Humza Yousaf: Collective punishment of people of Gaza cannot be justified
First Minister Humza Yousaf has said the people of Gaza face a “collective punishment that cannot be justified” following attacks on Israel by Hamas.
Speaking to Holyrood, Yousaf said he is “worried sick” about his in-laws who are currently in Gaza visiting relatives and unable to get to safety.
The parents of Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, travelled to Gaza from Dundee around a week ago to visit an elderly relative. The first minister said they had received a text message from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) telling them to leave but had been unable to do so safely.
He said: “In that household, there’s Nadia’s mum and dad, the elderly granny, Nadia’s brother, his wife and four kids all under the age of seven. There’s a two-month-old baby. They have about enough supplies for two days, they think, and after that they literally don’t have a scrap. We just don’t know what they'll do thereafter.
“My brother-in-law who lives in Gaza, he’s a doctor in a hospital. He has nothing to do with Hamas and yet they’re going to face a collective punishment that I don’t see how it can be justified. Israel, of course, has a right to defend itself for the despicable, disgraceful acts of terror that we saw unfold at the weekend – I have no equivocation about the condemnation of those attacks but equally it cannot be at the expense of innocent lives in Gaza or elsewhere.”
Yousaf said he had initially been unsure about commenting on his in-laws’ situation when news of the attacks in Israel first emerged at the weekend.
“My family, Nadia’s family, is living in Gaza – I don’t want there to be repercussions. I thought long and hard, I took a couple of days to think about whether it is the right thing to do to comment about my in-laws and my family being there. But I believe it is the right thing because we need people to understand there are innocent people in Gaza who face complete and utter obliteration as a collective punishment and that can’t be justified.
“I try in this job, more than any other job, to not lose my empathy. The moment we lose our empathy, we cease to become human. If I’m worried sick and my wife is in tears, then there will be many families – many Jewish families, for example – in Scotland who will be worried sick about their relatives. I can imagine what that’s like because we’re going through something similar.
“There’s plenty to talk about the geopolitics, of course. But ultimately what we’re talking about is many innocent people who have lost their lives and will lose their lives. My message very simply is that an Israeli life is equal to a Palestinian life and a Palestinian life is equal to an Israeli life.”
Around 900 people are reported to have been killed since Hamas began its assault on Israel on Saturday. More than 700 people have been killed by Israeli airstrikes, the Palestinian authorities have said.
The first minister was among those paying tribute to Bernard Cowan, who was confirmed as the first Scottish victim of the Hamas attacks. Cowan grew up in Glasgow before settling in Israel where he lived with his wife and three children.
Yousaf has also written to foreign secretary James Cleverly asking the UK Government to call on the government of Israel to open a ceasefire for the evacuation of civilians through the Rafah border, as well as a humanitarian corridor into Gaza.
In an official letter, he wrote: “As the number of civilians displaced in Gaza increases and with supplies restricted, innocent people are being affected and conditions will worsen. The United Nations Secretary General has called for ‘relevant parties to allow United Nations access to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians trapped and helpless in the Gaza Strip’ and the international community to mobilise to provide support. I support this view.
“As a close friend and ally of Israel, I therefore ask the UK Government to call on the government of Israel to ensure innocent civilians are protected and to put in place an immediate ceasefire to allow the safe passage of civilians through the Rafah border. Furthermore, it should open a humanitarian corridor into Gaza to allow supplies, including food, fuel, water and medical supplies, for those civilians who are trapped, helpless and cannot leave.
“Finally, I call on the international community to be proactive and work towards an immediate ceasefire and a long-lasting peace that sees Israelis and Palestinians treated as equals.
“I am grateful for the ongoing engagement of Lord Ahmad, who has briefed me on the situation concerning UK nationals in Israel and Gaza. The Scottish Government stands ready to assist any efforts to support those who find themselves caught up in this tragic situation.”