Published by Progress on 27rd February 2015
Last summer’s war in Gaza caused a great deal of division as passions ran high about both Hamas’ rocket bombardment against Israel and the nature of Israel’s response.
I was pleased, therefore, to see Labour Friends of Israel this week launch a new campaign with an aim which I hope will unite rather than divide: stopping a return to the recurring spiral of violence which afflicts both the peoples of Gaza and Israel.
The cause is certainly an urgent one. As LFI’s recent briefing highlights, while reconstruction in Gaza has now begun, Hamas has an altogether different reconstruction agenda in mind: reconstructing its deadly weapons arsenal; rebuilding its terror tunnel network; and recruiting a new ‘popular army’ of teenagers and young men.
There is nothing secret about Hamas’ efforts or intentions. Less than a month after the ceasefire, its co-founder, Mahmoud al-Zahar, publicly pledged that the group would ‘build new tunnels’ to replace those destroyed by the IDF. In November, Hamas weekly Al-Risalah published an account by a reporter who accompanied members of the Al-Qassam Brigades who were working in shifts around the clock to do just that.
At the same time, Hamas is attempting to renew its depleted arsenal of rockets and mortars and working to construct a new generation of home-produced rockets. Frustrated by Egypt’s destruction of 1,800 of its cross-border tunnels, Hamas is attempting to smuggle materials in by sea: two weeks ago, Israel announced that it had intercepted a boat carrying liquid fibreglass bound for Gaza. Hamas is also carrying out regular rocket tests over the Mediterranean, firing large volleys and seeking to enhance or refine strategies to cheat Israel’s anti-missile Iron Dome system.
In November Hamas announced the formation of a new ‘popular army’, aimed at recruiting young men aged between 15 and 21. Some 17,000 youngsters took part in ‘vanguard of liberation’ training camps last month. Videos released by Hamas show drills involving simulations of tunnel attacks and attempts to kidnap IDF soldiers. Teaching young people to kill; indoctrinating them to hate. This is Hamas’ education policy.
On Wednesday, LFI MPs in parliament participated in a debate in parliament to highlight the dangers of Hamas’ rearmament and press the UK government to take practical steps to help stop it. Immediate action it could take would be to examine the increasing evidence that Hamas’ military and political wings are inextricably linked. Labour proscribed the former when it was in government. It’s now time urgently to consider banning the latter.
As Labour MPs Louise Ellman and Michael McCann warned during the debate, it is important not to forget the dangers posed by Iran, which has done so much to hamper the cause of peace, and is now redoubling its sinister efforts. Last November, Ayatollah Khamenei warned that: “The West Bank will surely be armed just like Gaza”. It is crucial, therefore, that the effort to secure a nuclear arms deal with Iran does not lead to any lessening of pressure on Tehran to stop its other deeply destabilising policies in the region.
Reconstructions efforts are underway in Gaza – Israel has enabled 43,000 Gaza residents to purchase building materials for personal use – and are crucial to alleviating the humanitarian crisis facing people there. But current reconstruction efforts do not provide a basis for longer-term prosperity and peace. That’s why, like LFI, I want to see the reconstruction programme complemented by a “development for disarmament” programme. Advanced by Israeli Labor MK Omer Barlev, it sets out a staged two-year plan to ensure that disarmament is accompanied by a lifting of the restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt and an opening up of Gaza to the world via the building of an airport and a seaport.
I support LFI’s call for Britain to use its place on the UN Security Council to assemble an international coalition for peace in Gaza. It should lead an effort to get a new resolution to impose sanctions on countries which attempt to transfer weapons to Hamas and other terror groups and to authorise the international community to send inspectors to Gaza to oversee the destruction of rockets and other heavy weaponry.
Three times in the last six years Hamas has dragged Gaza and Israel into a bloody war. On each occasion, the international community has been quick to call for ceasefires but slow to do the hard work of preventing another round of hostilities. It’s time for Britain to take a lead by ensuring that the peoples of Gaza and Israel are not let down once again.
Link to the original article here: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/02/27/britain-can-prevent-another-war-in-gaza/