Thank you for your letter about the terrible events in Israel and Gaza. I apologise for the length of this reply but wanted to make it as comprehensive as possible.
On October 7th, Hamas terrorists rained thousands of rockets down on Israel and infiltrated the country by air, sea and land in an unprecedented and unprovoked attack.
More than 1,400 people have been killed in Israel, including children, and more than 4,500 people have been injured. Many of the victims, including children, appear to have been burned alive by Hamas in acts of depravity and barbarism.
The Israel Defence Forces say that 203 people have been taken hostage by Hamas and are probably being held in Gaza.
Hamas, an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, was founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987.
As the movement’s founding charter made clear, Hamas was dedicated from the start to extinguishing the existence of the state of Israel.
As the Guardian newspaper pointed out on Oct 12, 2023, it is “a sinister organisation committed to the mass murder of Israelis. It administers the education service (in Gaza) while its police have broken the bones of children caught wearing scarfs signalling family affiliation with the rival Fatah movement.”
Fatah, the rival Palestinian party to Hamas which dominates the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and rules in the West Bank, has renounced violence. The split in Palestinian leadership and Hamas’s unwavering hostility toward Israel have diminished the prospects for peace and stability in Gaza.
Hamas has opposed the secular approach of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rejected attempts to cede any part of Palestine, and embraced the use of violence, including acts of terrorism, to achieve its goals.
Yahya Sinwar, who became the local leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2017, declared that “Gone is the time in which Hamas discussed recognition of Israel. The discussion now is about when we will wipe out Israel.”
It is clear, therefore, that Hamas are not “the Palestinians”, and that to use the terms synonymously is to conflate those who seek a peaceful negotiated solution with some of the world’s most vicious terrorists.
When Hamas attacked Israel, they would have been well aware of the likely consequences for Gaza and its civilians. It is clear they were willing to see the death and injury of the people of Gaza to further their own political aims.
At least 3,400 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 12,000 have been injured, according to the Palestinian Health Authority.
The responsibility for this conflict rests clearly, and solely, with Hamas.
Israel has an absolute right to defend itself and its people, and to reduce the threat posed by Hamas which seeks to extinguish Israel completely, in the military action that it takes in response to the terrorist attacks.
The Prime Minister reiterated this when he told Israeli PM Netanyahu that “the UK stands side by side with Israel in fighting terror,” and that Hamas should “never again be able to perpetrate atrocities against the Israeli people.”
The Prime Minister also noted that Hamas has enmeshed itself in the civilian population in Gaza, and that it was important to take all possible measures to protect ordinary Palestinians and facilitate humanitarian aid.
While Israel has a right to defend itself, it needs to have a proportionate response that will destroy as much of the Hamas network as possible while minimising both civilian casualties and the threat of igniting a wider regional conflict.
I was impressed by a letter published in the Financial Times on October 18th, written by Lord David Neuberger, a former president of the UK’s Supreme Court, and Philippe Sands KC, along with several senior colleagues, with all saying they were speaking out as both Jews and as lawyers.
The letter stated that: “In these early days when emotions are so understandably raw, many might be reluctant to remind Israel of its international law obligations, considering doing so insensitive or inappropriate. However, we disagree. In these times of pain and terror the notion that there are laws that we must all live by is challenging but essential. Jewish history teaches us that we cannot give up on them.”
The statement also noted that Gaza is home to 2 million people, almost half of whom are children, and continued: “It would be a grave violation of international law to hold them under siege and whilst doing so deprive them of basic necessities such as food and water.”
The lawyers reminded us that “collective punishment is prohibited by the laws of war”.
We must hope that while Israel takes measures to punish the terrorists who committed such barbarous acts, and minimise the future risks to its people, it takes heed of such advice.
Hamas has fired rockets and mortars into Israel since the group took over the Gaza Strip in the mid-2000s. Iranian security officials have said that Tehran provided some of these weapons, but that Hamas gained the ability to build its own missiles after training with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) and proxies.
It is clear that if Hamas pulls the trigger, it is Iran that is pulling the strings. That is why I have made clear my view that the British government must take further measures against the Iranian regime.
On October 13th in the House of Commons, for example, I asked the Prime Minister:
“With £100 million of investment going from Tehran to the terrorists of Hamas, is it not time that we in this country asked again why Iranian banks are operating from the City of London, why Iran Air is operating from Heathrow airport and why we have not proscribed the IRGC, as I believe we should have?”
I hope we will follow allies, such as the United States in taking such measures.
Finally, we have seen demonstrations in UK cities which have seen open support for “Jihad” and with chants of, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
The slogan ostensibly refers to liberating the territory that exists between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea in historic Palestine.
Yet many Israelis and supporters of Israel feel, and fear, that the chant effectively calls for genocide and implies the destruction of Israel.
In mid-October, police in Vienna banned a pro-Palestine protest on the basis of the chant, claiming it was a call to violence.
There is no place for incitement of violence on the streets of Britain and the full force of the law must be brought down on those who do this. If the law needs to be clarified to enable the police to do this, then this should happen.
The whole conflict is a tragic consequence of the barbaric violence inflicted on Israeli citizens by Hamas. We must all play our part by avoiding further aggravation of the situation by our words and by seeking facts before rushing to judgements, including in our media.
It is also vital that we redouble our efforts to seek peace and stability in the region. As Chairman of the UK Abraham Accords Group, I am working with friends and colleagues in the Middle East and North Africa to find ways in which peaceful coexistence and mutual respect can be fostered through greater political and economic cooperation so that future generations might be spared the horrors we are witnessing today.
We must leave no stone unturned.