Sir Nicholas Soames, President of the Conservative Middle East Council, spoke at a Westminster Hall debate yesterday on the Humanitarian Situation in Gaza.
Please find the full transcript of the speech below:
Tuesday, 26th June 2018
Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this very timely and important debate. I wish to make only a brief contribution.
I speak today as a long-standing member of the Conservative Middle East Council and, now, its president, and as someone who has travelled extensively in the middle east for many years. At the beginning of my speech, I want to make it clear that I believe absolutely in Israel and I believe without qualification in the statehood of Palestine. I want to see a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine. However, I want today to express my deep concern about the truly appalling humanitarian conditions in the west bank and most particularly in Gaza.
In the 35 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, I have taken a very close interest in the middle east, with all its endless shifting alliances, problems and disasters, and it has always seemed to me quite unbelievable that a nation such as Israel—a nation that is cultured, sophisticated and democratic, that has triumphed over so much and whose people have, down the centuries, suffered so dreadfully—should even consider tolerating the grotesque situation that pertains in Gaza and the serious harm, desperate squalor and cruelty that the people there live with. It is immoral and contrary to all humanitarian norms. Israel acts with seeming impunity, imposing what is in effect a collective punishment on Gaza. Israeli actions against the Palestinians are legally and morally wrong and must be condemned, but more importantly, they must be put right. It is not enough just to express concern and to go on expressing concern. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who is indeed my friend and who has a deep and profound understanding of the middle east, that I look to him for something stronger.
A democratic, sophisticated Israel should know much better than to do what it is doing at the moment, not only in its recent violent behaviour towards the Palestinians —the position was very well expressed by the hon. Member for Easington—but as it continues to expropriate, absolutely illegally and against all advice from all its friends and its opponents, land for settlements.
This year is the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, the terrible catastrophe that befell them, in which most of Palestine’s Arab population fled or were driven from their homes during Israel’s creation in 1948. Since 2007, an illegal Israeli-imposed blockade and three major wars have wreaked havoc on Gaza’s economy, its infrastructure and, above all, its people. Unemployment in Gaza stands at 43%; 39% of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians live in abject poverty, with 80% dependent on international food aid for their very survival. If that is not enough, 97% of Gaza’s entire water supply is contaminated by sewage and seawater. According to the United Nations, on top of all that are hopelessly inadequate health services. Essentially, the Gaza strip has been made uninhabitable and unliveable.
It is clear that the ongoing split between Fatah and Hamas has paralysed Palestinian politics, made it much harder to make any progress, and rendered very difficult reconstruction efforts in Gaza. However, the House should express today our unqualified and unreserved anger and our shock that Gaza should be kept as it is, with a devastated economy and desperate humanitarian needs.
I know many Israelis and many Jews in this country who are deeply, abidingly, desperately ashamed of their country’s behaviour—that wonderful, extraordinary country’s behaviour—in this respect, and we should not in the House let this moment pass without most strongly condemning such dreadful and barbaric behaviour.