The Gaza split

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY SI­MON ROCKER

THE RIS­ING death toll in Gaza has led to a po­lit­i­cal split in the UK with David Cameron’s staunch sup­port of Is­rael’s right to self-de­fence in stark con­trast to crit­i­cism from Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.

In Mon­day’s Com­mons de­bate, the Prime Min­is­ter re­marked, “Those crit­i­cis­ing Is­rael’s re­sponse must ask them­selves how they would ex­pect their own govern­ment to re­act if hun­dreds of rock­ets were rain­ing down on Bri­tish cities.”

On Tues­day, Labour leader Ed Miliband told the Huff­in­g­ton Post: “We op­pose the Is­raeli in­cur­sion into Gaza,” adding “I don’t think it will help win Is­rael friends... I don’t think this will make the sit­u­a­tion bet­ter. I fear it will make it worse.”

It fol­lowed his com­ments at the week­end that “I can­not ex­plain, jus­tify or de­fend the hor­ri­fy­ing deaths of hun­dreds of Pales­tini­ans.”

Lib­eral leader Nick Clegg had gone fur­ther by last week con­demn­ing Is­rael’s re­sponse to “a dis­pro­por­tion­ate form of col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment”.

Mr Cameron re­peat­edly re­jected calls from both Labour and Con­ser­va­tive MPs to de­nounce Is­raeli ac­tions as dis­pro­por­tion­ate or as war crimes. While he had urged Is­raeli Prime Min- is­ter to ex­er­cise re­straint and min­imise civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, he said the best way for this to hap­pen was for Ha­mas to ac­cept a cease­fire.

At one point, he de­clared, “What is cer­tainly a war crime is launch­ing un­pro­voked mis­sile at­tacks on the sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory of an­other coun­try.”

Labour op­po­si­tion was also voiced by Shadow For­eign Sec­re­tary Dou­glas Alexan­der who said the fol­low­ing day, “The pat­tern of rocket at­tacks, pe­ri­odic in­va­sion and per­ma­nent oc­cu­pa­tion does not bring se­cu­rity for Is­rael and brings fur­ther hu­mil­i­a­tion and suf­fer­ing for the Pales­tini­ans.”

Mr Cameron’s firm words of sup­port were wel­comed by Con­ser­va­tive Jewish par­lia­men­tar­i­ans.

MP Lee Scott said the Prime Min­is­ter has been “very even-handed and spo­ken in the way you would ex­pect him to. I think he has got it ex­actly right.”

Lord Leigh said, “This is the time for the com­mu­nity to see who its real friends are. It’s all very nice say­ing things the Jewish com­mu­nity wants to hear at char­ity din­ners but it’s at mo­ments like this when true colours come out. We are very for­tu­nate to have David Cameron as Prime Min­is­ter.”

Re­act­ing to Mr Miliband’s and Mr Alexan­der’s com­ments, the Board of Deputies and Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil said in a joint state­ment that “their lat­est com­ments re­gret­tably ig­nore the ide­ol­ogy of Ha­mas, the psy­chol­ogy of Ha­mas, the ac­tions of Ha­mas and thus the re­al­ity faced by Is­rael.”

LFI direc­tor Jen­nifer Ger­ber said, “This is one of those times where LFI’s views di­verge from the leader’s, and we would ask that any fu­ture state­ments are more bal­anced and fo­cused on Ha­mas and their ac­tions, es­pe­cially a clear con­dem­na­tion of their use of hu­man shields.”

LFI sup­porter Lord Beecham said over­all he felt Mr Miliband’s was “a rea­son­ably bal­anced view... It is quite le­git­i­mate to ques­tion tac­tics em­ployed.”

NO DE­CENT per­son could re­main un­moved by the im­ages of chil­dren bleed­ing in the street and dead ba­bies on the mor­tu­ary slab. I have seen such sights in the flesh and feel the hor­ror as much as any­body.

The deaths of these chil­dren and of in­no­cent men and women is noth­ing short of a war crime. But con­trary to the dis­torted views ped­alled by Ha­mas sup­port­ers, me­dia com­men­ta­tors, hu­man rights groups and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, it is not a war crime per­pe­trated by Is­rael but by Ha­mas.

Ha­mas started this war by mis­sile at­tacks against Is­raeli civil­ians. They have specif­i­cally tar­geted a nu­clear in­stal­la­tion and fired at Ben Gu­rion in­ter­na­tional air­port prompt­ing air­lines to sus­pend flights in and out.

Some have called these rock­ets fire­works. Last week I vis­ited a house in Ashkelon that had taken a di­rect hit one hour be­fore. The ter­ri­fied 17-yearold girl who was at home told me she made it to the in­ter­nal shel­ter with sec­onds to spare. If she had not she would cer­tainly have been killed by blast, shrap­nel, de­bris or lethal shards of fly­ing glass.

Is­rael had no choice but to re­act to this as it did. No coun­try in the world would sit back and take this un­pro­voked, lethal ag­gres­sion against its civil­ians and its critical in­fra­struc­ture.

As he rightly launched drone strikes against Is­lamist ter­ror­ists among the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion in the Pak­istan tribal ar­eas, Pres­i­dent Obama told Is­rael to take greater steps to pro­tect the lives of civil­ians. His words have been echoed in the UN and in cap­i­tals around the world — in­clud­ing Lon­don. But no-one has said what those greater steps should be. That is be­cause Is­rael has been do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to min­i­mize loss of civil­ian life, short of sit­ting back and al­low­ing Ha­mas to ter­rorise its civil­ians with im­punity.

Com­ments such as Obama’s, as well as Ban Ki Moon’s re­cent char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of IDF op­er­a­tions as atroc­i­ties, play into the hands of Ha­mas. Ha­mas’s main rea­son for us­ing hu­man shields is not to pro­tect their mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions but to force the IDF to kill in­no­cent civil­ians.

De­scribed by Pro­fes­sor Alan Dershowitz of Har­vard as the ‘dead baby strat­egy’, the in­ten­tion is to com­pel world lead­ers to re­pu­di­ate Is­rael’s ac­tion and bring about un­en­durable in­ter­na­tional diplo­matic pres­sure. A key el­e­ment of the strat­egy is to stir up anti-Is­rael ha­tred among western pop­u­la­tions. We have seen this man­i­fested in re­cent days with mass protests in Europe’s cap­i­tal cities.

Those who con­demn Is­rael’s nec­es­sary and just war give suc­cour to Ha­mas, a pro­scribed ter­ror­ist group. They en­cour­age Ha­mas to keep fight­ing and to con­tinue us­ing hu­man

shields. They en­cour­age ex­trem­ists ev­ery­where to fol­low this mur­der­ous pol­icy. And such en­cour­age­ment leads to fur­ther loss of in­no­cent lives.

Fir­ing rock­ets at civil­ians and us­ing hu­man shields are not the only war crimes Ha­mas have com­mit­ted and planned. They have used pro­tected lo­ca­tions and ve­hi­cles — schools, mosques, hos­pi­tals, am­bu­lances — to store mu­ni­tions and fa­cil­i­tate at­tacks.

They have con­structed at­tack tun­nels to mas­sacre civil­ians and equipped them to abduct, drug and bind in­no­cent Is­raelis. They have breached agreed hu­man­i­tar­ian cease­fires in­tended to bring respite and relief to their suf­fer­ing civil­ians.

Though not specif­i­cally a war crime, Ha­mas have also been us­ing child “sol­diers” to at­tack IDF troops. These tac­tics are only too fa­mil­iar to Bri­tish sol­diers be­cause they are used ex­ten­sively by the Tal­iban in Afghanistan.

Is­rael’s re­sponses have been law­ful un­der the Geneva Con­ven­tions. Ev­ery IDF air at­tack is de­signed to de­stroy mil­i­tary ob­jec­tives while min­i­miz­ing civil­ian ca­su­al­ties. But with Ha­mas’s way of fight­ing, such ca­su­al­ties, trag­i­cally, are un­avoid­able.

Ha­mas have learnt many lessons from their de­feat in the two pre­vi­ous Is­raeli op­er­a­tions in Gaza. They are bet­ter at con­ceal­ing their rocket launch­ers and have de­vel­oped a vast com­plex of con­crete lined un­der­ground tun­nels us­ing re­sources that could have been spent on al­le­vi­at­ing the plight of their hap­less civil­ian pop­u­la­tion.

These tun­nels pro­tect their mu­ni­tions from air at­tack and al­low rock­ets and launch­ers to be moved about the bat­tle­field im­mune from air at­tack. Their com­man­ders also skulk un­der­ground while their fight­ers and civil­ians die in the may­hem above.

Be­cause of this, only so much can be achieved from the air. The cur­rent Is­raeli ground as­sault is re­stricted to lo­cat­ing, clear­ing and de­stroy­ing at­tack tun­nels that threaten civil­ians across the bor­der. If Ha­mas do not agree to cease their rocket fire, the IDF may well have to ex­pand the op­er­a­tion to take on the net­work of rocket launch­ers and com­mand bunkers deep in­side the Gaza Strip.

I have spent time in the last week speak­ing to IDF sol­diers on the Gaza bor­der. Their job is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous and they know it. Yet, like their Bri­tish coun­ter­parts whom they so closely re­sem­ble, ev­ery one was sto­ical, good-hu­moured and ready to close with the en­emy to de­fend their fam­i­lies at home.

I pay trib­ute to the more than 30 sol­diers who have made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice. They have made the great­est con­tri­bu­tion to their coun­try that is pos­si­ble. We owe them our sup­port. Not just out of re­spect for their courage and sac­ri­fice but be­cause their war is our war, too. They are fight­ing the 21st cen­tury scourge of Is­lamist ter­ror­ism at democ­racy’s front line. Col Richard Kemp was Com­man­der of Bri­tish Forces in Afghanistan

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES PHOTO: AP

Tears in Gaza: a Pales­tinian girl weeps dur­ing the fu­neral of her brother who was killed dur­ing a raid by the Is­raeli Air force this week

PHO­TOS: GETTY IM­AGES

Tears in Is­rael: sol­diers grieve dur­ing the burial of their com­rade Max Stein­berg, an Amer­i­can-Jewish IDF mem­ber killed in fight­ing in Gaza

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