Lord Palmer speaks on Palestinian children

LDFI Vice President Lord Monroe Palmer spoke in the House of Lords Debate on the condition of Palestinian children last week.

Lord Palmer

Lord Palmer said:

“My Lords, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about the health and well-being of Palestinian children. I am sure I and other Peers speaking in this debate want better conditions for all children worldwide and deplore anything that creates inferior conditions. What I will stress does not detract from the issues, conditions, health and well-being of Palestinians but gives a context missing from the words of the noble Lord, Lord Warner.

Infant mortality rates out of 1,000 are, sadly, 15.9 in the West Bank, 18.3 in Gaza and 4.2 in Israel. There are 121 countries ranked worse than the West Bank, and 108 ranked worse than Gaza. Infant mortality in Angola is an amazing 180 out of 1,000. In Nigeria it is 94, in Pakistan it is 65, in Turkey it is 25.7. On the Human Development Index, which is calculated on healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living—with a score of 1 being the most developed—Palestine ranks 113th out of 188 nations at 0.68. This is roughly the same as for Egypt, and is the average for Arab states. It compares with 0.61 for India and 0.54 for Pakistan.

The Minister, whom I welcome to her place, is a great expert, I understand, on trade with Pakistan. My question to her and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about the conditions of children is: are we going to have a debate on any of the other 188 nations, some of which I have described? I stress that the conditions of many of these nations need to be improved, very much including the conditions and outcomes for the Palestinians.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, paints a picture of a bottle half empty. I would like to paint a picture that, while it could be improved, is of a bottle half full. When the noble Lord, Lord Cope, talks about youth music, he gives such an instance of things that can be and are being done.

Many Palestinian children are brought to Israel and treated in Israeli hospitals. Some of these are children of Hamas officials. In 2014, the daughter of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, was allowed to exit the strip just after Israel’s operations. The Israel charity Save a Child’s Heart—SACH—brings children from around the world, including Gaza and the West Bank, to Israel for life-saving heart surgery that they would otherwise not receive. Israel continued to permit children and family members to travel to the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon at the height of the 2014 conflict in Gaza with Hamas.

There are many SACH stories, and I shall give the House just a couple of them. Rumaisa was born in August 2014. At nine days old, she was rushed from Gaza to the paediatric intensive care unit of the Wolfson Medical Center in critical condition at the height of the 2014 conflict. After her condition stabilised, she underwent life-saving cardiac surgery. Her recovery went well, and not long after that surgery she and her grandmother returned to Gaza.

Kamal was born in May 2012. At two years old, he returned to the Wolfson Medical Center with his grandmother for his third surgery. When he was two days old, he was taken to the doctor in Gaza because of cyanosis and difficulty breathing. A year later, he had his second surgery because he was still having difficulty breathing. Post surgery, Kamal is doing well.

DfID is considering giving UK funding to Save a Child’s Heart. Could the Minister say whether there is any progress on putting such funding towards saving the lives of many children, including Palestinian children?

Ahmed, 18, and Hadeel Hamdan, 15, have been frequent visitors to the Rambam hospital in Haifa since 2012. They spend 12 hours a day on dialysis—treatment unavailable for them in Gaza.

Some Gaza children are not guaranteed the same privileges. Hamas prevented three Gazan children from travelling to Israel for life-saving treatment; they were children aged five, 10 and 12 who suffer from systemic arthritis, which has the potential to be life-threatening without proper treatment. The children had been permitted to travel to Israel once a month for an injection, and the situation was improving until Hamas denied them the ability to leave the strip.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to the psychiatric problems of Palestinian children. I recently visited towns and farming moshavs in Israel near the border with Gaza. Every house, flat and school has a safe room with reinforced walls and ceilings. Every bus stop in that area within Israel near Gaza is a bomb shelter. Can other noble Lords appreciate what this does to the psychiatric well-being of those Israeli children? A mother said to me that her child went to visit relations in central Israel and asked her hosts, “Where is the safe room?”, accustomed as she was to this sad way of life.

Palestinian infant mortality rates fall in the middle of world tables. They are still bad, but the rates in Gaza and the West Bank are better than those in China, Romania, Turkey and South Africa, from all official statistics. According to the Human Development Index, Palestine is more developed than India and Pakistan while also being close to the average HDI for all Arab states. Many children, as I have said, are treated in Israel, including family members of Hamas leaders and so on.

Hamas also utilises child labour in dangerous environments, such as the construction of its terror tunnels. In total, 160 individuals have died while constructing those tunnels since 2012, and it is therefore not an environment that children should be allowed to work in.

In considering the welfare and well-being of Palestinian children, one must look at the direction of travel. It points in one positive direction but is clearly in need of improvement. Israel has gone to great lengths to materially improve the well-being of Palestinian children, while their condition remains poor in areas beyond Israel’s influence, particularly in Lebanon and Syria. Conditions for Palestinian children in the West Bank, while certainly not great, remain better than in many other Middle Eastern countries.

Finally, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, an estimated 70% of Palestinians in Syria have been displaced, with 440,000 requiring humanitarian assistance. Two-thirds of UNRWA education facilities have now closed in Syria, and UNICEF has highlighted that Palestinian children are routinely exposed to violence and abuse and that many of them have only one meal every two days. More needs to be done worldwide for the health and well-being of children. I thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate.”

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