Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, was one of 61 cross-party MPs who signed a letter earlier this month circulated by the British-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group, addressed to Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, highlighting serious concerns about the situation in Gaza.
The letter drew a measured response from MP Joan Ryan, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, who pointed out to the letter’s initiator, Richard Burden MP, some factual errors, including the suggestion that Israel remained the “occupying power” in Gaza, and that Hamas’ role had not been mentioned.
But Streeting, speaking exclusively to Jewish News, said: “We can waste vast amounts of oxygen debating who is and who is not responsible, but the people of Gaza don’t have time to wait for a political resolution to an intractable conflict.”
While he did not believe both Israel and Egypt could be held wholly responsible for Gaza, he said “they do both have a role and a responsibility to give the kind of humanitarian help needed”. He added: “There is widespread concern about the amount of humanitarian relief that Gaza is receiving, and that is what prompted me to sign
He said it was important for him “to speak without fear or favour. People are suffering and the people of Gaza are entitled to live with dignity and human rights. There is a risk of that being overlooked and there is a recurring theme of desperation among Gazans that the only time attention is paid to them is when blood is being spilled.”
Streeting agreed with many of the points made by Joan Ryan, but added that the consequences of Israel and Egypt’s approach to Gaza had led to “what David Cameron once referred to as an open-air prison, and I don’t think that is an unfair characterisation. I think Israel does have an obligation to Gaza and the West Bank; it is important to note there are medical supplies, which Israel allows in, but there are some things that do not.”
He said it was “entirely reasonable” that Israel would restrict the entry of radioactive material to Gaza. But as attested by MP Dr Philippa Whitford, who is a breast cancer specialist, materials to treat breast cancer are not allowed in. “Seeing that radiotherapy has a shelf-life of just four hours, that seems to me a discussion that we ought to be having,” he said.
Streeting chaired a meeting of the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East on Tuesday night in the Commons, where testimony was given by Dr Whitford.
He deplored what he described as “yobbish” disruptions by right-wing Jews, which he said had skewed the content of the meeting away from humanitarian concerns to high politics.
“I am increasingly fed up with the way people on both sides behave to each other,” he said, citing “unwillingness to listen” as one of the main challenges.