Gaza: Humanitarian Situation - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 2:38 pm ar 8 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 2:38, 8 Chwefror 2024

I very much welcome the statement from the Government Chief Whip.

I declare that I am the honorary president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and remind the House of my interests in the register. I am pleased that this debate has received so much interest. It is a conflict that matters to millions of people here in the UK and around the world.

The scale of the Hamas attack and the number of killings in a single day were truly shocking. There has been global condemnation of and revulsion at the events of 7 October, when more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals in Israel were killed. An estimated 240 people were taken prisoner. To date, at least 105 of those hostages have been released by Hamas during a six-day ceasefire.

Since that day, Israel has killed at least 20 times that number and more than 200 times as many children. The latest figures show that Israeli attacks have killed approximately 27,500 Gazans in 17 weeks. That is 15 times the rate of killing of civilians in Ukraine over 18 months.

The UN says that, since the start of the war, about 100,000 people in Gaza have been killed, injured or are missing as Israel continues to press what has become one of the most destructive military campaigns in modern history. Some 70% of those killed have been women and children. Although Israel says it avoids civilian casualties, 12,000 children have been killed—that is 136 children killed per day. Nearly 85% of the total population of Gaza have been forced to leave their homes. Many of these people have been forced to move to seek new shelter several times. Exhausted men, women and children have walked for many miles past dead bodies lying in the street. Shocking photos of starving dogs and cats scavenging dead bodies have gone around the world. Since 7 October, more than 10 children per day on average have lost one or more of their limbs, according to Save The Children, and more than 1,000 children have had one or both legs amputated. Many of these operations on children were done without anaesthetic.

The healthcare system is crippled, there are severe shortages of doctors and nurses and there is a blockade on vital medical supplies such as anaesthesia and antibiotics. The healthcare infrastructure has been all but destroyed. Almost all the hospitals in northern Gaza have been shelled, besieged or occupied by Israeli forces, who are also cutting off supplies of fuel, water, electricity and food. The UN’s assessment is that one-quarter of the total population is suffering catastrophic famine—I would appreciate not being heckled.

Eighty per cent of people worldwide currently in that category are from Gaza. This is a man-made famine. The Israeli Government are using the starvation of civilians as a weapon of war, which is a war crime, as Human Rights Watch has documented. The naval blockade could easily be lifted to allow aid to be shipped in. Hundreds of trucks of aid and food wait in Egypt but are prevented from entering while people nearby are starving.

Children and babies make up half of Gaza’s population. Some 26,000 children have lost one or both parents. Dr Tanya Haj-Hassan, who works with Doctors Without Borders, told BBC News:

“There’s an acronym that’s unique to the Gaza Strip, it’s WCNSF—wounded child no surviving family—and it’s not used infrequently”.

Yesterday, we saw reports and footage of snipers positioned outside Nasser Hospital, which thousands of starving and thirsty people sheltering in a nearby school are trying to reach to get water. A young woman was shot dead yesterday trying to get water. These are truly sadistic crimes. Not one person can ever justify them, and they are nothing to do with eliminating Hamas.

Israel, recognised as the occupying power, has a legal obligation to provide for the well-being of those under its occupation. Some have disputed the State of Israel’s occupation prior to 7 October, but nowhere could be more occupied than Gaza right now. Will the Minister make clear that Gaza is not Israeli sovereign territory, that Israel is the occupying power and that, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, as the occupying power, it has clear, explicit, legal obligations that it is legally bound to meet for the welfare of 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza? This means it has to provide essential services, including food, water and healthcare. Will the Minister say whether the UK Government accept this and whether that has been conveyed to the Israeli Government recently? Will the UK Government increase pressure on Israel to comply with international humanitarian law in terms of the provision of humanitarian assistance and the conduct of hostilities? Will they publicly support the work of the International Criminal Court across all situations under its jurisdiction, including the ongoing investigation into serious crimes committed by all parties in and from Palestine?

On the allegations around UNRWA, have the UK Government been given Israel’s dossier of allegations? Have the Government requested what evidence Israel has, as opposed to allegations? Will the Government reverse their decision to temporarily pause funding to UNRWA and state clearly that they will continue to fund the agency as it investigates the serious allegations brought by the Israeli Government? Will they also state their support for UNRWA’s essential role in delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza?

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was quoted as saying:

“We are trying to separate the Palestinian people from the terrorists that have been running their government in Gaza and the way to do that is to say there is a better” way if they choose it. He has also stated his intent on recognising a Palestinian state. I agree, as many do. There is clearly no military solution; indeed, it is clear that this catastrophic war will not bring peace or security to either Israel or the Palestinian people.

Mr Netanyahu has reportedly just rejected a ceasefire deal that would have seen the release of hostages. He claims he wants to go for full victory, which is within reach—apparently, within months. He, along with his far-right coalition Government and his ambassador to the United Kingdom, have made it clear they do not support a two-state solution, making Israel at complete odds with the United States, the UK and the United Nations, as well as Saudi Arabia and all the key players in the region.

This war is destabilising the whole Middle East region, and the non-western world sees things very differently than we do here, in relative safety. They are seeing that the apparent international human rights we in the West have universally advocated do not appear to be universal.

What we now need, from the United Kingdom perspective, is an immediate ceasefire, with mutual exchange of hostages and a staggered Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. A massive international effort would be needed to rebuild Gaza, which now resembles closely the zone of the earthquake in Turkey, which we have just seen the anniversary of. There should be full accountability under international humanitarian law for all violators.

Will the UK increase its diplomatic pressure on Israel, and publicly and privately call on it to end the unlawful attacks on hospitals and ambulances? We should also condemn Israel’s cutting-off of essential items as collective punishment and use of starvation as a weapon of war.

The Hamas leaders of today were once children in refugee camps. What do we think the thousands of children and young people who have just seen their entire families wiped out—their mothers and siblings blown to pieces—will become without some hope of a future? I believe that the majority of people in this country want a ceasefire and peace, as do the people in the region. The Palestinian people in Gaza do not have months left to survive this brutal conflict. The Israeli people deserve and need peace and security, along with the Palestinians.