Keir Starmer’s statement to the Commons on Israel & Gaza
Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s statement to the House of Commons, 23 October 2023:
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for advance copy of his statement.
The brutal attack in Israel just over two weeks ago was the darkest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust. Two weeks of grief for the innocent people who lost brothers, sisters, children. Two weeks of torture for the families whose loved ones were taken hostage by Hamas.
There was a small glimmer of light this weekend – the release of two American hostages, Natalie and Judith Raanan. I met members of their family last week and I know they will be overcome with relief. But Hamas still hold hundreds more. Sons, daughters, mums, dads, still missing. Innocent people who could, if Hamas willed it, be released immediately. But they remain hostage, because Hamas want the chaos of war. Hamas want Jews to suffer. Hamas want the Palestinian people to share in the pain.
Because the Palestinian people are not their cause. Peace is not their aim. The dignity of human life – Jew or Muslim – means absolutely nothing to them.
And in the light of their barbarism, Israel has the right to defend herself. Yes, to get their hostages home but also to defeat Hamas so nobody need suffer like this again. And that we might once more see a road to a lasting peace, a Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel.
And Mr. Speaker, this operation can and must be done within international law. We democracies know that all human life is equal. Innocent lives must be protected.
These are the principles that differentiate us from the terrorists who target Israel.
So there must now be clear humanitarian corridors within Gaza for those escaping violence. Civilians must not be targeted.
And where Palestinians are forced to flee, they must not be permanently displaced from their homes. International law is clear.
It also means basic services including water, electricity, and the fuel needed for it, cannot be denied. Hamas may not care for the safety and security of the Palestinian people, but we do. We cannot and will not close our eyes to their suffering. Gaza is now a humanitarian emergency. There is not enough food. Clean water is running out. Hospitals are going without medicine and electricity. People starving and reduced to drinking contaminated filth. Babies lying in incubators that could switch off at any moment.
The deal struck by the United States to get a flow of trucks through the Rafah crossing is an important first step. 20 on Saturday. 14 on Sunday. But it’s nowhere near enough.
Gaza is not a small town facing a few shortages, it has population the size of Greater Manchester. A place, even before this devastation, where life was a struggle. Gaza needs aid. And it needs to be rapid, safe, unhindered, and regular.
Countries able to provide support must step up, including the United Kingdom. I welcome the increased funding for humanitarian aid that the Prime Minister announced this afternoon. The EU has promised to treble humanitarian aid. And the US has appointed a special coordinator for international aid to Gaza.
So, I ask if the Prime Minister commit to the same? Because Britain must stand ready to ensure aid gets to the right places, to deploy British experts and medical support teams and to work with international partners to give UN agencies the resources they need – for the long-term.
Because Mr Speaker, there is a long-term. Even as we stand by Israel in her fight against Hamas, our eyes must also look to the future. A future where Israeli citizens live free from the fear of terrorist attack. And a future for the Palestinian people, where they and their children enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we take for granted.
For too long we’ve talked about a two-state solution. The dignity and justice of a Palestinian state, alongside a safe and secure Israel. Without a serious path — or will — to make it happen. And for too long, we have allowed welcome progress in improving relations between Israel and her neighbours, to sit without any progress on a future for Palestine and its people.
That must change.
We stand with Israel and her right to defend herself against the terrorists of Hamas. We stand for international law, the protection of innocent lives, humanitarian support for Palestinians. And we do so, because we stand for a political path to a two-state solution. And a better future.
These are dark days. But the light must never go out. We must not let it. Thank you, Mr Speaker.