The situation in Israel and Gaza.
Unsurprisingly I have been inundated with emails from constituents expressing concern about the appalling events in Israel and Gaza in the last couple of weeks. Many are circulars expressing a variety of views, some are written from a personal experience of having relatives affected and other concerned by the implications this will ensue to life in the UK as well.
You will therefore understand why I am writing a general response which I hope will encapsulate just about all of the views that have been expressed to me, and no doubt rapidly changing events will bring more information and perspectives to light over coming days. Those who followed my visits to Israel and Palestine just before Covid will know the close interest I take in this are and where I have always endeavoured to be measured and even-handed in my view on the situation in this very difficult part of the world. I have always been clear to express my own view candidly and am not constrained by partisan positions on this as certain people have suggested. So, like it or not what I will say is what I personally believe.
I deliberately visited Israel and the West Bank with a pro-Israeli organisation having visited similar areas with a pro-Palestine aid charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, to get both sides of the argument. Subsequently I held 2 report-back meetings in Shoreham open to all constituents and which were well attended. I produced my own photographs from the visits and spoke very critically of violence by pro-Palestinian groups against Israel and of the excessive force used by Israeli military against Palestinians in the West bank and the illegal incursion of settler developments. It was not safe for us to travel to Gaza even at that time, but we were briefed on the grim situation there by the UN and other NGOs.
The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza is also deeply troubling. On 23 October the Government announced an additional £20 million of humanitarian aid. This additional funding more than doubles the UK’s previous support for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and means that the UK continues to be at the forefront of the global effort to help the Palestinian people access the vital support they need. I have also been assured that the UK will consider further support depending on changing humanitarian needs on the ground.
In summary my thoughts are;
- The attacks against mostly civilian Israelis by Hamas including targeting of women, children, babies and frail elderly for murder, burning and kidnapping were unprecedented and take barbarity to a whole new level. They offend all conventions and rules of conflict and decency and have no justification whatever your views on the historic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Any decent person should have no hesitation in condemning them outright.
- Hamas is a terrorist organisation as defined by UK law, supported by Iran, and everyone including the BBC needs to acknowledge that. They exist to eradicate all Jews and wipe them out from the whole of modern Israel ‘from the river to the sea.’ This is genocide and anyone using this well-worn phrase or supporting Hamas is effectively condoning that.
- Israel as a sovereign state has a right to defend itself and use reasonable force to secure its borders and make its people safe from attack and fight back against the forces that have waged such evil on its citizens. Specifically, it is entitled to take appropriate action to secure the safe release of the 200 or so hostages illegally taken to Gaza.
- As a sovereign state Israel also needs to abide by international law and not to be dragged down to the inhuman and indiscriminate tactics used by Hamas. Any retaliation against Hamas needs to be proportionate and designed to minimise harm to Palestinian civilians as well as aid workers and others still in Gaza. Too many Palestinians have been killed as a result of the Israeli retaliation and all lives of innocent civilians are equal. President Biden was right when he cautioned against rage against the Hamas atrocities overwhelming Israel’s actions, just as America had learnt from its response to the 9/11 attacks on New York.
- The attacks on Israel by Hamas specifically went out of their way to target civilians. Over 5,000 missiles were fired indiscriminately into residential areas and women and children were specifically targeted for violence. Israel has claimed that it gives warning before air strikes on buildings where it suspects there is Hamas activity and has identified safe routes for Palestinians to evacuate north Gaza. Hamas obviously gave no warnings and took everyone by surprise, representing a rare failure of Israeli intelligence.
- Undoubtedly Palestinian casualties have been maximised by Hamas deliberately putting civilians between them and the Israelis to act as a human shield. There is substantial evidence that they have used hospitals, schools and most notably the cemetery next to the Al Madani hospital as places to hide, store ammunition and fire rockets. Again, this offends against all the conventional rules of warfare and is a deliberate tactic by Hamas to make it harder for Israel to retaliate.
- The problem is that since it was given independence from Israel in 2005 Gaza has been run by a Hamas government whose fanatical hatred for the Jewish state and Jews outweighs any considerations, they have for the safety of the people they are there to govern. Palestinians in Gaza have not been allowed to hold an election since 2007, and mostly live in fear of Hamas. It has suited Hamas to keep them in a state of perpetual poverty whilst it has now become clear that their leaders live in a state of relative luxury, the head of Hamas is a billionaire and their children swan around in some luxury in places, like Qatar. Western and UN aid money meant to alleviate the conditions of ordinary Palestinians has instead been diverted to the pockets of Hamas personally, to support other terrorist organisations sheltering in Gaza and to fund the procurement of arms to use against Israel.
- It is very difficult to work out what is factual information coming out of Gaza and what is propaganda and blatant lies. I now agree that there is overwhelming evidence to show that the attack on the hospital compound came form a misfired rocket from within Gaza, probably from the cemetery next to the hospital and probably fired by Hamas associated, Islamic Jihad.
In case those statements sound too subjective I would also make the following observations and calls for action by Israel:
- Israel is in danger of taking its retaliation too far and breaking international law thereby laying itself open to charges of genocide. Clearly it was taken by surprise and needed to reassert its authority and ability to retaliate against the Hamas terrorists who unilaterally triggered this latest conflict. That does not mean that it needs to continue raining down missiles on Gaza and putting more civilians in danger. I do not see that a full-scale land invasion of Gaza is necessary if the return of hostages can be achieved, and Hamas terrorists targeted and cleared out. That may also necessitate the locating and destruction of the elaborate network of tunnels under Gaza used for transporting arms and terrorists.
- It was reported that Hamas had suggested that the hostages could be returned to Israel if the Israeli air attacks ceased. If this is true, then Israel should agree without equivocation immediately.
- The humanitarian crisis is now at a critical level in Gaza. Power and water supplies should now be restored, and aid convoys allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt. Palestinians who have travelled south should be able to remain there in safety and aid directed to temporary refugee camps across the Egyptian border for those who need to leave Gaza altogether until it is safe to return. These are all measures which the British Government is already supporting and lobbying for in conjunction with other interested nations, as was very evident with the Prime Minister’s visit to various Middle Eastern countries.
- There have been claims that Israel has used white phosphorus in artillery shells against Gaza. This is a particularly violent weapon, banned under international conventions. If there is compelling evidence to support this claim, then it would represent war crimes and the Israeli would need to be held accountable.
- I welcome the big increase in aid for Palestinians already pledged by the UK government, but it is essential that this goes through the appropriate NGO to help civilians rather than be diverted by Hamas again.
Beyond the immediate conflict these latest outrages need to be a catalyst for the international community at last to work together to find away where Israel and the Palestinians can live side by side in peace, and Gaza can become a viable entity. Gaza has been described as ‘the largest open prison camp in the world’ and movements of people and goods are severely restricted by Israel by land and sea. Power supplies are unreliable and intermittent whilst Israel is the leader in desalination plants and the benefit of this needs to be brought to provide a reliable water supply for Gaza. At the same time Israel must be forced to retreat from some of the more blatant settlements imposed on Palestinian territories where they have no right to be. When Gaza was made independent, Jewish settlements were cleared in the face of a lot of opposition and the same needs to happen again. In addition, the thorniest problem of all, the custody of the Holy City of Jerusalem needs to be resolved to accommodate both Jews and Muslims.
None of this is likely to happen, nor can Israel be expected to allow this to happen all the time that Gaza openly harbours terrorist organisations who use the cover of innocent Palestinians to bomb Israeli territory. This is an international challenge that all nations need to be invested in. But in such an age-old conflict none of this will be easy. At the heart of this is leadership. Both the Palestinians, whether in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority or Gaza under Hamas, and the Israelis with their democratically elected administration, have been poorly led for too long, and as result government has become extreme and polarising.
In light of all the above I have been most concerned by the many constituents who have written to me solely raising the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They have made no mention of the unprecedented atrocities against Israeli civilians, especially children, nor of the safety of the 200 hostages held by Hamas. However, entrenched views on the history of the conflict there can be no justification for this level of barbarity that triggered the current violence in Gaza. Nowhere is it justified to kidnap innocent babies. Anyone who cannot acknowledge and condemn that I am afraid is not worthy of a serious response from their MP.
There has also been a lot of misinformation in much of the correspondence, exacerbated by the immediacy of news transfer by social media. There was a surge of outrage pointing the finger of blame squarely at Israel when news of the explosion at the Al Madani hospital broke. Those claims which came from Hamas sources are now looking highly suspect. There is no evidence that the hospital itself was targeted, there is no evidence of missiles entering Gaza from Israel and the footage of the site shows likely unspent rocket propellant fuel causing such a large explosion. Recordings of Hamas operatives also indicate that the rocket was misfired by Islamic Jihad sources from the cemetery next to the hospital. Most importantly it now appears that the death toll was very substantially lower than the 500 or so that was initially claimed as the missile hit the car park next to the hospital rather than the hospital itself.
I hope those people who wrote to me condemning Israel’s attack on the hospital, in the light of new evidence, will now have the decency to retract those serious allegations and may employ a little more scrutiny before rushing to judgement next time. There are also serious questions for certain media outlets who were quick to claim the ‘Israeli rocket attack’ as fact, causing a huge knock-on effect which led to demonstrations and further violence well beyond Israel and Gaza. Even though the account is now being rewritten the damage has already been done as the complete breakdown in trust has led many people on each side to believe what they want to believe. The effect it had of various Arab leaders pulling out of discussions with President Biden on his visit was particularly damaging as solutions can only be found when people sit down and talk to each other.
Another very worrying consequence of recent events has been the exponential rise in antisemitism and antisemitic attacks around the world. The UK is a multicultural and deeply tolerant country which we can all be proud of. Antisemitism as with Islamophobia has no place here and there are laws to confront and police it. Yet the Community Security Trust has independently assessed that there has been a 581% increase in antisemitic attacks in the last 10 days and we have all seen that Jewish schools in London had to close their doors in the interests of the safety of their pupils. Many British Jews and others around the world are understandably feeling scared by an apparent rise in antisemitism and this cannot be tolerated. Incredibly in Germany even Holocaust memorials have come under attack too.
Some people have written to me to complain about the mass pro-Palestinian demonstrations which have been taking place especially last week in London. We live in a democracy where we cherish free speech and taking to the streets in peaceful organised demonstration is an important part of that democratic process. It is therefore not consistent to call for a ban on such demonstrations where they are there simply to support the Palestinian cause and complain at the treatment of Palestinians by Israel; however distasteful some may find theta in the immediate light of the atrocities against Israelis. What is not acceptable or indeed legal is to demonstrate in support of the terrorist organisation Hamas and their violence and it is important that those caught doing so are caught and subject to the full rigour of the law. Whilst police have a difficult job in policing such large gatherings the Home Secretary has made it very clear what the law allows and does not allow.
It is manifestly evident but needs repeating, that Hamas is not the same as Palestine or Palestinians. As I have said already the vast majority of ordinary decent Palestinians are effectively being held in captive poverty in their own country by their own Government, which has used them as human shields. There was an encouraging sign last week when President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority appeared to say that Hamas did not act in the name of ordinary Palestinians and condemned their attacks. Senior Government members in Saudi Arabia also condemned the outrages of Hamas. Clearly what we need is a much wider ‘not in my name movement’ to places a very clear barrier between Hamas and fellow terrorists and the vast majority of decent moderate Palestinians and Arabs worldwide.
We have already seen much of that in Israel where ordinary Israelis have been free to demonstrate against the extremes of the current Government and disassociate themselves from their countrymen in positions of power. We need to see a much wider movement amongst Palestinians, encouraged by other Arab nations, to do the same.
I have no doubt that Hamas, backed by Iran, took these extreme and unprecedented measures in order to fan the flames of conflict in the Middle East and provoke Israel into an overreaction which would lose it international good will. Iran and Hamas represent the progress with the so-called Abraham Accords started 3 years ago to normalise relations between Israel and many Arab and Muslim countries. So far countries such as the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have recognised the state of Israel and her right to exist. Many mutual benefits and the greater prospects for peace have flowed from this.
Most significantly there are signs that Saudi Arabia, one of the most influential and important Arab nations, was about to sign the Accords and that could prove a game changer for a settlement in the Middle East. For a terrorist organisation like Hamas which exists only to instil violence and discord, backed by the terrorist regime in Iran, this would have been a disaster and thus they need to disrupt progress and return Israel and Palestine to its traditional embattled state. They must not be allowed to succeed.
I apologies for the length of this missive but this is a deeply complex and tragic situation and one which will continue to exercise parliament and politicians for long to come. Whether you agree with my analysis I hope that it addresses most of the points that have been raised with me and you can respect the sincerity and understanding of my position.
As always if there are further points I have not covered, and you would like me to address then please feel free to come back to me.
Updates on constituent's calls for a ceasefire
I have of course posted a comprehensive account my view of the tragic situation in Israel and Gaza on my website and Facebook page. I do of course understand the grave concerns about the amount of casualties within Gaza, especially children, and I share those concerns, although it is difficult to get an accurate picture about the extent of the loss of life. Whilst calls for a ceasefire may seem an obvious option it is fraught with problems and may make the situation worse.
Under Article 51 of the UN Charter, Israel has the right to defend herself under the fundamental principle of self-defence against an armed attack. This right is exercised under the legitimate backing of international law to eliminate Hamas a terrorist organisation responsible for triggering the violence in the region. In order to defend Israel citizens and territory the Israeli Government are pursuing 2 main objectives, to secure the release of over 220 hostages and to eradicate the terrorist organisation Hamas and its infrastructure and capability to repeat its attacks. I support those objectives and they are justified under international law though Israel needs to redouble its efforts to do everything possible to minimise civilian casualties. That is of course may all the harder by Hamas itself which routinely uses innocent civilians as a human shield, locates its armouries in the basements of public buildings such as hospitals and fires rockets from residential areas often resulting in death and injury to the residents of Gaza.
To call for a ceasefire, both parties must be in mutual agreement and there is no indication that Hamas would either agree to one let alone abide by it, but instead use the opportunity to regroup and re-arm. There is certainly common agreement amongst our Government and main Opposition Party and other governments that a ‘humanitarian pause’ would certainly be a practical way to ensure urgent aid reaches those most in need and that more is done to keep those who have fled the main areas of conflict, as advised by the Israelis, in safe areas until the immediate danger has passed. Again Hamas is showing its complete lack of compassion for the safety of its own citizens by blocking the routes of many trying to travel south, preventing those entitled to cross into Egypt and diverting fuel and food supplies away from their citizens in need.
I trust you agree that ultimately we need to bring the current hostilities to a close as soon as possible and for all nations to work together with Israel and the Palestinian people to find a lasting settlement so they can live in peace without the threat of terrorism being constantly waged on them by a small minority of fanatics, backed by pariah states like Iran. That objective is not obviously served by what could turn out to be a one-sided ceasefire at this stage and I hope that you appreciate my reasons for taking this stance.