Visit to Palestine and Israel

The issue of Gaza is dominating the news as the horror unfolds there, after the despicable attacks by Hamas last year. I was invited on a trip to visit the area by Yachad, a British Jewish organisation – it was a remarkable visit, including seeing the site of the Hamas atrocities and witnessing the fighting in Gaza from afar.

On my return I gave a speech in the House about the visit and what I learned – which you can read here:

I, too, was on the emotional cross-party visit with Yachad to Israel and Palestine last week. We stood at the site of mass murder in Kibbutz Be’eri and Netiv HaAsara and heard with horror the accounts of the victims and bereaved relatives of what happened there. We also stood on a bluff above Gaza City and saw the artillery landing and heard the gunfire and the drones overhead. I contemplated the futility of 30,000 dead, and, with horror, thought of the assault on Rafah and its 600,000 children.Toggle showing location of Column 760

Various things became clear during that visit. First, there can be no military victory over Hamas—that is widely accepted across the world and is being whispered even in Israel—not least because every bomb and every bullet that lands is a recruiting sergeant for that appalling organisation. Secondly, the security of these two peoples are intrinsically intertwined. Anybody who is interested in the security of Israel in the future has to recognise that this conflict is making things worse, not better, and that the security of the Palestinians is required for the security of Israel into the future.

We also met some remarkable people: Rachel Goldberg, whose son, Hersh, is still being held by Hamas; Maoz Inon and Yonatan Zeigin whose parents were both killed by Hamas; and a group of young Palestinians who yearn for freedom. All of them are dedicating their lives to peace. They were the threads of hope that we met on our visit, and they offered the prospect that these two remarkable peoples could find a way to live side by side.

Then I returned to the United Kingdom, Mr Deputy Speaker, to find us trapped in a crazy battle of semantics. I must confess that I do not understand the difference between “ceasefire”, “pause”, “cessation”, “truce”, which is then qualified by “sustainable”, “credible”, “humanitarian”, or “one that lasts”. The British people think that our moral compass is spinning in this House, that we have no clue what we are doing any more, yet they see the bodies of shredded children coming across the media pretty much every day. They want three simple things: they want the killing of Palestinians and Israelis to stop; they want the hostages to be returned; and they want aid to flow into Gaza.

Our job as Back Benchers is to vote for the outcome that we want to see, not some clever process by which we might get there. It is not to second guess what the parties are going to do, but to say now what we want to happen. I agree with the British people that the violence must stop. If those people who hold out the prospect of hope in Israel stand a chance, there must be an atmosphere of peace. It was Menachem Begin who said that war is avoidable, but peace is inevitable. It is time for the bloodshed to stop and for the talking to begin, and in this House, in this country, we must do what we can to make that so.