MPs call for independent inquiry into Gaza killings, support for struggling healthcare

On Tuesday, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry MP, who visited the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) with MAP last year, tabled an urgent question on the issue of violence against protesters in Gaza. The discussion occurred the day after 60 Palestinians were killed and 2,771 injured as a result of Israeli forces’ use of live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas against demonstrators taking part in the ‘Great March of Return’. It was the deadliest day in Gaza since Israel’s 2014 offensive.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Alistair Burt MP began the discussion by setting out the Government’s position that “the loss of life and the large number of injured Palestinians, including children, are tragic” and that “such violence is destructive to peace efforts.” He further stated that the UK has been “clear that the United Kingdom supports the Palestinians’ right to peaceful protest” and that they “continue to implore Israel to show greater restraint.”

In reply, Emily Thornberry MP stressed the importance of investigation and accountability for violations of international law in Gaza, asking:

“Will the Minister of State take the initiative, not just in supporting a new Security Council statement but in helping to draft a new statement … calling for an urgent, independent investigation into the violence in Gaza to assess whether international law has been broken and to hold those responsible to account—a statement to which no country could reasonably object, not even the United States, unless it is prepared to make the case that there is one rule for the Government of Israel and another rule for everyone else”

Thornberry then called for an effort at the UN and elsewhere to place pressure on the Government of Israel “to lift the illegal blockade of Gaza and to comply with all the UN resolutions ordering them to remove their illegal settlements and end their illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

Minister Burt repeated the UK’s support to investigation into Israel’s use of force in Gaza, and appeared willing to support  this being carried out through the UN, stating:

“The UK has been clear in urgently calling for the facts of what happened to be established, including why such a volume of live fire was used; we are supportive of that independent, transparent investigation. Our team at the United Nations is working with others on what we can do on that. Different forms of inquiry are possible through the UN and we have to find the right formula, but it is important to find out more of the facts and we will work on that.”

More than 80 MPs spoke in the discussion. MPs called on the Government to review UK arms trade with Israel; recognise the State of Palestine; and to take action to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza after a decade of closure and blockade.

Twenty of the MPs who spoke had visited the oPt on delegations with Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinian (MAP). These MPs included Jess Phillips, who spoke of what she had witnessed at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem:

“I met a mother who had just given birth to triplets, but she was to be removed from the hospital in Jerusalem where she was receiving care because she was a security risk. A woman who has just given birth is not a security risk to be removed from her children; but as soon as somebody removed my babies, I would certainly become one. What are the Government going to do to ensure that people seeking desperate healthcare outside Gaza—in Jerusalem—are able to get it?

Minister Alistair Burt replied that the UK does “raise with the Israeli authorities the subject of movement for medical help.”

Access to medical care, particularly for those needing to leave Gaza for treatment, continues to be of significant concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that, of the 31 patients injured in the demonstrations since 30 March applying to leave Gaza for urgent treatment, 19 (including two children) were denied permits and one permit is still pending. Last year, only 54% of exit permits for patients were approved by the Israeli authorities – the lowest rate of approval since records began – and 54 patients are known to have died after a permit was denied or delayed.

Chris Elmore MP, who also visited the West Bank last year, raised the medical emergency facing Gaza as a result of Israel’s use of force against protesters, who have entered a health system which the WHO described as “on the brink of collapse” due to medicine, equipment and fuel shortages before this latest crisis began:

“There is a deepening crisis in Gaza when it comes to medical support and equipment—including, following yesterday’s horrific attacks at the border, for amputees, including children—as well as in reconstruction and rehabilitation. What can the Minister practically do to offer more support to the people of Gaza and ensure that they get real medical support and the rehabilitation that they need?”

Minister Burt responded by saying that DFID “have already been in touch with those concerned about medical supplies in Gaza” and that he is “looking urgently at whether there is even more that we can do, although we have responded to some concerns already.”


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