By Lord Monroe Palmer, Vice President, Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel
Supporters of Israel must feel that there are rarely any good stories in the media. Stories seem to be critical of Israel or harrowing reports of terrorist activities. I could not start this column without referring to the recent tragic attack on Jerusalem’s Har Nof Synagogue.
The brutal murder of four learned men at prayer, and the fatally injured Druze police officer who was first on the scene. Rabbi Goldberg one of those murdered, was a former resident of Golders Green, my ‘home town’. A big question is how Israel reacts to this. Outside the Goldberg flat, a note said the family accepted with love the divine decree.
The perpetrators were killed by Israeli police who arrived at the shul. Sadly, the Israeli Government has reacted by demolishing the murderers’ family homes. I don’t think this deters, it is simply an act of revenge dispossessing women and children who did not commit any atrocity.
UK Jewish communities are, rightly, answering the tragedy with prayer. It’s not the Jewish way to carry out brutal acts. The UK response to such a tragedy would possibly be a strong letter from the Board of Deputies. But there are good stories. Medical aid for the people of Gaza is rarely mentioned.
It was revealed this October that a daughter of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh was treated in a Tel Aviv hospital. In June, Haniyeh’s mother-in-law was treated in Israel for cancer. His daughter also transferred to an Israeli hospital last year. But they are only examples.
Ichilov hospital said: “She is one of more than 1,000 patients from Gaza and West Bank treated every year.” I believe the border crossings into Gaza from Israel and Egypt should be opened with certain safeguards, but it is not as bleak as reported.
The amount of aid and goods of different types that Israel pumps into Gaza is completely overlooked. Egypt has closed its border with Gaza for valid security reasons. I despair of the media’s failure to report the support Israel has consistently given to the people of Gaza. Israel surely deserves some thanks and acknowledgement of this.
The casualties in the recent conflict, between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, were tragic and the word ‘disproportionate’ is used by many politicians. I struggle to understand what ‘proportionate’ would be. Israel wasn’t aiming to kill innocent civilians, any more than Turkey aimed to kill innocent civilians in its recent bombings of the PKK, nor is the US aiming to kill innocent civilians in their attacks on Islamic State, nor any more than NATO ever aimed to kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan. In these, and other examples, many civilians have been tragically killed in bombings. And yet I do not hear anyone accusing Turkey, the US or NATO of deliberately killing civilians. This is the worst kind of hypocrisy.
However much one might criticise some actions of the Israeli Government – and I do [I would not vote for Likud] – this hypocrisy is blatantly unfair. On 24 August, three Israeli taxi drivers were waiting to pick up some residents of Gaza to bring them into hospital in Israel from Gaza, through the Erez crossing. Mortar shells fired by Palestinian groups wounded the drivers, seriously hurting two of them. Israeli soldiers had to evacuate the wounded as Palestinian mortars continued to fall on the Israeli crossing specifically designated for the passage of Palestinians in need of medical and humanitarian assistance.
These three Israeli taxi drivers who were just doing their job and trying to take sick Palestinian people to hospital were not Jewish, but were Arab citizens of Israel. If the problems of the Israeli and Palestinian people are ever to be solved, then there is no alternative to difficult, painful, direct negotiations without preconditions. It will include the painful removal of many of the settlements on the West Bank.
It will mean a cessation of rockets fired at Israel. It will mean a sealing of the tunnels built to attack Israel. It will mean that refugees in the West Bank and Gaza will need to be given citizenship of the Palestinian state just as, for example, Israel gave citizenship to 600,000 of the 800,000 Jews who fled the Arab world. In the meantime, it is unhelpful to peace negotiations for the Netanyahu Government to expand settlements in East Jerusalem by approving construction of many new homes.
It is of no help to any peace process for Jews to seek to pray at Temple Mount and to unnecessarily aggravate relationships with Palestinians and Jordan. Peace is long overdue and both sides must make concessions to gain it.