Today I took part in the debate on Israel and Palestine in the House of Commons. You can read my contribution below:
I want to focus my comments today on Gaza, which is the world’s largest open-air prison. Of the 2 million people crammed into the 139 square miles of Gaza, more than a third are under 15 and almost half are under 25. In their short lives, they have seen a lot—a child born 10 years ago in Gaza has already lived through three wars, in which one in five of those who died were children—and their future looks bleak. According to the UN, we are seeing a process of “de-development” in Gaza, so that by 2020 the strip may well be technically uninhabitable. Some 96% of groundwater in Gaza is unfit for human consumption and the sea is polluted with sewage. Power shortages mean that were it not for the increasingly hard-to-obtain fuel that runs emergency generators, hospitals would go dark. That would mean up to 40 surgical operation theatres, 11 obstetric theatres, five haemodialysis centres and hospital emergency rooms serving almost 4,000 patients a day being forced to halt critical services. As always, it is the children who are hit hardest. In April, a five-year-old girl with cerebral palsy died while waiting for a permit to travel to a hospital in East Jerusalem—she had already been waiting for two months. It seems that the bureaucracy of the blockade held out for longer than that little girl’s health could.
Meanwhile, in Israel we see a Prime Minister who is driven not by concern for his nation, but by concern for the retention of his office. As yesterday’s approval of more than 1,000 illegal settlement units in East Jerusalem shows, we see an Israeli Government who are undermining the integrity of a future Palestinian state and, in doing so, are undermining themselves and their own security.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend draws out clearly the human tragedy of what is happening today in Gaza, but is he concerned that Hamas has recently rebuilt 15 of its terrorist tunnels, which are being prepared for Hamas to launch attacks on the civilians of Israel?
Stephen Kinnock: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I accept that there is an unacceptable cycle of violence, and clearly all parties in this conflict need to find a solution, but I also feel that in the current circumstances Israel holds the whip hand and it is up to Israel to make that first move.
The fact is that there can be no security without peace and no peace without security. A two-state solution is essential to peace. I do not make that point from a partisan perspective; rather, I echo the sentiments of the former head of Mossad, Mr Tamir Pardo. Just two months ago, lamenting Netanyahu’s apparent rejection of a two-state solution, he said:
“Israel faces one existential threat”,
and it is not external—Iran or Hezbollah—but “internal”, the result of a divisiveness in Israel resulting from a Government who have
“decided to bury our heads deep in the sand, to preoccupy ourselves with alternative facts and flee from reality”.
Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that Israel’s founding principles—namely democracy, respect for the rule of law, and social justice—which have made it in many respects a great country over the past 50 years, are being eroded by the Israeli Government when they seek to silence legitimate human rights organisations, whether that be B’Tselem or Breaking the Silence, in their own country? That strikes at the heart of Israel’s fundamental and very welcome democratic character.
Stephen Kinnock: rose—
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Just to help everybody, because I am concerned: if Members are going to intervene, they have to keep it very short. I am going to have to cut the time limit, and the people who are intervening are going to suffer from these interventions. I want to try to give everybody an equal chance. This is a very important debate, and I want to make sure it is fair and open.
Stephen Kinnock: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and absolutely agree with the sentiments he expresses. There are particular concerns about the entry Bill, which would potentially prevent Members of this House who have expressed concerns about trade with illegal settlements from entering Israel. This is undermining Israel’s national interest.
Mr Pardo is right: the blockade and effective occupation of Gaza, and the illegal settlements, imperil not only the children of Palestine, subjecting them to a form of collective punishment for acts that they played no part in committing, but the future of Israel itself. They create a deep divide in Israeli society that Pardo sees as potentially the beginning of a path to civil war.
This year, 2017, marks the 50-year anniversary of the occupation. We must ask ourselves what a further 50 years of the politics of oppression, aggression and division will mean. Those policies have polluted the Israeli body politic, just as they have the Palestinian. In 2012, the Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai called for Gaza to be sent
“back to the middle ages”—
well, he is just two hours of electricity a day short of achieving that objective. If the middle ages is what we want, it may well be what we get: a life that is nasty, brutish and short.
Currently, we see an Israel in clinical denial, sipping cappuccino on the lip of the volcano, and a Palestine in clinical despair, with an acute sense that politics is incapable of delivering a solution. As the former Mossad chief has made clear, the root cause of both is the blockade and the occupation. I hope that today the House will speak with one voice, for the sake of both the Palestinian and Israeli people, in calling for an end to the blockade, for immediate humanitarian assistance in Gaza, and for an end to the illegal settlements.