Friday, 16 November 2012

Trouble in Gaza

I went to Ashdod, Tel Aviv and Sderot last month as part of 4 day trip to Israel. All 3 towns are now under attack from rockets fired from Gaza, which is fundamentally controlled by Hamas. The picture of me is taken in the Israeli town of Sderot. The border is a couple of miles behind me and the Palestinian town of Gaza can be seen in the distance barely 5 miles away. At that time they were receiving dozens of rocket attacks on Sderot, in particular, every month. Clearly matters are far worse than when I was there a month ago. I met the Mayor of Ashdod, saw the remains of rockets in Sderot, and walked in Tel Aviv by the seafront where now rockets are being aimed. The repercussions across the region will be huge and are very significant.
The Times newspaper has said today that "there was an awful inevitability to Israeli actions in Gaza, both in their origins and their consequences." No democratically elected country can be expected to put up with dozens of rockets fired at its people on its land on a perpetual basis. Noone wants to see bloodshed and I regret the action of the Israeli forces in attacking Gaza. It will not solve what is an unwinnable war, on both sides.  But I also have great sympathy for what the Israelis have done - if we in the UK were being attacked repeatedly by another force - then eventually I am sure we would fight back.
The tragedy is that the hardliners in Hamas do not fundamentally represent the normal peacable Palestinians. If Hamas is a terrorist group then it will be fought as one. If it is a political party seeking a peacable resolution of its differences on a path to peace then it has to behave in a civilised way. The Arab spring has brought democracy slowly to the region and it is hoped that this could even extend to Gaza. Palestinians must ask themselves whether the way ahead is through Hamas constant barrage of attacks, that inevitably then result in reprisals. Similarly Israel has made life very difficult for those in Gaza and is not without some blame. But peace will never come unless both sides resolve their differences.
Can this be done? I believe it can. My godfather fought in the Ulster Defence Regiment in Armagh during the Northern Ireland Troubles and I lived in the North for many months as a jockey in my twenties. That land is now totally changed after a generation of efforts at peacekeeping. It is now fundamentally peaceful, despite some rare ongoing incidents. I hope and pray that similar solutions to peaceful coexistence can be found in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza strip.