LFI vice-chair Christian Wakeford MP has written the below article for Jewish News. Click here to read the original.
Last February, I visited Israel with a group of Labour parliamentary colleagues.
Towards the end of our delegation, we travelled to the south of the country, having a relaxed lunch with residents the residents of Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
It was impossible not to be aware of the security threat: we were briefed on the terror tunnels which Hamas had attempted to dig close to the border and talked to the kibbutzniks about the ever-present danger of rocket attacks.
Nonetheless, it was also impossible to imagine the terrible fate that would befall the kibbutz in the early hours of 7th October; the devastating aftermath of which I saw for myself last week on a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) solidarity delegation to Israel.
It’s easy to mistake Kfar Aza’s burned-out streets and homes raised to the ground for a war-zone. But this wasn’t the scene of a battle, but of a well-planned and ruthlessly executed massacre. Surprised as they slept in their beds, the residents had no chance to defend themselves.
The Hamas terrorists – who had been training for months – knew their target well: first, they murdered the local mayor before swiftly racing to the storehouse which housed the residents’ defensive weapons.
They had also honed fiendishly sickening tactics. Young parents were butchered, but their newly born babies left alive so that their cries might draw in soldiers and rescuers who were then themselves murdered. Miraculously, the babies survived; tragically, they are now orphans.
We entered a house which was strafed with grenades, its walls pockmarked by shrapnel shells. The only remains of the young couple who lived here were found on the sofa, which have now been taken away and buried.
The scenes at Kfar Aza weren’t unique. Other border communities suffered similar brutality. So too, did the young people who had gathered to party at the Nova music festival.
In Tel Aviv, we visited an exhibition which tells the story of the festival and the appalling events which unfolded there. The contrast between the joyous ethos which underpinned the festival – one area smells of incense and has some of the tents which were pitched amid the trees, in another you hear the pumping beats of the music – and the barbarity inflicted on the young party-goers is near-unbearable.
The exhibition contains burned-out cars, portable toilets riddled with bullet holes, and notes left in memory of murdered friends. Our guide, a survivor who had helped to organise the festival, told us that she lost so many friends in those few bloody hours that she had to choose which of their funerals to attend.
Like many of the kibbutzim, the festival was the scene of Hamas’ campaign of mass rape, torture and murder of women. We spoke with experts on sexual violence who are horrified not only by the evidence which has been gathered but by the silence with which it has been met outside of Israel.
We met too with some of the families of the more than 100 hostages Hamas are still holding.
British-Israeli Ayelet Svatitzky told us of how she called her 79-year-old mother, Channah Peri, to warn her that terrorists had infiltrated Kibbutz Nirim. As they spoke, Ayelet heard men speaking English with Arabic accents burst into the room. She then called her brother, Nadav Popplewell, who also lived at the kibbutz. Both Channah and Nadav were seized by Hamas.
While Channah was released during November’s humanitarian pause, Nadav, who is also a British citizen, is still being held in Gaza. Ayelet’s eldest brother, Roi, was shot and killed behind his home at the kibbutz. She says that, still consumed by fear and worry about Nadav, the family hasn’t yet been able to properly mourn the loss of Roi.
Israel’s enemies will continue to attempt to deny, justify or minimise the events of 7 October – or distract from them by confecting false charges of genocide and resurrecting ancient blood libels against the Jewish people.
We will not allow these lies and slurs to erase the reality of the terrible trauma which Israelis suffered.
Nor will we allow a simple truth to be obscured: that Israel is right to destroy Hamas’ political and military power and prevent those who are ideologically driven to murder Jews from having the capacity to do so again.
But amid the harrowing accounts and scenes from last week, I also witnessed something remarkable: hope for the future. At the Nova exhibition, we repeatedly saw the message: “We will dance again.”