Lib Dem Voice has invited both the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (article published here yesterday) and the Friends of Israel to submit articles looking at the current Middle East crisis. Today we publish this contribution from Matthew Harris, Secretary of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel.
At the pro-Israeli peace rally on Sunday 11 January, Trafalgar Square echoed to the sound of speaker after speaker calling, as the thousands of placards read, for “peace for the people of Israel and Gaza”. As a Liberal Democrat who believes in human rights and the rule of law, I cannot echo those calls strongly enough.
Israel is fighting in Gaza to stop the firing of rockets at towns and cities well within Israel’s internationally recognised, pre-1967 borders. These rockets are not home-made fireworks; they are sophisticated weapons, which often kill innocent people. They are fired without precision, with the intention of killing as many people as possible; Hamas is not deliberately aiming for the missiles to mostly miss. The average rocket fired from Gaza contains 7-8kg of explosives – substantially more than the 5-7kg detonated by each of the London bombers on 7/7, when they killed 52 people. I have stood in a house in Sderot which had been hit by one of these missiles and it was utterly devastated. It is a matter of simple good fortune that more people have not been killed and maimed, given that 6,053 of these rockets have been fired at Israel since its disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
Pledged unequivocally in its 1988 charter to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, Hamas has no interest in peace and no desire for the two-state solution favoured by Liberal Democrats. As its charter states, “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)”.
Israel is therefore faced on its border by a force pledged to its destruction, armed and funded by Iran. Iran’s strategic aim is to foster a confrontation with Israel that would leave Iran as the undisputed power in the Middle East; its tactical aim in Gaza is to make Hamas as militarily powerful there as Hezbollah is in Lebanon. Such an outcome would deal a death blow to long-term hopes of Middle East stability and would be disastrous for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
The harsh reality is that Israel has no option but to abort this Iranian-backed war machine (including missiles with an ever-longer range) in Gaza. Israel is targeting Hamas’ rocket-firing capacity and is seeking to limit Palestinian civilian casualties. On 10th January, Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, said:
Despite Israel’s extraordinary measures, a tragically high number of innocent civilians have been killed and wounded. That is the inevitability of Hamas’s way of fighting. Avoiding civilian casualties when fighting among the people is always difficult. When combating an enemy (Hamas) that uses human shields it is impossible.”
The death of any civilians is tragic, so a ceasefire is urgently required, but there is no point in a ceasefire if it is merely an interval between this Gaza war and the next. Israeli and Palestinian children deserve a durable ceasefire that addresses the root causes of this latest conflict.