MPs speak in Urgent Question on Gaza border deaths and how the UK voted on UNHRC Inquiry

On 22 March 2019, an Urgent Question was tabled by the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry MP on Gaza border deaths and how the UK voted on the UN Human Rights Council Inquiry. Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt responded for the Government. The debate can be read in full here and watched here starting from 11:49.

Caabu was one of ten organisations alarmed by the UK position, calling it a "dereliction of responsibility". This was also covered in the Guardian. As of 25 March 2019, 75 MPs have also signed this EDM on the inquiry into the Gaza protests.

On the UK Government's decision to abstain on the Commission of Inquiry's report at the UN HUman Rights Council, Minister Alistair Burt said:  

"In May 2018, the United Kingdom abstained on the UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for a commission of inquiry on the basis that the substance of a resolution must be impartial and balanced. We could not support an international investigation that refused to call explicitly for an investigation into the action of non-state actors such as Hamas. This morning, the UK abstained on the item 2 accountability resolution at the 2019 Human Rights Council, which included references to the commission of inquiry report. Although the report looks into Israel’s actions, it is highly regrettable that it did not look comprehensively at the actions of non-state actors such as Hamas."

In part of Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry's response, she said: 

"The UN report into these actions may have its faults—I accept that, and I agree that it plays down the role of Hamas in orchestrating these protests, but it provides clear and compelling evidence that live ammunition was used in a way that cannot be explained or justified against individuals such as Dr Loubani and thousands more like him. Yet this morning, as the Minister said, the Government have abstained on a resolution endorsing that report, in effect telling the Israeli authorities, “We refuse to find fault with your actions.”

Other MPs, many of which have been on Caabu delegations to Palestine, spoke in the Urgent Question. 

Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, Richard Burden MP said it was "disgraceful" that the UK refuses to hold those responsible for Gaza border deaths. He said: 

"The Minister said that he has met Dr Tarek Loubani, who was shot in both legs despite wearing clothes that clearly marked him out as a medic and therefore a protected person under international law. Does the Minister accept that Tarek Loubani is one of 600 health workers who were wounded last year, three of whom were killed? In what other situation would the Government refuse to vote to hold accountable those who flagrantly breach international humanitarian law? Is the fact that the Government refused to do so on this occasion nothing short of disgraceful?"

Conservative MP Alex Chalk asked about disproportinate force and the use of live ammunition in Gaza. He said:

"The use of force, including the robust use of force in self-defence, is the legitimate right of every sovereign nation, and that applies to Israel and the United Kingdom. However, the use of disproportionate force is not. Will the Minister join me in deprecating the use of live ammunition in all but the most extreme and volatile circumstances?"

Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey, who visited Gaza ten years ago with Caabu, asked what the UK Government was doing to pressure Israel into ending the blockade on Gaza. He said:

"Ten years ago I visited southern Israel to see the Israeli bombing, the Hamas attacks and the effect of the blockade on Gaza. The humanitarian crisis was appalling then: all the evidence that I have seen since is that it has got worse, and that has partly led to the protests, so what are the Government doing to put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza?"



Emergency doctor and Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said she was "ashamed" at how the UK Government voted. She said: 

"I, too, have met the fantastic Dr Loubani. As an emergency field doctor myself, I cannot fathom what it must be like to listen over the radio waves as your colleagues die, and to have to wait until they are dead before you can go and collect their bodies. I am ashamed that the UK abstained today. Will the Minister tell us how the Government will protect civilians, how they will protect medics, and how they will ensure that humanitarian law is upheld?"

Labour MP Tan Dhesi, who visited Palestine with Caabu in August 2018, asked if the Minister was "disturbed" by deaths in Gazza like he was, and if so, why did the Government vote the way it did? He said: 

"Those of us who have read the report will no doubt be very moved by the passages mentioning the stories of some of those who have been killed or injured. Over and over again, we see the names of people who were shot dead hundreds of metres from the fence—I raised this issue with the Minister in the House last year—when engaging in activities as mundane as smoking a cigarette or rescuing friends. Was the Minister as disturbed by those reports as I was, and, if so, why did the Government not vote in favour of the report?"

Andy Slaughter MP, who visited Palestine with Caabu in February 2016, also accused the UK Government of failing to hold the Israeli Government to account. He said:

"The UK mission to the UN in seeking to explain the extension this morning says:

“It is a source of great concern that, since 30th March 2018, over 23,000 Palestinians have been injured and 187 Palestinians have been killed during these protests. Hamas of course bear principal responsibility as their operatives have cynically exploited the protests.”
Does the Minister seriously support that? Even if he regards this report as incomplete it is robust in what evidence is in it, which suggests that children, medics and civilians have been gratuitously executed by Israeli snipers over a long period. It appears that the Government are looking for an excuse not to condemn the Netanyahu Government; having had one removed, they now have an even flimsier one. Does the Minister not realise that this gives a green light to Israel to continue murdering civilians and maiming people in this way, and that his Government will bear some responsibility for that?"