to accept the offer from the Israeli Government, but water and sanitation projects worth over $70 million are awaiting Israeli approval to access materials—that material is not being allowed to come in because it is waiting for Israeli approval.
The access to water issue highlights how the settlements and other Israeli policies have a real and immediate impact on the most basic rights of the Palestinian people. As we have heard, residents of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land draw a disproportionately high amount of water relative to the Palestinians, and the demolition of Palestinian property continues, including the destruction of cisterns and water wells. Many members, such as Jim Hume, John Finnie and Sandra White, have talked about seeing that first hand.
Much of that activity is unnecessary, unjust and illegal, but, more than that, it is completely counterproductive, as there can be no lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians so long as so many of the Palestinian people live in such conditions of inequitable hardship. That is why the Scottish ministers have firmly and repeatedly stated their support for international consensus that the construction of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories must stop. It is why we support the statement of the EU’s foreign affairs council that calls on Israel to meet its obligations regarding the living conditions of the Palestinian population and why we continue to call for the restoration of full access—it is currently being restricted—to Gaza.
Israel is concerned. We know about the threat to its security from violent groups within the Palestinian territories, and I have not yet met a member of the Scottish Parliament who would not condemn the rocket and mortar attacks and other acts of violence that have been directed at the innocent Israeli people in many outlying towns. Of course, Israel has a right to defend itself. However, as we continue to say in this Parliament and within the Government, its response must be proportionate and legal. So much of the international concern is about the lack of proportionality. As Cara Hilton said—the point has also been made by UN officials—the blockade on Gaza is viewed as a collective punishment, which can only be seen as illegal under international law.
In my final minute, I will address some specific issues and concerns that have been raised. The provision of support through the climate justice fund and the international development fund was mentioned by Claudia Beamish and Alison Johnstone. I spoke about that to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, who has had to leave the chamber, and we would be happy to speak to members further on the matter. We would also take a submission from the cross-party group on Palestine on the issue of when the next review will take place. Any review must be open minded, and I give a guarantee that we will be as open minded as possible on the issue. Claudia Beamish will appreciate that I cannot give a set of guarantees because the review has not taken place yet, but I am sure that we will be happy to give her the details if and when it does. I would be happy to speak about it at the cross-party group on Palestine, and the group might also extend an invitation to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change.
We continue to believe that long-term peace in the middle east between Israel and Palestine is best secured by a two-state solution. However, William Hague and his previous deputy in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Alistair Burt, to whom I spoke many times on the issue, have made the point that the next few months are critical, so we will watch with interest.
The Scottish Parliament has a role to play in this. We must continue to work with the UK Government to put pressure on both Governments to come to the table and to provide adequate access to resources. I encourage Israel to take immediate practical measures to ensure the fair distribution of water across the Palestinian territories.
I commend John Finnie and Claudia Beamish for bringing the subject to the chamber.
Meeting closed at 18:03.