The crisis in Gaza and Israel is awful and deeply distressing and a lot of constituents have contacted me about it. On 7 October, Hamas deliberately murdered 1,400 Israelis, including young people enjoying a music festival, and men, women, children and babies in their homes. They took hostages and fired thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli civilians. For Israel, it was the largest loss of life since the Holocaust which claimed 6 million Jewish lives.
It was these shocking acts by Hamas which precipitated the current crisis and, having suffered such an appalling attack, Israel had to defend its citizens – as any state would in such circumstances – but it must do so proportionally and within the boundaries of international law.
The horrific scenes we are witnessing in Gaza, and in particular the images of dead and wounded children, are heart-breaking too. Gaza is facing a humanitarian emergency and innocent civilians are terrified for their lives. This is desperately urgent, and the people of Gaza need to know that the world is not simply watching but is acting to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
It is absolutely essential that sufficient food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine are brought in for the people of Gaza. There must also be safe humanitarian corridors for those fleeing the shelling in Gaza and a humanitarian pause to allow aid in.
On a ceasefire, we all want the conflict to stop and the killing to end and there will, in all likelihood, eventually be a ceasefire (as there has been in previous rounds of fighting in Gaza). But sadly, these calls are not likely to have any effect at the time of writing when Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel and Israel is in the middle of an operation to defend itself against these missiles and to rescue their hostages.
Above all, we must never forget that at the heart of this tragedy are millions of innocent lives: Palestinians and Israelis, men, women and children. People who want no part in this destruction, who want nothing more than security for their families, and whose greatest desire is the prospect of a future that is not dictated by hatred and war. We need to have their safety, their protection and their lives at the forefront of everything we do.
It may seem such a long way away in the current awful circumstances, but having seen for myself the conditions in which people live in Gaza (as well as in the West Bank), I hold to the belief that a safe and secure Israel alongside a safe, secure and independent Palestinian state is the only way forward. Until this happens, this cycle of violence will be seen again and again, and that is why political leaders in Israel and the Palestinian territories need to recognise that violence must give way to negotiation and compromise. But for that to happen requires courageous political leadership.
Which brings me on to Northern Ireland. In my new role as Shadow Secretary of State, the most difficult conversations I have had have been with victims and survivors of the Troubles. Their stories are painful, shocking and at times very difficult to listen to. Even after all these years, they want nothing more than the truth and justice for their loved ones.
And yet amid all this collective trauma, Northern Ireland should give us hope. Twenty five years ago this year the Good Friday Agreement was signed. It was an extraordinary moment when that which for so long had seemed impossible was made possible. It brought an end to 30 years of hatred and killing and put Northern Ireland on a path to peace. And what made it happen? Courageous political leadership. If it could be done in Northern Ireland, there there is no reason why it could not yet be done in the Middle East.
The Housing Secretary Michael Gove recently came to Leeds – having promised me he would – to meet leaseholders who are still affected by the awful cladding crisis. The Secretary of State heard that less than five per cent of the affected apartment buildings in Leeds have been fully remediated whilst the rest still have safety problems. And to make matters worse, leaseholders are being asked to pay thousands of pounds for interim safety measures and sky-high insurance costs.
A growing number of leasehold flat owners have been tipped into bankruptcy and others into penury while being effectively trapped in blighted homes. Action must be taken to protect these leaseholders so that their homes are made safe, and they can get on with their lives. I hope that Mr Gove not only listened to what he was told, which in fairness he did, but does something about this continuing injustice.
And finally, on to happier matters. I greatly enjoyed my recent visit to Elements Primary School in Middleton. The children in Year 3 had been busy writing letters to me about how to improve the local area and our city. They were beautifully written and well argued, and I had the pleasure of hearing a number of them read out their letters and ideas to me.
Who knows? Might there be some future elected representatives in that class? I hope so.
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