Israel demonstrated patience and restraint in the face of regular rocket fire for months, but the enormous increase was too much to bear. For the past week, Israel conducted operation Pillar of Defence, a biblical reference to the pillar of cloud that guided the Children of Israel through the desert when they left Egypt and protected them from the Egyptians’ arrows and slings.
These rockets are aimed at Israeli towns, houses and schools. They are weapons used almost exclusively to hurt civilians. Using them against Israel is a breach of International Humanitarian Law – in other words, a War Crime. Officially, at least, the major Human Rights NGOs recognise this. In 2008, Human Rights Watch said
Hamas rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians are unlawful and unjustifiable and amount to war crimes.
This Monday, a report from Amnesty International said that rocket fire by Hamas and other groups against Israeli towns
violates international humanitarian law.
Others have pointed out that launching such attacks from civilian areas (thus creating human shields) constitutes a double war crime. You’d never know it to watch the behaviour of some of these selfsame NGOs, with their staff taking to Twitter and the traditional airwaves to strongly attack Israel with only a cursory mention of Hamas (and in one case making arguably antisemitic jokes at the expense of Jewish Members of Parliament).
UNITE, one of the UK’s largest trade unions and the biggest funder of the Labour Party, released a 500-word screed, which condemned the
illegal Israeli assassination
of Hamas terrorist leaders but didn’t once mention Hamas rockets or Israeli victims, even dismissively. The failure of institutions like UNITE to even acknowledge Hamas war crimes is shameful, and demolishes any pretense that they are interested in international law, justice or a lasting peace.
This time, though, these groups are the more marginal. The British Government demonstrated balance and understanding from the outset. Both Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague backed Israel’s right to self-defence and are absolutely explicit that the primary responsibility for the escalation lies with Hamas itself.
Of course, the Government was also very clear that it feared a ground offensive – something that Israel’s Government was also clearly trying to avoid. This combination is a mature and developed approach which Israel’s leaders are much more likely to heed than the immediate condemnation that we’ve sometimes seen in the past.
This approach was echoed in Parliament, with many MPs rising to speak in support of Israel and condemn Hamas. The perennial knee-jerk critics like Sir Gerald Kaufman were in a clear minority. Reasonable and constructive comments came from all sides of the house with supporters of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel ensuring their voices were heard in both the Commons and the Lords.
One reason for this support is that Israel’s story is being told better than it has been for many years. During previous conflicts, Hamas and Hezbollah got their messages out more effectively and faster than Israel. Supporters of Israel in the UK were left without the information we needed to respond. Things seem to have changed dramatically. Finally Israel has mastered social media. The IDF’s Facebook graphics, rapid responses and YouTube videos mocking Hamas’s almost-comical boasts meant that lies have been debunked before they can spread. In the UK, we are especially lucky to have Daniel Taub. As Israel’s Ambassador to Britain he is a powerful advocate and effective communicator who has also helped get Israel’s message across in the media and to politicians. The quality of analysis and output from BICOM was also world class.
The UK Jewish Community is united in its support for Israel’s right – Israel’s need – to stop the rocket fire. Leaders from across the community wrote to Ambassador Taub to express this support and to ask him to convey it to Israel’s leaders. This support also exists at the grassroots level. Members of the Jewish community have been actively organising and joining protests outside the Palestinian mission against rocket fire and counter-protests at the Israeli Embassy to ensure that anti-Israel protests are answered. They have used Facebook and Twitter to show their support and spread the message that the rockets must stop. They’ve made sure that the Batsheva Dance Troupe, an Israeli group touring the UK, was welcomed with Israeli flags and smiles in sharp contrast to the boycotters who greeted them with hate.
Israel worked hard to avoid sending ground troops into Gaza, with Israeli leaders doing everything they could to reach a ceasefire agreement that will stop the rockets through negotiation. The ceasefire deal announced by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohmed Kamel Amr will be tested immediately. Will Hamas and the other groups keep to the agreement? How should Israel respond if they don’t? Will Hamas attempt to re-arm? Will Israel be forced into ground action anyway?
We pray and hope for peace for Israel – especially Southern Israel, which hasn’t been free from rockets day-to-day for years. We hope that the model of positive activism seen in the UK will be an enduring example for the future. The region needs a lasting solution to this conflict. The only viable solution remains a two state solution. A safe and secure Israel alongside a Palestinian state. And we also hope that the positive model of communication and activism seen in Israel and the UK can be a model and inspiration for the future.