Palestine and Israel

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 22 February 2024.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-12177, in the name of Ivan McKee, on an immediate ceasefire in Palestine and Israel. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern reports of the recent upsurge in violence in Palestine and Israel, which, it understands, has seen more than 28,000 people, including mostly women and children, killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, 1,400 people killed by Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Israel, and more than 300 Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli armed settlers in the West Bank; believes strongly that there is no justification for inflicting terror or killing innocent civilians, or for the taking of civilian hostages, and condemns violence in all its forms; notes with concern what it considers to be the risk of disease and malnutrition in Gaza as a consequence of the Israeli blockade of the strip, which, it believes, may itself constitute a breach of international law; recognises what it sees as the critically important relief work of organisations such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) and Medical Aid for Palestinians, and notes that the UK Government and others are being urged to continue to financially support this work; considers that this conflict did not begin on 7 October 2023, and notes the belief that a lasting peace with justice will only come through a negotiated settlement; notes the calls for an immediate ceasefire in Palestine and Israel to allow diplomatic discussions to take place that will safeguard innocent civilians; further notes the reported ruling by the International Court of Justice and the view that there may be a case to answer that the actions of Israel in Gaza constitute genocide against the Palestinian people; commends the work of Israeli human rights organisations, including B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, which, it considers, continue to make the case for a lasting and just peace in what it sees as these horrific times; notes the calls on the UK Government, including from communities in the Glasgow Provan constituency, to do its part in working with other UN nations to demand an end to deadly military action in Gaza and settler violence in the West Bank, and to bring to justice those responsible for terror attacks and any who may be guilty of war crimes or incitement to genocide, and further notes the calls on the UK Government to recognise the State of Palestine.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

It gives me no pleasure to open the debate. I would much rather be celebrating the creation of a Palestinian state, or a state of Israel and Palestine that allows all the people between the river and the sea to live in peace, justice and equality. Tragically, that is not the position that we are in.

The latest conflict in Israel and Palestine has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people since October of last year, the majority of whom are women and children, and the vast majority in the Gaza strip. The conditions in Gaza, as reported by Oxfam and others, are horrendous: there is disease, malnutrition and the destruction of health services and living accommodation. As members of the Scottish Parliament, we debate—rightly—the health and housing challenges that we face in this country, but we should spare a thought for the horrific conditions in Gaza at this very moment. The work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and others in doing what they can to mitigate those conditions is increasingly difficult, and needed more than ever. Continued funding for that work is essential.

The conflict did not start on 7 October; it has been on-going for more than 75 years. This is the 15th Israeli military invasion of the Gaza strip since 1948, with the most recent in 2008 and 2014. The Gaza strip has been under siege since 2007. The Israeli Defence Forces’ Dahiya doctrine, as described to us by members of Breaking the Silence, which is the organisation of former IDF service members who are dedicated to highlighting human rights abuses, is based on the principle that there will be no end to the conflict. Therefore, a major strategic objective of any military operation is to deliver as much destruction to civilian infrastructure as possible so that the next, inevitable clashes are delayed for as long as possible.

The slaughter in Gaza committed by the Netanyahu regime has now claimed as many victims as Putin’s flattening of Grozny in the first Chechen war, or the Assad regime’s siege of Aleppo. There is no case for a delay in calling for a ceasefire. Tens of thousands have died as politicians in the west have prevaricated over semantics. Now is a time for clarity and bravery. The United Kingdom Government has weight and influence in the international community. The Netanyahu regime operates as it does because it perceives there to be a green light from the international community.

Some countries have taken their responsibility seriously. I commend the Government of South Africa—a country with its own experience of apartheid—for taking a case to the International Court of Justice. An initial ruling of that court indicates that there may be a case to answer that the actions of Israel in Gaza constitute genocide against the Palestinian people. Incitement to genocide is also a crime. It is not hard to find potential examples. There has been talk of flattening Gaza, turning it into rubble, eliminating everything and making it a place where no human can exist, creating a humanitarian crisis and removing all restrictions on the actions of soldiers. There have been calls for collective punishment, which is itself a war crime, and depriving civilian populations of food, water, electricity and healthcare. That is not the rhetoric of some fringe figures, but the words of the leadership of the Israeli Government and the IDF.

Unfortunately, it is a tragic and recurring theme of the human condition that it is easier to be honest about events in hindsight than to recognise them for what they are as they unfold. We now recognise the events in Bosnia in the 1990s as a genocide. That was not the case when—I remember it very well—the Major Government prevaricated for years, with Douglas Hurd working to prevent defence and protective equipment being delivered to the defenders of Sarajevo. The massacre in Srebrenica brought about the downfall of the Dutch Government, but not until some years later. The actions of the Government of France, as the ex-colonial power, represented at best acquiescence, and possibly complicity, in the now-recognised genocide in Rwanda.

I raise those examples because they provide a lesson to those who play politics with the slaughter in Gaza—who delay, prevaricate and triangulate, waiting for others to make the first move to give them political cover. That is the Augustinian approach to ending atrocities: please, Lord, stop this slaughter, but not just yet.

Let us not forget what is happening in the west bank, which I visited in 2018: land theft continues; Palestinian rights continue to be eroded; and deaths of Palestinian civilians have soared to more than 300 in the current period. The reality, of course, is that there can be no military or security solution to the problems of the region. After nearly five months of bombardment of Gaza, the fighting continues, the tunnels are still there, the IDF continues to take casualties, Hamas continues to function, and the hostages have still not, for the most part, been found or freed. Indeed, the IDF has perhaps managed to shoot more hostages than it has liberated.

Voices in Israel recognise that. We all want to see the release of hostages, and the quickest way to do that is through an immediate ceasefire and negotiations. Indeed, the only significant release of hostages came about through the brief ceasefire in November last year. Those negotiations must also lead to the recognition of a Palestinian state, which I believe is now the United Kingdom Labour Party’s position. If Keir Starmer becomes the next Prime Minister, I hope to see that promise delivered without delay, and not abandoned, as has been the case with other commitments. I know that there are many good colleagues in the Labour Party who will work to make that a reality.

The motion also recognises the many Israeli and Jewish voices that condemn the actions of the Netanyahu regime, recognising that it not only makes the lives of Palestinians hell, but prolongs the conflict and makes Israelis less safe too. Those voices include Breaking the Silence, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and many others. I have attended and spoken at rallies, calling for a ceasefire, and I have been heartened and encouraged by the number of Jewish voices present and speaking at those events.

I leave the last words to Jewish voices of the past that resonate today. From the leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Marek Edelman:

“To be a Jew means always being with the oppressed, and never the oppressors”.

From Dutch Holocaust survivor Hajo Meyer, talking about the situation in Palestine:

“Never again, for anyone”.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am aware that many members wish to participate in the debate. I am, therefore, minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Mr McKee to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[

Ivan McKee

]

Motion agreed to.

We are, nevertheless, under extreme time pressure. Afternoon business is due to start at 2 o’clock, and staff will need to come in to prepare the chamber, so I propose to conclude the debate at 10 minutes to 2, at the latest. I intend to ensure that all members who wish to speak have a chance to participate, but they will have to stick to their time, and members who speak towards the end of the debate may have to truncate their remarks even further.

On that note, I call Jackson Carlaw, to be followed by Neil Bibby. You have up to four minutes, Mr Carlaw.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I note the opportunity that is afforded by Ivan McKee, in lodging his motion, for members to discuss further this really troubling and horrendous international situation.

First, I pay tribute, as I have done previously, to the many interfaith organisations in Scotland that are working around the clock, every day, to do all that they can to maintain cohesive relations here, with some real track record of success. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for ensuring that a very tense international situation does not dissolve into a very serious situation in our own country. [

Applause

.]

This is a short debate, and I will, therefore, address two areas in my speech. Obviously, events since 7 October have unfolded as badly as, or even more badly than, any of us could have anticipated or predicted at the time of our previous discussion. I have to say that, irrespective of the speeches that we make in the chamber today, or of the calls for action from anywhere, it does not seem to me that we are anywhere near a resolution, or even a mitigation, of what is currently a desperately difficult position in the region. The consequences of that were very clearly and fairly laid out by Ivan McKee.

The call for a ceasefire is at the heart of the matter. There should not be a competition between parties for who has the boldest ceasefire. It is a question of the principle of a ceasefire. I think that people are troubled by why I and some others are reluctant to join in the call for an immediate ceasefire. That is not really a question of principle. I have looked at the terms associated with the calls for a ceasefire in the letter that Ian Murray sent to Stephen Flynn and in the Labour Party’s resolution in the House of Commons yesterday, a great deal of which I could agree with. However, contained in the calls for a ceasefire must be a recognition that there has to be a ceasefire on all sides. That means that rockets in and out of Gaza have to stop.

It must be recognised that the hostages have to be released. Some 134 of them still remain unaccounted for, including Kfir Bibas, who is one year old, Ariel Bibas, who is four years old, and Agam Berger, who is 19 years old and of whom nothing has subsequently been heard. Implicitly, that means that, at some point, there has to be a way forward in Gaza that does not leave the Hamas regime in place dictating the future, because it has made it clear that it will not respect a ceasefire and that it will resume its attacks on Israel at the earliest opportunity. We cannot have a ceasefire in which Israel ceases and Hamas fires; it has to be a ceasefire that we can believe will happen. If the hostages are released, Hamas is no longer able to influence the outcome of events, and there is a mutual ending of the attacks from both countries, I would be able to support a ceasefire. I hope that, out of that, we can see a much more likely secure future for the region.

Meanwhile, aid can now come into the country unrestricted. Some 13,000 trucks have entered at three crossing points. At the moment, there are 450 trucks in Gaza with aid that cannot be distributed. I recognise that there is a genuine fear on the part of those who would distribute that aid about doing that safely, so I can certainly support the idea that there should be a pause in hostilities in order for that aid to be as widely distributed as possible.

As I have said before, I do not support every action of the Israeli Government. I resent and reject the suggestion that I do. People ask me, “Why do you bother with any of this?” I stand here in a Parliament with Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Protestant and Catholic MSPs, but no Jew—never a Jew.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

As the member representing 50 per cent of Scotland’s Jewish community, I believe that I have a responsibility to articulate arguments on their behalf—as did my immediate predecessor, Ken Macintosh. However, that is not the same as endorsing all the actions of the Israeli Government.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr Carlaw. We will have to move on.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

It is important that we work together to secure a future for the region.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Neil Bibby, who has up to four minutes.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

I thank Ivan McKee for bringing the debate to the chamber.

The situation in Gaza is tragic and heartbreaking. I know that there are strongly held views across the chamber on the issue, which we all care about. Many innocent lives have been taken or destroyed. Countless children have died, and children continue to die each and every day. There are many families in Scotland with relatives in Gaza and Israel who have been impacted by the horror. They are victims of the tragedy, and we owe it to all of them to do everything possible to end the terror.

I welcome the fact that the House of Commons has joined the Scottish Parliament in voting to call for an immediate stop to the fighting and for a sustainable ceasefire. That follows the leaders of our allies Australia, Canada and New Zealand in their call for an end to the hostilities in order that hostages can be released.

I will focus my remarks on what needs to happen to help people on the ground now. Cessation of the violence is the only thing that will help, right now. We need an end to the fighting and to rocket fire going into and out of Gaza. That is needed in order to allow hostages to be safely exchanged while they are still alive, and for food, medicines and other aid supplies to get safely to those who need them.

We also need to say with one voice to Israel that it has, like any other state, the right to defend itself, not least from indiscriminate terrorist attack, but that every state also has a responsibility to exercise restraint and to be proportionate in its responses. There are legitimate questions to be asked about Israel’s actions. The International Court of Justice is the proper place for those questions to be adjudicated on. We respect its jurisdiction—so, too, should Israel.

We should also say with one voice that an assault on Rafah, where 1.5 million people are crammed together in unimaginable conditions with nowhere to go, would be unconscionable and would have disastrous consequences. Approximately 75 per cent of Gaza’s population are displaced—most of them in Rafah—and an estimated 17,000 children are separated from their families. We need de-escalation, not further escalation.

On 7 October 2023, we saw the largest loss of Jewish life, inflicted by Hamas, on any single day since the Holocaust. As Ivan McKee said, since then almost 30,000 Palestinians—the majority of them women and children—have been confirmed killed.

This has been an on-going situation for decades. From the ashes of this tragedy, there must be a renewed emphasis on a two-state solution, which is a position that all parties here share. That includes a safe and secure Israel, where the horrors that were inflicted by Hamas—which is a brutal antisemitic terrorist organisation—on 7 October can never happen again. It includes a viable Palestinian state alongside it, with safe borders and, ultimately, recognition for that Palestinian state—a state that, as Anas Sarwar recently put it,

“is not in the gift of a neighbour”, but is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people.

In the face of the horrors of recent months, it is easy to sink into despair and hopelessness, but that will not help the innocent victims or stop the deaths, terror and violence. The two-state solution is still worth hoping and fighting for. We need to use every avenue of engagement with Israel and the international community to achieve and defend that outcome.

World leaders must redouble their efforts to forge a path to a sustainable and lasting peace, so that future generations of innocent men, women and children are not consigned to horrors and violence such as we have seen in recent months.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I thank Ivan McKee for bringing the debate to the chamber.

The situation that we see in Israel and Gaza is incredibly sad. It is also very long running—it has certainly been running since well before 1948, when we could say the present problems started.

Clearly, antisemitism is not the same as valid criticism of Israel, but neither are the two completely distinct and unconnected. Most of the Jews whom I know in Scotland and England have family and friends in Israel. It is the only Jewish state in the world and is, according to the Bible, the land that God gave his chosen people. Having said that, it does not mean that we cannot criticise the Jews or Israel. God himself is hugely critical of his people in much of the scriptures, not least when he punished them by exiling them to Babylon and elsewhere.

Therefore, is not antisemitic for some to say that the present Israeli offensive has been over the top and has possibly crossed the line from defence to revenge. At the same time, we need to be balanced in our approach. For example, to say that we must not sell arms to Israel, but that it is okay to sell arms to Saudi Arabia or other countries that have much worse human rights records is somewhat inconsistent.

It is very difficult to ascertain all the facts around what has been happening in Gaza. The number of deaths is one issue. Of the Palestinians who have been killed, I gather that Hamas claims that 6,000 were military, whereas Israel claims that 12,000 were Hamas fighters. All such figures are difficult to verify when both sides have a fairly unclear line between who is military and who is civilian.

It seems that the number of civilian deaths in Gaza has been greater because Hamas deliberately built tunnels for military purposes directly beneath hospitals and residential areas. On that point, where did all the resources for those tunnels come from? Perhaps the situation for ordinary people in Gaza would be better today if resources had gone into civilian infrastructure rather than being diverted for military purposes.

I think that the United Nations, particularly the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, has some responsibility in that regard. Going forward, we need an agency that is more neutral than UNRWA to help the people of Gaza to rebuild.

Looking ahead, where are we going? In the short term, we want the fighting to cease, which must be linked to release of the hostages—or, sadly, their bodies—and both sides need to agree to cease fire. In the longer term, we need serious peace talks and negotiations. That will require that all sides recognise the others’ right to exist; we should remember that Iran and Hamas openly declare that they want Israel wiped off the face of the map.

I partly blame the international community for not pushing harder for peace talks over the years. Both Israel and Palestine are relatively small entities in world terms. Much larger players, including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, have key parts to play. They can put pressure on the respective sides to get to the table and negotiate. There should be no preconditions about borders or anything else—only acceptance of the other sides’ right to exist should be required.

Having said that the bigger countries have a part to play, however, I also think that we should remember the example that was set by Norway, which hosted peace talks in the early 1990s. I would like the United Kingdom and Scotland to play such a role, as peacemakers. That would mean not cheering on either side, but building relationships with both sides and, I hope, being trusted by both sides.

I will finish on a more personal note. While I was in London just after the new year, I attended a Jewish synagogue one Friday evening. Only about 15 to 20 people were there, but three security guards were needed on duty. What happens in Israel and Gaza affects us here, too.

Let us all commit to being as even-handed as we can be, and to seeking to be peacemakers as much as we can be.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I thank Ivan McKee for bringing this important and timely debate. I apologise to the Presiding Officer and the Parliament: I set a meeting last November that I have, unavoidably, to chair, so I cannot stay until the end of the debate. Members who know me know that, if it were not for that, I would be here until the end. I apologise sincerely.

As we all speak today, Israel launches more air strikes in Rafah. Sadly, there will be even more deaths than the 30,000 civilians who have been killed so far. Up to 100,000 have been injured, and 10,000 children have been killed. There are no functioning hospitals and no services to protect people. There will be no emergency services to rescue people from under the rubble. Many Gazans go to sleep at night knowing that their relatives are buried under rubble and might still be alive.

Some 1.7 million people have been displaced—more than once. Some of them were already refugees, from 1948 and 1967, but now many have been displaced five, six or seven times.

The speed of the bombing, the unprecedented scale of the military operation and the indiscriminate nature of the weapons that strike Gazans—including white phosphorous—make the situation like nothing we have witnessed in any recent modern war.

Those who have followed the horrible and horrific examples of what has happened in Gaza could not have failed to notice the story that has been reported by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, of Hind Najab. She was a young girl who died alone trying to call emergency services—her last hours spent in a car surrounded by the dead bodies of her relatives, reporting a tank coming towards her. A few days later, we found out that she was dead.

The strategy has been laid bare. The Israeli hostages—who must be protected and released—are not even a priority for Netanyahu, as is clear from the statements that he has made. Members of his Government have also said that there is no such thing as an innocent Palestinian, and others who are more extreme have said that they want, if they can clear Gaza, more settlements and Palestinians removed.

It is about time that we stood up and said that the dehumanisation of the Palestinian population—the denial of their rights and of their existence—is not tolerable. People cannot even leave Gaza. Most members who are participating in this debate know that Gazans have been under blockade for 17 years. The world has a lot to answer for.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I do not have time, unfortunately. I am sorry, Paul.

Dr Margaret Harris, who like many brave doctors has served in Gaza, recently reported that emergency services expect to see young men, but are seeing children. That is because more than 50 per cent of the population in Gaza is under the age of 18.

While all that is happening, there is more violence on the west bank. We will not see much of it because we are watching what is happening in Gaza, but the violence there is quite horrific. Israeli settlers, who are illegally in the occupied territories, are stealing Palestinian homes and being protected by the Israeli army while they do so.

I believe that Palestine is the moral question of our time, and that the matter is not just about standing up for a ceasefire now. As Ivan McKee said in his opening speech, 75 years after the Palestinians were promised a state of their own, and after 56 years of illegal occupation, more than 100 countries now recognise Palestine. It is not out of step to do so. Where one stands on the question matters, because the hopes and dreams of Israelis and Palestinians depend on it.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

I thank Ivan McKee for bringing this debate to the chamber. It is fair to say that he has always championed the issue, including before the current crisis that is unfolding.

On 21 November last year, I stood in the chamber and fully condemned the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and the following collective punishment of the Palestinian people by Israel. I said that all hostages must be released. I stand by those comments and fully condemn violence in all its forms.

What has happened since we last debated the issue in the chamber should shock and shame us all. There are more than 30,000 dead in Palestine, including 12,300-plus children and 8,400-plus women. That is children, women and innocent civilians, not Hamas terrorists. Hospitals and schools have been hit hard, and we have all seen the absolutely shocking scenes on television. What could possibly be the justification for the continuation of this slaughter?

Some suggest that, while Hamas still exists, the slaughter is justified. I am fully of the opinion that it is not. Innocent people are being killed and, as we have said, many of them are children. To those who believe in that justification, I say clearly that it is not and cannot be a justification. As we have heard from Ivan McKee and others, Jewish voices are increasingly condemning Israel’s actions.

I am pleased that Ivan McKee’s motion mentions the ruling by the International Court of Justice, which I hope all Governments of the world will acknowledge. Pauline McNeill mentioned the heartbreaking scenes in Rafah. Many people have fled to the area and now face the threat of continuing attacks there. What the people of Palestine and Gaza must be feeling is just unthinkable.

A ceasefire now is the only option. Why do some politicians still feel reluctant to call for a ceasefire, as we saw in Westminster yesterday? We do not need to worry about other actors to call for the end of the slaughter of innocent civilians. A friend said to me recently:

“If this was literally anywhere else in the world, it would not be tolerated.”

He is right, because there are plenty of examples of such actions not being tolerated. In Ukraine, for example, what we have done is right, and we should be proud of our stance on Ukraine. I am very proud of that and of the fact that many Ukrainians now call Scotland their home, including many in Coatbridge. Of course, there are other examples of the UK and Scotland taking an international stance on war. However, it seems to me that, to the UK Government and other Governments of the world, the children and people of Gaza are second-class citizens.

What do we tell our kids about what we have done at this point in history? Pauline McNeill said it much better than I can: this is a pivotal moment and an issue for everyone of our generation. It is absolutely shocking that our kids and young people are watching the scenes unfold on TV, as is everyone else. What are politicians doing? There must be a ceasefire now. Fighting must end on all sides. A two-state solution must be found, and the state of Palestine must be recognised.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

As colleagues have done, I thank Ivan McKee for bringing the debate to the Parliament, and I thank Kaukab Stewart for the work that she did on the issue before her appointment as a minister.

I congratulate those who peacefully protested outside the Parliament building last night and those who took direct action to try to obstruct the arrival of Israel’s arms dealers to this nation’s Parliament while the nation of Israel and the military forces that are armed by those companies are conducting a campaign of genocide in Gaza. The real shame at the building last night was that a wine reception for arms dealers went ahead during a genocide.

Is there any doubt now that it is a genocide? More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 12,500 children. We know that that number is an undercount, because the reality is that the vast majority of those who have been reported as missing are dead under the rubble—that is why they are unaccounted for.

I want to read from an article in the

Los Angeles Times by American surgeon Dr Irfan Galaria, who spent time in Gaza in recent weeks. He said:

“I stopped keeping track of how many new orphans I had operated on. After surgery they would be filed somewhere in the hospital, I’m unsure of who will take care of them or how they will survive. On one occasion, a handful of children, all about ages 5 to 8, were carried to the emergency room by their parents. All had single sniper shots to the head. These families were returning to their homes in Khan Yunis, about 2.5 miles away from the hospital, after Israeli tanks had withdrawn. But the snipers apparently stayed behind. None of these children survived.”

The Hamas attack on 7 October was horrific. It was evil and unjustifiable. Members will remember that, in the days after, a lot of attention was paid not to the very real stories of horror from that day but to a false story of 40 babies being murdered in a kibbutz. I note that many of the news organisations that reported that story are silent about the actual massacre—the verified massacre—of children and the deliberate slaughter and execution of toddlers and babies taking place in Gaza, even when it is recorded on video. Children are having their limbs amputated and women are giving birth by caesarean section without anaesthetic, because Israel is blocking medical supplies from getting in.

Gazans are being collectively punished, which is a war crime—we all know that it is a war crime. The shameful events in Westminster last night put the whole country to shame, because one party refused to acknowledge that the use of the phrase “collective punishment” was appropriate. Attempts to bully and threaten the Speaker of the House of Commons to derail a ceasefire debate put the UK to shame. While that farce was taking place, Israel was still bombing Rafah—a refugee camp containing 1.5 million innocent people.

These questions were asked. Why does the UK’s position matter? Why do debates such as those in the House of Commons last night and here today matter? They matter because the UK arms Israel, gives political support to Israel and blocks Israel from being held to account at the United Nations. No one looks back at the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa and claims that it was of no consequence, and nobody will look back at the international campaign of solidarity with the people of Palestine and say the same thing.

We can make a direct impact in Scotland. Instead of inviting arms dealers to wine receptions, we should divest them of all public funds, including our pension funds. We should ban every company that is complicit in the occupation from receiving a public grant or contract. The First Minister agreed to that in principle in December, and we need to see progress.

We need an immediate and permanent ceasefire. We need the release of all Israeli and Palestinian hostages, including the children who are held in Israel’s jails. We need Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders and end the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the west bank. That is what we need for a lasting peace.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

Since the motion was lodged, the situation in Gaza has worsened significantly. The daily death rate in Gaza is higher than in any other major 21st century conflict. More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 12,300 children, and 69,000 have been injured since 7 October 2023. Those numbers do not include the thousands of people who are still missing under the rubble and collapsed buildings.

The Israeli air force has reported that it has struck 30,000 of what it has identified as Hamas targets in Gaza since its offensive began. Those strikes have completely destroyed 70,000 housing units and damaged 290,000 more, with 392 education facilities, 11 bakeries, 123 ambulances, three churches and 184 mosques reported to have been completely or partially destroyed.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported that not a single hospital in the Gaza strip is fully functioning. As a result of the lack of functioning healthcare, more than 200,000 cases of acute respiratory infections and more than 500,000 cases of communicable diseases have been recorded. Supplies of food, proper sanitation and clean water are now seriously insufficient.

Just last month, the IPC warned about serious food security concerns. It said that 2.2 million people are now at imminent risk of famine, with 378,000 of them designated at phase 5, which means an extreme lack of food, starvation and the exhaustion of coping capabilities.

Israel has the right to protect its citizens, but it also has a responsibility to abide by international law and to minimise the number of civilian casualties. The situation in Gaza has gone far beyond a justifiable response to the attacks on 7 October.

The collective punishment of civilians is never the answer. Israel’s war cabinet has now warned that, if the remaining hostages are not released by the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, it will broaden its offensive in southern Gaza and push into the city of Rafah.

The Rafah crossing to Egypt remains one of the only possible routes out of Gaza. Rafah is currently home to more than a million Gazan civilians who have been displaced and have fled there to seek shelter. If a ground invasion takes place, the death toll could be unimaginable.

An immediate and lasting ceasefire is now imperative. That means diplomatic mediation to ensure a lasting agreement and a permanent two-state solution, an end to rocket fire both in and out of Gaza, immediate humanitarian aid into Gaza and the immediate release of all hostages.

The fighting must stop now, before we are looking at the complete annihilation of Gaza and its civilians. Ceasefire now.

Photo of Marie McNair Marie McNair Scottish National Party

W e need an immediate ceasefire and an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

As a forward-thinking and compassionate nation, we cannot stand by while an obvious genocide happens. The killing of innocent civilians and the brutal slaughter of children must end. The civilian death toll—which stands at around 30,000 people in Gaza, more than 1,000 people in Israel, and more than 300 in the West Bank—is rising daily. The only way to end the suffering is an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages and those who have been detained without charge. The relentless suffering that is being faced by the people of Gaza has been weighing on the hearts and minds of so many across the country.

Two days ago, Andrew Gilmour, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights from 2016 to 2019, said:

“Israel’s onslaught against Gaza is probably the highest kill rate of any military killing anywhere since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.”

I have joined thousands on the streets to protest and call for an immediate ceasefire, an end to collective punishment and an end to illegal occupation. I am glad to see that, since that, and with the pressure from the Scottish National Party, the new Labour Party has backed calls for a ceasefire—at least of a sort. External pressure does more for Labour at the moment than what is enshrined in its internal principles.

The Tories and the Labour Party made a devastating mistake by opposing a ceasefire in November. Lives have been lost and the death toll has since risen enormously. Their failure to back calls for a ceasefire earlier will be remembered in the history books with their names on it. Yesterday in Westminster, new Labour’s position was appalling. The new Labour cabal came together to deny a motion that called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the collective punishment of Palestinian people.

“Newsnight” journalist Nicholas Watt said that the House of Commons speaker was left in “no doubt” that new Labour would “bring him down” after the general election unless he allowed a weak new Labour amendment on Gaza. The new Labour junior deputy speaker, Rosie Winterton, was then deployed to defend the indefensible. Like most Labour stitch-ups, it ended in disaster and humiliation, but it was still cheered on by some lapsed Corbynistas in the Parliament who want to be chummed with the arms industry that provides weapons to Israel.

Most of us have never experienced anything close to the level of horror in Gaza, so comments from Dr Salim Ghayyda have stuck with me. Dr Ghayyda grew up in Gaza and he has family there. He now works as a consultant paediatrician in Inverness.

When discussing his family, he said;

“The stories of immense suffering I hear from them every day. Every part of their life turns into an astonishing amount of suffering. There is nothing in their life that you could consider a life, actually. Water is contaminated and they eat one meal a day. The number of children killed is around 12,000 to 14,000. Do you know how many children there are in Inverness? 14,000. Imagine we, the Scottish people, wake up one day and all the children in Inverness have been killed. This is what happened to the children in Gaza. Stop. Enough is enough. Stop this genocide, please.”

Those comments are terrifying. This perpetual cycle of violence has been going on for far too long. We either call for the killing to end or we sit by and let the death total escalate. History will judge us all on that. We need an immediate ceasefire and an end to the collective punishment.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I thank Ivan McKee for leading the debate. I say to Marie McNair that we are here with power borrowed from the people. We are here with a chance to make a difference, to do the right thing and to do the right thing by humanity. What we are debating today is not an electoral calculation but a profoundly moral question. That is also why I say to the Government that it cannot vote in favour of a ceasefire and condemn collective punishment and continue to fund the firms in Scotland that are arming the Israeli Government. International law must apply to all. Supplying arms to a country that is in breach of international law is itself a breach of international law. Why is it so easy to supply a state with weapons but so difficult to supply starving children with food and injured people with medicines?

It is my deepest conviction that all that the people of Israel and Palestine want is the chance to live in peace. In the horror of this war, all that the people of Gaza want is to live. They want their children to live and they want to live free.

We condemn the action of Hamas on 7 October. I do not support Hamas. I want peace. I want the return of all hostages. When we call for a ceasefire, we are calling for a ceasefire on both sides. But history did not start on 7 October. The story of the Palestinian people is a story of injustice, of forced dispossession, of forced displacement, of forced dispersal and of forced disinheritance. Today, once again, innocent people, including thousands upon thousands of children, are being punished for a crime that they did not commit.

There is a deep revulsion against what is happening, the terror of what is happening, the criminality of what is happening and the morality of the slaughter of innocents, including children. That is why it would be a betrayal to remain silent. That is why the calls that we have heard since October for pauses or de-escalation are tantamount to indecision at best and to compliance with the reign of violence that has so far killed 30,000 people, 40 per cent of whom are children, at worst.

As the Palestinian people are once again being told to flee their homes, we should heed the words of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who wrote:

“Where should we go after the last frontiers?

Where should the birds fly after the last sky?”

To speak out as a member of the Parliament is not an act of protest but the exercise of power. It is to show political and moral leadership. It is to stand up for hope in place of fear. It is to be realistic, because it is to be realistic to want a change from this existing reality to a new one. That is why many of us are here. That is what I am here to support. Justice for humanity. An end to the illegal occupation. Freedom for Palestine. The triumph of peace over war. Ceasefire, now.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

Last November, I said:

“I put on record my condemnation of the horrific, inhumane terrorist attack on Israelis that was carried out by Hamas on 7 October.”—[

Official Report

, 21 November 2023; c 39.]

Today, I reiterate that condemnation, and I add to it my condemnation of the horrific, inhumane actions that we have since witnessed unfolding against the innocent civilian population of Gaza. As I said in November, humanity defines human beings collectively, and collective punishment is, therefore, an act of inhumanity. We do not get to pick and choose which acts are humane or inhumane; if we wish to condemn one act of inhumanity, we must condemn all acts of inhumanity. To do otherwise is simply to debase ourselves as human beings.

Since then, the situation has only worsened and the suffering has only intensified. More than 29,000 Palestinians are dead, and more than 66,000 have been injured. Those figures might seem clinical to some, but I urge members to look beyond mere figures. More than two thirds of those who have been killed—more than 200 a day—are women and children. Families have been torn apart. Of those who have been injured, there are children who are traumatised for life, their limbs amputated without pain relief, left screaming in the darkness for hours without end. We must condemn that too. We must speak as one on the need to end that inhumanity.

Yesterday, we witnessed the House of Commons descend into chaos when debating the issue. Today, please let us speak with one voice—a voice that echoes and amplifies the overwhelming view of the international community, of the world. That voice says, “Enough is enough.”

The time for a comprehensive ceasefire and a credible peace process is now. Let us speak with one voice for those who are suffering, but let us not forget that we are also a voice for our constituents. It saddens me to listen to young people who are affected by what they hear and see happening in Gaza, but who feel powerless and inexpert, and unable to speak out, and it saddens me to see the mental distress that that causes them.

In that respect, education about the history and the seeds of today’s conflicts is invaluable. In reading over the material for the debate that was prepared by the Scottish Parliament information centre, which I thank, I was heartened to see an overview of the history of the land front and centre. That gives us context, knowledge and understanding.

Today, as new reports show that around 90 per cent of Gaza’s children under the age of two are malnourished or worse, and as starvation looms for many more, as the relentless bombing continues day and night, and as the spectre looms of a ground invasion of Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering in fear for their lives, there seems to be little hope. However, let us speak as one and offer hope for tomorrow.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

I thank Ivan McKee for bringing this vital debate to the chamber, for his work in this area and for his kind comments on the work that members on all sides have done together across the chamber.

When all around us is war and the lust for war, it is important to be clear that we, in this Parliament, stand for peace. I do not need to reiterate the sheer number of needless deaths in this conflict or the plight of people who have been taken hostage or tortured. In my contribution, I will, as I have done previously, highlight a terrifying reality that is often left unmentioned by the media: the disgraceful number of pregnant women who have lost the children that they were carrying before or shortly after their birth, and who have, in many cases, simply been prevented from having access to the necessities of childbirth.

There are about 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, and 40 per cent of those pregnancies have been classed as high risk. Nevertheless, 180 women still give birth daily—can you imagine? Despite the situation, they must carry a child while being exposed to constant bombing and try to give it adequate nutrition in a country that is being starved to death. Can any of us even begin to imagine what that is like? Can we imagine what it is like not to have clean water to hydrate ourselves or to clean and wash our newborn baby?

As the International Court of Justice noted in its recent order, under international law, that is illegal and Israel must stop doing it. Nevertheless, since that ruling in January, reports of exactly the same actions have come out. I cannot adequately explain how I feel about that. How must the families feel? They must be absolutely terrified. To carry a child can be a worrisome experience at the best of times, but to be doing so in a war zone, and to realise that no one is coming to help you, is utterly unimaginable.

As a citizen of one of the most powerful countries in the world, I feel desperately ashamed that weapons that are funded from the UK and, no doubt, manufactured in Scotland have been used to perpetuate that. No amount of GDP is worth being involved in that.

I want to be clear that the time for peace came long ago. The situation has gone well past the point of self-defence, and the leadership of both Hamas and Israel are engaged in a fatal battle to the death that will spill further across the region, which is, of course, a worry. The violence must stop. We must not remain silent. We must have an immediate ceasefire.

I thank members for the opportunity to speak and to raise those voices. I am glad that, on the whole, we have had a constructive tone in the chamber today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I invite Kaukab Stewart to respond to the debate.

Photo of Kaukab Stewart Kaukab Stewart Scottish National Party

I thank Ivan McKee for securing the debate. The conflict in Gaza is a human tragedy, and it is important that the Parliament’s voice is heard. The Scottish Government has been consistent in condemning the abhorrent terrorist actions of Hamas, whose vile and merciless attacks on 7 October represented the single worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and in calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire by all sides in Israel and Gaza. A ceasefire is the only way that we can halt the catastrophic human suffering in Gaza and allow hostages to be released. I repeat the Scottish Government’s demands for Hamas to release immediately and unconditionally all hostages and to cease all missile attacks against Israel.

Hamas can have no future in Gaza. The cycle of violence must end. The bombs and rockets must stop. Humanitarian and medical facilities must be protected, and civilians, wherever they are, must be given unrestricted access to the basic necessities of life. Israel, like any other country, has the right to protect itself and its citizens from terror. However, in exercising its right to defend itself, Israel must abide by international humanitarian law.

The First Minister has urged the UK Government to accept that the time has come to speak out forcefully and make it clear that Israel’s military action has gone way beyond a legitimate response to the appalling attacks of 7 October. The Scottish Government respects international norms and the rule of law. It is therefore correct that any potential breach of international law, including the crime of genocide, should be investigated by the appropriate authorities and international bodies. The interim ruling of the International Court of Justice on 26 July was clear: the killing and destruction in Gaza must stop, urgent humanitarian assistance must be provided to prevent more suffering, and hostages must be released immediately.

The Scottish Government’s position is consistent with that of the vast majority of the international community. In late October, the United Nations General Assembly voted for a resolution that demanded

“an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities”.

In December, a much larger majority of the General Assembly voted for another resolution that demanded “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, along with

“the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access”.

Just last week, the Prime Ministers of our Commonwealth partners Australia, New Zealand and Canada issued a rare joint statement calling for “An immediate humanitarian ceasefire” and for hostages to be released. That statement was inspired by increasing indications that Israel is planning a full-scale assault against Rafah, which, until the past few weeks, has been a relatively safe place for displaced Gazans as the brutal conflict has progressed.

The President of the United States has reportedly urged Prime Minister Netanyahu not to launch a military operation in Rafah without a credible and executable plan to protect civilians. Since then, without any mention of how civilians—most of whom have lost their homes—are to be protected, we have heard the chilling warning from Israeli ministers that such an offensive will take place before Ramadan unless hostages are released.

I pay tribute to those who have spoken in the debate. It has been a respectful and serious debate. I thank Ivan McKee, Pauline McNeill and Richard Leonard, who outlined effectively the historical context in which the conflict lies, for the emotional and heartfelt contributions that they made.

I reassure Jackson Carlaw that, in my opinion, a political intervention, not a military intervention, will bring the situation to an end. Neil Bibby spoke of de-escalation, which is essential, and I have called for it myself. John Mason was correct to point at the international community for not trying harder for peace talks over the years.

I pay tribute to Foysol Choudhury, Pauline McNeill and Carol Mochan, among other members, who mentioned the devastating impact on human life, birth and death, as well as the infrastructure that is being devastated across the region.

I thank Ross Greer for highlighting my previous work on the issue, for his commitment and for pointing out the historical context.

Several members were right to highlight that collective punishment of innocent civilians is unacceptable. I acknowledge Marie McNair, who mentioned marching alongside thousands of people, as have many colleagues in the chamber. The people are on the streets. We need to make sure that we are on the right side of history and that we reflect the views of the people. Members have said that we are speaking for our constituents, and Bill Kidd rightly said that the Parliament should speak with one voice as we go towards a future that has hope.

We must recognise the deep trauma that the Israeli people have suffered as a result of the 7 October attacks and acknowledge that the Jewish communities globally, including those in Scotland, feel that trauma. The conflicts in the middle east do not justify racial or religious hatred of any kind. In recent weeks, we have seen a shocking global increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia. I emphasise that there is no place in Scotland for such behaviour. The Scottish Government is committed to building supportive and safe communities where divisive narratives will not resonate. We will continue to engage closely with our communities across Scotland to provide vital reassurance and ensure that nobody feels marginalised.

I am pleased that the House of Commons has finally agreed to call for an immediate ceasefire, which the Scottish Government has consistently done for months. Enough is enough.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes the debate.

13:53 Meeting suspended.

14:01 On resuming—