Many, many constituents have contacted me regarding the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza. I want to apologise for the delay in responding to them all and also if not every point raised in every email or letter is fully addressed – this is a difficult and complex situation which is simultaneously fast moving and deeply entrenched in a longstanding history of conflict.
I share the horror expressed by so many constituents. Horror at the appalling attack by Hamas on men, women and children in Israel, an attack which left 1,400 people dead, 1,500 injured, and 222 captured, including UK citizens. I find it difficult and distressing to begin to imagine what they went through and are still going through and the impact on their loved ones and indeed the whole Israeli population and the wider Jewish diaspora including in the UK. Hamas must free all the hostages immediately. Labour has been clear since these awful events began that Israel, like any other nation, has the right to defend its citizens. Labour is also clear that Israel, like any other nation, must abide by international law in doing so.
My response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza is also one of horror. I find it difficult and distressing to begin to imagine what Gaza’s civilian population is experiencing as a result of the Hamas-Israeli conflict in such a densely populated area and the restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt on the flow of food, water, fuel and medicine into Gaza. The situation is unacceptable and is only getting worse. As David Lammy and Lisa Nandy set out in their letter to the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Middle East yesterday.
“There is not enough food, clean water is running out, hospitals are going without medicine, fuel and electricity. People starving reduced to drinking contaminated filth, babies in incubators that are being switched off.”
Labour is calling for the establishment of clear, humanitarian corridors, the tripling of UK humanitarian assistance, and that fuel be allowed into Gaza to provide essential power for hospitals, water and sanitation systems.
Some have asked why Labour has not called explicitly for a ceasefire. Hamas is a terror organisation. It does not operate or uphold ceasefires. Calling for an immediate ceasefire could be seen as a call on Israel only to cease hostilities. The Israeli Government has the right and indeed the duty to protect its citizens, including those currently held in Gaza. At this time, safe corridors for humanitarian aid are considered a more achievable and sustainable aim. I hope that all parties will cease hostilities to allow hostages to be freed and aid to flow.
Some have also asked why I have not included more of the history of the conflict in my responses. That history is long and complex and difficult to summarise and I speak as someone with a longstanding interest who has visited Palestine and Israel – I wrote this report in 2014.
I have not visited Gaza, a tiny strip of land, roughly the size of the Isle of Wight, and home to over two million Palestinians. The Gaza Strip came into existence as a political entity following the 1948 war under Egyptian control. The initial refugee population of approximately 200,000 was prevented by Israel from returning to their homes and prevented by Egypt from moving into Egypt proper. From 1967 to the present day, the ability of Gaza residents to travel, the movement of goods in and out of the territory, and access to electricity, water, and telecomm services has been largely controlled by Israel. Hamas became the governing authority in Gaza in the mid 2000’s. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel and has repeatedly launched rockets at Israel, prior to and since the October 7 massacres.
This is some of the context but there is much more that could be said. It is very important that words are chosen with care. The Community Security Trust has reported a more than 700% rise in antisemitic hate incidents since October 7 and Tell MAMA has reported a more than 500% rise in Islamophobia over the same period. I stand by communities in Newcastle experiencing hate crime and condemn any statements which do not reflect the dignity and humanity of all.
What I can say is that the civilian suffering that we have seen and are seeing on such a horrific scale in Gaza and in Israel cannot advance the cause of peace and security in the region. That requires negotiations and a peace process. I am wholly committed to that.