This blog by Joan Ryan MP, parliamentary chair of Labour Friends of Israel, was originally posted on Times of Israel
The terrible and shocking events in Gaza yesterday require urgent and immediate action to end the cycle of violence and address the plight of its people.
Like any other country, Israel has a right to defend its people and its communities, especially those which are close to its border.
But Israel has a duty to ensure that its soldiers exercise restraint, especially in the use of live ammunition, and thereby take all and any measures necessary to minimise civilian casualties. LFI condemns the deaths of any innocent peaceful protesters and think it is important that urgent action is taken to prevent the loss of further human life.
As I have said previously, Hamas and its ideology of terror do not only pose a threat to the people of Israel. Hamas has also repeatedly shown an utter disregard for the lives of ordinary Palestinians. The “March of Return” was originally intended as a peaceful series of demonstrations by Palestinian grassroots groups to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.
In order to deflect growing public anger at the multiple failures of its decade-long rule of Gaza, Hamas hijacked this movement and turned it in a new and darker direction. It has cynically and ruthlessly used these protests to provoke confrontation. Its operatives have fired at soldiers and hurled firebombs at them, attempted to plant bombs along the border fence, and launched kites laden with fuel across the fence, aimed at setting agricultural land alight.
Over the weekend, Hamas used social media to post pictures and maps showing the shortest route from the border fence to nearby Israeli communities should any demonstrators breach the border. Nine border communities lie between 0.4 km and 3 km from the fence. Hamas’ intentions – to once again murder Israeli civilians – were all too clear.
Hamas cares little for the welfare of the people of Gaza. On Friday, its forces directed rioters attacking the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main route by which humanitarian aid and power reaches Gaza. It may take many weeks before it is repaired and fully operational again.
The situation in Gaza is dire and, for the vast majority of its people, it is one without hope. Unemployment stands at 40 per cent, basic infrastructure such as sewerage is under immense strain, and electricity shortages are frequent.
As Avi Gabbay, the leader of the Israeli Labor party, suggested yesterday, this situation reflects a failure of political leadership on the part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Indeed, the Israeli military and intelligence services have warned again and again that the toxic cocktail of hopelessness and desperation in Gaza could lead to an explosion of violence. These prescient warnings have been repeatedly ignored.
The Israeli government has spoken of the importance of economic regeneration and building a seaport to increase the flow of goods in and out of Gaza. However, it has failed to turn words into action and to seize the opportunity presented by changing regional dynamics and the rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world to isolate Hamas and push a new, strategic political solution.
As LFI outlined in our Pledge for Gaza, the elements of that solution are clear: Hamas’ effort to rearm and restock its terror arsenal must be curtailed and stopped; the civil and political rights of the people of Gaza must be restored; the international community must honour the unfulfilled reconstruction pledges made at the 2014 Cairo conference; and the Israeli government must assist with the economic revitalisation of Gaza.
More broadly, this cycle of violence only makes a wider peace and a two-state solution more difficult to attain. As we are all too aware, much-needed American leadership in pursuit of that goal is totally absent. As I said last December, President Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem at this time was wrong. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and will remain so in any eventual agreement, but such unilateral moves – unrelated to any wider plan or effort – do not advance the peace process.
I have had the pleasure of visiting the Nir Oz kibbutz on the Gaza border on a number of occasions. Its brave and resourceful people live under the constant threat of Hamas rocket attack and have suffered terribly in the past. I admire their resilience and strength, but also their compassion. They bear the people of Gaza no ill will, they wish for them only the peace and security they wish for themselves and their children.
Their approach and attitude should be an example to us all as we strive for an end to violence, and the pursuit of coexistence, reconciliation and a two-state solution.