Gaza (Humanitarian Situation)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 5th February 2014.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry The Second Church Estates Commissioner 2:30 pm, 5th February 2014

I entirely agree. Israel, the occupying power, does not seem prepared to allow people or exports to leave Gaza, and it seems equally unwilling to allow construction materials into Gaza. There appears to be an almost total ban on construction materials. There are strict controls even for international projects organised by the donor community: UNRWA can currently take forward only 12 of the 32 construction projects that it considers to be essential in Gaza. There is a need for new housing and to repair damage caused by the recent storms. Construction was one of the only industries in Gaza that used to be growing, and it once employed 20,000 people, but now practically no construction is taking place. The present humanitarian crisis seems to affect every aspect of Gaza. People appear not to be getting permits to travel to hospital. For the past two years there have been serious shortages of medical supplies and drugs, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 30% to 50% of drugs are at zero stock.

Gazan fishermen and farmers are also having a tough time. Fisherman are allowed to fish up to 6 nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline, but the main fish stocks are 8 nautical miles from the shore and fishing in nearer waters provides no livelihoods. There have been cases of fisherman being shot or their boats being confiscated. The reality is that 95% of Gazan fishermen are now dependent on aid. No new people are fishing, because it is impossible to make a living.

Farmers face the difficulty that there is no clarity about the width of the buffer zone between Gaza and the Israeli border. Officially, it would seem to be 100 metres, but Palestinians have been shot up to 300 metres from the border, and I am even told that one was shot 1 km from the border. Farmers are not clear about whether and where it is safe for them to work and till their land. That has a cumulative effect, because if agricultural land is not properly worked it has little chance of recovery. The hours that farmers can work are also restricted to between 7 am and 3 pm. Many farmers in Gaza, as elsewhere in the world, want to get up at first light—5 am—to work their fields.

I think it is particularly tragic that Gaza, as part of Palestine as well as of Israel, has the potential to benefit from considerable natural gas resources and reserves. There is considerable natural gas in the Gaza marine field. Instead of having to rely on diesel, Gaza could run its energy and water systems on natural gas. Unsurprisingly, the natural gas discussions between Israel and the Palestinians have been complex and appear to be getting nowhere.

Gaza is part of the middle east peace negotiations, and for there to be a viable two-state solution, there must be a viable Palestine. To have a viable Palestine,

Gaza must be part of Palestine and a viable part of a Palestinian state. It cannot be right, in the 21st century, that people are suffering as they are. As the UN General Assembly mission concluded, under international law

“collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza is not lawful in any circumstances.”

Occupation clearly harms those who are occupied, but I would also suggest that long-term occupation is not in the best interests of the occupiers.

I noticed that in this week’s Spectator, Sam Kiley, the foreign affairs editor of Sky News, observes that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has

“repeatedly insisted that if there isn’t a deal this year that establishes an independent Palestinian state, then Israel’s own future as both a Jewish state and a democracy is in doubt. If there’s no two-state solution, then Israel will face international isolation as a pariah state that denies rights to up to 2.5 million Arabs.”

He goes on to observe that John Kerry

“has been more circumspect. Still, here’s what he told Israeli TV last year: ‘If we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimisation of Israel that’s been taking place on an international basis. I’ve got news for you: today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s.’”

Kiley reports that the US

“has been clear about what it would like to see: a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. And it has set a deadline for talks to produce something: April this year.”