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

My hon. Friend is right. Frankly, the famine is already there. The number of people dying from wholly preventable conditions in the southern part of the Gaza strip is already greater than the number who have been killed by the daily bombardment there. And what are they dying from? Diarrhoea, hunger, malnutrition and lack of any kind of medicine.

I talked to a doctor who I met in Leeds two weeks ago when I was at an event in support of the people of Gaza. He told me that he had done something that he had hoped he would never, ever have to do in his life: perform an amputation on somebody without anaesthetic —on a child. Imagine being a professional doctor who has taken the Hippocratic oath and having to put a child through the most unbelievable pain in order to, hopefully, save their life. He told me of cases where he has performed a successful operation, in the sense that the operation was carried out, but the patient has then died of a heart attack because of the pain inflicted on them. None of that is necessary. Medical aid and anaesthetics could get there if only they were allowed in.

Currently, in the southern end of the Gaza strip there are reported to be 135,000 cases of diarrhoea; they have been recorded by those doctors who remain there. That is 13.5% of the people around Rafah and possibly even more than that. Diarrhoea is a killer, particularly of children, because it means that they cannot feed food down or keep their body hydrated; it is an absolute killer.

In addition, no child has been to school anywhere in the Gaza strip since November—so that is three months of education already lost. Even if the bombardment and fighting stopped tomorrow, there is no school to be reopened; there would have to be schools in tents for months, if not years, to come. The children affected will be physically devastated, and mentally scarred and devastated. What is the next generation going to be like when they have been through this horrific experience?

Surely, therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to do everything we can to bring about a ceasefire in Gaza and save the lives of children. The messages are there—from the UN, from all the children’s agencies, from the World Food Programme, from Amnesty International, from Human Rights Watch and from a whole range of other people who have either been to Gaza or managed to pick up information about what is going on there regarding the crying need for help, particularly for children. That help can best be achieved by a ceasefire.

The Government announced that they were providing £87 million of aid; I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I have got that figure wrong. However, it was not clear how that aid was going to be delivered, how it was going to be dispersed or who was going to disperse it. I gently say to the Minister that the existing agencies that have done so much work for so long and managed to ensure the continuation of a health service of some sort throughout Palestine but particularly in Gaza, such as Palestinian Red Crescent and others, are the best people to do it. The most important role that any of us anywhere else in the world can play is absolutely to demand peace in the region and a solution to this crisis, starting with an immediate and permanent ceasefire to stop the killing of so many children in Gaza.

As somebody who has been in this House for quite a while and in Israel, Gaza and the west bank, including in the refugee camps, on nine occasions, I feel the sense of hope that children there have. I went to a primary school in Jabalia refugee camp; I have been there twice, on successive visits. It was a beautifully run if underfunded school. From the roof of the school, it was possible to see the fence—the border with Israel. We met the children; this was a primary school, so they were 10 or 11-year-olds. They were excitable, artistic, enjoyable to be with, full of ideas, full of hope and full of aspirations. I always left that school feeling, “Well, these children will be a huge asset to the country of the future, as they are the citizens of the future.” The school has now been destroyed—completely destroyed. Those kids have lost their school. Having lost their homes, the one strong factor in their lives had been their sense of a place to go to school, and that applies to every other school across the Gaza strip, as well as to every hospital across the Gaza strip.

Let us give all the aid we can to UNRWA now and give all the support we can now to the people of Gaza—particularly the children, so that they may grow up to at least live without the threat of being bombed day in and day out. But above all, get off the fence and get on the side of supporting a ceasefire now to save life in Gaza and bring about a long-term peace for all the people of the region, before this thing degenerates into a ghastly war that engulfs the whole region.

As you can gather, Ms Vaz, I feel extremely strongly about this issue, but it is not just me. I am stopped by people in the street who have never shown the slightest interest in international affairs or politics of any sort, but they now say, “Please, please, you’re our MP—do what you can to save life in Gaza!”