Israel and Palestine — [Sir Mark Hendrick in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall am 4:30 pm ar 11 Rhagfyr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 4:30, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered e-petitions 648225, 648383 and 648292 relating to Israel and Palestine.

It is a great accomplishment to reach the threshold of over 100,000 signatures for a petition to be considered for debate. I wish to congratulate the petitioners—Husnain Iqbal, Shihab Osmani and Ibnan Ali—who are in the Public Gallery, for starting the petitions that we are debating. From my meetings with the petitioners, I am aware that this is the first time that they have used our e-petition system. I hope that they will see that their engagement with Parliament has led to today’s debate and that they are pleased with the discussion.

Since the sickening Hamas terror attack on 7 October, we have all been gripped by the unfolding tragedy: the grief of those who have lost family members who were among the more than 1,200 killed in the terrorist attack, and the civilians, many of whom are children, who have been displaced, injured and killed in Gaza. The humanitarian crisis deepens—an estimated 17,700 people have lost their lives in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry—and so this debate is timely and important. We will consider how the UK should respond immediately to the humanitarian need and how it should begin to look to building a sustainable peace.

Before I was elected to this House, I had the privilege of visiting Israel and the occupied west bank. Although I did not visit Gaza, I was able to visit Jerusalem. I was inspired by the Palestinian and Israeli citizens I met, who are dedicated to working to build peace. Just as those inspiring individuals worked and continue to work for peace, during this debate, a Parliamentarians for Peace candlelit vigil will be held just outside this place, in New Palace Yard. That event will aim to promote peace and a recognition of our common humanity, as well as marking international Human Rights Day—that was yesterday, 10 December—and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights being adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. I know that many colleagues wanted to take part in this debate and in the Parliamentarians for Peace vigil. Indeed, with the devastating loss of life in the middle east, Ukraine and other wars across the world, we must use our positions as elected representatives of the people to strengthen calls for peace.

This debate must begin by roundly condemning the brutal Hamas terrorist attack. We hold the family and friends of the more than 1,200 who have been killed, and the estimated 138 who remain hostages, in our thoughts and prayers. We also remember all those who have lost loved ones in the conflict and stand with all those who feel threatened and unsafe in the UK, because of the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia resulting from events in the middle east. The petitioners have asked me to remind the House that, when we approach this conflict, we must absolutely condemn the terror attack, but must also remember that the history of the conflict did not begin on 7 October. That means that the UK has a particular role to play, given its historic part in the Balfour declaration.

The debate today concerns three petitions. The first calls for the UK to remain neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict and withdraw support for Israel. The second urges the Israeli Government to allow fuel, electricity and food into Gaza. The third calls on the Government to seek a ceasefire and an end to Israeli occupation in the west bank and Gaza strip.

I turn to the position of the Government and other petitioners. Although the petitions each call for different actions, they share a call for the protection of lives, British humanitarian support and the upholding of international law. In the wake of the terrorist attack and Israel’s military response, the Government have defended Israel’s right to self-defence in line with international law, have provided aid to Israel and significantly increased aid to Palestine, have reiterated a commitment to a two-state solution, and—in the strongest words—condemned the west bank settlements.

I want to see a lasting peace in Israel and in Palestine. The first step to building peace is the laying down of weapons. That is why I voted for a ceasefire, out of concern for the dire humanitarian situation for the people of Palestine, particularly the vulnerable, who are caught up in the crossfire of this conflict.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Llafur, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I congratulate my hon. Friend on making such a powerful speech. Was she as disappointed as I was on Friday when the United Nations Security Council failed to support a ceasefire, in particular as the result of the UK abstaining on that matter and not providing the support that was needed for that resolution?

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and for the work she is doing on the Parliamentarians for Peace vigil that will happen in about 25 minutes. I share her disappointment at the outcome of that vote.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Ceidwadwyr, Peterborough

I appreciate the hon. Member giving way. She talked about her support for a ceasefire. Does she recognise, as I do, that the temporary truce that we have recently seen in Gaza led to about 80 hostages being released, to an end to the bombings, and to hundreds, if not thousands, of lives being saved? We gave peace a chance. Does she agree that the best way to secure a lasting peace settlement and an end to innocent lives being lost in both Gaza and Israel is the push for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza?

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I share the feelings that he has just expressed. In fact, he pre-empts the contribution that I was about to make, which is that the temporary ceasefire last week was a brief respite for the 1.8 million people displaced in Gaza, and therefore it was that opportunity for aid provision to come in and for the release of hostages. However, unless there is a permanent ceasefire, we will never find a permanent peace.

There is no doubt that it was incredibly moving to see the videos of families being reunited, and it is impossible to imagine the fear and the worry of the families of those who remain hostages. However, as Israel continues to seek to destroy the terrorists Hamas, the fear and threat of injury and death continue. The temporary ceasefire was merely a brief respite and as the conflict continues, the needs of the displaced and injured people in Gaza are increasing. We need to address that through aid and through diplomacy.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

On that point about moving past the temporary truce, we are now 10 days on from that and it occurs to me—I wonder whether my hon. Friend concurs—that there is no clear strategy from Government as to how we, as the UK, can help to prevent the suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians and end the violence we are all witnessing. To that end, does she share my hope that when the Minister responds to the debate, he will set out exactly what the Government are doing with international partners now to break what seems to have become a diplomatic stalemate following the truce, and bring about the permanent ceasefire that is surely the only way to bring this devastating situation to an end?

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Order. As I said before, this is quite a long debate, but that being said we have a lot of people here. Can we keep interventions brief? Thank you.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee

Thank you, Sir Mark, and I hope, as my hon. Friend Andrew Western does, that the Minister can respond with more details of the commitments the Government are planning to make in order to work with the international community to bring about that lasting peace.

I say that because we must look to the future and any solution to this conflict must be a solution that respects the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians, and establishes a statehood solution that includes ending the intolerable settlements in the west bank.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland)

To go back to the question of neutrality, there may have been a position some years ago whereby the United Kingdom Government could have said that they were taking a neutral and balanced position on the conflict in the middle east, but is it not the case that the result of last Friday’s vote at the United Nations now puts the United Kingdom as an outlier in world opinion—alone, with the United States of America—in not calling for a ceasefire? Does that not demonstrate the need for this petition to be recognised and for the United Kingdom to return to a position of neutrality rather than support for the war?

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee

I can see that the Minister has heard that intervention and I think that it is probably something that he might like to respond to my colleague on in his remarks.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Llafur, Manchester, Gorton

I add my congratulations to the petitioners. Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that it is unthinkable that the world can commemorate that significant day while denying Palestinian human rights? We are seeing thousands of civilians—men, women, children; doctors, journalists, poets—all being murdered by Israeli forces for no crime other than being Palestinian. Humanity cannot be applied selectively.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee

My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the 75th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, which was born out of a tragedy that was almost unspeakable in its scale. That is something that is probably at the forefront of all our minds, and certainly should be in this debate.

I take heed of your warning, Sir Mark, about many colleagues wanting to speak and will draw my remarks to a close so that we can hear from as many colleagues as possible, and as fully as possible, during this debate. As parliamentarians, we can never return the lives of those who have been lost, but we must use our positions as elected representatives to help to prevent further loss of life, by calling for peace and working to provide vital humanitarian aid. I look forward to hearing the contributions from colleagues today.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Order. I remind Members that if they wish to speak, they should bob—as many of you are doing now.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons) 4:42, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. May I say “Chag Hanukkah sameach” to you, as Jews celebrate Hanukkah at this time? But we are celebrating Hanukkah, which is of course the Festival of Lights, at a very dark time for Jews not only in this country but around the world. It would be remiss of me not to mention the protest that took place at the weekend, which again involved—from a minority, admittedly—gratuitous signs of antisemitism, which led to the Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive, Karen Pollock, again saying that the centre of London had become a no-go zone for Jewish people. No part of this country, of our democracy, should ever be a no-go zone for any community.

I think, as I look around in this debate on the three petitions, that I am the only person here who has visited the site of the pogroms that took place on—[Interruption.] Perhaps some others have been since. I will give way to Christian Wakeford if he wishes to intervene.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the hon. Gentleman—my hon. Friend in this instance. Just to correct the record, I was at a kibbutz, Kfar Aza, in February, seeing how tranquil and peaceful it was despite the proximity to Gaza, so I have seen that, and I am going out next month as well.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I meant since the events of 7 October. I am not sure whether anybody else has had the opportunity to spend time in the communities that were attacked in the most horrific way on 7 October and to spend time with the survivors and with the families of the hostages from those communities, so I will avail the House of my experience there this afternoon.

Let me come to the three petitions. Of course, in relation to the second petition, we all want to see humanitarian aid being facilitated and delivered into Gaza, so I have no issue with that petition—absolutely not. We all wish to see that. It would be helpful, of course, if Hamas did not steal a lot of the aid and misdirect it towards their terror network, but of course every effort should be put into that aid. However, in terms of the third petition, calling for a ceasefire, I find it incredible that we have people arguing that a ceasefire is achievable with Hamas, who, since 7 October, have made it absolutely clear that it is their intention to commit such atrocities again and again. There can be no ceasefire with Hamas—none whatever. Their intention, in their own charter, is to seek the annihilation of not just every Jew in Israel but every Jew on this planet. Let us not pretend for a moment that there is any credible option of a ceasefire with Hamas. That is a position, I am pleased to say, that both the Opposition Front Bench and my own Government’s Front Bench support.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Perhaps he can explain to us what his long-term objective is. Will the citizens of Gaza be bombed indefinitely until Hamas surrender?

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

The hon. Member has had his intervention. He does not get to shout from a sedentary position again; he gets to listen to the response. That is the polite way in which debates operate in this House.

It is a very clear position that Hamas must be degraded to such a point that they can have no further involvement in the governance of the Gaza strip. That is the position of this Government; it is the position of Governments across Europe; it is the position of the United States Government and of many others around the world.

When I visited Israel less than a month after the attacks took place, I went to the place where bodies were being identified. I saw those bodies, and I saw those body parts that were still awaiting identification. It was one of the most shocking and horrendous things that I have ever seen or have ever smelled.

I also visited Kibbutz Kfar Aza, which is a kibbutz that was founded by peaceniks—it was actually founded by Egyptian Jews. It is a community that was led by Ofir Libstein, who was a man known for his desire for peace and was in the process of trying to seek a joint-employment zone with Gaza so that Jews from Israel could work alongside Gazans. He was picked out specifically by Hamas and shot on his front doorstep. The scene in that kibbutz was just utterly horrendous.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

No, I will not give way at the moment. It was like something I have never seen and will never forget. We heard about and saw the most horrific destruction carried out by those terrorists. Women had their breasts sliced off. There were children who had their limbs sliced off in front of their parents. There were people butchered in the most horrific ways. Sir Mark, you can still see that destruction in that kibbutz, as you can in the kibbutzim across southern Israel, and you can still smell it. Such was the butchery and the savagery that the smell of the rotting blood and flesh is still there several weeks on. So I am not neutral when it comes to this conflict—not one bit.

As if the destruction in the kibbutzim were not bad enough, we, of course, had the appalling gender-based violence that was committed by Hamas terrorists on that day. Let us just consider some of that, particularly for young women who were attending the Nova music festival—a festival, ironically, for peace, of course. Some of the witness testimonies from there are truly shocking. I will read some of them for you, Sir Mark. “They had caught a young woman near a car and she was—”

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Order. There are many hon. Members wishing to speak, so I will introduce a time limit of five minutes.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

After I have spoken, presumably. I think I am the only Back Bencher speaking on the Government side, Sir Mark, so most of this debate will be dominated by the Opposition parties.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

There was another of your colleagues here who intervened but has now left. Having said that, you are partly correct.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

Thank you, Sir Mark. I thank you for your protection. People may not want to hear it, but it is important that these things are put on record, so that, when we are asked to take a neutral position on this, people know exactly what evil was wrought across Israel on 7 October and since—and that the people who did that intend to do it again.

I will start those quotes again:

“They had caught a young woman near a car and she was fighting back, not allowing them to strip her…They threw her to the ground and one of the terrorists took a shovel and beheaded her and her head rolled along the ground. I see that head” to this day.

“They sliced her breast and threw it on the street.”

“He penetrated her, and shot her in the head before he finished.”

“I saw this beautiful woman with the face of an angel and eight or ten of the fighters beating and raping her. She was screaming, ‘Stop it...I’m going to die anyway’. When they finished they were laughing and the last one shot her in the head.”

When there is such butchery and such horrors have been wrought on innocent people, I am certainly not going to take a neutral position.

The humanitarian pause was mentioned. Of course we all want humanitarian pauses, because we want all the hostages to be released. I think that we can all agree on that. It is important to record that those hostages were taken against their will from their homes; some of them are as young as 10 months old. We still do not know what has happened to the Bibas family, for example, and their cute 10-month-old, ginger-haired baby; we do not know whether he is alive or dead. Those who have come out so far have recounted examples of sexual violence. Eitan Yahalomi, who is 12 years old, was forced at gunpoint to watch the beheadings and the murder of people from his own community, and 77-year-old Margalit Mozes was denied access to medication while in the terror tunnels. They were denied any access to independent treatment, and children were marked by having their skin burned. That is what happened. That is what we are dealing with in this conflict.

We all want to see peace across the middle east. I want to see a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. I am proud to serve as patron of a charity that brings children from Gaza into Israel to receive life-saving treatment. We are all appalled by what we have seen and want an end to the violence, but I will not pretend for a moment to support the petitions or to take an independent, neutral position on the matter. I want Israel to succeed. I want Israel to succeed in defeating Hamas, because defeating Hamas is in the best interests of everybody in the region, not least the Palestinians living in Gaza, who themselves have suffered the most appalling abuse under that leadership.

It is great that people have engaged in the civic process of signing petitions, but there can be no ceasefire with Hamas, who have made it clear that they are not willing participants in that regard, and I will not pretend in any way, shape or form to urge the Government to support one. I hope the Minister will continue his strong support for Israel’s right to self-defence, for increased aid to the Palestinian people living in Gaza, and for efforts at a humanitarian pause, which we all wish to see, but Hamas must be defeated.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

There are lots of speakers, so I will introduce a five-minute limit. I know that the previous speaker spoke for longer than that, but, as he said, he is one of only a couple of speakers on the Government Benches, apart from the Minister, so I have tried to be fair. I call Alison Thewliss.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:53, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

Gosh, thank you very much, Sir Mark—it is much earlier than I was expecting to be called. I am glad to be here representing many of my constituents, over 2,600 of whom have written to me—more than on any other issue—to raise their concerns about the ongoing conflict in Gaza. They also signed the petitions in their hundreds, because they are deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict. There have been many demonstrations in my constituency to call for peace, for a two-state solution, and for the UK to take its role and responsibility seriously. As many of the people who have written to me have said, we can express our horror at Hamas’s atrocities on 7 October and the ongoing plight of the hostages, and we can also express our horror at the situation the Palestinians are facing now: dead and dying under the rubble, and dying for lack of food and water.

ActionAid has been in touch with me to express its concerns about the disproportionate impact on women—yes, the gender-based violence that was experienced at the hands of Hamas in their attack in Israel, but also the ongoing situation in Gaza, where women are disproportionately impacted by the violence. Rather movingly, Riham Jafari, the advocacy and communication co-ordinator at ActionAid, said:

“What use is a four-hour pause each day to hand communities bread in the morning before they are bombed in the afternoon? What use is a brief cessation in hostilities when hospital wards lie in ruins and when roads used to deliver medical supplies and food are destroyed? With over half of Gaza’s hospitals closing due to fuel shortages or constant bombardment, there will soon be nowhere to deliver medical supplies to at all. Without fuel in any aid packages, a humanitarian pause does nothing to repair Gaza’s destroyed health system or allow families to cook themselves a meal or power water to their homes to shower. While a humanitarian pause might offer a brief respite for a few days, it is nowhere near enough time to repair the damage to Gazan communities and their homes and lives.”

I could not agree more with that statement.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I associate myself with everything the hon. Lady has said so far. Is the problem with a pause not that pause means play, and play is not acceptable? That there are hospitals that are no longer functioning is the reason why I have lost a family member in this war. They were not bombarded; they needed a hospital and they could not get to it. They are still in Gaza City, and even if more aid were to be allowed through Rafah, it would not get to Gaza City. Is the issue here that, while we all condemn Hamas and we all want Hamas gone—frankly, if Hamas went it would be good for the region, not just for the Palestinians —what is happening to all these citizens of Palestine who have nothing to do with Hamas is only fuelling more insurgency, not less?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I point to the situation of Dima, a student at Glasgow University who worked for the World Health Organisation. Her life, her child’s life, and her family were lost to bombardment. She had done nothing wrong. She was doing her very best to support people, as are many medical professionals in Gaza, who are trying their very best to make sure that people are looked after in these most desperate of circumstances.

Photo of Amy Callaghan Amy Callaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

There are 350,000 people in Gaza suffering from infections. There are 46,000 who are injured and cannot be treated. Procedures are being carried out without anaesthetic. Gaza’s health system has been reduced to just a third of its pre-conflict capacity. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that there is an urgent need for an immediate and permanent ceasefire?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I would agree. The difficulty is that there is no end to this conflict in sight. We cannot see what the terms for ending this conflict will be as things stand, but we do know that all conflicts eventually end. They end with a ceasefire; they end with a piece of paper signed; they end with agreements being reached. The UK Government’s role in this is to seek to reach those agreements, not to seek to stand in the way of them.

I would also like to mention the 52,000 pregnant women in Gaza right now. Some 5,500 babies have been born in the past month—183 every single day. Those babies are being born in the most traumatic of circumstances. Giving birth can be traumatic enough at the best of times, let alone without hospitals, medical care or even anaesthesia. Women are having caesareans without painkillers, while awake, and under bombardment. That is no way to bring babies into this world. Other women who have had to flee their homes are in camps lacking sanitary provision, privacy and dignity. When will they see an end to this conflict? When will they be able to see hope for their babies and their families?

I very much support the aims of the petitions here today. I look forward to hearing other people’s contributions to this debate. My Glasgow constituents are very clear that there needs to be a ceasefire now.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 4:58, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

Like everyone who has watched the footage and read the accounts of the Hamas atrocities on 7 October, and anyone who has followed the utter devastation and mass killing happening in Gaza and the growing violence in the west bank, my overwhelming response is, “How do we stop this?” That is why I urge the Government and the Labour Front Bench to support an immediate bilateral ceasefire.

The UK’s fence-sitting at the UN last week was unforgiveable both morally and politically, as anyone who heard Tom Fletcher, a former ambassador to Lebanon and advisor to Gordon Brown, explain on the radio this morning will know. He recalled that back in 2009, at the height of Operation Cast Lead, the UK took a principled stance in support of ending the killing of civilians and backed UN resolution 1860, which was critical of Israel. In doing so, it shifted the position of the US, which ended up abstaining on that vote instead of opposing it. Bold, creative diplomacy by the UK made a significant difference to the outcome in the UN and, critically, there was a ceasefire a week later. A similar kind of diplomacy is sadly lacking now, and we desperately need it.

Of course, the scale of the deaths and the horror is vastly different now, but the fundamentals of then and now are the same: the lives of civilians in both Israel and Gaza must be protected. This is what these petitions are about: making the suffering stop for the families in Israel who are desperate for their loved ones taken hostage by Hamas to be unconditionally released and safely reunited with them; making sure the perpetrators of the horrific rapes and sexual violence committed on 7 October are brought to justice; stopping one of the worst humanitarian crises in my lifetime—half of the people in Gaza are starving, and starvation is being used as a weapon of war; making the military assault on Gaza stop, and saving the lives of so many children; and stopping not just these immediate crises, but the decades of oppression and dispossession of and discrimination against the Palestinian people by the Israeli authorities, which are an unavoidable part of the context of this war.

A lot has already been said about how to bring this conflict to a close. Decades of expert diplomacy has failed thus far to resolve this seemingly intractable conflict. In the past 15 years alone, there have been five wars, each of which has consigned the people of Gaza to ever-deteriorating and unimaginably impoverished living conditions. None of these wars has stopped the rockets being fired at Israel, or made anyone feel safer. That is because there is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one.

Yet it has served the international community—the UK included—preoccupied elsewhere, to settle for a strategy of uneasy containment in which violence flares up from time to time and just enough supplies and aid are allowed into Gaza to appease Israel’s critical friends and prolong the status quo. However, since October 7, something seismic has shifted. It is now inconceivable that the world could continue to ignore the importance of ensuring that every single Israeli and Palestinian can live safely, securely and with dignity within their own borders or a shared border, if that is what they choose.

We have touched on the issue of speaking with terrorists. Talking to Hamas has already helped to bring some Israeli hostages home to their families. Those lines of communication must be kept open, along with every back and front channel accessible via the other players in the region. Clearly, the US has the greatest influence over Israel, but the UK can play a critical role too. Its links with Qatar and Egypt, for example, should be used to pull every lever possible in support of a consensus on Israel’s right to exist—a fundamental building block of peace.

Chatham House reported that the US and UK position on not talking to terrorists arose almost by accident in 1973, in response to hostage taking by a Palestinian militant organisation. Those hostages were killed. It takes courage to start a dialogue, especially when we have no real idea whether there is even a shared goal, let alone how to reach that outcome, but from Northern Ireland and Colombia to Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon and Syria, talking has secured positive outcomes for individual cases and more broadly. No dialogue means the death of peace, and at this time we absolutely have to keep the prospect of peace alive.

The eyes of the world may well be on this narrow strip of land right now, but they have been largely absent as Gazans have been forced to live in an open prison, systematically stripped of their dignity and freedom by both the Israeli authorities and Hamas. As Israel has endured the existential threat to its existence that Hamas represents, and as land is grabbed and settler violence erupts in the west bank—an area that now could well see the strengthening of extremists including Hamas—we must not turn our gaze away again. The path to peace feels even more difficult following 7 October. It is more difficult, but more urgent, too. It starts with a bilateral ceasefire now.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian 5:03, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is 20 years since shock and awe were unleashed on Iraq. Millions died, and we live with the consequences today in terrorism and a refugee crisis. It was a war perpetrated on lies and deceit, and it is why we must have openness and transparency in the conflict in Gaza today.

The events of 7 October have to be condemned. What Hamas did was shocking and unacceptable, and every country has a right to defend itself, but the response from Israel has been disproportionate. It now constitutes a war crime, and it has to stop. It is for those reasons that we have to support a ceasefire, not a humanitarian pause.

Those of us of the Christian faith will be celebrating the birth of a child in a manger in but a matter of weeks, yet children in the sanctuary of a hospital in Gaza cannot be kept alive because we cannot provide them with the care and welfare that should be theirs as a matter of right. That is something that should fundamentally shame our world, not just our Government.

A humanitarian pause is entirely inadequate. This is not a replication of the play “Oh! What a Lovely War”, in which soldiers stop for a Christmas truce and play football before it all starts again. This is the perpetration of a war on civilians. Let us remember that we are talking about 2 million people in a very small area of this world—an urban, compact area. They were told to flee from the north by the Israel Defence Forces. They have fled south and the bombing has followed them. They are dying there as they died in the north, so the idea that we can simply have a humanitarian pause is inadequate.

We have to welcome the pause that took place and appreciate that it did progress matters and see hostages returned, as should rightly be the case, but we have to call for and demand a ceasefire. We all know that Israel is sustained by the United States. If it were not for the United States, Israel would be unable to maintain its warfare. We must ensure that we deliver a ceasefire.

The UN Security Council’s position was not shameful. It supported a ceasefire, but the United States vetoed it and a supine UK simply abstained and did not have the courage to go with the rest of the world. As with Iraq, the rest of the world is looking at the western world and seeing nothing but hypocrisy. We rightly speak out about the wrongs e happening in Ukraine, yet we are far too silent about what has happened elsewhere in the world to people of different faiths or a different colour. The failure of the UK to support a ceasefire at the United Nations Security Council was unacceptable and the actions of the United States were simply reprehensible.

Israel is continuing to wage war against civilians. They might say that they are targeting Hamas, but it is clear that—

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

I thank the hon. Member for giving way. Given the death and destruction in Gaza, we must look into the issue of arms sales to Israel. The UK’s export control joint unit is clear that licences will not be granted if

“there is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate internal repression” or

“a serious violation of international humanitarian law”.

Does the hon. Member agree that the Government must re-examine all licences to ensure that we do not inadvertently end up facilitating a violation of international and humanitarian law?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian

Absolutely. The arms trade is reprehensible. We should cease that not just because of what is happening in Gaza and Israel, but because of what is being perpetrated in Yemen while we continue to arm the Saudis. We have to address not simply the arms sales but the assistance that we might be giving deliberately or accidentally.

RAF Akrotiri is being used by the US military. What are the US military flying into Israel from RAF Akrotiri? Why are we not being told what the Americans are taking from a Royal Air Force base in Cyprus into Israel? Is it machinery? Weapons? Military personnel? We have a right to be told. Why have 500 additional UK military personnel gone to Cyprus, where we already have several thousand troops? Why are they required there? What is their role? What is the nature of the military personnel? Are they special forces? Things are taking place and we are not getting clarity from the UK Government.

Just as we had a cop-out at the United Nations Security Council, we are not getting clarity from the Government as to our role. What are we doing to facilitate the United States and the armaments that they provide to Israel? What are we doing about the actions that are being perpetrated by the Israelis? We should be speaking out. It is clear that what is being perpetrated by Israel is first of all to flatten the north of Gaza into smithereens so that life cannot return. People will not be able to go back and live there. The Israelis have destroyed the infrastructure and now they are perpetrating it on the south of Gaza, again destroying the infrastructure and making Gaza unliveable. The requirement will then be for people to flee—no doubt the US will try to get Egypt to take them in as refugees. The outcome of that will be that the Nakba all those generations ago will be replicated in Gaza. If we do not take action and speak out we will be as guilty now as we were then.

We have to stop supporting the Americans, we have to stop supporting the Israelis, we have to demand a ceasefire, and we have to make sure we are not complicit in any way. That means having the courage of our convictions and supporting a ceasefire at the United Nations, where the UK has a position as a regular member. We also have to ensure we do not facilitate any other shameful action, whether that is by allowing the Americans to do it, or directly through munitions that are created here in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green 5:10, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. Following the contribution of Kenny MacAskill is a task in itself.

Last week, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary regarding the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The temporary truce was a welcome development allowing for the release of hostages and access into Gaza for some humanitarian aid, but as soon as the temporary truce ended on 1 December, the fighting resumed. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed when the Israeli military resumed their indiscriminate bombing campaign against Gaza. This resulted in the death toll rising to well over 17,000 people, with the largest group being children. The scale of death and destruction cannot be overstated. The ongoing violence against the Palestinian people simply cannot be justified and constitutes clear collective punishment.

What the short-lived truce demonstrates above all is that temporary pauses in conflict are simply inadequate and will not result in de-escalation. The preferred approach to the conflict on the part of the UK Government is therefore no longer tenable. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the atrocious crimes being committed against Palestinians, and it is evident that only a long-lasting ceasefire will prevent further loss of life and allow space for peace talks to emerge.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Llafur, Manchester, Gorton

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the UN’s universal declaration of human rights. Today, the UN confirmed that half of Gaza—more than a million people—are starving: 90% do not have access to food on a daily basis. Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot commemorate Human Rights Day without calling out the barbarism of the Israeli army and the unimaginable human rights abuses against Palestinians?

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green

My hon. Friend makes a very pertinent point. The international convention on genocide has also just marked its 75th anniversary. The UK Government simply cannot continue to ignore the evidence of war crimes being committed by Israel in its campaign against the Palestinians. There is an unstated objective of a single-state solution. That is why I think the UK does not recognise Palestine as a state: because it supports the unstated objective of Israel to have a one-state solution. A one-state solution should not be the objective. If there is going to be a two-state solution, where Palestine lives in peace alongside the Israeli state, now is the time for the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a state.

Why did the UK Government abstain when 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council voted for a ceasefire? One member can veto 13. The UN Secretary-General invoked article 99, which has not been invoked since 1989, with the sponsorship of nearly 100 countries, but one country can then defy it by railroading a veto. That goes to show that the United Nations is nothing but a toothless tiger that is now being used against the Palestinian people.

Nor can this Government continue to ignore the monumental displacement of people in Gaza, the largest since 1984. What is occurring looks increasingly like ethnic cleansing, and we must not be complicit in that. I therefore take this opportunity once again to urge the UK Government to use their international standing to push for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the resumption of peace talks as a matter of urgency.

It is not enough simply to recognise the clear injustices being perpetrated in the context of this conflict alone. The Palestinian people have been subject to oppression, exploitation, theft and violence for decades. Their land has been illegally seized by the settler groups. They have been evicted from their rightful homes in East Jerusalem, and they have lived under constant blockade and occupation. Day by day, the Israeli Government strive to make a two-state solution less and less tenable. It is now obvious that the current Israeli Government have no interest in a lasting, just and equitable two-state solution. The UK must rise above that and recognise Palestine as a separate state.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is making an impassioned speech. Does he agree that, while the absolute priority for all of us must be to bring an end to the violence from all parties in the middle east and to stop the intolerable death toll in Gaza as quickly as possible, the conflict can only ever be truly resolved when there is a concerted effort by the international community? Ministers must therefore explain why, for over 10 years, this Government have been content to stand on the sidelines rather than pursuing a meaningful political strategy in conjunction with our international allies.

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green

My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. On 6 December, we saw 13 UN member states voting on one side, with one abstention and one veto, which means that the voice of the vast majority does not count. Hundreds and thousands of my constituents write to me every day urging this Government to take a stand, with over 7,000 signatories to the three petitions and over 10,000 emails received by my office on this subject—not only on this conflict, but on historical abuses suffered by Palestinian people.

It is not enough for the Government to say that they are in favour of peace, when they do nothing to bring it about. This Government still refuse to recognise the state of Palestine and continue to ignore the breaches of international law committed by Israel in its war against Gaza. My constituents in Birmingham, Hall Green will not settle for simply working to end this conflict. They also demand, and rightly so, that Israel be held accountable for its action, both current and historic, against Palestinian people.

I have referred to the United Nations as a toothless tiger. How many United Nations resolutions has Israel broken? My understanding is that there are over 30 resolutions to which it has not adhered. That is why I urge the Government not only to work towards a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, but to support efforts to investigate the conduct of this war and to determine the extent of the war crimes being committed. Based on such an investigation, the Government must be prepared to take robust action and hold those responsible for such crimes to account, including through the imposition of practical sanctions and other diplomatic measures.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 5:18, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a pleasure to be called to speak, Sir Mark. From the outset, I am aware that this is a very sensitive issue and that we are talking of the loss of life, which is awful. At the beginning, I have to make a declaration so that it is very clear where I stand: I am a friend of Israel, and I have been all my life. I was a member of the Friends of Israel when I was a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont, and I am a friend of Israel speaking in Westminster Hall today. I recognise that many people around me may have a different opinion. I respect their point of view; I hope that Members will also respect my point of view when I put it over.

We are talking about the lives of women and children, and the loss not simply of their daily life but of their home and even their education. This affects communities on both sides of Israel’s border. Communities on the border of Israel have been displaced and homes have been destroyed, as well as in Gaza. This premise must underline everything that is said today: war is terrible, and the end of war is what any right-thinking person is hoping for. For those who are in a position to do so, it is what they are working for, I believe.

I am certain that, regardless of the result of this debate, Hamas terrorists—that is what they are—will continue this attack. Rockets will continue to fly from Hamas positions towards Israel’s positions—not military positions, but civilian positions; the murder of civilians is their intention—and the Israelis will continue their counter-attack and opposition. Over the past days, the war against Hamas has continued to focus on southern areas of the Gaza strip, and the Israel Defence Forces have sadly confirmed the deaths of a further seven Israeli soldiers since last Monday, who were defending and protecting their people.

The horror of Hamas and of their intention on 7 October has been outlined by Andrew Percy, who spoke very graphically of it. I am aware of some of the videos. I have to say honestly that I could not watch them, because they were so horrible: the beheading of men, the rape of women, the murders of children. They are depraved people who carry that out. Hamas terrorists must be destroyed. They must be dismantled. They must find themselves in a position where they can no longer have any influence whatever in the middle east. That is exactly what I believe.

The bombs continue to rain down on Israel. Indeed, the IDF confirmed that an Israeli civilian had been killed by missile fire from Hezbollah.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

No, we are on a very strict time limit of five minutes. Everybody has to get in, and there are many other speakers.

The Israeli civilian had been killed by missile fire from Hezbollah in northern Israel, prompting Israeli responses against terror targets in southern Lebanon. This is an important consideration in this debate: the fact is that there are still numerous and sustained rockets being fired at Israel daily. In the time in which this debate has taken place, there have been more attacks on Israeli civilian places as well. People talk about the Iron Dome, but it must be remembered that it is not a power-up in a computer game—it is more than that. When the launcher is called into action, it saves lives, and that is very important.

The Iron Dome air defence system intercepts at least nine in every 10 munitions fired into Israel by Hamas terrorists. That means that rockets do land and do cause damage; again, we must recognise that. Israel has 11 Iron Dome batteries, and with the threat of a war breaking out on the northern border with Hezbollah, the US has reportedly pledged two more. I would very much like to see that happen. US help for Israel can and will make a difference, and it will save lives.

Brigadier General Doron Gavish, a former commander of Israel’s aerial defence force who worked on the Iron Dome when it became fully operational in 2011, has said:

“Unfortunately, Hamas is not shooting for the military installations, it’s directing all its rockets towards the cities and civilians. It is a system that is really designed to save people.”

As we sit in this warm building today, comfortable as we are, calling for a ceasefire, we must be certain about calling for the right thing. We must be helping to put in place sustainable solutions—long-term solutions. I believe in a two-state solution. I believe that when the war is over and Hamas are destroyed and dismantled, we can then have a peace that can last. Long-term solutions will allow hospitals and schools to be built in Gaza and people to return home to Israel and to health and safety. That is what this House should be calling for, should work for and should wave our unified flag for.

While Israel is suffering attacks, and while it continues to root out terrorists who are aiming at civilians in Israel, there are steps to be taken. Am I calling for a ceasefire? Yes, I am calling for a bilateral ceasefire. For those who do not understand that, it is very simple. Once Hamas are destroyed, they can no longer have an attitude towards Israel that means the destruction, annihilation and murder of all Israelis. That is what I am looking for, but under circumstances, when it comes to a ceasefire, that do not see more terrorism and a worse position in 10 days’ time yet again.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up) 5:23, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is so difficult to get information in and out of Gaza. One of the only reasons that we know what is happening on the ground is the heroic work of journalists and photographers who are documenting the catastrophe.

I do not have words to describe what we have seen. It sickens me to my core. We saw children in Gaza hold a press conference, begging the world to save them, and I thought it could not get worse. But then we saw white phosphorus dropping from the sky, and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw doctors say that hospital grounds felt like a warzone, and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw premature babies lying to die in incubators with no energy, and we thought it could not get worse.

Then we saw a pregnant mother burned and dead, while doctors cut the baby out to try to save at least one life, and we thought it could not get any worse. Then we saw a little boy crying hysterically, “How can we stay here? This is not a life!”, after his nephew was severely injured while playing football, and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw a little girl scream, “Oh, dad, don’t leave us!”, after her dad was killed by an airstrike and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw children write their names on their body parts, so that if they were killed they could be identified, and we thought it could not get worse.

Then we saw a bereaved mother call out the names of her children—Baraa, Moataz, Taysir, Aya—who were killed and still under the rubble, and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw whole bloodlines wiped out, and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw a 37-day-old baby pulled out of the rubble, thankfully alive, and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw a newlywed bride crying while holding the shoes of her dead husband, who she had been married to for only six months, and we thought it could not get worse.

Then we saw injured Palestinians from northern Gaza travelling to the south on foot, as there were no ambulances available, and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw a mother crying and saying, “It took me 580 injections to have him,” while holding her dead baby, and we thought it could not get worse. Then we saw a mother bid farewell to her dead son by saying, “Please forgive me, dear son.” So I ask: how much worse does it have to get? What is the number of innocent Palestinians who need to die in order for there to be calls for a ceasefire?

Palestinian journalists such as Motaz Azaiza risk their life in order to document the atrocities on the ground. We have witnessed the deadliest month on record for journalists, with 63 dead so far. Their posts are not simply Instagram reels to watch and forget about; this is information that must be gathered and used to form cases at the International Criminal Court, to hold those responsible accountable.

There must be accountability from both sides for the horrors that we have witnessed. The taking of innocent hostages by Hamas was atrocious, as too is the collective punishment of the people of Gaza by Israel, along with the continued escalation of violence in the occupied west bank. I have previously called for an independent investigation by the ICC into war crimes committed during this conflict. The UK Government must support an ICC investigation to ensure that those who have breached international law face justice.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

I will make progress.

People across all four nations, including my Airdrie and Shotts constituents, demand through marches, petitions and emails that the UK Government back a ceasefire. We must end the suffering, we must stop this humanitarian tragedy, and we must have a permanent ceasefire.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Llafur, Poplar and Limehouse 5:27, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

My constituency has the highest number of signatories to two of the petitions being debated today, and the third highest number to the other. This came as no surprise to me, because I have been inundated: the situation in Gaza has been the topic of the greatest number of representations that I have ever received.

Having grown up in the area, the anti-war and anti-imperialist values that are held very strongly in east London shaped me as a person long before I was elected to this House. I share the absolute horror at the disregard for Palestinian life that has been displayed across the political establishment. It is estimated that the Gaza death toll has increased by 40% since before the temporary humanitarian truce. The staggering level of civilian deaths that are happening as we speak is horrifying. The human rights abuses are horrendous.

Time and time again, my constituents ask me: how is this being allowed to happen? What is it about Palestinian people that means that, for this Government and the political establishment, there appears to be no limit to what can be done to them, no limit to how many can die and no care as to their rights? Why is it that when Palestinian children die in unprecedented numbers, there is so little outrage? Why is it that when Palestinian women are killed, it is barely even acknowledged? Why is it that Palestinians and those showing solidarity are told they cannot even express pain at their suffering? Why is it that the Palestinian flag seems to be the only national flag in the world that people are told is unacceptable?

It is also important to recognise that, following the 7 October attacks, there has been a stark increase in attacks on Muslims, including attacks and hostility against individuals and mosques, with children being targeted at school, death threats being issued and physical attacks. Just last week, more than 700 people were evacuated from the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre and three nearby schools, following a bomb threat, amid a rise in Islamophobia across the UK. I am seeking action from this Government to ensure that the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre and other places get the security that they desperately need. Islamophobic hate crimes do not only affect the victim; they have a ripple effect through communities as they reinforce established patterns of bias, prejudice and discrimination.

It is particularly poignant that yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. The preamble to the declaration states that

“recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

Honouring that means calling an immediate, permanent ceasefire; it means that the slaughter and degradation in Gaza must end, the ongoing oppression and dispossession of Palestinian people must end, the illegal settlement programme must end, the forced evictions must end and the illegal occupation of Palestine must end. And, yes, there must be immediate recognition of the state of Palestine.

However, with the latest veto, we instead see the US Government enabling immense civilian suffering, a staggering death toll and an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. The UK Government’s refusal to support a ceasefire will be paid for with death, destruction and the suffering of innocent individuals. Despite the horror we are bearing witness to, human rights and international law must not be allowed to be abandoned. More and more people all over the world are speaking out to protect humanity from further destruction.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 5:31, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

As of today, it is estimated that 17,000 have been killed in Gaza—around 7,000 of the dead are children, and 63 journalists have been killed. Israel has a right to defend itself; the attack on innocent Israeli civilians was wicked beyond description. But surely we can agree that what we have been witnessing long ago tipped from justifiable self-defence into brutal attack.

Most of the world watches, horrified by the continuing heavy, deadly, inhumane bombardment of a tiny patch of land, the Gaza strip, and of the terrified and traumatised people living there—dying there. Israel tells them to flee, but to flee where? Where do people flee if every border is closed? When they do try to flee, they are bombed. International law says that care must be taken to safeguard civilians. What care is Israel taking? It has bombed schools, hospitals and homes. A university was flattened. Collective punishment is another war crime.

These war crimes are committed not by a monstrous terrorist group such as Hamas, but by a country that we laud as the only democracy in the region. Most Palestinians and Mediterranean people had no time for the zealotry of Hamas, but who will the orphaned children of Gaza turn to when they crawl out of the rubble? Bitterness and hatred have been planted deep in the souls of innocents. They will remember these weeks for the rest of their lives.

What of the UK? Surely we have a special responsibility, as the former occupying power. Our abstention on the UN ceasefire resolution on Friday shamed us. Labour’s abstention on the ceasefire motion in this Parliament shamed its party leadership. Many honourable MPs stood up against the intense pressure they had to endure from their party Whips, but what is Labour doing abstaining on an issue such as this? At what point will the Labour leadership realise how desperately out of step it is with public opinion and decency?

Only four Back-Bench Tories have thought the most crucial—

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I beg your pardon—I am not wearing my glasses. I will do that again for the edit. How can so few Conservatives turn up to a debate such as this? It really is dreadful. How can Tory and Labour Front Benchers watch and stay silent? How can the Labour leader, watching this carnage and cruelty, say the Israeli Government are within their rights to withhold water from children—yet another crime? The Labour leadership’s volte-face, when it comes, will be excruciating to watch.

UK neutrality, food to the starving, water, electricity for the hospitals, a halt to the bombardment and death; that is all that our constituents want us to argue for and vote in favour of—basic humanity. Otherwise, where does it all end? I suspect that, far from being weakened, extremist groups will be strengthened, which would be the worst possible outcome.

Andrew Percy said that the bombardment must continue indefinitely, until Hamas surrender. Hamas are not going to surrender. Why should innocent Palestinians trapped in Gaza pay the price, with this wicked organisation, Hamas, raining terror down upon them? Why should ordinary people pay the price?

This conflict cannot be won by military means. If we study the history, we must surely know that. Only a ceasefire and negotiations can stop this carnage, so I call on colleagues on both sides of the House to raise their voices for peace and an immediate ceasefire.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Llafur, Liverpool, Riverside 5:36, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Mark. I thank the petitioners for bringing the debate here today. I want to start by condemning the atrocities that took place on 7 October and by calling for the immediate release of the hostages. However, since the atrocities on 7 October, the world has watched as massacres, bombardments, starvation and communal punishment continue to be levelled against innocent Palestinian civilians. Homes, schools and hospitals have turned into rubble. The collective punishment of the Palestinian people is a crime against humanity and in violation of international humanitarian law. Israel’s refusal to allow water, fuel, electricity, food and medical supplies to reach people under unprecedented assault is unjustifiable.

Save the Children has said that if the children in Gaza

“are not killed by the bombardments, they will be killed by hunger. If they are not killed by hunger, they will be killed by disease.”

One Palestinian dies every five minutes, but that could have been averted if the US and the UK had voted in favour of the Security Council resolution for a ceasefire. That would have ended the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians and the mass displacement of Gazans towards the south of the strip, which is threatening to push them into the Sinai, in the biggest land grab and ethnic cleansing since the original Nakba in 1948.

A child who is 16 years old in Gaza today will have known five successive bombing campaigns and spent their entire life under blockade. The sheer level of trauma, pain and grief that they have already experienced is almost unspeakable. All of us who bear witness to these crimes have a duty to speak up, and those of us with the privilege of power have a duty to do everything humanly possible to end them.

This weekend, traumatising images that emerged from Jabalia refugee camp were widely reported. Palestinian men were stripped naked, bound and blindfolded by Israeli forces, invoking images from some of the darkest passages of our history. The International Federation of Journalists, working closely with the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, has verified that at least 70 journalists have been killed in the violence, with many others missing and feared dead. It has said that journalists are dying at four times the rate of the general population. These journalists are all that stands between the truth and a total media blackout in Gaza; they should never be a target, yet the numbers reveal a very concerning picture.

I echo the calls from the National Union of Journalists to pay tribute to the bravery of journalists in Gaza and to their commitment to their work. Without them, we would not be able to hold the Israeli Government to account for the horrors unfolding in Gaza.

Time and again, we have heard from Ministers that they are, in no uncertain terms, pushing Israel to take precautions, to act within the confines of international humanitarian law and to show restraint and care for civilian infrastructure and life. However, on his media round this morning, the Defence Secretary failed to condemn the detention of Palestinian children in military prisons.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Llafur, Liverpool, Riverside

No, I am sorry. I am going to make some progress.

We know that that will not happen without meaningful international action to ensure that Israel cannot continue to act with impunity. The UN Secretary-General has invoked article 99 of the founding UN charter, formally warning the Security Council of the global threat from the attack on Gaza. A ceasefire is the bare minimum we must demand, yet our Government have failed in their humanity. How many more innocent Palestinians have to die before the leadership of this country takes action?

To conclude, our Government urgently need to move towards a permanent ceasefire. We must also go further and take bold steps to end the cycle of violence, including the indiscriminate killings of Palestinians in the west bank by right-wing extremist settlers. The ICC must investigate potential war crimes by all parties and bring to justice those who are found guilty. History will not judge kindly those who looked away. We must do everything in our power to bring these atrocities to an urgent end with a permanent ceasefire.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs) 5:40, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

I unreservedly condemn the crimes of Hamas and particularly the crimes of rape and sexual violence against women. Hamas are terrorists backed by Iran, and we all know how they treat women. However,

“The laws of war must guide Israel’s response” to Hamas’s atrocities. Those are not my words, but those of a group of eminent Jewish lawyers in a letter to the Financial Times back in October. That group included the former President of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, and Philippe Sands KC, one of the world’s foremost experts on international law. Their measured and scholarly letter is particularly impactful, because they write as Jews with family and friends directly affected by the terrible crimes perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October.

Three important points were made in that letter. First, the crimes of Hamas are crimes against humanity. The barbarity inflicted by them and the taking of hostages are war crimes. Secondly, under international law Israel has the right to respond and to defend itself and its citizens. But thirdly and very importantly, that response must be in accordance with international law and particularly the laws of war. The letter says:

“These laws apply irrespective of the level of outrageous conduct of an enemy and no exceptions to those rules can be derived from the level of suffering caused by Hamas’s actions.”

The importance of the international community acting to make sure the laws of war are obeyed, and of our collective moral and legal responsibility to avoid another genocide, have been at the forefront of my mind since I visited Srebrenica earlier this year. The message of Srebrenica is that never again must the world stand aside while innocent civilians are tortured, raped and murdered and that never again must the world stand aside while populations are deported or forcibly transferred or have imposed on them deliberately conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part. I believe that we are pretty close to that, if not beyond it, in Gaza.

The lessons of Srebrenica demand a humanitarian response to the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians. We must resist the idea that collective punishment should be visited on the Palestinian people for the crimes of Hamas, whether that collective punishment consists of seemingly indiscriminate bombing, the restriction of water, food, fuel and electricity to Gaza, or the order to Palestinians to evacuate. As the occupying power, Israel has a clear obligation under international law to ensure that the basic needs of Gaza’s civilian population are met. Clearly, it is not doing that. As others have argued, given our history in the region and the Balfour declaration, the United Kingdom cannot stand aside. It shames us that we have stood aside so far, particularly at the United Nations.

Over 1,000 of my constituents have signed the petitions before us. In my nearly nine years as a Member of Parliament, I have never received more emails on any topic than I have on this one, and the vast majority call for a ceasefire in Gaza. My constituents want the UK Government to take swift, urgent action to establish a permanent ceasefire and to press Israel to lift its total closure of Gaza, reopen its crossings and allow the safe, unimpeded movement of aid—that includes fuel, food and medical supplies—and of aid workers, medical personnel and sick and wounded people.

My constituents want the British Government to oppose any action to coerce or forcibly transfer the population out of Gaza. They also want them to demand that Israel ensures the protection of Palestinian civilians, wherever they are, and guarantees that displaced people will be able to return and rebuild their homes.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Llafur, Liverpool, Wavertree

I associate myself with the hon. and learned Lady’s earlier comments about Hamas. Does she agree that the UK Government should look at a process whereby we can get Palestinians over to the UK, as we did with the Ukraine scheme? They can return to their homes once it is safe to do so.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

I very much do. I raised the issue with the Minister in the main Chamber last week in relation to the elderly mother, pregnant sister and small baby of a constituent. It is incumbent on the British Government to look seriously at humanitarian visas, particularly given our links with the region and how many of us have constituents with family there. These people will not want to come here permanently, and they will want to go back to their homeland, so the Government need not worry about the long-term net migration figures. As a humanitarian country, we should surely be looking at humanitarian visas.

The point of my speech—I say this because I am a lawyer and this matters very much to me—is that Britain has an obligation under international law to prevent war crimes and to prevent another genocide from happening, but it is not fulfilling that obligation. I know that the Government never reveal their legal advice, but I want to hear from the Minister whether they are alert to their international legal obligations, and to what extent they are taking those on board. In fairness to him, he responded very generously to my question about this issue in the main Chamber last week. I want to hear that he and other Foreign Office Ministers will pressure the Home Office—and goodness me, does it not need to be pressured to do anything humanitarian?—to grant humanitarian visas to Palestinians who want to come to the United Kingdom for temporary respite before they go back to their homes.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Llafur, Luton South 5:47, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Mark. We are debating important petitions regarding Israel and Palestine, which rightly call for the enormous suffering to end. In addition to the thousands of Luton South signatures that were added to the petitions, I have received thousands of emails from constituents who are deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in Gaza and the west bank and horrified by what they see every day on their TVs and phone screens.

I share my constituents’ concerns. We are watching the destruction of Palestinian lives in Gaza and the west bank, as well as Israeli lives on and since 7 October. Luton is a hyper-diverse town, but it wants peace across the middle east. In remembering our common humanity, I join calls for an immediate, permanent ceasefire on all sides. In this, I echo statements by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, respected organisations such as the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and Islamic Relief, and a range of faith leaders.

I welcomed the temporary ceasefire announced in November alongside the release of hostages. However, there remains a desperate need for a permanent ceasefire, a significant increase in humanitarian and medical aid, the return of hostages, and a renewed political effort on all sides to come to an enduring resolution for peace. We must be unequivocal: civilians must be protected and not displaced; humanitarian aid, medical supplies and fuel must be allowed into Gaza; and hostages must be released. I have made it clear in this House and in correspondence to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Secretary and his predecessor that the UK has a duty to ensure that international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people are upheld.

Yet this Conservative Government are failing. The UK should be leading the international community in bringing about peace. Labour has been clear that Israel must not besiege or blockade Gaza. Schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure must be protected at all costs. The ongoing bombing of Gaza has so far killed over 17,000 Palestinians, and 40% of them are reported to be children. Constituents who have written to me have said that more than half of all homes have been destroyed and that only 14 hospitals out of 36 are even partially functional. Now, 1.8 million people are displaced—that is 80% of the population—and there are reports that half the population are starving.

The international community can and must secure a lasting ceasefire to make political progress to end the conflict. That means creating an Israel secure from Hamas, and ensuring that Palestinians can see a path to statehood and the reconstruction and renewal of Gaza, and I press the Minister to set out the Government’s plan to make that a reality.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Llafur, Bradford East 5:50, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

I rise to represent the thousands of constituents who have written to me and signed petitions. The reality is that Gaza is now a graveyard for tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children; a continuing nightmare without food, water, power or medicine for those left alive; and an ongoing Nakba for the 2 million displaced.

In the last few days, the EU’s head of foreign policy has labelled the bombing campaign as

“one of the most intense in history”,

while the UN’s humanitarian affairs chief has described the situation as “apocalyptic”. Such is the magnitude of the war crimes committed and the scale of indiscriminate bombing and violations of international law in their lethality that in the time during which this debate takes place, a further nine women and 12 children will have been killed. Let this House reflect for a moment on that.

Of those who survive, many will remain trapped in the rubble of homes, schools, hospitals, refugee camps, mosques and churches. Of those who receive medical attention, all will face surgery without anaesthetic or pain relief. With hygiene, sanitation and healthcare facilities left destroyed, normally preventable diseases are now ripping through the population. Palestinians are not even afforded dignity in death, with their bodies decomposing under rubble, mauled by stray dogs and eaten by worms. This is the reality of the humanitarian nightmare that Palestinians are facing each and every day. Yet despite the death, destruction and human misery in Gaza caused by the Israeli military’s bombs and bullets, when the UN Security Council voted just days ago on a ceasefire resolution that would have brought an end to this bloodshed, the UK sat on its hands and did nothing.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Llafur, Leeds East

It is the case that 1,400 of my Leeds East constituents have signed these petitions, so people out there do care. When my hon. Friend reflects on the UK Government’s shameful abstention at the United Nations Security Council in the vote on a call for a ceasefire, does he agree with me that it is about time that the UK Government joined the overwhelming majority of the international community—including France, Spain and Portugal, among other European nations—and backed the call for a ceasefire to save lives, end the suffering, release all hostages and make a better future?

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Llafur, Bradford East

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I was saying, the ceasefire resolution was an opportunity to bring the bloodshed to an end, but the UK chose to sit on its hands and do nothing—that was a choice that the UK made as a Government. Instead of taking the lead, the UK abstained, and instead of working on the lasting, peaceful resolution that we need to see, the UK confirmed, by making that choice, that it was content with a bloody status quo in which civilians are slaughtered in their thousands. Although that may be the view of the UK Government, let me make it absolutely clear—I think I speak for many hon. Members in this House—it is not the view of our constituents and it is not the view of the majority of the country. It leaves yet another moral stain on our Government and makes it clear that our foreign policy is set not by the Prime Minister or the Foreign Office but by the United States. All this Government have had to do, when ordered to jump by the US, is ask how high.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Llafur, Bradford East

I will not. Time does not permit it.

The UK’s failure to back the ceasefire resolution, and the ability of the United States to overrule 13 votes in favour of it, without a single other state against, frankly brings into question the legitimacy and viability of an international system that is so clearly broken. Indeed, when the UN Secretary-General is pleading for action and every UN agency is begging for a ceasefire to protect civilians, we have to ask ourselves this: what, exactly, is the point of the United Nations, when it can so easily be overruled and ignored? The situation is appalling and shameful and makes a mockery of any claim to support an international rules-based order with the UN at its core. Seventy-five years ago, we made a commitment to uphold human rights and international law for all people. It is time that our Government stopped only supporting the UN when it suits them and started supporting its efforts to protect civilians wherever in the word—not just in Gaza but in the west bank, and not just in Palestine but in Burma, Kashmir, Yemen, China and countless other regions across the globe.

Time permitting, I will take this opportunity again, on behalf of myself, the thousands of my constituents and the millions of people around this country who want to see an end to this bloodshed, to implore the Minister to listen to the calls of the public petitions, to other hon. Members, to the UN agencies and humanitarian organisations and to those in Gaza who are desperately calling out for help, and back the calls for a lasting ceasefire to end this bloodshed now.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Llafur, Hammersmith 5:57, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

During the business statement last Thursday, I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a full day’s debate on the Israel-Gaza war. I do not know whether the Minister has had a communication—I know that the Leader of the House is assiduous about such things—but perhaps he will be able to tell us, when responding, whether that will be granted early in the new year. It is frankly very surprising that we have not had one. I am sure that, if the Government will not grant it, the Backbench Business Committee may do so. I thank the petitioners not only for the 600,000 signatures on the three petitions but for achieving what the Government have not achieved, which is to allow us to have a substantive debate on this subject for the first time. If my maths is right, 2,773 of those signatures come from my constituents: that is substantially less than the number of emails that I have received from constituents on this matter—by a hundred to one, literally—calling for a ceasefire.

[Steve McCabe in the Chair]

The first petition reminds us that breaches of international law are nothing new in the Israel-Gaza dispute. Seventy-five years ago, the Nakba saw the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians. That is a crime in international law. Fifty-five years ago, settlement building began, and it continues apace; indeed, it has accelerated.

The second petition deals with the issue of blockade. Again, blockade is nothing new: Gaza has been blockaded for 16 years and, for that reason, it is still regarded in international law as occupied. Clearly, what is happening now—almost totally to shut off aid, or to have very inadequate amounts of it entering Gaza—is a form of collective punishment and, again, a breach of international law. We have displacement of almost the entire 2 million population of Gaza, and we have bombing on an indiscriminate scale—carpet bombing—that is destroying not only lives but much of the civilian infrastructure. That is why I believe that the third petition is right to call for a ceasefire.

Earlier in the main Chamber, I asked the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Mr Mitchell, why Britain had abstained in the vote on the United Nations Security Council resolution. As I understand it, he said that there was a lack of condemnation of Hamas and that the Government are against a ceasefire per se. I think we would all join him in wishing that the UN would speak loudly, as all parties in this country have, in condemning the atrocities of Hamas, including the hostage-taking and the massacre on 7 October, which are, again, crimes against humanity. However, that does not invalidate the UN Security Council resolution, and my response to the reasons given for opposing a ceasefire—namely, that it will not be observed by either party—is that there are precedents for ceasefires happening. The pause that we had recently was a type of ceasefire, which was observed by both sides. Frankly, I do not see anything wrong with calling for a ceasefire. I think that the more voices that are added to those calls, the better, and the UK’s voice would be a powerful one.

Why cannot we call for a ceasefire when it appears that breaches of international law are happening? Certainly, prima facie that is the case. I hope that this country, as an upholder of international law, would do that. The fact that we are approaching 20,000 deaths, most of them deaths of civilians, and the fact that half of the housing in Gaza has been destroyed show that these are, at best, negligent actions by the Israelis, that they are indiscriminate and that the results are atrocious.

I visited Gaza just after Operation Cast Lead; I have seen what an Israeli ground invasion means. I saw white phosphorus on the ground, I saw hospitals that had been shelled and I saw families who had lost multiple members through bombing. And I also saw the destruction of civilian infrastructure. Therefore, I say to the Minister that when he responds to the debate, he needs to deal with these issues, including the need for a ceasefire, and he must come up with a more credible response on behalf of the UK Government, because at the moment all we are seeing is multiple deaths of civilians happening on a daily basis.

Photo of Kate Hollern Kate Hollern Llafur, Blackburn 6:02, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

Blackburn is in the top 10 for the number of signatories to two of the three petitions that we are debating this afternoon. In the short time available to me, I will speak to the core concern of the three petitions.

First, on the question of the UK’s neutrality, international law states that nations have the right to self-defence, but it also dictates that this right must be exercised proportionately. I am sure that future investigations will determine whether that is what is happening in Gaza today.

On 7 October, it was a dark day and I absolutely condemn the horrific terror attack carried out by Hamas. It left 1,200 Israeli people dead, and they were killed in such an horrendous manner, as has been described by Andrew Percy, who is no longer in his place. However, please remember that Hamas are not the Palestinian people; Hamas are not the innocent women and children who are suffering today.

Photo of Kate Hollern Kate Hollern Llafur, Blackburn

I will make a bit of progress first.

The terrible crime does not justify the collective punishment of millions. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, around 18,000 Palestinians have now been killed. It is estimated that about 70% of them are women and children. While such deaths are occurring on a daily basis, the UK Government abstained in the votes on last week’s United Nations resolutions, which called for a ceasefire. They claim it will not happen: “Why call for it? It won’t happen.” Doing difficult things is what this Government should do. They say that it is too difficult to do things; they are taking the easy option. But we cannot stand by and watch the horrors we are witnessing every day.

Thousands of people have been left without sufficient food and water, and hospitals are on the verge of total shutdown as fuel runs out. Patients are undergoing surgery with no pain relief. Aid agencies continue to warn that the humanitarian disaster in Gaza is worsening by the minute. Some 2.3 million people are homeless and trapped in a tiny, embattled enclave with little food, water or medical attention.

Finally, on the ceasefire, I believe that the only way forward is an immediate ceasefire that is binding on all sides. It is for that reason that I voted for amendment (h) to the King’s Speech: I could not, in good conscience, have done anything else.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Llafur, Wirral West

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I associate myself with her remarks calling for an immediate ceasefire—that is absolutely essential. Does she agree with Amnesty International, which is urging the UK Government to call on Israel to end its 16-year long illegal blockade of Gaza, starting by immediately suspending its recent increased restrictions on food, fuel, electricity and water, which is collective punishment amounting to a war crime?

Photo of Kate Hollern Kate Hollern Llafur, Blackburn

I agree entirely. We must remember that this situation did not start on 7 October.

International calls for a ceasefire are numerous; they are coming from all over the world, apart from the US and the UK, and they will continue to grow. Yesterday, the World Health Organisation executive board adopted a resolution aimed at addressing the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza and again called for a ceasefire. Some 76% of the UK public support a ceasefire. Why are this Government not listening?

We have now had some humanitarian pauses, which were welcome, but a brief respite and the release of more than 100 hostages and 240 Palestinians in detention are insufficient. It is regrettable that world leaders failed to use the time to broker a permanent ceasefire. The only solution is a diplomatically negotiated one: a two-state solution that comprises a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine is the only way to secure lasting peace.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

I echo the hon. Member’s calls for a two-state solution. Does she agree that it is outrageous for a senior Israeli official to reckon that one third of those killed so far in the war were combatants, because by deduction that would mean that two thirds of those killed—more than 10,000 people—must be civilians, and that we cannot dismiss those civilian deaths as mere collateral damage?

Photo of Kate Hollern Kate Hollern Llafur, Blackburn

Absolutely. As I said earlier, I am quite sure that a future investigation will expose some of the information being released.

I appreciate that a negotiated ceasefire that is binding on all sides—that is the important part—will be difficult and a huge diplomatic task, but sitting on our hands will not achieve anything. The situation is growing worse by the day, and as John Nicolson said earlier, we have a breeding ground for the future of Hamas unless we do something. We start by talking, we start by listening, and we start by putting pressure on people to stop bombing innocent women and children.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:08, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I rise to speak on the petitions before us today in no particular order, but I do not think that anyone inside or outside this Chamber would disagree with e-petition 648383, which calls on the Government to urge the Israeli Government to allow fuel, electricity and food into Gaza. The fact that aid has started is welcome, but it is nowhere near enough; we all appreciate that fact. However, I do not rise in support of e-petition 648292, which calls on the Government to seek a ceasefire. I find myself in a very unusual position, in that I will quote someone who I never thought I would quote, and that is Bernie Sanders. Over the weekend, he said:

“In terms of a permanent ceasefire, I don’t know how you can have a permanent ceasefire with Hamas, who has said before October 7 and after October 7 that they want to destroy Israel. They want a permanent war. I don’t know how you have a permanent ceasefire with an attitude like that…I think Israel has the right to defend itself” if it goes after Hamas, but not after the Palestinian people. Those are very powerful words, with which, again, I think everyone would agree.

We have had a ceasefire previously. In fact, we had a humanitarian pause just recently, which ended on 1 December. That broke down because Hamas broke the terms of that truce. They started trying to dictate which hostages would be released, and then they began again to fire rockets indiscriminately towards residential areas of Israel—itself a war crime. If a temporary truce cannot hold, what chance is there of a permanent ceasefire?

We have an important duty in this place. I have a lot of sympathy with those calling for a ceasefire—who could see bodies being dragged out of rubble and not want that to stop? Everyone with any shred of dignity would want that. However, is that realistic? I do not think so. The pogrom of 7 October—I call it a pogrom because that is what it was—and the sheer scale of the attack that day shook the world. It shook my constituents, who have family members and friends who were not only taken hostage but killed that day—family members such as Vivian Silver, whose cousins I sat and spoke to when I was in shul at the Shrubberies, and again in Whitefield. Her cousins thought she had been taken hostage. The attack was so brutal that her body was not identified until 14 November, more than a month and a half after she was murdered. It took that long to be able to identify her remains and show she had been murdered by Hamas.

I stand with my constituents in saying that calling for a ceasefire is not the right call to make. I have gone to many shuls, spoken at many vigils and spoken to many of my constituents, and they agree. Like you, Mr McCabe, I was at Kibbutz Kfar Aza earlier this year; the tranquillity of that location is now permanently broken. As you will know, our tour guide lost pretty much her entire family that day. Her parents were murdered, and her little brother survived only by hiding under the dead bodies of his parents for seven hours. That is the barbarity—the animal nature—that we are facing.

Hamas do not care about peace. As has been said already, they say in their charter they want to wipe Jewish people off the face of the earth. But it is not just Hamas; Hezbollah in the north and Iran in the middle east are destabilising the entire region. We need to speak more about what we are doing with Iran. I make a plea again to the Minister: as has been said throughout this year and beforehand, now is the time to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety, because it is Iran that is getting these weapons to Hamas in Gaza.

There are many questions as to what is going on in Gaza. There is a terror tunnel network—that cannot be denied. We have seen the footage; we have seen the blast doors; we have seen the fire holes. It is not set up for normal transport around Gaza, but to support terror activities. That is why Israel has the right to defend itself by going after Hamas: to make sure no attacks like that can take place ever again. On 1 November, Ghazi Hamad, a senior member of Hamas, told Lebanese television that Hamas would repeat the attacks of 7 October

“a second time and a third time”,

and keep on repeating those attacks until there is no Israel. That is why I cannot support a ceasefire.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Sub-Committee on National Security and Investment, Chair, Business and Trade Sub-Committee on National Security and Investment 6:13, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

I congratulate my hon. Friend Cat Smith on so eloquently introducing this debate, and I, too, congratulate the petitioners on organising a petition with so much support across the country, including across my constituency. Thousands of my constituents have signed these petitions, and thousands more have written to me to express their feelings about the appalling violence they see unfolding in Gaza.

In almost every one of the getting on for 6,000 emails I have received, there has been unequivocal condemnation of the violence, attacks and brutality perpetrated by the terrorists of Hamas on 7 October: the indiscriminate slaughter of 1,200 people in Israel—it was indeed a pogrom—the rockets indiscriminately fired by Hamas; the indiscriminate hostage taking. My constituents, like the constituents of so many hon. Members here today, have watched in horror at the destruction that has now cost the lives of 18,000 people in Gaza, that has now injured 50,000 people in Gaza and that has now rendered Gaza the most dangerous place on earth to be a civilian. Some 2.2 million people are now in desperate need of food assistance.

UNRWA—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which we helped to create all those years ago to bring respite to the people of Gaza and the west bank—now calls Gaza “hell on earth”. The World Food Programme is now very clear:

“With just a fraction of the needed food supplies coming in, a fatal absence of fuel, interruptions to communications systems and no security for our staff…we cannot do our job.”

The World Food Programme—a food programme created by the world to feed those in need—is now saying clearly to us that it can no longer do its job.

Oxfam is also now clear that the safe zones are, in its words,

“a mirage: unprotected, not agreed…beyond Gaza itself”.

It fears that people will be forced out of Gaza for the last time, and that the aid agencies will be forced into the devil’s own choice of providing aid while collaborating with that evacuation of people from Gaza.

When we have violence that extreme, surely what we should be doing across this House is arguing for a binding-on-all-sides ceasefire, arguing for peace, and arguing for negotiations. Instead, our Government went to the United Nations, days before we celebrated the anniversary of the UN declaration of human rights, and abstained on a question of moral force and justice. That motion itself was triggered by the United Nations Secretary-General—not a nobody—using emergency provisions, because he warned that the humanitarian aid system was at “risk of collapse”. That is how bad it had become.

In a situation like that, it was the wrong call to abstain on that UN Security Council vote. We should have voted for a ceasefire. We should have voted with almost every other member of the Security Council and sent a message of peace, of negotiations and of a binding-on-all-sides ceasefire, not least because such a vote would not have been without precedent.

I was a member of the Cabinet in 2009 when we voted for Security Council resolution 1860. Despite United States opposition, that called for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. We must be honest; it was not immediately successful, but it changed the terms of the debate on the ground. It laid the groundwork for the peace that eventually came. That is what it means to use our weight in the international institutions of which the UK is a member to make the case for peace—to make the case for a permanent ceasefire.

I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to explain, when he rises to his feet: if not now, then when? How many more people will die before the United Kingdom does the right thing and votes for peace, votes for negotiations and, yes, votes for a ceasefire?

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 6:19, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It a pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Mr McCabe. The petitions that we are debating today reflect the deep anguish that so many people are experiencing as we see the images from the horrific conflict in the middle east on our phones and TV screens. The attack by Hamas on 7 October was an utterly horrific outrage, the biggest terror attack since 9/11 and the largest killing of Jewish people since the holocaust. We stand with Israeli citizens in their pain and trauma, in condemnation of Hamas, in the call for all hostages to be released, and in the desire never again to experience such horror.

But since 7 October we have seen an unprecedented killing of civilians in Gaza. More Palestinians have been killed in the past two months than in the previous 75 years of the existence of the state of Israel. More civilians have been killed in this conflict than have been killed by Russia during the war in Ukraine.

All conflicts are constrained by international law, which requires proportionality and the protection of civilians. International law also confers strict obligations on Israel as an occupying power. It is clear from many testimonies coming out of Gaza that Israel’s response to the horror of 7 October has not been proportionate, and that civilians have not been protected. In addition to the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been killed in the violence, a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Gaza due to the destruction of critical infrastructure and the lack of access to deliver aid at scale. Civilians are dying due to a lack of medicine, food and water, and there is an imminent risk of deadly disease.

The UK Government say, repeatedly and correctly, that the Israeli Government must act within international law. In the face of the unfolding and unremitting horror in Gaza, the killing of civilians, the displacement of a majority of the population, and the humanitarian catastrophe, my first question is: what action will the UK Government take when the Israeli Government are so plainly not acting within international law? It appears that the UK Government’s approach has been to avoid criticism of Israel in public and to seek to exert pressure in private. But that is clearly not yielding results.

The track record of the Israeli Government in previous conflicts in Gaza is clear: they will stop the violence when the international pressure gets too much. When the Israeli Government will not respond to private pressure, the time has come to say publicly what so many people can see in front of their eyes: the conflict in Gaza must stop, because the killing of so many innocent civilians is unacceptable, and illegal in international law. We must call for a ceasefire, because the current situation simply cannot continue, and we must work to ensure that the next ceasefire becomes permanent.

However, we must also turn our attention to the question of how peace can be established in this region. Just as it is clear that the human cost of the current Israeli military strategy is unacceptable, it is also clear that this strategy cannot and will not succeed in creating a context for peace. Support for the Israeli people’s desire to live in peace and security requires the Israeli Government to be challenged on their current military strategy, which is of such unrelenting ferocity that it can only fuel more hatred. The violence must stop, and the ground must be laid for a political strategy for the defeat of Hamas—a political process for the realisation of a two-state solution, where a safe and secure Israel lives alongside a sovereign Palestine. Hamas will not be defeated militarily unless there is a credible plan to win peace.

The Israeli Government’s current actions in Gaza are creating a traumatised generation of Gazans and teaching them that there is no peaceful co-existence with Israel. It is also important that the Israeli Government are challenged on the inflammatory and unacceptable rhetoric of some of their Ministers, who have referred to Gazans as animals and called for population transfers—ethnic cleansing by another name. The cause of peace cannot be advanced while such statements go unchallenged. Can the Minister say why the UK Government have not contradicted those statements or sanctioned those responsible?

The Palestinian people need to understand that there is a broad coalition of countries and leaders that support them in their desire for peace and self-determination and that are willing to challenge the actions of the Israeli Government in Gaza and the west bank, including illegal settlements and settler violence, which are designed to undermine the two-state solution. Why have the UK Government not followed the US in taking visa action against the leaders of illegal settlements and participants in settler violence? What are the UK Government doing to assess the legality of IDF action in Gaza? What is being said to the Israeli Government about the conditionality of future arms exports? What are the UK Government doing to build a consensus that describes a concrete alternative with other key countries, including France, Germany, the Gulf states and Egypt, and how many of those countries has the Prime Minister spoken to since the war restarted?

Palestinians and Israelis need to see that the two-state solution is more than simply words: it is a reality that can be achieved, because there is a genuine commitment to work for it across the international community. They need a ceasefire now.

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Llafur, Birkenhead 6:24, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. All nations have the right to self-defence, but it is vital that they do so in accordance with their responsibilities under international law. It is incumbent on all countries to ensure that wherever conflict is taking place, international human rights law is upheld. In the week of the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the universal declaration of human rights, those obligations are of particular resonance.

The civilian population of Gaza, about half of whom are under the age of 18, bears no responsibility for the atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October—for neither the 1,200 Israelis who were murdered nor the approximately 240 kidnapped. These are appalling war crimes that were perpetrated by Hamas, and yet it is Palestinian civilians—most of all the young, the ill and the elderly—who are being forced to pay the price, as a result of the unrelenting bombardment and siege of Gaza.

According to the United Nations, more than 17,000 people have been killed since 7 October and approximately 1.9 million people in Gaza—about 85% of the population —have been displaced and made homeless. The scale of this humanitarian crisis has been described by the chief of Oxfam GB as the worst that he has ever witnessed. The spectre of death, disease and hunger loom.

At a time when it is needed most desperately, even the right to healthcare is under attack, as the UN special rapporteur on the right to health has warned, with at least 364 attacks on healthcare facilities having been recorded by 7 December, resulting in at least 553 deaths. Communicable diseases, including respiratory illnesses and diarrhoea, are spreading fast, in a grave situation that will only grow worse as the winter progresses.

Confronted by a humanitarian catastrophe on that scale, the United Kingdom has a moral obligation to demonstrate political leadership and press for an immediate ceasefire and for the beginning of a political process aimed at securing a lasting and equitable peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Only an enduring ceasefire—not a humanitarian pause, and not the unilateral designation of patches of land without adequate infrastructure, food, water, healthcare or hygiene as “safe zones”—can ensure that aid workers can access those in need and allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered at the pace and scale that is so desperately needed. The polite appeals that we have heard from the Government that civilian casualties be minimised are simply not enough. What we need to see now from the Government is the clear and unequivocal message that the human suffering that we are witnessing in Gaza cannot and must not continue.

I regret that that a family emergency precluded me from being in Parliament to vote for the SNP’s amendment to the motion on the King’s Speech advocating for a ceasefire. I am concerned that the British Government continue to fail to lend their voice to the growing chorus across the international community calling for a ceasefire now. The decision not to join our ally France in voting for the motion calling for a ceasefire, which was recently brought before the UN Security Council, was a profound diplomatic and moral failing and a betrayal of our responsibilities towards the people of Gaza.

Such responsibilities extend also to considering what role the UK might play in supplying the Israeli Defence Forces during the current conflict. This is not a moral obligation, but a legal one, as Lord Cameron recognised in 2014 when, as Prime Minister, his Government undertook a review of licensed exports to Israel and warned that, should significant hostilities in Gaza recommence, they would suspend existing licences for components that could be used by the Israeli Defence Forces. Now, as then, the Government should suspend all existing licences to Israel while they assess whether their exports to Israel are compliant with their obligations under the arms trade treaty and whether there is a clear risk of UK arms licensed to Israel being used in contravention of the strategic export licensing criteria.

We stand at a critical juncture for the future of millions of Palestinians and Israelis, as well as for the wider region. Now more than ever, the UK must recognise its moral duty towards those who are trapped amid the devastation being visited on Gaza and do everything within its power to secure an end to the violence.

Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Annibynnol, Leicester East 6:29, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe. I thank the thousands of petitioners who have called for this debate.

The latest estimates say that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has destroyed or severely damaged 60% to 70% of buildings and homes in northern Gaza, and now many more in southern Gaza. The terrifying toll of innocent deaths continues to rise, with at least 10,000 children killed, according to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. Many thousands more have been injured, maimed or forced to undergo operations without anaesthetic. I am comforting too many constituents in Leicester East who have lost family members and loved ones under the rubble. I have received over 6,400 items of correspondence from constituents calling for a ceasefire.

The toll from bombs and missiles is appalling, but the desperate crisis of starvation and disease is set to be even worse. Yet today the Israeli Government have blamed the United Nations for not doing enough to deliver aid to the people of Gaza, claiming with unabashed arrogance that

“the aid is there, and the people need it.”

The UN has pointed out in response that aid at the border is held up by Israeli checks and that UN staff are unable to get aid to the people or even to get to the Rafah crossing, because of the intensity of hostilities. The UN has already lost more than 150 of its people to Israeli bombs and shells, and it is short of trucks to carry supplies because so many trucks have been destroyed. It has added that even if aid could travel freely, Israel’s Government are only allowing in about a fifth per day of what Gaza needs, intensifying the suffering and starvation and the diseases that result.

Last week, we saw the Israeli Government planting Israel’s flags in the middle of flattened residential districts, suggesting that their aims in Gaza go further than simply destroying Hamas. We are hearing Israeli Government Ministers mockingly calling this horror “Nakba 2023”, and even suggesting dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza, while Israeli Government Departments are discussing plans to push Gazans into a tent city in the Egyptian desert in Sinai, and yet our Government continue to describe this unrestrained assault and siege as

“Israel’s…right to defend itself”,

even in their response to the petitions we are discussing today.

Last week, we saw the shameful spectacle of the UK being the only member of the UN Security Council to abstain on the motion for a ceasefire in Gaza. The scale of the bombardment of Gaza and the loss of civilian life require immediate action. I will not be an accomplice. Collective punishment is a war crime. Forcible transfer is a war crime. Denying food, water and electricity is a war crime. The bombing of refugee camps, schools and hospitals is a war crime. Consequently, along with other parliamentarians worldwide and members of civil society, I have signed a petition asking the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute war crimes by Israel. The international initiative Justice for Gaza calls on the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the Israeli Government for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The question is why the UK Government are not even participating in the collective call for evidence that was issued by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. If it wishes to count itself as a civilised nation, the UK can no longer sit on its hands while Gaza is starved, massacred and bombed. The atrocities that happened in Israel on 7 October and Israel’s trauma cannot be a free pass to indiscriminately kill and bomb innocent civilians in Gaza.

How many more must die? I am asking the Government to advise in detail what concrete steps they are taking to bring about an urgent end to hostilities. What do they know about Israel’s ultimate goals in Gaza? In particular, what steps are they taking to pressure the Israeli Government to stop bombing civilians and destroying vital infrastructure? What are they doing to call for a permanent, lasting ceasefire? Just saying that the Government are calling on Israel to minimise casualties simply will not wash, when it is clear to all that there is no restraint and that many thousands more will die if things continue as they are.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education) 6:34, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

Thank you for allowing me to speak in this debate, Mr McCabe. I congratulate those who put forward the petitions that enabled it.

Let me start by stating, as all of us in this Chamber have done, that I absolutely abhor the violence of 7 October, which was perpetrated on unarmed civilians in the various kibbutzim and at the music festival. It was shocking; 1,200 people were killed and 200 hostages were taken. It was not just the killing that was so disgusting, but the maiming and mutilation of women, children and men. But in meeting violence with violence, the response from Israel and the IDF has, I think, been utterly disproportionate and remains, for sure, a concern worldwide.

We have seen the various motions put forward by the United Nations Security Council and the Secretary-General recognising that this is intolerable and that we need to bring the sides together and strive for peace, because what we are witnessing is not a conflict where the asymmetry of the conflict is so considerable. We were promised a conflict of precision and intelligence in routing out Hamas, but what we are actually seeing is the indiscriminate loss of civilian lives: women, children and men. As so many colleagues have described, the scenes are so horrifying. It is very difficult for many of us worldwide to watch these scenes on our TVs, listen on the radio and see on social media the scale of the devastation and the loss of life.

I really had believed, and I do wish to believe, that Israel wishes to secure the three Hamas leaders, but the way it is going about it seems to be utterly inappropriate. The only way in which this will be brought to a resolution is through political negotiation and through targeted military action, but the fact that this is now spreading into more activity in the west bank, with even greater numbers of illegal settlements, must concern all of us, not just in the region but around the world.

I do live in some hope. My right hon. Friend Liam Byrne recalled resolution 1860 (2009)—how it was brought about, how the UK was able to act, the leadership it showed and the influence it was able to have on our long-term ally the US, which abstained in that particular vote but brought about the necessary ceasefire a week later. We need to see peace in the region and a stable, secure Israel, but the only way we are ever going to achieve that is with a stable, secure Palestine as well. For too long, nations and politicians in this place have ignored the plight of that region. We have to bring focus urgently to that part of the world to bring about a permanent peace, a permanent secure, stable Palestine and a secure Israel.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Defence)

We seem to have come to the end of our supply of speakers a little earlier than anticipated, so I will now call the Front Benchers.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession) 6:39, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is good to see you in your place, Mr McCabe. It is a privilege to sum up for the SNP in this debate. I pay tribute to some really excellent contributions from colleagues across the House, but I have to say that I do so with a sense of deep sadness. All of us feel this personally. We are all of us connected to this patch of land. Israel and Palestine combined are smaller than the Strathclyde Regional Council area was, and yet the geopolitical implications and the links that the area has to communities worldwide and across all our islands are significant.

I feel it personally, too. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and, with my family, spent much of the ’80s in Riyadh. My folks have just retired, back from Kuwait. In the European Parliament, I was a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and served in the middle east working group. I have been back and forth to the region—Gaza, the west bank and Israel—many times, and I count myself a friend of all innocents. I count myself a friend of Israel and Palestine. I have never seen it as bad as I see it now; I have never felt more bleak and frankly more fearful for the future, not just in the region but in our communities, given the connections that we have to it.

The SNP’s position, on this as on all matters, is that international law has to be applied in all cases and in all circumstances. Our position is principled neutrality. We believe in a two-state solution, much as that is an increasingly forlorn hope, especially right now. We support all innocents. We condemn all violence. Having been back and forth to the region many times, I am well aware that each society is complex and each society is complicated, and I want to see the innocent protected in all societies.

We share the pain of everyone, but what we have seen too much of over the past few months is people minimising others’ pain and legitimising ongoing violence on the basis of pain inculcated into their own communities over many decades. We heard powerful testimony about how dreadful the 7 October attacks were. Of course they were—they absolutely were—but history did not start on 7 October, and to minimise anyone’s pain is not to help a just solution.

Some facts, because it is worth agreeing on some facts: Israel has a right to exist; it has a right to exist within its borders; it has a right to defend itself, proportionately; Hamas are a terrible organisation, a terrorist organisation; the 7 October attacks were barbarism that we unreservedly condemn. But the response to those attacks is redrawing the map of the middle east before our very eyes, and yet again the Palestinian people have been comprehensively let down by the international community.

I fear that what is happening now is going to fuel extremism. It is going to fuel antisemitism and Islamophobia —it is possible to be equally concerned about the rise of both, in all our communities. I fear that the events in the middle east right now could create real problems within our own societies, across the whole of Europe and indeed the world.

In our Committees, we have seen a huge interest from the public, as seen by the response to the petitions: “Remain neutral in Israel-Palestine conflict and withdraw support for Israel”, “Seek a ceasefire and to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip” and “Urge the Israel Government to allow fuel, electricity and food into Gaza”. The SNP supports all those petitions. We believe that they would go towards a just peace.

We are very proud of the role that we played in the King’s Speech debate in forcing the House to a vote on an amendment on the need for a ceasefire, because we believe we need a ceasefire. I appreciate that others disagree, but surely peace has to be built on a cessation of hostilities. I take all the points about Hamas. I am a gay man; Hamas throw people like me off high buildings. I carry no torch for anyone within this conflict, but surely peace has to be based on a ceasefire and a dialogue.

We lost that vote on the King’s Speech, which I regret—I pay tribute to all colleagues who supported it—but we will not give up. We have heard a number of references to the 2009 precedent that in supporting UN Security Council resolution 1860 on ending Operation Cast Lead, the UK was influential, with the European Union, in changing the US position. It was influential on changing the reality on the ground. It was influential in creating peace.

We need that again. We need it again because the Israeli Government are going in entirely the wrong direction. The Israeli Government are acting with what seems to be impunity. They are funnelling cash into new settlements right now. We see that happening, and I fear that the long-term consequences will be utterly unsustainable and will undermine any possibility of a just peace.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman is making a relatively even-handed speech and I would not quite say that I disagree, but as he knows, the consequence of previous ceasefires was the continued building up of the terror network in Gaza and the continued aiming of thousands of rockets, each one of them aimed at civilians. The consequence was the much greater murder of innocents that we saw on 7 October. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is genuine in his desire for a ceasefire, but what is his policy for how we rid Hamas—who we all hate equally, I hope—from the governance of the Gaza strip?

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important intervention. I agree that we need to rid the region of Hamas for the benefit of the Palestinians in Gaza as well as the wider region, but I do not see that there is a military answer to that, and I do not see the military campaign as being that successful in its eradication, frankly. What we are seeing is disproportionate attacks on civilians. Particularly in northern Gaza but increasingly in the south, we are seeing any prospect of a viable two-state solution or a viable community for people to go back to being ruined. That is targeting, perhaps indirectly, the civilians in the region. That fuels the conditions in which Hamas prosper and makes it easier for Hamas to continue. So we disagree on that: I think a ceasefire has to happen in order to allow talks—however difficult, however painful—to progress, because Hamas are not going away.

We need to go further than a ceasefire. I will make a couple of points to the Minister, who knows I have much respect for him. We need, surely, to focus more on accountability in the long term. We are seeing individuals—non-state actors or otherwise—acting with what seems to be a lack of accountability. We surely need to support the International Criminal Court’s investigation and its call for evidence. The UK is in a position to be particularly influential within that. We are seeing war crimes, and war crimes need to be properly investigated by proper authorities. I do not think that politicians ourselves should shoot from the hip on such matters, but we need a proper investigation by the proper authorities, and that needs to be supported by the UK, surely.

We need to see a greater focus on the proxy violence by settlers in the west bank and Jerusalem, because we are seeing the map of the middle east being redrawn before our eyes. The prospect of a two-state solution is being utterly undermined by the policies of the Israeli Government right now, today. That has to stop, and there must be accountability for it. The map is being redrawn, and that surely has to result in consequences in law. We also—this is another point for the Minister—need to stop aiding Israel in its military action, because to my mind there is sufficient and genuine concern about matériel supplied being misused against civilians, however indirectly or accidentally. Surely there is sufficient concern that in order to help a peace, the UK should stop supplying logistical and surveillance support to the state of Israel and its actions, because they are disproportionate.

I do believe that a just peace is possible. I do believe that the eastern Mediterranean could be paradise, but it has been blighted by the legacy of empire and blighted by corruption, religious politics, political religion and all sorts of other issues. What we are seeing right now is going to have great consequence for our communities into the future, and for the region. We should support peace. We should support a ceasefire. If the Minister is looking to work on that, I will back him all the way.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Middle East and North Africa) 6:48, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr McCabe.

No one can doubt the gravity of the situation in Gaza. Despite what we see on our television screens night after night, we cannot begin to understand the horror for the people of Gaza, who live through this terror day in, day out. It is particularly moving and distressing to see so many children who have lost their lives and are being injured in such a terrible way.

Equally, no one can doubt the sincerity of the people of this country who share our emotions and who decided to sign the petitions in such great numbers—many thousands of people. I have also been extremely moved by the contributions that we have heard from Members today. We have heard a number of genuine and heartfelt contributions; if there is a commonality between them, it is that our shared view is that the killing and horror must stop as quickly as humanly possible. The question is: what would our intervention be most effective in doing, and what form should that intervention take?

A number of people have said that we should be arguing for a ceasefire from both parties as quickly as possible. I can understand the sentiment behind that, because we all want to stop the killing, but it is important to bear in mind that if we are to have a genuine ceasefire, it needs both warring parties to agree to that. Unfortunately, there is little indication that that would be the case.

That is why, personally, I believe very strongly that we must argue for a meaningful cessation of violence. It has happened on one occasion; sadly, it did not continue, but I still think it is worth making the case for that, because that will save lives and will hopefully move us towards a situation in which we could have a genuine, long-lasting peace. It is also important to recognise that that momentary pause saw the release of a number of a hostages. That is something that we must never forget. It was extremely important for those families who were concerned about those hostages, who were being held in the most appalling conditions and were being treated badly, it seems. That must be foremost in our minds as well.

A further meaningful cessation of violence would allow the real relief that is desperately needed to come into Gaza in a meaningful way. We had some short respite, but that is obviously nowhere near enough. We must place the emphasis on what is desperately needed by so many people there: more food, more water, more medicines and, critically, more fuel.

It is so important that we do not lock ourselves into seemingly esoteric discussions about what words or phrases we use. We must do everything we humanly can to make life easier for the people of Gaza. In a very practical sense, there is also a need for our Government and all Governments to argue for more relief routes into Gaza. I strongly urge the Government to make forceful representations, if they are not currently making them already, for the Kerem Shalom crossing to be opened by the Israeli Government as quickly as possible.

I want to make a few broader points as well. Inevitably, and quite rightly perhaps, our focus is on the situation in Gaza. Let us not forget what is happening in the west bank as well. Since 7 October, we have seen an increase in settler violence, we have seen some 300 attacks by illegal settlers, and we have seen 250 Palestinian people killed, as well as four Israelis. It is extremely important to recognise in this situation that those settlements—which have taken place, are currently expanding, and it seems being given more funds by the Israeli Government—should not be there. They are illegal settlements.

Today, at least, we should be saying that there should be no increase in those settlements. Hopefully, we can move to a situation where there are no such settlements in a future Palestinian state. It is also important that we note what the United States of America has being saying and doing, and I take note of what my hon. Friend Helen Hayes said regarding action on visas. I think it is very important that the United Kingdom does exactly the same as the United States.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. On the point on the illegal settlements, does he share a concern that this current conflict is potentially being exploited by certain factions within the coalition Government to pursue a particular ideology, and to actually accelerate that programme of illegal settlement in the pursuit of the eradication of Palestine as once imagined?

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Middle East and North Africa)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point indeed. It is very important that if we are going to move towards a two-state solution—I will say a little bit more about that in the future—it is necessary for us to recognise that political change and moderation is needed on both sides. We cannot have a situation where Hamas are seen to be the dominant Palestinian voice—they are not, incidentally, but many people believe that to be the case—when they want the destruction of the state of Israel.

We have to make sure we have strong connections with, and give support to, more reasonable Palestinian people who want to have a compromise with Israel and a two-state solution; but that applies equally to Israel as well. Unfortunately, Netanyahu is on record as being against a two-state solution, and there are elements in his war cabinet who want to see the encroachment of Israeli settlers into much of the west bank—some people have even suggested into Gaza as well.

It is extremely important that the international community begins to think about those issues, and begins to work towards a consensus on what needs to be achieved in the future. That is very important for ensuring we have a longer-term perspective, even in these dark days of conflict.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

I am the only Conservative Member on this side of the Chamber, so hopefully I can be indulged a little. I hope the hon. Gentleman was not trying to draw any equivalence between democratically elected politicians in Israel—whether we agree with them or not—and desire for political change involving Hamas. On that point, would he share my concern that while we all want to see increased co-operation, Palestinian pollsters the Arab World for Research and Development—that is based in Ramallah, and I have met with its staff—show that, I think, 83% of Palestinians across the west bank currently reject co-existence with Israel, and 75% of them support the attacks of 7 October. How are we going to affect that political change when the views on the other side seem so intransigent on the issue?

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Middle East and North Africa)

First, I do recognise that Israel is a democratic state, but at the same time I recognise that a minority of politicians—albeit duly elected—do not articulate what is the view of most Israeli people; that is why it is important for us to stress moderation. I am someone who has been to both the west bank and Israel, and I strongly believe that the vast majority of everyone I met wants peace, and to live together in peaceful co-existence. It is our duty to work towards that, and to make sure they have the context in which they can work out that long-term peaceful settlement.

I want to say something about looking to the future. Joanna Cherry made a very good point when she stressed the importance of international humanitarian law—it is absolutely essential. We cannot be in a situation where we pick and choose which international laws we like; they must apply to everyone in all situations. It is incumbent on us as an international community, and as a country that upholds international law, to make sure that the International Criminal Court is able to look into the conduct of this conflict by all sides and come to some very firm conclusions that must influence our politics in the future.

It is also important that the Government play a very proactive role in the future of the middle east. I might be wrong, but I get the impression that over the last few years our Government have tended to downgrade the importance of their engagement with the middle east—that needs to change. There needs to be far greater emphasis, consistency and real commitment from the Government, and I hope we will see that in the future. It is important we see that in the near future, because once this conflict is over what we cannot see is another Nakba occurring. We cannot see the population of Gaza being forced into Egypt: that is totally unacceptable. That is why I want a meaningful cessation of hostilities, so that we can begin to talk materially about these issues. I want to see Gaza being rebuilt, which will require greater investment by the international community. It will mean Britain and others working with the Arab states to make sure that there is sufficient investment and security, both for Palestinians and for Israelis, as soon as the conflict is over.

My final point is that it is very important that in this difficult situation we hold out a clear vision for the future, and it is also very important that that future must rest on a two-state solution. To achieve that, we need to have hope; we need to have hope that it is better for people to live together than to engage in perpetual conflict. The choice for the international community is very clear. One possibility is pretending that, once the conflict is over, “There you are, we can pack our bags, forget about it and go on to the next conflict.” We cannot do that. We must learn the lesson of history, which is that if the international community, working with everybody in the region, does not do its level best to make sure that there is a two-state solution, this terrible conflict will be replicated in 20 years’ time, another 20 years after that and so on.

We have to make sure that the issue is addressed in a systematic and coherent way. I very much hope that the Government share that perspective and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to this debate.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 7:01, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

I am grateful to the Petitions Committee for allowing this important debate and to Cat Smith, who has led it. The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, is engaged elsewhere in his parliamentary duties, so I am delighted to be able to respond to the debate today. I am also grateful to Members for their powerful and sincere contributions to the debate from across the Chamber this afternoon.

Of course we are all very clear, as has been described at length and in moving detail this afternoon, that a profound tragedy is unfolding in the middle east. Israel has suffered the worst terror attack in its history and in Gaza, too many civilians are dying in this major humanitarian crisis. This afternoon, we have heard moving testimony about some of the tragedies on all sides.

The hostage release deal, which began in late November, offered a desperately needed moment of hope and respite, and we will continue to press at the UN and directly with Israel for unhindered humanitarian access and further substantive and repeated humanitarian pauses.

The brutal attack on 7 October included the murder of more than 1,200 people and the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has reported that more than 18,000 civilians are dead in Gaza. Fifteen British nationals have lost their lives and a small number of other British nationals have been taken hostage. More than 100 hostages continue to be held in Gaza, where three quarters of the population have been displaced.

Of course the UK Government have made it clear that Israel has the right to defend itself, to free the hostages and to ensure that such an attack can never happen again. At the same time, Israel must comply with international humanitarian law and take every possible precaution to minimise harm to civilians.

On Hamas, we have made our position plain. Hamas can have no future in Gaza after their appalling terrorist attacks. They pose a fundamental challenge to the very idea of an Israeli state. So, Hamas must release all hostages, stop endangering the lives of Palestinians and lay down their arms.

Let me turn now to the three petitions that we are debating today. First, on the call for neutrality, we support Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and to take action against terrorism. Hamas terrorists have brutally murdered, raped, kidnapped and maimed ordinary civilians in Israel, and callously put civilians in Gaza at risk.

The Hamas campaign has not stopped since 7 October. Hamas have fired hundreds of rockets and publicly repeated their desire to destroy the Israeli state. Hamas does not speak or act in the interests of the Palestinian people.

As the Prime Minister has said, we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. We continue to urge Israel to ensure that its campaign targets Hamas fighters and military objectives. It is vital that all parties ensure that their actions comply with international humanitarian law and that they take every possible step to minimise harm to civilians.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister says that the UK Government urge the Israeli Government to undertake targeted strikes and protect civilians. What will the UK Government do next when it is plain for all to see that civilians in Gaza are not being protected and the strikes are not as targeted as they should be?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As I have already stated and will state again, it is vital that all sides comply with international humanitarian law. Israel must take every possible step to minimise harm, and it is subject to international law like everyone else. It must also do more to stop settler violence and hold those responsible to account; we raised that directly with the Israeli Government. Indeed, UK Ministers, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, have pressed those points in all engagements with their Israeli counterparts very recently. We want to see a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.

I turn to the petition on aid for Gaza. We continue to urge the Israeli Government to allow the immediate, unimpeded and safe access of lifesaving fuel, electricity and food. Palestinian civilians should not suffer the consequences of Hamas’s brutality. As the Foreign Secretary made clear, the agreement on 22 November to pause hostilities was a crucial step toward addressing the humanitarian emergency in Gaza. The pause provided an important opportunity for food, fuel and other lifesaving equipment to enter Gaza, including from the UK, via Egypt. The UK has provided 74 tonnes of aid to Gaza, including blankets, sleeping mats and medical provisions, which are being distributed by the United Nations. I should add that the Foreign Secretary announced an additional £30 million of humanitarian assistance on 24 November, which triples our existing aid budget for the Occupied Palestinian Territories in this financial year. Of course, that will not be enough to meet the immediate needs of the population. We have pressed Israel to open other land border crossings, such as Kerem Shalom, and we hope that that will open very soon.

We continue to work with the United Nations, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the International Committee of the Red Cross to improve the humanitarian situation. We take seriously Israel’s concerns about the stockpiling of aid by Hamas terrorists, but that does not negate the need for such aid to reach those who need it inside Gaza. We are working with the UN to ensure that safeguards and robust processes are in place to ensure that aid is used only for humanitarian and civilian purposes.

I turn to ceasefires. As the Prime Minister has said, there is no scenario in which Hamas can be allowed to control Gaza again. That is why we are not calling for a general ceasefire, which would allow Hamas to regroup and entrench their position. I am pleased to say that the Government’s position is shared by the Opposition Front Bench. Instead, we are focused on urging respect for international law, alleviating human suffering and, hugely importantly, conflict resolution.

We remain committed to a two-state solution. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live in peace and security. We agree with the United States that Gaza should ultimately be under Palestinian control, with the Palestinian Authority having a long-term role. The Prime Minister has discussed that on several occasions with President Abbas. The Foreign Secretary also discussed how to support the Palestinian Authority, including through training and capacity building, during his regional visit in November. We do not believe that the long-term presence of Israeli security forces in Gaza would be of benefit to Israelis or Palestinians. In the short term, the Government welcome November’s hostage and prisoner releases and the pause in fighting, which allowed for the increased flow of fuel and aid, as I have said. We are pressing for further pauses on humanitarian grounds to get more aid in and hostages out.

I conclude by thanking the public and my fellow parliamentarians for an impassioned and sincere debate this afternoon and for their continued engagement on these critical issues.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Llafur, Hammersmith

I will keep the Minister a little longer if he has the time. Notwithstanding that, I asked him a question: is his Department likely to sponsor a full-day debate in the main Chamber? Clearly, there is an important issue to be debated about the way Israel is conducting the war and how we achieve peace, but with the degree of settler and IDF violence in the west bank, with the settlement expansion that is going on and with UK components in arms supplies, there are also many other issues around the Israel-Gaza war that need to be debated, so will the Minister give that undertaking?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman asks a valid question. I cannot give that assurance, because of course it is a question for the Leader of the House, but we note that question and I am sure we will relay the request to the Leader of the House and she will give it due consideration. This afternoon demonstrates that there is, understandably, a tremendous level of interest from colleagues, reflective of the profound level of interest shown by the general public.

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Llafur, Birkenhead

Will the Minister tell us what discussions the Government have had over the last 13 years about a two-state solution, and when was the last time they met to discuss that matter? I ask because I do not think anyone knows, by any means, that that has taken place.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman asks a very good question, and I am pleased to confirm that the Foreign Secretary discussed that issue in the region just last month with his interlocutors.

We are seeing, across the world and in our own communities, how polarising and emotive this issue is. The Government are clear on our priorities: supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas; ensuring that Israel protects civilians in Gaza and complies with international humanitarian law; standing with the civilian population of Gaza; pressing, both at the UN and directly with Israel, for unhindered humanitarian access and further humanitarian pauses; securing the release of UK hostages; and restarting the peace process towards a two-state solution that delivers lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.

Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Annibynnol, Leicester East

I thank the Minister for giving way. I just want to ask whether the Government will be giving evidence in relation to the call by the International Criminal Court prosecutor—in terms of prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The conduct of the ICC is of course a matter for the ICC, but I can reassure colleagues that the UK of course will continue to work with our partners to ensure that the vision of a peaceful middle east eventually can, one day, become a reality.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 7:12, 11 Rhagfyr 2023

It is a bold thing for any citizen to do to start an e-petition on the Government’s website, and I thank our petitioners for sitting through our debate today. I do not know whether they appreciated the Minister’s response or perhaps have further questions for him—it is difficult to read the body language in this Chamber—but what is clear and has come across from all colleagues is that all our inboxes have been full on this issue, and it is very clear that the petitions surpassed the 100,000 mark very quickly. With 600,000 people signing the three petitions, we secured time to debate the issue in the House. That is something that was achieved by citizens in this country. Something that my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter has been attempting to secure through business questions was achieved by citizens, and that is testament to the e-petitions procedure. I would encourage anyone watching to fully engage in that process.

There are plenty of things that we can disagree on in this Chamber and in this debate, but there are some things that we can agree on. The pain, the death and the suffering on both sides is something that has touched all our hearts, and the unimaginable acts of terror that have been experienced by citizens, both Israeli and Palestinian, have definitely affected all of us. I do not believe that a military solution will ever be successful; I believe that peace is only ever won when weapons are laid down.

It is always a bit dangerous in this House to go off script a little bit, and I had not planned to say this, but something that struck me in this debate was that it is very challenging to raise a child with dual heritage. My son tonight will be lighting Hanukkah candles with his father back in Lancaster. He understands that he has a Jewish identity, and that his mother has a Christian identity. A few weeks ago, we were at a peace vigil in Lancaster with a friend of ours who is a Muslim. The three of us were holding hands, mainly because he is a five-year-old boy and has a tendency to run away, and he looked up and said, “Mummy, you are a Christian, I’m Jewish”—sometimes he says he is Christian, but I suppose that is the challenge of having dual heritage—“and”, looking at our friend, Fabina, “you are a Muslim. Isn’t it nice that we all love each other?”

I am really saddened by what happened next. We had to leave the peace vigil because some people started chanting things that were antisemitic. It is important in this debate that we remember that regardless of our religious heritage or cultural identity, we are all citizens on this planet and we need to come together to find peace. It will be challenging and painful, and things will be said that hurt every one of us, but I hope that the three hours we have spent in Westminster Hall today might be the start of something in this House through which we can understand the complexities of these different identities and the challenges that we will have to find peace. I hope we find that peace, Mr McCabe.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petitions 648225, 648383 and 648292 relating to Israel and Palestine.

Sitting adjourned.