On 21st July 2016 Lord Warner led a debate to highlight “the conditions in which Palestinian children are living and the impact on their health and wellbeing.” The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, spoke in the debate, drawing on his experiences of visiting Gaza and the West bank. Baroness Mobarik responded for the Government to a number of points made by the Bishop. her remarks can be found below.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: I, too, express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for securing this important debate. I speak as patron of the charities Embrace the Middle East and Friends of the Holy Land. I regularly lead pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine and for these past two years I have participated annually as a Church of England bishop in the Vatican Holy Land Coordination visiting Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Part of the inescapable context for this debate, as has already been said, is that the state of Israel has a legitimate expectation of security and pressing reasons to express that. What many of those who would count themselves as her friends would argue is that such a focus to the exclusion of all else is counterproductive—a word already used in this debate.
The children of the West Bank, and in particular Gaza, suffer from a long-term failure to achieve a just settlement with the state of Israel and from more recent and specific conflicts, particularly the 51-day conflict focused on Gaza in the summer of 2014. We all lament the loss of 2,100 Palestinians killed, including 551 children, as we do 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians. The numbers speak for themselves.
Even before the 2014 conflict, the infrastructure and economy of Gaza was driving poor outcomes, exacerbated by the sealing off of the territory in 2007 by Egypt and Israel in response to the Hamas takeover. In 2009, the Lancet reported a two-year study indicating an increase in the stunting of growth of children since the mid-1990s as well as increased rates of tuberculosis. Infant mortality is rising, not least in Gaza, from 12 per 1,000 within a month of being born in 2008 to 20 per 1,000 in 2013—an increase of 70%. The bombardment in 2014 left 10,000 homes uninhabitable, more than 500 schools damaged and many health facilities likewise. Some 8,000 and more of these homes remain in ruins. Much-needed building materials are inhibited by the effective closure of Gaza.
The coastal aquifer water supply for Gaza is now in such a state that 95% of it is unsuitable for drinking, which has massive and obvious implications for public health. There is an urgent need to accelerate construction, economic activity and medical provision, not least for the 3,500 children who were injured during those 51 days in 2014. I wish to pay tribute to the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, which last year provided psychosocial support to some 2,400 children, yet in 2014, UNICEF calculated that those requiring such support numbered, as we have heard, around 373,000—about half the child population. It is no surprise that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East reported last year that pupils in its schools were suffering from intra-student violence, trauma and despair.
I have a number of requests to make of Her Majesty’s Government—first, that they recognise at last the state of Palestine. There was a very convincing vote to this end in the other place last year; the Vatican has done so, and it seems a strange use of the prerogative to persist in gainsaying Parliament on the matter. Secondly, will they make representations to the Government of Israel on the use of ammunition when dealing with situations involving children and their being tried by military courts? Thirdly, will Her Majesty’s Government press partners to open the borders in Gaza through the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, notwithstanding the need for scrutiny and effective border controls which enable security needs to be addressed? Fourthly, the Department for International Development should seek to enhance medical facilities in Gaza and the West Bank, particularly for neonatal and psychosocial health; there is a pressing need for this, as we have heard.
Finally, we should commend to all parties and model ourselves the way of peace; of building bridges, not walls; of encouraging the peoples of Israel and Palestine to build up and not tear down; of providing a love strong enough to break down accumulated resentments, and providing practical support for those who even in desperate straits would not forget the law of hospitality were they to greet us. Above all, let us not forget the children, for Jesus never did.
Baroness Mobarik (Minister) [extract]: ..The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark made a point on the use of live fire. The UK is very concerned about the high numbers of Palestinians killed by Israeli defence forces across the Occupied Territories. We have raised those cases with the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, with the relevant Israeli authority for the Occupied Territories and with the National Security Council…….
..UK aid is making a positive difference in the Occupied Territories to the lives of men, women, boys and girls—first, by supporting stability and growing the economy; secondly, by delivering basic services; and, thirdly, by protecting the most vulnerable. That said, the long-term protection of the rights and opportunities of Palestinians can come only through a negotiated two-state solution. I mention again the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark about recognising the state of Palestine. We will recognise a Palestinian state when we judge that it can best bring about peace, but bilateral recognition in itself will not end the occupation. Without a negotiated settlement, the occupation and the problems that come with it will continue. UK aid will continue to help, but for the sake of children in both Israel and the Occupied Territories, we need a just resolution that ends the occupation and delivers lasting peace…