This article sets out my response to a number of issues pertaining to the war between Israel and Hamas. Firstly let me say that the loss of life on both sides is tragic and the images shown in the media are distressing. Let me also be clear that I have always believed Israel has a right to self-defence and no more so than now after the brutal attack by Hamas on 7th October. In this article you will find my response to the questions on whether there should be a ceasefire; aid; the absence of any elections in the Palestinian area since 2006; proportionality; and the effect on civil life. I may not have responded to every point in the various emails that I have received, many of which have been standardised, however I will not be commenting further on these issues. We know that Hamas embed themselves within the structure locally; we know that they use local people as human shields. We know too that it is difficult to target Hamas without hurting innocent people.
First, though, I would like to make it clear that Hamas is recognised by many countries, including the UK, as a terrorist group. We have seen it in action very clearly and recently. It committed the worst massacre against Jews since the Holocaust as it launched a surprise attack with some of the most horrific ISIS-style war crimes – indiscriminate murder and torture of civilians including babies and the elderly and the rape of women. The bodies of hundreds of Israelis have still yet to be identified due to the severity of their injuries, including being burned alive and beheadings. Such explicit crimes against humanity should not be tolerated by any nation. It is very difficult to see any country being able to negotiate a peace treaty with an organisation such as this particularly as in the past such ceasefires have been broken by Hamas with catastrophic results. Take, for example, the Israeli town of Sderot where recent studies have shown that as a result of the enormous number of Hamas missiles which have been fired on them, the incidence of spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) amongst pregnant women living there has increased by 59%. It is in this context that the Prime Minister - and his international counterparts - has asserted that Israel has an absolute right to self-defence.
This right to self-defence is fundamental in international law and is recognised by the UN Charter. Israel is also acting in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which not only recognises the right of self-defence against acts of terrorism, but it also mandates that all states take specific action against terrorists and the funding of terrorism.
The responsibility for determining when self-defence is appropriate lies, as it always has, with the government of the state which is attacked. The first obligation of any government is to secure the safety of its citizens. Israel has determined that Hamas can never be allowed to again commit the atrocities of 7th October nor continue launching rockets at civilian areas. This is a legitimate and lawful military objective, pursued by a democratic state with a professional, accountable and internationally respected military. For your information, the number of Hamas rockets that have been fired at Israel in the last few weeks is well over 7,000.
So, I do not believe that a ceasefire is at all probable between a democratic state such as Israel and a terrorist organisation or that it will be maintained by Hamas if it were to be concluded. After all, between 2007 and 2018, seven reconciliation efforts floundered.
I am pleased that humanitarian aid is being allowed through the Rafah crossing and I agree that there should be more with clear routes, however temporary. The Rafah crossing has been controlled by Egypt since 2007. Supplies entering Gaza through Rafah require Israeli approval, but it is only supplies. It is Egypt which keeps Rafah closed. One of the great problems is that it is difficult to help the civilian population in Gaza with aid and humanitarian relief without also strengthening Hamas. Unfortunately, UNRWA’s very existence and modus operandi also directly reinforce Hamas.
In this confusing situation it is worth pointing out that Palestinians have been deprived of the chance to vote for anyone other than Hamas. There is sign of hope in that Palestinians have voted with their feet in ignoring Hamas’s request for those in the north to ignore the Israeli order to move south. But this does not reflect very well at all on the extent to which Hamas shows care for their own. Hamas was elected in 2006 which showed that Palestinians supported Hamas. It would be useful if the Palestinians were given the chance of another election and to show that that support has changed. But the last putative elections were cancelled because of fears that it would produce the same result.
Israel is making concerted efforts to comply with internationally recognised principles of proportionality. It must be noted that in international law, proportionality is not the same thing as symmetry. It is a common misperception that proportionality in self-defence means an eye for an eye, a rocket for a rocket, or a casualty for a casualty.
International humanitarian law requires Israel to seek to minimise civilian casualties per strike. Belligerents are required to balance the anticipated military advantage with the risks posed to civilians and their property. For example, Israel is under a duty to call off an attack immediately if, in the course of it, it realises that civilians would face excessive risk. This is recognised in videos previously released by the IDF. It is important to note that the IDF has senior specialist legal advisors overseeing and approving all military operations in real-time. Their assessment and legal guidance on individual military strikes on the grounds of proportionality is binding on officers. These advisors sit outside the chain of military command so that lawyers may decide on strikes and targeting in accordance with international law.
It is wrong to say that Israel has a “total disregard for civilian life” and is “indiscriminately bombing civilian targets”. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog has repeatedly emphasised that Israel is not targeting Palestinian civilians and is making concerted efforts to minimise casualties – a fact recognised by the UK Government. Warnings via leaflets and SMS messages are routinely dispatched to warn civilians of impending targeted airstrikes – a practice almost unique to any army in the world. Israel has also advised that all civilians in the north of the Gaza Strip travel to the south of the Gaza Wadi to remove themselves from the area of expected ground operations by Israel. It is deplorable that Hamas have blocked Gazan civilians from evacuating to the south despite Israel’s humanitarian warnings – as confirmed by the UK Government.
International law is clear - military infrastructure must not be fixed to civilian locations. This does make a difference. Yet Hamas deliberately embeds terror infrastructure and its leadership within, and beneath, densely populated civilian areas, including mosques and hospitals - a blatant war crime. It is an unavoidable tragedy that civilians will be killed and injured as a result of Hamas’s cynical strategy of using human shields. Gazans are put at further risk from rockets launched by terror groups. At least 550 misfired terror rockets and mortars have exploded within Gaza killing unknown numbers, including the explosion at Al Ahli Hospital.
Israel has rejected allegations of ‘collective punishment’ in response to it withholding water and energy supplies to Gaza. Israel has declared and notified its blockade to all states, and has specified the commencement, duration, location, and extent of the blockade and the period in which to leave the blockaded area - in accordance with international law.
Despite unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas’s genocidal threat to Israel, Israel continued to provide electricity, fuel, water and regular shipments of aid to Gaza as part of its humanitarian efforts. Egypt, which also shares a border with Gaza, shares Israel’s concerns about Hamas and has not provided even a fraction of the aid supplied by Israel.
Israel has been supporting efforts to facilitate aid into Gaza and it is welcome that it is now entering via Egypt. It should be noted, Article 23 of the 4th Geneva Convention only requires that Israel facilitates the passage of food and medicine via third parties if such goods can be reliably delivered without diversion to military combatants. Israel has legitimate concerns over the misuse of aid. Sadly, Hamas has a documented history of exploiting humanitarian aid to smuggle in weapons and dual-use items for its terror infrastructure (i.e. component parts for rocket manufacturing). Hamas has published footage of the excavation of EU funded water pipework for the construction of rockets to be launched against Israel and last week, the terror group reportedly stole 24,000 litres of fuel and medical supplies for its military efforts from a UN aid refugee agency. It is worth further noting that Hamas has also repeatedly attacked with rockets Israel’s Ashkelon power station which provides energy to Gaza, and it deliberately attacked and damaged Israel’s humanitarian crossings into Gaza on 7th October. It is a sad reality that Hamas has consistently prioritised conflict against Israel over the wellbeing of Gazan citizens since 2007.
The Prime Minister was absolutely right when he said that there must be “no moral equivalence” between the democratic State of Israel and Hamas. Hamas is ideologically and militarily committed to targeting Israel’s civilians in accordance with its Charter, which is committed to the genocide of all Jews. Documents recovered from the bodies of Hamas terrorists killed on 7th October contain specific instructions for the massacre of civilians and the taking of others as hostages. It has even been reported that large financial incentives were offered to Hamas terrorists to kidnap Israelis.
The Iran-backed Hamas is not only opposed to peace but it also harms the Palestinian people and their legitimate aspirations for statehood, and the UK stands firmly behind Israel in its mission to target the terrorist group.
The UK Government will continue working in cooperation with Israel and the international community to ensure that all civilian life is protected as much as possible in this complex area.
Looking ahead, the UK must work to achieve a sustainable peace with legitimate peace partners and expand the ground-breaking Abraham Accords in order to secure region-wide peace. The UK remains committed to a two-state solution and I believe that a priority must now be to create the conditions for peace long-term. To this end, I would support the UK joining the landmark International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace which is set to provide $250 million over 5 years for peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians. The UK should join this crucial U.S. initiative to strengthen an enduring movement for peace.