My Views

October 28th, 2023
Written by John Grogan

These remarks on the situation in Israel and Gaza are in addition to my previous comments made after the terror attacks on Israel which still stand in full. 

In 2003 I was the MP for Selby and just before the Iraq War started, I was privileged to be invited to go to a conference at the United Nations in New York. It is very much a working building not a palace for heads of state. On the walls are hundreds of names of doctors, soldiers, nurses and aid workers who have died trying to keep the peace in the service of the only international body we have to turn to in times of international strife or conflict. At the last count 35 such UN staff have been killed in Gaza in the past few weeks. The United Nations born out of the ashes of the Second World War has many imperfections but in their hour of greatest need it has been the difference between life and death for many millions.  

I voted against the Iraq War partly because those pursuing it could not build support for their endeavour in this same United Nations. British and American ministers toured some of the poorest countries of the world who were members of the Security Council offering them all sorts of blandishments but not one of them would back the war. A casual reading of the unhappy and sometimes shameful history of military interventions by Britain in the region down the centuries also convinced me of the need to stay out of the conflict. 

So, what lessons can be drawn twenty years on as war once again takes hold in the Middle East? In this regard I support the recently expressed reflections quoted below of three Presidents from the United States and France and of the Secretary General of the United Nations. Some of these were clearly related to their own experiences two decades ago. 

Firstly, President Biden is right to assert, in a remarkably honest assessment of the United States’s reaction to the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001, that Israel should not follow the example of the world’s greatest superpower. 

He said: 

“Justice must be done But I caution that, while you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes”.

His predecessor but one Barack Obama warns us with equal wisdom that:

“The Israeli government’s decision to cut off food, water and electricity to a captive civilian population threatens not only to worsen a growing humanitarian crisis; it could further harden Palestinian attitudes for generations, erode global support for Israel, play into the hands of Israel’s enemies, and undermine long term efforts to achieve peace and stability in the region”.

Meanwhile the Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres commented:

“But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people ……… protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself”.

Finally, President Macron spoke about the potential impact of a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza by Israel: 

"A massive intervention that would put civilian lives at risk would be an error and would cause many, many civilian casualties. it would also be a mistake for Israel because it would be unlikely to offer long-term protection and because it is incompatible with protecting the civilian population or respecting international humanitarian law and the rules of war”.

Britain is right to recognise Israel’s right to self-defence where this involves freeing the hostages, tracking down those responsible for the recent atrocities or striking the military capacity of Hamas. If the Israeli Defence Force receives intelligence tonight about where some of the hostages are they have every right to go and try and rescue them. It is hard to see a cessation of hostilities taking hold until the issue of the hostages is resolved. The bombing campaign of recent days in Gaza on the other hand is completely unjustifiable. The killing of thousands of innocent children is clearly against international law where the interests of noncombatants are given primacy. It is not proportional and not targeted. Such indiscriminate blanket bombing must not just be paused it must be stopped for good. Supplies of food, water, fuel and energy must be restored for good.  A full-scale invasion of Gaza should also be avoided not just for the dire humanitarian consequences but also because although it will cost many Israeli and Palestinian lives it will not achieve the stated Israeli war aim of the destruction of Hamas. A significant number of Israeli defence experts recognise the truth of this. They fear that the conflict would escalate. Britain should not feel obliged to assist in any way the failed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cling to power. The Israeli people need the opportunity to choose new leaders who with international support could once again enter serious negotiations for a two-state solution. The aim remains Israel secure within its borders and an independent Palestinian State recognised by the United Nations. Arab countries and nations with a Muslim majority need to step up much more than in the recent past to support the economic development of the Palestinian people and their institutions and to encourage leaders who are prepared to negotiate a lasting settlement if given the opportunity. 

Britain should use all its influence working with its allies to give peace a chance. One thing we could definitely bring to the table is our recent experience of the Irish peace process. In the late 17th Century English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller expressed the view in his travelogue of the Holy Land, "It is always darkest just before the day dawneth". We can only hope and pray he is right two and a half centuries later.