Gaza: Humanitarian Aid and Children — [Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 1:40 pm ar 8 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Annibynnol, Islington North 1:40, 8 Chwefror 2024

Thank you for calling me to speak so quickly, Ms Vaz. I was rushing here—I had trouble with my journey, and I think you got that message. I am obliged to you.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Apsana Begum on securing the debate. It is absolutely timely and absolutely essential that this debate be held, because the war has just become a horror show—a horror show of bodies being taken away, of unknown numbers hidden under rubble in Gaza, and of the terrible devastation caused by all the other disasters that war brings about, such as shortage of water, shortage of food, shortage of medicine and everything else.

Obviously what happened on 7 October was appalling by any stretch of the imagination, and the continued hostage-holding of a number of children obviously has to be brought to an end as quickly as it possibly can. But as the Secretary-General of the United Nations pointed out at the time, this did not all come from nowhere; it comes from the siege of Gaza, which has gone on for a very long time, and also, of course, the occupation of the west bank. I recall many visits I have made to Gaza and the west bank, some in the company of my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter, on a number of occasions. Every time I have been to Gaza, I always felt, “It can’t get any worse.” Then you go back there and it is even worse. Now, the bombing has made it absolutely appalling.

The International Court of Justice hearing was a seminal moment in many ways. I went to the ICJ hearing, at the invitation of the South African delegation, and I was there in the Court for the whole of the hearing. It lasted a very long time, and it was painstakingly presented by South Africa. There was a certain synergy about South Africa, a country that had come out of apartheid, presenting a case, essentially on behalf of the Palestinian people, that the behaviour of the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza was tantamount to acts of genocide against the Palestinian people. The statement made as a result of the ICJ hearing, which should be read very carefully, calls upon Israel to cease activities in the Gaza strip that could be construed as a continuation of genocidal acts against the Palestinian people. It is quite important that the world recognises that, in essence, it was calling for an urgent and immediate ceasefire and an increase in aid going through. That aid has increased very slightly, but it is very difficult to deliver aid when you are under bombardment at the same time.

There are now more than 1 million people around the Rafah crossing. It is a small town. It is grotesquely overcrowded and has a shortage of absolutely everything. One can cite many images, but I saw one the other day of two children—they looked five or six—walking down the road together, hand in hand. They were a boy and a girl. The girl was holding a bottle with a small amount of water in it, and they were aimlessly wandering about. When they saw anyone, they said, “Do you know where we can get food?” The world should not treat children that way, particularly when a few kilometres away there is plenty of food, medicine and clean water deliberately being denied to those people. This country signed the UN convention on the rights of the child in 1989—there is a stone commemorating that in Hyde Park—and we should abide by it.

The UK Government’s decision to withhold further funding to UNRWA until the inquiries have taken place is beyond regrettable. When he announced his decision in Parliament, the Foreign Office Minister of State, Mr Mitchell, pointed out that payments had already been made and that this was withholding future payments that might be due after April. Well, I think we need a bit more certainty than that that we will continue supporting the UN Relief and Works Agency. Around one third of its income is now at risk or already gone.

The case against the people who are alleged to have taken part in the 7 October event has not yet been backed up with evidence, not yet been presented and not yet been concluded. In any event, if there is a case against individuals who were employed by UNRWA, let us bring it forward, bring it into the open and have the hearing. But to deny the whole organisation funding and to deny the staff of UNRWA continued employment all across the piece—in the refugee camps and the west bank as well as in Gaza—seems to me to be totally wrong and unfair. I hope that when the Minister who is here today replies, he will be able to assure us that we will rapidly resume funding for UNRWA.

I have visited many UNRWA depots over the years, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and others, in the west bank, Gaza and indeed the refugee camps. It is an underfunded organisation, anyway. It performs superhuman tasks just to provide food, medicine and education for Palestinian people. It is the oldest UN agency. We have to recognise the absolute importance of that.

The question of food supply to Gaza is obviously critical. The population is very young and possibly half of the 27,000 recorded deaths in Gaza will be of young people or children. The number who are still under the rubble is enormous. There is very limited access for outside help to get in. The numbers of medical staff who have been killed are huge, as are the numbers of journalists who could report on the situation—80 journalists have already lost their lives in Gaza. This is a horror show on live TV all over the world.

The idea that, somehow or other, this country can adopt a policy of not funding the one agency that can deliver help, food, aid and medicine to the children of Gaza I find to be completely unconscionable.