[Mr. Greg Pope in the Chair] — Global Security (Middle East)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 24th January 2008.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 3:22 pm, 24th January 2008

In view of the number of hon. Members who want to speak and the fact that we are trying to finish at 5 o'clock, I shall be brief. I want to talk mainly about the situation in Gaza and relations with Israel. I commend the Committee for its report and the Chairman for his presentation of it to the House. I have been to Israel and Palestine on five occasions, and on three of them, I have been to Gaza. I have been to all parts of Gaza at various times. Each time I go, I think that the situation is bad, and when I return, it seems worse. From reports now, it is becoming dire.

The first occasion when I visited was a time of, retrospectively, enormous hope. That was post-Oslo. The airport had been built and people were thinking about opening it. When I visited there were a large number of school children saying, "This is the Palestine of the future." There was great hope and a large amount of British aid was going in. I was very proud of that. We were doing a lot to help, things were going on, and the situation looked hopeful.

On the second occasion, I visited with my hon. Friend Richard Burden, who will speak later as chairman of the all-party group on Palestine. We met a number of people, including representatives of Hamas, and had discussions. Without serious political engagement with the process going on in Gaza, we felt that the result would be the bunker mentality of support for Hamas against anyone else, because there was nowhere else to go. I think that I am being fair in saying that.

On my third visit, I was a UN-accredited election observer for the presidential election. I chose to go to Gaza and Rafah. Everyone recommended that I should not make that choice and not go to Rafah, but sometimes it is a good idea not to take advice. I spent hours, with UN accreditation, arguing my way through the border crossing at Erez. The best part of two days was spent arguing our way down to Rafah, where we stayed for the election itself. It was painstakingly carried out. Unbelievable attention was paid to the minutiae of the election procedures. There could be nothing wrong with the process whatever. The only thing that went wrong, as far as I could see, was that Israeli border guards decided to fire at the polling station during the day, while wholly innocent civilians were in there attempting to exercise their right to cast a vote.

I managed to visit some outlying polling stations, which, again, took hours to get to, and it was exactly the same story. Later in the evening, I was back in Gaza city, where there were riot-like conditions, but the officials, to their credit, managed to contain them, because they wanted to ensure that the election proceeded properly. I spent a lot of time talking to the mental health group in Gaza, which I know very well. The group told me that 75 per cent. of the population of Gaza are medically depressed by their situation. That was two years ago.

The situation now is unbelievable. Sir John Stanley described it extremely well. The population of Gaza are in prison—a prison of mediaeval mentality, created by Israel—and the effect is not to make the people love Israel, but to make them opposed to Israel in every way. Probably, that has enhanced rather than reduced support for Hamas. It is fairly obvious that if people are treated in that way they will not love their captor; they hate their captor even more. That is what has happened, before our eyes.

Can it be conscionable that, in this day and age, one state is allowed to imprison more than 1 million people, deny them medical aid, food, energy and the right to travel and work, and force their businesses into receivership, or whatever the equivalent is in Gaza now? Can there be surprise when people manage to bomb their way through the wall to Egypt to get basic supplies, simply to survive? There is a humanitarian crisis, which we know about because satellite TV reports it, but apparently, there is little we can do about it.