Israel-Palestine conflict: the views of Lib Dem members

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 735 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

This afternoon the House of Commons debates the issue of Israel and Palestine: a backbench motion calling on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine. This follows the summer’s latest outbreak in the ongoing Israel–Gaza conflict, with seven weeks of Israeli bombardment, Palestinian rocket attacks, and ground fighting killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority of them Gazans. We asked Lib Dem members for their views…

61% sympathise primarily with the Palestinians

Thinking of the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, do your own sympathies lie more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?

    7% – My sympathies lie more with the Israelis
    61% – My sympathies lie more with the Palestinians
    30% – Neither
    2% – Don’t know

Some 6-in-10 of those who responded said their sympathies in this conflict lie primarily with the Palestinians; just 7% said Israel. However, a substantial minority, 30%, answered neither, and many others too pointed to culpability on both sides – here’s a sample of your comments:

• Two wrongs do not make a right. Civilians on both sides bear the brunt of the fear
• Like it or not, whenever a ceasefire was broken, it was always the Palestinians that broke it.
• Both parties recognising the de facto 1948 boundaries for Israel is the starting point to resolution. That does require Israel to withdraw from settlements. The US, Britain and Europe are hypocrital with sanctions against Russsia but not Israel
• If only the Palestinians would stop lobbing rockets over the border, then my sympathies would be with them.
• I have much sympathy with Israeli citizens, just not with their government.
• My sympathies lie with the ordinary folks on both sides who are badly served by their elected representatives. However, Israel must bear the brunt of disapproval because it wants to be considered amongst the Western Liberal Democracies, and it is failing to live up to the high standard we should expect.
• I think I sympathise more with the Palestinians – but the civilians – and the civilians of Israel not the Government.
• My sympathies are with the peace makers on both sides. It is a mistake to try to reduce the options to pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, I want a free Palestine and a secure Israel, I oppose the extremists on either sides who want to find a solution at the expense of the other
• Extreme elements of both are not worthy of sympathy – and the ordinary Palestinians continue to suffer especially when they put their hope in the wrong people, i.e. in Gaza.

81% say the Israeli bombing of Gaza was unjustifiable

During the summer, the Israeli air force has been bombing the Gaza strip. From what you have seen or heard do you think this bombing was justified or unjustified?

    11% – Justified
    81% – Unjustified
    8% – Don’t know

Some 8-in-10 Lib Dems responded that the Israeli government’s response to Hamas’s firing of rockets was unjustified — at least in its extent: the comments showed a few more commenters accepting Israel’s argument that it had the right to defend itself. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• Israel is a state, as such it must expect to be held to higher standard than non-state actors. It should be obvious that there can be no peace until the Palestinians are allowed a future worth having.
• Sledge hammers to crack nuts
• Massive overreaction based on the principal of “Collective punishment” a technique taught to the Israelis by the British!
• The bombing was justified, the extent of it probably was not
• The bombings are the product of failure in Israeli politics.
• At the level of intensity, unquestionably unjustified
• This was completely disproportionate and a war crime
• It might have been justified in principle, but the way it was carried out almost certainly broke international law.
• What would the Americans have said had the RAF bombed catholic areas of Belfast in the height of the troubles to “take out IRA houses”?
• If they were worried about tunnels entering Israel, all they had to do was locate and block them on Israeli soil. Their air defences bring down most rockets and should be further improved to bring them all down.

47% say Israeli government most to blame – but 40% say blame should be shared with Hamas

The Israeli bombings have caused a substantial number of Palestinian civilian casualties in the Gaza strip. Who do you think is most to blame for this?

    11% – Hamas – for stationing their military targets and equipment in civilian areas
    47% – Israel – for attacking military targets in areas where civilians are also likely to be killed
    40% – Both equally
    2% – Don’t know

A plurality of Lib Dem members, 47%, felt the Israeli government bore chief responsibility for the number of Palestinian civilian casualties. However, 4-in-10 felt the blame deserved to be equally shared. And 1-in-10 felt Hamas bore the most blame. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• Obviously Hama isn’t blameless but they are the weaker party and there would be less need for Hamas if the Israelis had, right from the beginning, practised a fair give and take.
• Hamas want Israel to be seen to kill innocent people. Israel kindly obliges. They seem locked in a spiral of death.
• It was a massive over reaction. Gaza is like a huge jail.
• I wait to be convince that the targets were all military.
• Israel. As the occupying power they are totally out of order behaving like this
• Even though using “human shields” is illegitimate, this does not justify injuries to civilians.
• The question accepts Israeli propaganda. A lot of their attacks have not been against military targets.
• Israel’s tolerance of civilian casualties is far higher than the UK and also even the US.
• UN buildings are no longer safe havens in Gaza and one cannot excuse Israeli behaviour in this regard. With the land area of Gaza so densely populated and Palestinians unable to leave then civilian casualties are inevitable.
• Hamas bears its share of responsibility – just that Israel was disproportionate and bears more
• Population density in Gaza leaves many civilians with little choice in whether or not they are in close proximity to Hamas people.
• Difficult for Israel but they have fallen into Hamas’ trap.
• If your enemy puts weapon placements near civilians, then either you find a sufficiently accurate weapon or else you don’t shoot. Israel has massive military superiority and highly effective anti-missile defences: there is no excuse for not following this principle.
• We were told that the Israeli military were carrying out investigations. I’ve not seen the results. Of course those firing rockets into Israel from civilian areas are culpable and beneath contempt. However, the facts are that very few rockets elude Israeli defences and of those that do, the number causing casualties is almost zero.
• Both are to blame; but Israel had the choice as to whether to start the blitz
• Hamas are also to blame but not I think equally. They have no other recourse. The Israelis hold all the cards and would be widely respected by the thinking world if they showed compassion to others and stopped thinking that violence is the only way to achieve peace, when clearly it isn’t.
• Stupid leading answers which don’t express my views – don’t frame the answers in this way again. My answer is “Israel – for deliberately attacking civilian targets with no military justification, purely to cause suffering within the civilian population.”
• The story is the fault of both sides. Both need to co-operate, learn some trust and re-build.

79% say Hamas launching rocket attacks into Israel was unjustifiable

During the summer, Hamas has been launching rocket attacks into Israel. From what you have seen or heard do you think these rocket attacks are justified or unjustified?

    10% – Justified
    79% – Unjustified
    11% – Don’t know

Pretty much the same proportion of Lib Dem members who think Israel’s actions unjustified (81%) also think Hamas’s actions unjustified (79%) — only a minority 1-in-10 think them justifiable. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• This question is asking whether terrorist attacks are justified. The answer is, of course, no.
• Hamas wants to destroy Israel. This is never going to be accepted. What is needed is serious peace talks without preconditions
• I think they are unjustifiably justified – if that makes sense
• The Palestinians have legitimate grievances, and the Israeli government seems to keep changing the goalposts for addressing them. But a far better approach would be to go down the UN recognition route…
• Justified, but not sensible, and extremely counter-productive.
• Parts of their land is occupied against International Law and another country is building settlements – how else are they to resist?
• Two wrongs don’t make a right, they are both wrong and adding more wrong is not the answer.
• Those rockets are the cause of so much. Not in the news is the rockets that Hamas have launched into Egypt occasionally.
• The rocket attacks are always a waste of time, but they’re the only weapon they’ve got. Can’t blame them for doing something even if it’s pointless.
• Unjustified because they are not targeting the right people – and stupid because they are provoking Israeli sentiment across the world.
• I couldn’t support them for doing this, but given the Israelis will not negotiate with them and will do what they like to them I do not know what I would suggest as an alternative.
• They are terrorist and should be stopped.
• Pea-shooters by comparison with Israeli weapons
• A military response – self defence against military targets – would be understandable, but these are indiscriminate attacks on civilians. They are counterproductive and a war crime.
• Unjustified in absolute terms but the Israelis need to rise above the short term and try harder to make peace.

Your views on this survey’s findings are welcome. Comments will be pre-moderated, as with all articles on this topic, to ensure the debate generates light, not just heat.

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    6 Comments

    • Given the actions of the Israeli government in supporting settlements on the West Bank and severely restricting the residents’ of Gaza’s ability to trade with the outside world it is not surprising that the majority of party members who voted say their sympathies lie with the Palestinians.

      However I am very surprised that as many as 73 members could be found who support Hamas’s firing of missiles into Israel. These missiles are not precise and therefore are bound to cause more civilian than military casualties. They are no match for the Israeli military machine and so cannot achieve a better outcome for the Palestinians. Their use therefore fails the criteria for a just war and also fail the criteria for just means to deploy in war.

    • 61% sympathise primarily with the Palestinians

      81% say the Israeli bombing of Gaza was unjustifiable

      Contrast and compare with this from the JC on 28 August 2014 —-

      It’s naive to think David Ward is the true voice of the Lib Dem’s on Israel

      Nick Clegg: ‘friend of Israel’

      The past two months have been hard. Hard for anyone who cares about Israel.

      As chairman of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI), my job, like all Israel’s advocates, has been hard, but it is, also, a privilege with great responsibility.

      In our party, LDFI is a key conduit to the UK Jewish community and on all matters related to Israel and Palestine.

      Since the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge there have been an unprecedented level of briefings and dialogue from LDFI throughout the party, certainly unsurpassed in my 17 years’ involvement with the organisation.

      We have a party policy supporting a two-state solution

      The Liberal Democrat position on Israel now and in the future should not be naively viewed through the narrow prism of tweets from people like our Bradford MP David Ward, in the same way that the Conservatives’ position on Israel should not be viewed through the resignation of Sayeeda Warsi over Gaza.

      An inconvenient truth is that the Liberal Democrats are friends of Israel. We have a leader in Nick Clegg who is personally and politically vested as a friend of Israel, and we have a formally stated party policy position in support of Israel and a two-state solution.

      People can have short and sometimes selective memories. To recap, Nick Clegg was the first to call for the UK to boycott the Durban II conference in 2009 due to unacceptable expected levels of antisemitic discourse.

      In government, our party presided over clarification of the universal jurisdiction laws which now allow Israeli politicians to visit the UK without fear of arrest. Our party has, in Lord Palmer, by far the most frequent speaker in the House of Lords making Israel’s case on an almost daily basis.

    • 8% of Hamas rockets fell on Gaza including power lines. As Hamas has fired over 10,000 rockets at Israel this equates to over 800 hundred rockets. Hamas rockets carry about 50 kg of explosive : if they fired and stored them at least 100m away from human habitation there would be hardly any civilian casualties. As a Jordanian journalist has discovered , Israel warned of air attacks but Hamas would not allow people to leave targets

      If Hamas allowed civilians to leave the sites of targets and fired and stored missiles at least 100m and preferably 200m away from people , they could conduct a campaign with little risk to the civilian population.

    • Tony Dawson 13th Oct '14 - 4:49pm

      People who believe there are ever wars in which the actions of any side are all ‘appropriate’ – or indeed that there is any conflict situation where there is any purely ‘appropriate’ actions for one side or other to take which are not predictably totally-ineffectual and/or do not effectively completely undermine their own position and raison d’etre are in a state of self-delusion.

    • Matthew Huntbach 13th Oct '14 - 10:02pm

      Most of what the Israelis say and do causes me to sympathise with the Palestinians. Most of what the Palestinians say and do causes me to sympathise with the Israelis.

    • The Party’s humanitarian an internationalist principles come out clearly in this poll. In the public realm We are losing out to Labour in this regard. Israel will only make peace if forced to do so. Our Party leaders now need to make clear their support for government to follow last night’s motion with its resounding victory for fairness and justice and assert this as a key point of difference with the conservatives if they won’t agree.

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