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The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-10675, in the name of Drew Smith, on Gaza. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament regrets and unreservedly repudiates the ongoing violence and loss of human life in Gaza and Israel, which, according to journalists running risks to their own safety to report from the area, stood, as at 28 July 2014, at more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths and 45 Israelis; considers that the continuation of violence will further escalate the already severe and enduring humanitarian catastrophe in the densely populated Gaza Strip; believes that the number of Palestinian civilian fatalities, including many women and children, indicates a disproportionate action by the Israeli military; condemns both indiscriminate rocket attacks and military bombardment of civilians and believes that hospitals and schools, in particular, should be places of safety and therefore also condemns attacks on them or their use to store or fire weapons; confirms its view that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the continued failure to achieve a political solution to a problem that cannot be solved by violence; supports the comments made by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on 24 July, who has described the situation as an “intolerable, unacceptable crisis” and agrees with him that it is imperative for the killing to stop; notes calls for the international community to fully use its influence to break the cycle of failed talks, continuing occupation and outbreaks of violence that threaten the prospect of a two-state solution by renewed and robust efforts to broker peace and justice in the region with the objectives, amongst others, of an immediate interim ceasefire, a long-term plan to prevent further violence, efforts to aid the necessary rebuilding of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including the importation of vital humanitarian supplies into Gaza, and crucially a process that can finally lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel in accordance with previous UN resolutions, and notes calls for the UK Government to support these objectives and to prohibit the supply of equipment or parts of equipment that are likely to be used against civilians and for the Scottish Government to do all that it can in support of the same and to foster and maintain good community relations between all religious and ethnic groups who have their home in Glasgow and across Scotland and who, in common with people around the world, wish to see a settlement that respects the right of all human beings, irrespective of religion or race, to live in peace with both dignity and security.
I am grateful to all those members who signed my motion. I hope that the range of views that no doubt exists in the Parliament will have the opportunity of an airing this evening. In drafting a motion that I hoped as many members as possible could support and which would therefore stand a chance of reaching the chamber for debate, I tried to provide a form of words that would gain the broadest possible support. I hope that this debate will play a small part in a much-needed effort to assure the victims of this conflict of the greatest possible international coalition for peace and justice in the middle east.
I draw attention to my membership of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Palestine, of which I have previously been an officer, and I thank the current officers Sandra White, Claudia Beamish and Jim Hume for supporting my motion. I look forward to their contributions to the debate. I also refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a former member of the Scottish Trades Union Congress general council, as I will refer to the delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories that I joined while I was a member.
In Scotland, as elsewhere in the world, there are a range of views on the solutions to the problems of the middle east and specifically those of Israel and Palestine. Parliament should reflect those if we wish our voices to be representative of the country and of note to those elsewhere. There are few neutral voices. However, the scale of the current and most recent violence, to which we are all bearing witness, and indeed the length of time for which the conflict has gone on have meant that there is a breadth to the voices that say that the current actions of the Israeli Government have been disproportionate. There are instances of action that require international investigation and indeed an international response that goes beyond simply wishing for talks or for different partners in the cause of peace.
I am a supporter of a Palestinian state. I believe that a viable state for the Palestinians is their right and that it is the duty of progressive voices around the world to advocate for it with resolution, with realism about the barriers to it and with firmness against those who frustrate the two-state solution on either side, whether in principle or by delay.
I believe that the current violence and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is winning new supporters for the cause of justice and peace, not terrorism and not military action. The motion that we are debating condemns the scale of the violence on both sides. I condemn utterly and without caveat the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza, I condemn tunnelling into Israeli territory from Gaza, and I believe that the fear and danger that they represent serves no purpose other than the prolonging of the conflict, which reduces the likelihood that Israelis will question the actions of their Government, far less become advocates for engagement with their Palestinian neighbours. Correspondingly, the scale of the horror in Gaza does nothing to bolster the voices of those who recognise that a viable Palestinian state can be achieved only alongside a secure Israel and that it will be created through negotiation of land, not violence against civilians.
Peace for one society and normality for individuals and families will not be lasting if it is achieved only for one group. That is not a justification for violence. It is simply recognition that the underlying issues of the conflict continue. I visited northern Israel in the aftermath of operation cast lead and, like many other international visitors, I have been shown the rockets that come over the border from Gaza. I have spoken to Israelis about their fears of attack and I have no doubt that those fears are genuine. I have also spoken to Palestinians and international observers who have told me of the harsh and brutal reality of life under blockade in Gaza.
The images that we now see on our television screens, about which people are taking to our streets to protest, offend the world. Schools and hospitals that the innocent can only hope are places of safety have become a battlefield that is raging on a strip of land that is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Civilians and children have been killed and injured in their thousands.
To those who say that we need to step back from condemnation of the disproportion of the violence because it needs to be understood against the wider politics of the region, the dispute or the history of the peace process, I say that we should imagine being born into the world on the Gaza strip. Imagine the hopelessness of parents as they look at their children and imagine the desperate future that stretches far beyond the tiny horizons that surround them.
I have no doubt that others will use their time to talk about their reactions to what we are watching. The agony is perhaps more profound now than it has ever been before, but the truth is that much of what we will hear in the debate could have been said in any of the three years since I was elected to the Parliament; it has been said in the more than 10 years for which I have been actively involved in campaigns and it has been continually said in the 30 years of my life and long before that.
I hope that others will touch on the injustices that continue on the west bank, where Hamas is not in control, and I have no doubt that others will mention many of the advocates for the Palestinians who have put the case for change in the middle east better than I ever could, including the late Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu and former President Carter.
The truth is that, while the world desperately desires a lasting ceasefire to the current violence, the hope—the necessity—of a two-state solution is fast disappearing before our eyes. The situation is desperate, but the world simply cannot allow hope to die with the children of Gaza.
Time does not allow me to say all that I wish to, but I will end my speech, as the motion does, by urging the Scottish Government to continue its efforts to do all that it can for good community relations in our country. Members of our minority communities feel the pain of this conflict keenly and they deserve our solidarity, just as the innocent civilian victims in the middle east deserve our resolve in speaking out.
When I have asked ordinary Palestinians what Scots can do and what any of us can do as witnesses, I have been told, “Do not forget us. Do not forget that we exist.” When those who believe in a two-state solution speak out, that should not be described as support for terrorism, which is condemned by our citizens and by those around the world who believe that there is no violent solution to the political problem that exists in the occupied territories. When we tell our children what the United Nations flag represents, they should be proud of it, not compromised by it.
I hope that the message that goes out from the Scottish Parliament and from the debate is one of humanity. We see what exists and we recognise that it is unjust. The leaders of the world will continue to reflect on the steps that can be taken internationally, but the citizens of the world are making it clear that, in our individual actions, we will protest against bombardment and terrorism until lasting peace prevails and demands for justice are met. [Applause.]
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the humanitarian disaster that is the unfolding tragedy in Gaza. I am sure that members across the chamber will join me in thanking our colleague Drew Smith for securing the chance for Parliament to debate this most serious and deadly conflict.
According to Amnesty International, since the Israeli military offensive started on 8 July, 1,948 Palestinians have been killed as a direct result of the offensive. The majority—over 85 per cent—were civilians, including 456 children. Three civilians have been killed by rockets or mortars that were fired from Gaza and 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed. Almost 12,000 homes in Gaza have been reduced to rubble. Those are the stark statistics of the bloody and unequal conflict that is being played out in Gaza, which has been graphically captured on our television screens.
Among the destruction that has rained down on the defenceless civilian population of Gaza, it is the fate of the children that is most heart-rending. I will cite the case of 10-year-old Mohamed Badran—one of the hundreds of innocents who have been affected. He was blinded in an Israeli air strike but, at the hospital, he seemed to be unaware that his entire family had been killed when a missile destroyed their home at the Nuseirat refugee camp. Unable to understand his injury, he repeatedly asked staff why they had switched off the lights.
That is just one little boy’s awful situation. He has been left blind and orphaned by an indiscriminate attack of the Israeli air force. That is one terrible consequence of a political decision by the present Government in Tel Aviv to wage war not against an opposing army but against a defenceless civilian population—not an act of war but a war crime.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me be crystal clear—I, along with, I am sure, colleagues across the chamber, hold all human life dear. We mourn for the dead, both Palestinian and Israeli. When we criticise the actions of Israel in Gaza, it is not a condemnation of Jews or Judaism; it is a condemnation of the present political establishment in Israel. Of course, the firing of rockets by Hamas must end, but Israel’s response goes far beyond defending its borders and population. The life of a Palestinian child is not worth less than the life of an Israeli child.
The situation is primarily the result of the political actions of the Israeli Government. We must do all that we can to bring pressure to bear on that Government to change the course of action that has had such catastrophic consequences for the civilian population of Gaza. There needs to be a negotiated ceasefire that is more permanent than the series of recent 72-hour ceasefires, and the immediate humanitarian effort in Gaza needs to have a real chance to deliver the much-needed emergency supplies of food, water and hygiene kits to those who are in such desperate need. Of course, we must not forget the aid agencies, whose workers risk life and limb to get supplies to the people who need them.
I shall do, Presiding Officer.
Pressure must be brought on the Israeli Government to change its long-term strategy as regards Gaza and the Palestinian people. The United Kingdom Government must not be complicit in breaches of the fourth Geneva convention. We must agree with the STUC’s call for
“immediate and comprehensive peace talks and a settlement in the region based on upholding international law including an end to the blockade, illegal settlements and the dismantling of the separation wall.”
Our recent history tells us that people do not make peace by talking to their friends. It is time for all of those who are involved to engage in proper dialogue and to bring to an end this on-going tragedy.
I declare an interest as a member of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Palestine, and I have visited Gaza and the west bank.
I thank Drew Smith for securing the debate and pay tribute to the millions of people throughout the world—many of them Jewish, by the way—who have marched in support of the people of Gaza and against the killing of innocent civilians by Israel. As Patricia Ferguson said, the death toll among Palestinians from operation protective edge is 1,948 and is rising daily. Most of them are civilians. We face a huge humanitarian crisis, with areas completely destroyed and homes uninhabitable. In fact, the UN has said that the destruction is “unprecedented” and is like nothing the UN has ever seen before.
Schools, hospitals and UN shelters have all been destroyed. There is no power or water and raw sewage is flowing in the streets, all because of the indiscriminate attack by the Israelis. The suffering of the Palestinian people must stop. The people of Gaza have been left with nothing. I saw a quote from a gentleman who had lost his wife and who was left with just the clothes that he stood in, but he said, “Thanks to Allah, I have my six children.” People have nothing left apart from their pride and their great resilience. I really admire them for that resilience.
However, admiration is not enough—action is needed. The Disasters Emergency Committee has launched an appeal and a fund, which is most welcome. I thank the Scottish Government for its actions on medical aid and its call for an arms embargo on Israel. That is the action that I want to see, but I want to raise another issue with the minister. I ask him to consider whether the Scottish Government can do more under the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. Under the statutory guidance, which is being considered, could the procurement process allow bodies to take into account whether products, services or businesses come from land that is internationally recognised as illegally occupied, as determined by resolution 446 of the UN Security Council?
Much has been said and will be said about the situation in Gaza. Drew Smith is absolutely right: this is the third horrific attack on the Gazans and the Palestinian people. Gaza is a prison camp. The people of Gaza deserve our support and the people of Palestine deserve their state.
I thank Drew Smith for getting the debate so quickly and I strongly support the motion, which I discussed with him before its drafting.
I declare an interest as a co-convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Palestine, where we all work together in any small way that we can. I apologise to members if I have to leave before the end of the debate because I am hosting an event in the garden lobby.
The immediate response to the trade union, UK-wide and other appeals around the world, along with the demonstrations throughout Scotland and Britain, the flying of flags over many council buildings and the calls for an arms embargo on Israel, which I support, show the grave concern of so many of our people for, and their solidarity with, the people of Palestine.
With the Minister for External Affairs and International Development being here to answer the debate, I highlight the immediate need for medical aid; I recognise the Scottish Government’s initial commitment to that and urge it to do more. Specifically, I ask the minister to clarify how well the national health service initiative is to be resourced and whether the funding includes the cost of the transfer of patients. I also ask him to clarify whether acutely ill children who require life support or only stable elective patients will be transferred out.
As part of the Council for European Palestinian Relations, John Finnie and I went on a parliamentary delegation after operation pillar of defence, as it was called in Israel. On arrival, we joined a vigil with a family whose home had been destroyed, which was only the start of witnessing the disproportionate results of attacks by the Israeli military.
While we were there, we visited a UN school, where children were grateful for our Scottish Parliament pencils when we gave them to a class; they did not have pencils. Most of them live on UN handouts of food and water. Those children’s future is now on hold and has been for generations. We must be saddened most for those who are growing up under a state of siege and who are exposed to the recent bombardment. Theirs is not the first such generation: this has been going on for 60 years.
I will highlight the long-term mental health challenges in the Gaza strip and some of the psychological problems that the besieged population faces. Only last week, research into trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and coping strategies among Palestinian adolescents was written about in The Arab Journal of Psychiatry. Is it any wonder that, facing with others in Gaza the shocking imprisonment in the most densely populated place in the world and the deplorable cycle of violence and coping against the odds from day to day in between assaults, many people—young people, in particular—become radicalised?
The lifting of the blockade must be an essential part of negotiations. Pat Sheehan, who is now a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and was a political prisoner and hunger striker in Northern Ireland, was the leader of our delegation to Gaza. He stressed to the world’s press who were assembled to listen to us in Gaza in 2012 that Hamas must be part of the negotiations. I am sure that he is right.
I hope that we can send a collective message from the Parliament. A political solution that involves a Palestinian state while ensuring Israel’s own citizens’ security is the only solution that will hold firm and bring a chance of life and hope to the children and young people of Gaza and of the Palestinian exiles around the world.
Our overriding concern must be for the innocent civilians caught up in the strife. As we have heard, the civilian suffering, especially that of the children involved, is appalling and tragic. The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has rightly called the current situation in Gaza and Israel a humanitarian catastrophe.
Given the rapidly deteriorating situation, the United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development has made around £12 million available in emergency support, including healthcare, clean water, blankets and cooking equipment, to help the people who are affected by the violence in Gaza. The Department for International Development is also bringing forward £3 million in funding to help the International Committee of the Red Cross respond to the worsening situation.
This is in the context of wider support from DFID, which in the past four years has provided a total of £349 million to support Palestinian development, of which £30 million a year goes directly to help the people of Gaza and to develop Palestinian institutions and the economy so that a future Palestinian state can be stable and prosperous, and it can live side by side in peace and security with Israel.
In looking at the conflict, we need to remember that the victims are not just in Gaza. There are victims in Gaza and Israel, and Gazan civilians are not the only casualties in the recent spate of rocket attacks. The Israelis are also living with the consequences of the on-going conflict and the Israel defence force estimates that 5 million Israel civilians live within the range of rockets fired from Gaza. The danger in playing the blame game is that it suggests that the fault is all on one side, and I do not believe that that is the case.
I agree that Israel’s response has been disproportionate, but let us not be in any doubt that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, one that is vilified by most of the Arab world. While the retaliatory action taken by Israel has had devastating effects on innocent civilians, we cannot ignore the fact that Hamas has been using its own people as human shields and sacrifices to justify firing rockets at Israeli civilians and to increase its own civilian casualties to turn western opinion against Israel. Indeed, it has broken two ceasefires to date. Hamas is putting Gazans in harm’s way by using UN schools and hospitals to store rockets and launch attacks.
All of us in the chamber want to see an end to the death of innocents, and we should put pressure on the Israeli Government because of its actions. However, we should not be naive enough to place all the blame at Israel’s door when Hamas’s aim is to destroy Israel and kill each and every Jew. Our concern should be for the innocents who suffer on all sides, and we should devote all our efforts to assisting them and finding a peaceful and lasting settlement in this troubled part of the world.
I condemn the firing of Hamas rockets into Israel, but it is simply a fact that the greatest recruiting sergeant for Hamas is the scale of Israeli oppression and aggression. The least that can be said about that aggression is that it is disproportionate when we consider the nearly 2,000 Palestinian civilian casualties against the single figure of Israeli civilians.
When we see the images of totally innocent young children and families and people of all ages being maimed, and when we see the kind of weapons that are being used, such as the flechette shells that splinter into a thousand tiny lethal metal darts that go into the skin of children and others, I like others am forced to used words such as “obscene”, “grotesque”, “indiscriminate” and, in many cases, “illegal”.
Some of the strongest condemnation of the massacre that we have seen has come from Jews themselves. I think of Gerald Kaufman’s words in the House of Commons when he said that his Jewish grandmother was not shot to provide cover for Israelis to murder grandmothers in Gaza. The American Jew Naomi Wolf said that she mourned the “genocide”—it is her word—in Gaza.
What now? Of course, we need a ceasefire and a new deal for Gaza and Palestine that is based on the two-state solution. Israel and Palestine both have the right to a secure future. A starting point must be a commitment to lifting the blockade on Gaza. Following that, there must be a firm promise to cease building illegal settlements, which make a mockery of the 1949 armistice lines. The motion points to the destruction of infrastructure during the conflict, so we must aid the rebuilding of that infrastructure, as well as aiding the importation of vital humanitarian support as Drew Smith points out.
The Scottish Government has said that it will give assistance in the area of health. I ask the minister to tell us in his summing up where that commitment has got to. Concerns have been expressed to me that it is taking too long to help those who we can help with their help. I hope that it might be possible for the Scottish Government to speed up the process and help as many of the severely injured as possible.
Finally, I support a full arms embargo as a means of building pressure towards peace. I also support the boycotting of goods as a means of exerting economic pressure. That is necessary to show in a practical way our disgust at the conduct of the Israeli defence force and the Administration, and to pressurise the Israeli Government into opening channels of engagement with the Palestinians, with a view to a just two-state solution.
I thank Drew Smith for securing this debate. I also thank the 17 members who signed my motion on the crisis, calling for the use of divestment and sanctions to pressurise Israel to bring its illegal occupation of both Gaza and the west bank to an end. I declare an interest as a member of the cross-party group on Palestine.
Another important step towards justice for Palestine is the international recognition of its existence as a sovereign nation. Two years ago, the United Nations general assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state. I was proud that the Scottish Government made it clear at that time that, if we had had a vote, Scotland would have voted, like other countries, to recognise Palestine. Instead, Scots are represented—and I use that word reluctantly—by a Westminster Government that put obedience to the White House ahead of that.
During this offensive, the Scottish Government has rightly announced that we are ready and willing to welcome refugees from Gaza, in line with our values and our international duty. However, Scotland stands in the invidious position of having to beg permission to show human compassion. The Minister for External Affairs and International Development could only write to the Home Secretary, and it is my understanding that, after nearly a month, that letter has gone unanswered.
I am really proud that there are so many wishing to speak in this debate, and the compassion and commitment of members across the Parliament cannot be faulted, but I highlight that the reality is that Scotland’s 21st century internationalist values count for little as long as we are represented in the world by a distant Whitehall Government with quite different values.
I also congratulate Drew Smith on his motion. This Parliament has a history of action in relation to the situation in the Gaza strip.
Robbie Burns had it right when he wrote that
“Man’s inhumanity to Man
Makes countless thousands mourn!”
We all mourn—not just here but across the world—for those affected in the middle east today.
We are in the middle of commemorating the centenary of the war to end all wars—the first world war. I wish that it were true that it had ended all wars, but sadly it did not. We have many conflicts now, with airliners shot down in our own continent of Europe and on-going fighting there; the on-going humanitarian crisis in Iraq; and, again, trouble in Gaza and Palestine.
As another of the co-conveners of the cross-party group on Palestine, I have visited Gaza, Palestine and Israel. I have witnessed the difficulties in Gaza—a small area with over 1.5 million inhabitants. The essentials of life—water, medicine, food, fuel and power—were at a critical level before this recent tragedy. They are now beyond critical.
The Egyptian situation has meant that the Rafah gate—the only way in and out of Gaza—is now nearly impossible to get through. Fishing boats are now heavily restricted in the distance that they can fish off the Gaza coast, and their export market is non-existent.
One of the many things that struck me was the resilience of the Palestinians—the way that they look forward to a better time. I say that they have suffered too much and for too long. Their hope is fading and their right to live peacefully as a civilised nation, as fellow humans, is here and now.
There have been countless UN resolutions, supported by the UK Government, on Palestine and Gaza. It is time for a two-state solution, as others have said, as recommended by the UN. Thousands have died, and there are countless homeless in a land of no real opportunity due to the siege.
The current situation is appalling. I hope for the ceasefire to hold, and I hope that holders of power and influence look to areas such as India, South Africa and even Ireland to see that the only way forward is a peaceful solution.
Today we had the great Mandela’s granddaughter lead time for reflection. Perhaps we should remember his peaceful actions and some of his words. He said:
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
We need respect for the people of Palestine and Gaza so that they can live their lives in a peaceful manner, with pride and hope for the future. We need everyone to lay down their arms and embrace humanity.
Mandela also said:
“It always seems impossible until it is done.”
The Palestinians have been on their long walk to freedom. Let us end that walk and let us end the siege of Gaza.
I congratulate Drew Smith on securing the debate.
I consider that, because of its bombing of civilians—hardly avoidable in such a crowded area—and in particular because of its bombs landing on UN safe houses, despite it repeatedly receiving information from the UN, Israel is guilty of war crimes. It is a matter for the International Criminal Court, which I raised during last week’s topical question time.
Tonight, I want to focus on the other war: the war taking place in the media. There is no doubt that, with anyone with a mobile phone taking footage and with correspondents on the ground giving 24-hour coverage, world opinion can switch literally at the click of a switch. Therefore, we are shocked and upset by the images of three wee boys killed on a beach as they run from gun fire, of a weeping parent committing a young life to an early grave or of an old lady trapped in the ruins of her home.
What is said by representatives of those who cause these civilian deaths and horrific images—and I will focus on the language of the Israeli high command—has to combat the mantra: “a picture is worth a thousand words”. We hear phrases such as “protective edge” instead of “invasion of another’s territory”. The defence system is called “iron dome”—machismo. When a soldier is captured invading another’s territory, it is called “kidnapping” or “abduction” and at the same time that story—those words—hide the truth that he was killed in combat.
We have been here before, with “shock and awe”, and look where that took us: the continuing mess made in Iraq. None of this happens by accident. Spokesmen and women are media trained by experts. The word “spin” in itself is a spin on what we used to call propaganda, but propaganda is not such an acceptable term.
Step forward Dr Frank Luntz, expert Republican pollster and political strategist, and his study, commissioned by a group called the Israeli Project. Put short, it is a list of dos and don’ts for Israeli spokesmen. Americans agree that Israel has a right to defensible borders—just do not say what those borders are, certainly not in terms of pre and post-1967.
Much of Dr Luntz’s advice is about tone and presentation of the Israeli case. He says that it is absolutely crucial to exude sympathy for the Palestinians. In particular, he says to use the soundbite:
“I particularly want to reach out to Palestinian mothers who have lost their children. No parent should have to bury a child.”
A picture, however, is worth a thousand words—spun or unspun. Today I have images of blood-spattered children and exhausted surgeons in a bombed hospital, and an image of a row of Israelis perched on a sofa, with drinks in hand, at a vantage point—all the better to view the bombing of Gaza. You cannot spin those pictures.
Before we continue, I note that a number of members still wish to speak in the debate, so I am minded to accept a motion under rule 8.14.3 to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Drew Smith.]
Motion agreed to.
I thank Drew Smith for securing the debate and I thank the Scottish Government for the actions that it has taken on the issue to date.
To achieve a two-state solution, there has to be political will in Gaza and Israel, but I am not sure that that political will exists at the present time. It is important that this Parliament and Parliaments across Europe have such discussions and debates to consider how we can bring Europe together to put on the pressure that is needed to bring about a long-term sustainable solution to an unacceptable situation that has been on-going for 40-odd years.
I condemn the rockets that come out of Gaza, aimed at Israel. I also condemn the bombs, bullets and missiles that are raining down on innocent men, women and children in Gaza.
We need to speak out very loudly. Save the Children sent members a briefing. It is worth reiterating a point that it makes:
“456 Palestinian children have lost their lives” in the current conflict, and
“Over two-thirds are 12 years old or younger.”
Where else in the world would that happen; where else is a Government indiscriminately killing innocent children and it is allowed to happen? That is why it is so important that this Parliament speaks out because, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the political conflict, it can never be right in any place in the world for children to be killed in the way that we have been seeing on our television sets. We have to send that message, and send that message loudly and clearly.
I hope that Parliaments across Europe will look at how we can start to come together to do something to try to bring a stop to that unacceptable situation. We also need to consider removing any arms licences that are granted to British companies, because we should be making it clear that not in our name should anything—not a missile, not a bomb, not a bullet—that has been produced in this country be used in this conflict by the Israeli Government. We have to take that action.
Amnesty International has pointed out that last year, the UK sold arms worth £6.3 million to Israel. Not in our name: we must make a united call from this Parliament to stop that.
We also need to consider a UN investigation of whether war crimes have been committed in Gaza by either side. We have to call for that investigation and if it is shown to be the case that war crimes have been committed, we need to support the UN to take the necessary action to bring those who have committed those war crimes to justice.
It cannot be right in any country—in any place—in the world. If it was happening any place else in the world, we would be speaking out. If we allow it to happen and allow it to continue, the world will be a much worse place. I hope that we unite together, that we see the strength that we can have through Europe and that we work together to bring an end to this.
I, too, congratulate Drew Smith on securing this important debate, which allows the Parliament of Scotland to debate the situation that is facing the people of Gaza. I thank all my colleagues from across the chamber for their thoughtful contributions.
There is a growing mood of despair within the Muslim community in this country and throughout the middle east at what is perceived to be the west’s indifference to the plight of the Palestinians. The Singapore academic Kishore Mahbubani put it bluntly when he stated:
“In the Western moral calculus the loss of Muslim lives is unimportant”.
That perception should concern us—each and every one of us—as we look on in horror at the events in Gaza.
That perception will have been reinforced in recent weeks, as we have seen the death toll rise inexorably. Western Governments have united in condemnation of Israel’s actions, but the US and UK Governments are complicit in the conflict through their supply of arms to Israel. That is why we should all endorse the calls from the Scottish Government and from non-governmental organisations for an arms embargo and the immediate suspension of the sale of arms to Israel.
As we have heard, the people of Gaza are facing a major humanitarian disaster and a public health crisis because of the destruction and contamination of Gaza’s water supply. International aid agencies such as Mercy Corps—whose European headquarters is in my constituency—are attempting to provide humanitarian assistance in an environment where the water infrastructure has been destroyed. The people of Gaza are prevented from cooking, flushing toilets or washing their hands. With water running out, the threat of disease is very real.
However, we need to put the events into their proper historical context. As one of the foremost experts on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Avi Shlaim, has said in relation to the Israeli occupation of the west bank and Gaza post-1967:
“The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.”
I do not question Israel’s right to live in peace and security with its neighbours and, as others have done, I condemn unequivocally the attacks by Hamas using rockets that have been fired from Gaza into Israel. However, what we have seen is disproportionate use of force by Israel, which has resulted in the loss of civilian lives, especially children’s lives. As Patricia Ferguson and Alex Rowley reminded us, 456 children have died.
We have seen breach of article 58 of the Geneva Convention, which states that parties to conflict should
“avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas”.
We have also seen probable breaches in relation to article 12, which concerns protection of medical units; of article 15, which concerns protection of civilian, medical and religious personnel; and of article 54, which concerns starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. Article 54 states:
“It is prohibited to attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population”, including drinking water installations and supplies.
At the demonstration outside Parliament last week, a constituent of mine told me that she longs for peace, but that there can be no peace without justice. That is why it is important that there be an independent United Nations investigation into possible war crimes on both sides of the conflict, into breaches of the Geneva convention and into breaches of international law. We must have that investigation and we must have justice for the people of Gaza and Palestine.
I thank Drew Smith for securing this debate, and I put on the record my support for the actions of the Scottish Government today. I also put on record the fact that I am a member of the cross-party group on Palestine.
As many have done, I have watched the horror of Gaza unfold on my television screen. As air strikes descended on a small stretch of land that is no bigger than the distance between this chamber and my house in West Lothian, I found it almost impossible to comprehend the damage that is being caused in an area that hosts a population that is almost a third of the size of Scotland’s.
As justification for their actions, the Israelis say that they want to destroy supply tunnels. However, we see the bombing of schools, hospitals and people’s homes and businesses. The world is told that Israel wants to defend itself against people whom it calls terrorists, yet we read reports of Israeli aircraft bombing water wells, sanitation systems and power plants. Those are acts of terrorism, too.
A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in front of our eyes, yet the world appears to be unwilling to tackle the aggression that is being meted out by the Netanyahu regime. As Patricia Ferguson said, the life of a Palestinian child is worth no less than the life of an Israeli child—and for each of us who has children, it is worth no less than the life of one of our children, too.
With a tentative ceasefire in operation as indirect talks continue, the international community must be allowed to offer immediate support in order to alleviate suffering. I condemn outright the actions of the Israeli Government, and violence from all sides. I condemn the indiscriminate and deliberate bombing of civilians and acts that many believe constitute war crimes and which are, as Jim Eadie eloquently said, breaches of UN resolutions. I condemn the failure to allow medical supplies, food aid and water through, and I support calls for an arms embargo. No one can bomb their way to a political solution.
Ultimately, the underlying cause of the crisis is political failure—the failure over decades to address the occupation of the west bank, the on-going settlement policy, the continued sanctions and the blockade of the territory. Only when the Palestinian people are able to live and work freely and can be supported to end the poverty that is forced on them, in what has been described as the largest open-air prison in the world, can they begin to rebuild their lives in peace with their neighbours.
Political pressure must be brought to bear on a state that permanently flouts UN resolutions, ignores pleas from humanitarian organisations, commits war crimes and disregards the lives of millions who are held captive in a small part of their homeland.
As Drew Smith’s motion states, there is growing recognition that lasting peace cannot come from more violence, and can come about only through the creation of a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel.
I share the hope of other members that the current talks can lead to a sustained ceasefire, which will restart the process of building lasting peace. I hope that the next time we come to debate Israel and Palestine in this chamber, it is to welcome a fully recognised Palestinian state, free from an economic blockade and illegal settlements.
Greens across Europe and the world continue to call for a sustained and secure ceasefire in Gaza, for negotiations between Israel and Hamas and for a renewed commitment to on-going peace.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s support for an arms embargo and the stronger line of support for the Palestinian people that has been taken by Scottish ministers. I ask that the Minister for External Affairs and International Development continue to strive to ensure that the UK is fully aware of the urgent need for such an embargo, and that it is fully aware of a newspaper article over the weekend that reported the Israeli use of Scots-made laser guidance systems in the conflict.
We can put pressure on the Israeli state through a targeted boycott and disinvestment campaign. We can join the efforts of the international community to pursue a lasting peace. Along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African activist who fought to end apartheid, we can join a worldwide campaign calling on corporations that are profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories to pull out their funding. By putting economic pressure on the Israeli Government, Scotland and the UK could play a part in the international effort to control the situation.
When I spoke at Saturday’s rally in Edinburgh, it was clear that the strength of feeling among the general public and communities across Scotland on the issue is growing. That is not surprising. In Palestine, 1.8 million people live in an area of 140 square miles. It is one of the most densely populated parts of the globe. The humanitarian crisis is deepening, with 200,000 people displaced and 65,000 homes destroyed. Where will those people return to? The average Palestinian is only 17 years old, so it is no surprise that UNICEF has reported that 400,000 children need immediate psychological help to overcome the trauma that they have experienced during the Israeli onslaught.
Pernille Ironside, the head of UNICEF’s Gaza office, also warned that children are at risk of contracting communicable diseases because of the lack of power and sanitation in the blockaded Palestinian territory. Gazans have been left without clean water for weeks.
The Church of Scotland world mission council’s report, “Invest in Peace” says:
“As a form of collective punishment, Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza is a flagrant violation of international law.
Despite that, it continues. We must ensure that international laws, including humanitarian laws, are applied.
The blockade and entirely disproportionate military bombardment have led to the destruction that we see, but can hardly contemplate. We have seen the destruction of industry, fishing rights are massively restricted, farming is dangerous and challenging, and schools and hospitals—places that should be sanctuaries—have been hit. I, too, support calls for action on procurement: companies should not benefit, through public contracts, from the Israeli blockade.
Concerns have been expressed by my constituents on the delays in evacuating patients. I would be grateful if the minister could advise what action is being taken to establish a recognised transfer and treatment protocol, in order to save as many lives as possible.
However distant the prospect of achieving peace and justice might be, we must continue to work to achieve that goal, because a just peace in Israel and Palestine could be the catalyst for achieving wider peace in the region and across the world.
I thank Drew Smith for securing this timely debate. First, I declare an interest as a member of the cross-party group on Palestine and as a member of the Scottish Palestine solidarity campaign.
Five months ago, we debated the thirsting for justice campaign on water shortages in Gaza. I talked about how the Israeli Government has condemned a whole generation of children to a future that is bleak at the very best. Five months on and, for many of those children, that bleak future is no future at all.
Many families have been literally torn apart or wiped out entirely. Patricia Ferguson’s example brought tears to my eyes. We have seen 456 children killed, thousands more who have been injured and 400,000 who face psychological damage. The lives of the children who thought they were safe when they sheltered in a UN school were tragically cut short when they were killed in their sleep by Israeli missiles. The UN warned the Israelis 17 times that that was a UN shelter, yet the Israeli military carried on with that shameful act. Despite the outcry, even from the United States of America, a further five UN shelters have been targeted by the Israeli military.
Children playing football on the beach have been shot at from an Israeli gunship. Children playing on the swings at their play park have been killed by Israeli gunfire. Children have seen everyone they loved wiped out. In the current assault, the innocent children of Gaza are caught up in a nightmare that they simply cannot escape.
I condemn the violence on all sides, but this is not a conflict that has any balance. This is about a brutal Israeli Government, which is in breach of countless UN resolutions, which is illegally occupying Palestinian land, which is continuing to bulldoze Palestinian homes, and which for seven years has blockaded the people of Gaza from all sides, denying them access to clean water and medical supplies, denying people their human rights and even denying children the right to a childhood.
I was pleased recently to join the 700 people in Kirkcaldy who marched in solidarity with families in Gaza. I am also proud that this week Fife Council is flying the Palestinian flag in solidarity with the families in Gaza who are under attack, because enough is enough. It is not about taking sides; it is about humanity.
As consumers, we have power. When we do our supermarket shop, we should use that power to boycott Israeli goods. In any case, why should we in the UK buy Israeli potatoes when we can buy perfectly good Scottish potatoes from down the road? Consumer power played a huge role in ending the apartheid regime in South Africa, and we can bring about change in Palestine.
It is time for the UK Government to end its virtual silence and use its economic influence to tell Israel that enough is enough. As Alex Rowley said, the UK sold £6.3 million pounds’ worth of arms to Israel last year. The revelation that military equipment that was made in Fife might have been used against children in Gaza was certainly a shock to me as a Fife MSP. No company in Fife, Scotland or elsewhere in the UK should be supplying the brutal Israeli Government with arms or military equipment. We need an arms embargo and we need an investigation into why our factories are supplying a country that shows absolutely no respect for international law, human rights and the rights of children.
We need a solution that not only ends the current violence but secures justice for the Palestinian people, with an end to Israel’s illegal siege of Gaza and an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. We need a solution whereby people who have committed shameful acts of terror, such as the bombing of schools and hospitals, are held to account for the war crimes that they committed.
Nelson Mandela said:
“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
It is time for Scotland and the UK to use our influence to secure justice and freedom for the Palestinian people.
I thank Drew Smith for bringing the subject to the Parliament.
In the current situation, we need to think about what our aim is. Do we want to choose one side and shout loudly for it, or do we want to try and reduce the tension in the Middle East and try to be peacemakers, building relationships with both sides? We must think about that, because if we want to be peacemakers, sanctions or a boycott of one party will not move us in that direction, and nor will flying a flag from Glasgow city chambers.
What is the situation between Israel and Palestine? Israel has some 8 million people and Palestine has only 4 million, so Israel is much bigger. Israel spends $18 billion on its defences, Palestine clearly spends next to nothing. On the surface of it, Israel looks like the big, strong country, and Palestine or Gaza is the smaller, weaker one. It is clear that there are far more casualties on the Palestinian side, so on the surface of it we should all support Palestine.
Is it as simple as that? Israel might have a population of 8 million, but it is dwarfed by larger players in the region, such as Egypt, with its population of 82 million, and Iran, with 77 million. Israel’s defence spending might be $18 billion, but Saudi Arabia’s is $59 billion. We can see that Israel is a pretty small country that feels threatened by larger neighbours.
International Human Rights Rank Indicator ranks Syria 211th in the world, Saudi Arabia 205th, Iran 166th, Palestine 107th and Israel 71st.
I am sorry, I do not have time.
Now, to be ranked 71st might not be great, but it is better than a number of other countries. Are we looking at sanctions or boycotts for every state that is ranked lower than 71st, or is it just Israel that is the target of our criticism? Is there a danger of our changing the balance in the region by stopping supplying Israel while still supplying other countries?
We can and should be ready to challenge any country when it does wrong. In the Bible, God is severely critical of his people, the Jews, when they go off track. We should not blindly support any one country, even our own. However, at the same time we should not blindly oppose any one country.
All that I am asking is whether we are being consistent in the standards that we are setting for Israel and for other countries. We have heard many claims and counterclaims in this situation: Hamas and others accuse Israel of indiscriminate bombing, while Israel accuses Hamas of deliberately firing rockets from civilian sites and deliberately encouraging civilians to gather around targets. Many want the blockade to be lifted and more cement allowed in, but Israel says that that cement is used for the Hamas war effort.
I do not think that any of us here today has the means or ability to weigh up all these claims and counterclaims right now. What we can do is send out a strong message supporting a ceasefire, do all we can to build up relationships with all parties and do our utmost to encourage serious peace talks.
I join colleagues in thanking Drew Smith for enabling us to have this debate.
Following on from the points that John Mason has just made, I do not think that colleagues in the chamber are setting out to be either for or against Israel or for or against Palestine. Quite a few members have made it clear that people support the two-state solution, in which Palestine and Israel would sit side by side as neighbours, trading with each other and respecting each other’s borders.
However, the challenge is that we are as far away from that solution as we have ever been. I visited Gaza 30 years ago on a UN youth visit, and some of the young people I met then will be the mothers and fathers of the children who, as Claudia Beamish has made clear, are now experiencing extreme psychological damage. The contrast between the schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East that I saw, which were dynamic and happy places of learning, and the schools that we see on our television screens now could not be more complete. It says it all when experienced journalists and UN officials find it difficult to compose themselves on TV.
What we are seeing is unimaginable to us. It is almost impossible for us to imagine a situation in which one and a half million people do not have regular access to drinking water, in which there are no power supplies and in which there is almost daily bombing. According to the statistics, 58 per cent of young people, 52 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men in Gaza are unemployed. Those families have absolutely no scope to make an income.
In thinking about what we can do, we need to consider the humanitarian support that is being provided. Considering what they have to deal with, the aid agencies are doing heroic work, and we need to do as much as we can as individuals, political representatives and members of our communities to support their fantastic and vital humanitarian work.
However, we must also demand a political solution. The two-state solution requires the two sides to sit and talk to each other. We know that they do not like each other—after all, they are in a conflict situation—but as other members have pointed out we will not get peace without the parties in the conflict sitting down and being prepared to work together. The parties in this conflict will not choose to do that; instead, they will have to be brought to the negotiating table by a world that is determined to make that happen.
The use of economic power and sustained political pressure will help in that, and tonight we can add our own pressure to the process. We can do that through procurement, whether or not that means choosing to buy Palestinian goods where they are still being produced, and we can do the same as citizens by looking to the fair trade movement and shops such as Hadeel that are still sourcing Palestinian-made goods such as olive oil and embroidery. Those are some practical steps that we can take.
However, the bigger picture is, as others have pointed out, all about the use of economic and political power. That power must be used, because this conflict has been going on for decades. Unlike all the other situations that we could talk about—
In South Africa, for example, things are not perfect, but progress has been made. In Palestine, on the other hand, things are going backwards and the situation in Gaza is appalling. We cannot stand for that, and we must do everything we can to add our voice to the call for a two-state solution and demand that Israel and the Palestinians sit down together. In fact, in April, Fatah and Hamas agreed a solution whereby the Palestinian Authority would work together in Gaza. Surely that is a first step forward, and we must ensure that that happens.
I add my congratulations to Drew Smith on bringing forward this very important debate.
Our television screens are currently dominated by highly disturbing images from Gaza. As Drew Smith pointed out, Hamas is certainly not blameless in the conflict. I condemn its rocket attacks, but the effect of Israel’s operation protective edge has shown how abhorrent and indiscriminate warfare can become.
Amnesty International claims that war crimes have been committed by both sides, but the hammer that is the Israeli military offensive is so scattergun in its approach that the effects are a shock to any person who watches TV or reads media reports. Indeed, some of the images that can be seen on social media are so harrowing that they simply could not be televised.
We keep on being told that we live in an age in which warfare is computerised and targeted. That makes the bombing of UN schools or youngsters who are playing football on a beach all the more disgusting.
Others have pointed out that it is not the first time that Israel has carried out that type of offensive. There is absolutely no moral justification for the actions. It is clear that, if it was a moral war, most of the world would believe that Israel is losing.
Indiscriminate violence against those who cannot defend themselves is simply not acceptable in the modern world. I support the Scottish Government in its calls for a UN investigation to be held and the offer of financial and medical assistance. It will be interesting to see whether there is a mechanism that may allow the International Criminal Court to play a part in future.
Today’s Save the Children briefing gives stark figures. It says:
“One in four Palestinians killed since the conflict in Gaza began is a child.”
Schools and hospitals are damaged or destroyed, and shelter is now required for around 300,000 people. There must be infrastructure development. That is not easy at the best of times, but it is impossible with missiles falling from the sky.
“If we want to build something we have to submit a detailed project proposal to Israel with the design, location and a complete bill of quantities. The Israelis then review the proposal, a process that is supposed to take not more than two months but on average takes nearly 20 months.”
That is an absolutely silly situation to be in.
International pressure really must be put on Israel to lift the blockade and work tirelessly towards the two-state solution.
Finally, the UK Government must take a stand. Arms sales to and from the UK must stop, along with reciprocal military training arrangements. Not to stop that would make the UK look as morally bankrupt as those who destroy innocent lives in Gaza and beyond.
I, too, thank Drew Smith for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I do not often speak on foreign affairs issues, but I want to make a specific, domestically focused contribution to our discussion.
There is no doubt that the recent violence in Israel and Gaza has touched many people in Scotland, and it is difficult—if not impossible—not to be moved by the suffering that we have witnessed. The conflict not only reflects deep divisions in the middle east; it often polarises opinion in this country, too.
I have been contacted by constituents with strong feelings on both sides of the divide. They are primarily motivated by their own humanity. Although I would wish our response in Scotland to be measured and respectful at all times, many local residents have contacted me to say how upset and hurt they have been by the imbalance and one-sided nature of much of the coverage and response.
As members will know, there is a sizeable and long-established Jewish community in my constituency, and many local residents have family members who live in Israel. As members might imagine, they are more aware than most are of the suffering and violence that ensue in that part of the world.
Jewish Scots are directly affected every time tensions rise in the middle east. Several local people have told me of the abuse that they receive and their fear of simply going out in public wearing a kippa or anything else that marks them out as visibly Jewish. Parents and grandparents with children at Calderwood Lodge primary school have expressed anxiety at their pupils’ security and wellbeing. Everyone has the right to protest and express their views, but the Jewish community in the west of Scotland is feeling increasingly let down at a time when it is already feeling vulnerable.
I have received many letters and calls on the issue, but I want to quote from one that I believe captures much of that sense of upset and dismay. It is from a woman who was particularly concerned and anxious about the decision by Glasgow City Council to fly the Palestinian flag. She says:
“As a Scottish and Jewish citizen I feel this decision sends a strong message to the wider community, and will I fear not be the one that is intended by the council. If the Scottish political establishment wish to express hope for peace in the region then they should be opting to fly many more than one flag as a symbol of recognition of all parties affected by conflicts in the area ... I am highly sympathetic of the Palestinian population’s right to a two state solution and to self-governance, and indeed feel that such a solution is paramount.”
She goes on to say:
“The current situation whereby anti-Israel sentiment is allowing anti-Semitic behaviour to come to the fore across Europe is frankly highly disturbing. The decisions of Scottish Councils to use a demonstrative action as a means of promoting peace will I fear promote further community division and potentially incite hatred.”
She signs herself,
“A frightened mother of two children”.
I believe that we want to send out a message that emphasises our common humanity, but I am particularly grateful to Drew Smith for recognising the need for balance in his speech on this emotive and painful issue.
I, too, thank Drew Smith for securing the debate and for the well-crafted motion to which other members have referred. I should declare that I am a member of the cross-party group on Palestine and of Amnesty and Oxfam, for whom—as others have done—I thank for their briefings. What the whole affair has cried out for is honest brokers, and such organisations have performed that role.
A number of terms have been repeated throughout the debate, one of which is “disproportionate”. I certainly view the actions of the Israeli defence force as disproportionate, but I am concerned that that might suggest that, if there had been less bombing and less abuse hurled at the Gazan population, that would have been acceptable. As other members have done, I am happy to say unreservedly that violence from whatever quarter is unacceptable.
The term “indiscriminate” has been used, too, but I am not sure that Israeli soldiers writing in children’s school books in schools that they have destroyed and writing the names of their regiments on classroom walls are anything other than calculated acts. I worry that that is part of a wider contempt for the mere existence of the Gazan community.
The arms industry is pernicious worldwide, and it has been heavily involved in the conflict. The Israeli Government has a wonderful test centre of Gazan guinea pigs or sitting ducks right on its doorstep. It is my view that there are sick minds at play. We do not need new weapons; as my colleague Claudia Beamish said, we do not need so-called smart weapons. We saw at first hand one of the consequences of those so-called smart weapons—the deaths of 11 members of one family in a very confined area. Therefore, I am proud that the Scottish Government has called for an arms embargo. Like my colleague Cara Hilton, I contrast that with the virtual silence from elsewhere.
I commend my colleague Jean Urquhart’s motion, to which Alison Johnstone alluded, which referred to a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions. I think that that is the route that we need to take. Other members have talked about the role of the UN. I welcome the description of events by the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, as “intolerable” and “unacceptable”.
We have heard about the challenges of delivering aid, which are compounded by the dearth of infrastructure that exists in Gaza.
I want to say something in relation to Drew Smith’s comments about the Scottish community and what we heard from Mr Macintosh. In my view, a victim is a victim. I do not need to know whether they profess to have a faith or have no faith—I think that a victim is a victim, full stop. I abhor Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and I commend the work of Jewish communities such as those in Cleveland and Boston in the US, which have been very active, as well as the organisation Codepink.
The motion talks about living in peace with dignity and security. I commend to people who have not already seen it the YouTube clip of Rafeef Ziadah—I hope that I have pronounced her name right—reading her wonderful poem, “We teach life, sir”. There is a line in it that goes, “Every day we wake up and we teach life.”
Life will be intolerable for the citizens of Gaza if the blockade is maintained. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN have said that it is illegal. We must end that blockade now, and we must renew our efforts to ensure that there is a lasting peace and a two-state solution.
I had not initially intended to speak in this debate, but I feel that I should.
I had the privilege of speaking at a demonstration in Buchanan Street about four weeks ago at which the strength of feeling about this horrendous issue was overwhelming. What was very positive was that people who were not going to the demo but passing it and shopping in Buchanan Street were very sympathetic to what was going on at the demo.
I do not usually take part in demos—that is just not the sort of politician that I have been—but the sights that I had seen on social media in the week running up to it broke my heart and made me feel that I had to take part in that demo, which meant more than any almost any other one.
I take Ken Macintosh’s point about people feeling worried because of imbalance—I will come back to the issue of imbalance in a minute—but I do not know anybody in my circles or in this chamber who has said that this has got anything to do with people being Jewish. Nobody in this chamber has said that this has got anything to do with Israel’s right to self-defence. What it has got to do with is Israel’s completely indiscriminate and disproportionate attack on the people of Gaza.
Anybody who could look at the photos and films that we have seen would see children with half their heads missing and other horrendous sights—I saw when Patricia Ferguson was speaking that she was visibly upset about what she was having to talk about, and I think that that is how most of us feel. This debate is not an attack on any community; as a matter of fact, it is us trying to safeguard a particular community, which in this case is the people of Gaza.
There are wrongs taking place there. Nobody supports Hamas. I have not heard anybody come out and support Hamas, the rocket firing or the tunnels, as many other members have said in the debate. However, let us get things in proportion. Bombing schools and hospitals and targeting utilities is not the actions of a reasonable Government. Those are not the actions that Israel should be taking. If Israel is serious about wanting to live in peace with its neighbours, it is certainly going the wrong way about it. What I would ask Israel to do is lift the blockade.
In an earlier motion that I lodged, I asked the minister to look at how the Scottish Government could have an embargo on trading with the illegal settlements. They should not be there and we should not be encouraging them in any way. I think that an embargo could go some way towards sending a message that we here in Scotland support and stand by the people of Gaza and Palestine.
It is customary to thank the member who has brought the debate to the chamber and, of course, I do that. I also thank him for securing cross-party support for the motion. However, I can say on behalf of the Government and possibly on behalf of the chamber that this is a debate that we would rather not be having.
Across the chamber, the tone of what has been a very difficult and quite rightly emotional debate has been exemplary; I think that we have done well in that regard. It has often been said that conflict is in our nature. In the pages of history, humanity has never had a time without some sort of conflict. However, I believe that empathy is also very much a part of our human nature. Even the hardest and coldest hearts cannot fail to be moved by the scenes of devastation and destruction that we have seen unfolding in the Gaza strip.
Members across the chamber have mentioned the statistics—of course, there is a story behind every single one. Almost 2,000 Gazans have been killed and the UN suspects that the vast majority of them have been civilian deaths; 458 children have been killed; 1.5 million people have no, or very limited access to water; 200,000 people in the Gaza strip are in need of emergency food aid; over 65,000 people have been made homeless; the health system is on the verge of complete and utter collapse, with 24 health facilities either damaged or facing acute shortages of medicine.
The Scottish Government cannot and will not stand idly by while this takes place. We must be proactive and unequivocal in the messages that we deliver. Of course we condemn all violence. Every single member who has stood up has condemned all the violence and the Scottish Government joins them in that. Make no mistake about it: rockets that are fired into Israel are wrong. They are designed to injure and to kill indiscriminately. This Government says that they must stop, and must stop now. Everybody agrees, of course, that Israel has a right to live in security and safety. However, it must be widely recognised and stated on the record that the Israeli Government’s response has been utterly and completely disproportionate and it must be condemned in the strongest possible manner for that. Those who fail to condemn it—there are some on these islands who have failed to condemn it—are doing themselves, but also humanity, an injustice. A provocation—and yes, there is provocation—does not relieve one of accountability for how one chooses to respond.
We all believe that an immediate and long-term ceasefire is needed. We have seen a ceasefire extend beyond the 72-hour period and we all hope that it extends into a long-term ceasefire. We need those who are firing rockets into Israel to put down their weapons immediately and the Israeli Government to cease its fire, but we must also consider the inhumanity of the situation and ensure that a ceasefire, though it is important in terms of dropping and stopping the weapon fire, means that the blockade is lifted. Gaza is, as some have said, an open-air prison. Those are not my words but the words of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2010. It is an open-air prison and it is collective punishment.
Although powers over foreign affairs are by and large reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government has been decisive in its action. I will try to respond to some of the questions that members asked in the debate. We have donated £500,000 to the UNRWA flash appeal for shelter and medicine. It is important that we did that. Although we do not have a ring-fenced budget for emergency aid, we cannot stand idly by. I urge people to continue to donate. The DEC has launched an appeal and people can find more information on how to donate on its website.
One of the first offers that we made was of medical assistance and opening up our hospitals for medical treatment. Some members mentioned that they have been contacted about a delay. The Scottish Government had a teleconference last week with the director of Medical Aid for Palestinians in Gaza. We told him about the specialisms that we have in Scotland, but we also heard about the priorities of cases in Gaza. The next step is for the consultants on the ground in Gaza to give us a list of their priority cases that they need to be treated. However, make no mistake about it—the Scottish Government faces exactly the same obstacles as anybody else. There is an illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza and we are experiencing difficulty in bringing people to Scotland.
That said, I have received a letter from the Prime Minister in response to the First Minister’s letter on the situation and, at the end of his letter, the Prime Minister says that the UK intends also to offer its hospitals, as we called on it to do, to treat the injured of Gaza. He was aware of the offer from Scottish hospitals. I therefore hope that, logistically, we will have some assistance from the UK Government. I assure all members in the chamber that we are doing our utmost to treat those injured in Gaza, where and when we can do so.
The UK Government must bring more urgency to its actions. The First Minister called for that in his letter to the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the UK has been painfully silent and too stagnant in its actions. I spoke to Baroness Warsi on the night when she chose to leave the Government, which would have been a painfully difficult decision for her. I commended her on her actions but agreed with her entirely that the UK Government’s position on Gaza has been painfully silent and indefensible. If it cannot be stronger on the issue, then at the very least we urge that the UK and all of us should not be complicit in any of the atrocities that are taking place in the Gaza strip. That is why we called for an immediate arms embargo.
The UN has said that there is a strong possibility that international law has been violated. Ban Ki-moon, after the shelling of the UN shelter in Rafah, said that that was a moral outrage and a criminal act. There must be an embargo. Cara Hilton was right to raise the point about the plant in Fife. Make no mistake about it: whether that company is Scottish, English, Northern Irish or Welsh, we believe that there should be a complete arms embargo, and it is disgraceful that profit is being put above compassion.
Sandra White, Alison Johnstone and other members asked us to look at the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. I know that that campaign has gone to the Deputy First Minister, who is looking at it and is exploring what can be done in relation to illegal settlements. It should be put very much on the record that the UK Government’s guidance does not encourage or support trade with illegal settlements.
I will address a point that Ken Macintosh and others made. If the Jewish community in Glasgow feels that it is perhaps the victim of anti-Semitism because of the rising tensions in the middle east, I assure it that the Scottish Government will stand with it. Any anti-Semitism is to be absolutely abhorred. I spoke to the Lord Advocate about the issue this morning and I give the assurance that I will speak to him again, so that we continue to monitor the situation.
I will end with a story. Sometimes, we get caught up in statistics and forget that there is a story behind every statistic. This is not about being pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian; at its base, it is about being pro-humanitarian. I urge everybody to read the story, if they can, of a mother by the name of Wejdan Shammalla who moved back to Khan Yunis in the Gaza strip. We have to hear her story to believe it. She has three children and she asks all of us to think of our own children, our nieces and nephews or our grandchildren and imagine that we have three of them. Every night before she goes to sleep, she must ask herself whether all three children should sleep in her bed with her and her husband so that, if a rocket hits the house, they will all die together as a family, or whether she should split the children—as she does some nights; would we do that in her situation?—and have two with her and one with her husband so that, if a missile hits, perhaps some of them will survive. If someone has to split up their children, how do they choose which children to put in which room? No parent and no individual should have to make such a choice.
The Scottish Government calls for the immediate lifting of the blockade. The solution should be political, not military. Settlements are illegal and should be removed. We support the two-state solution. Israel has of course a right to safety and security, but at the heart of the injustice over the decades has been the utter denial of a viable Palestinian state.
Above and beyond the politics is the humanitarian. The Scottish Government stands and unites with every member across the chamber to say that children are not terrorists, whether they are playing on a beach, feeding pigeons or sleeping in a UN shelter. Innocent civilians must never be targeted. That is why we call for an immediate UN investigation into the killing of civilians, so that those who have possibly been violating international law feel the full force of international justice.
Meeting closed at 18:28.