OPINION: Israel must strengthen moderate voices on both sides for peace

OPINION: Israel must strengthen moderate voices on both sides for peace

Sarah Sackman (Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2013.)
Sarah Sackman (Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2013.)

Sarah Sackman is a Prospective Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green. She tweets here

Sarah Sackman
Sarah Sackman

I am writing these reflections from Israel, which I visit every year.

At Ben Gurion airport, the signs are blazoned with images of apples and ram horns welcoming tourists and the advent of the Jewish New Year, when we reflect on the year just passed and the possibility of a fresh start.

The fragile ceasefire with Gaza is intact, but the summer of fighting has taken its toll. Being here, speaking with friends and family, I am only too aware of the terror experienced by people living under the threat of Hamas rockets and also of the devastating effect the civilian deaths, on both sides, is having on the people of this region.

I am not here this time just to meet family. I also met Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the opposition Israeli Labor Party, and Hilik Bar, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, with whom I discussed the challenges facing the country’s political leaders.

Herzog told me he had met the Palestinian leader Abu Mazen the previous day and described him as a “partner for peace”.

This summer’s conflict caused divisions across the political spectrum.

What we can all agree is that Israel has the right and duty to defend itself against terrorist threats.

Hamas is a terrorist organisation and its rocket attacks and building tunnels for terrorist purposes is wholly unjustified.

But this is the third war fought between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in the past five years. The loss of life, some Israeli, most Palestinian and mostly civilians, means the status quo cannot continue.

The purpose of my meeting with Israeli Labor leaders was to look forward and learn how to avoid a repetition of this summer’s events. We reflected that the only long-term solution is political, not military.

Britain and the UK Labour Party must play a constructive role in encouraging both sides to return to talks to ensure security for Israel and a state for the Palestinians where they can enjoy self-determination and prosperity.

The latest ceasefire, however fragile, must be seized as an opportunity to talk meaningfully.

Working with Abu Mazen as Labor is doing is a good start and we must look to strengthen moderate voices on both sides who are committed to a two-state solution – the only one there is. It is not only in Israel that this matters.

The Gaza conflict profoundly affected our community in Finchley and Golders Green.

People I meet describe agonising feelings about the events in the Middle East and their understandable concerns about rising anti-Semitism at home.

Community cohesion cannot be taken for granted.

This July, the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitism and provides security to the Jewish community, reported the second worst month for anti-Semitic incidents in 30 years.

These attacks go beyond the Israel-Palestine conflict and are a cause for deep concern. As Tell MAMA, which monitors anti-Muslim attacks, explains, levels of anti-Semitism are a barometer for all forms of intolerance.

That is why, as a delegate of the Jewish Labour Movement at Labour Party conference, I am speaking out against the rise of anti-Semitism.

Hate speech must be drowned out by constructive dialogue.

For the same reason, I supported the Big Iftar event, a meal to break the fast during Ramadan, which was hosted at North Western Reform Synagogue in Golders Green, where Muslims and Jews broke bread and broke down barriers together.

The meal took place during the height of the Gaza conflict.

One organiser told me she feared people might stay away, but she need not have worried – the place was packed and the conversation flowed.

We should emulate the Parents’ Circle, a grassroots organisation that brings together Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children in the conflict.

This group of 600 families holds events to talk about their personal experiences with the aim of building empathy and bridges between the two sides.

The organisation’s motto is: “It won’t end till we talk”.

As an Israeli participant of the Parents’ Circle described it to me: “I had never met a Palestinian. It was an eye-opening experience.

I discovered things which I never believed happen on the other side and also their willingness to reconcile.

This gave me hope and caused me to look at things differently.”And that is the simple message I took away from my visit – that conflict ends only when we talk. Bringing people together to talk about their fears does not mean we will all agree about how to resolve the Middle East conflict.

But if there’s one lesson we can take into the New Year, it is that dialogue is fundamental to creating the empathy from which peace must come.

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