Gaza — [Mr Jim Hood in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 25 February 2015.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:22, 25 February 2015

I have taken part in probably most of the debates on Israel and Palestine in the past 10 years. Some have been uplifting, such as the one on Palestinian recognition introduced recently by my hon. Friend Grahame M. Morris; some have been quite testy, because there are strong views on the subject; and some have been quite constructive, particularly when they were about aid. I have no pleasure in saying that I found today’s debate to be premised on an entirely cynical proposition, and quite disrespectful of the human rights of the Palestinian people. Listening to hon. Members on either side saying that Israel has kept Gaza supplied, I think people must be living in a parallel world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Easington referred to the delegation from the General Union of Palestinian Students, some of whom come originally from Gaza.

They came here to acknowledge the contribution made by Members of this House to the recognition of a Palestinian state, and told us their personal stories, which included that of a young man who could not see his dying father because, like the 30,000 people trapped and waiting to go in at the moment, he could not get into Gaza. Almost certainly his father died because he could not be given the aid he wanted. That is a common story.

Despite the encouragement of my hon. Friend Mr McCann, I am not going to stop talking about the body count. That is not because I do not regret every Israeli death just as much as every Palestinian one; but the fact that 15,049 Palestinian and four Israeli civilians died has significance, because of the disproportionality and because of the weapons used by Israel against Palestinians, consequent on the blockade. The bombing of schools full of refugees, the shelling of hospitals, the contamination of water supplies and the reduction of Gaza, such that according to the UN it will not be habitable by 2020, are factors that have not so far been mentioned in the debate.

Leading NGOs have commented on the situation. The United Nations Relief and Works agency says:

“You can’t punish freezing children because of the actions of armed groups.”

Amnesty International says the blockade

“is unlawful and should be lifted immediately and unconditionally i.e. it should not be contingent on any other possible processes, including demilitarisation.”

Oxfam says:

“Humanitarian assistance and reconstruction must be provided based on need and cannot be contingent upon political developments or demands, including the demilitarization of Palestinian armed groups.”

I ask hon. Members who support that proposition to reflect on what those organisations have said; on the fact that Israel has a responsibility, just as Hamas and other organisations do; on the fact that war crimes are committed by Israel and that collective punishment and the blockade of Gaza are major contributory factors to what we are dealing with; and on the fact that Israeli forces often, unprovoked, fire on people in the Gaza strip.

The blockade should be lifted now, under international law. That could be done, and supplies could go into Gaza with monitoring and verification to make sure that arms do not get in. An entirely false and unworkable premise has been put forward, as I am afraid its sponsors know. Let us have genuine dialogue and reconstruction. Let us prevent arms from going to Gaza; but let us not punish the children and civilians of Gaza for what is happening there.