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The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Daniel Taub

RE­CENTLY, I had the chance to meet lo­cal Yorkshiremen, city coun­cil­lors and faith lead­ers who rep­re­sent the real voice of Brad­ford: a voice of tol­er­ance and un­der­stand­ing. The voice of peo­ple who know there has only ever been one good boy­cott in York­shire, and that’s Ge­off Boy­cott. Brad­ford has a great deal to teach the world about how Christians, Mus­lims, and Jews can co-op­er­ate and co-ex­ist. Its his­toric sy­n­a­gogue thrives thanks to the sup­port of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity, a vi­tal model of how peo­ple who may not agree about ev­ery­thing can still gen­uinely help and re­spect each other.

We need the spirit of Brad­ford, as three crit­i­cal bat­tles are played out, with se­ri­ous con­se­quences for us all.

The con­flict in Gaza has led to tragic suf­fer­ing for Is­raelis and Gazans, as so many have been killed and hurt. It is tragic also be­cause it was so un­nec­es­sary. Nine years ago Is­rael pulled out of ev­ery inch of Gaza, hop­ing to see a flour­ish­ing Pales­tinian so­ci­ety emerge. Thou­sands of rock­ets later, we still har­bour good­will to­wards the Pales­tini­ans kept un­der the thumb by Ha­mas ter­ror­ists. In this most re­cent op­er­a­tion, Is­rael has ac­cepted all of the 11 cease­fire pro­pos­als made to date, while Ha­mas has re­jected or vi­o­lated ev­ery sin­gle one.

If on­lyHa­mashadac­cept­edtheE­gyp­tian­hu­man­i­tari­ancease­fire­pro­pos­al­last­month—sup­port­ed­bytheArab League­andtheUnit­edNa­tions— mostPales­tini­anandIs­raeli liveswould­have­been­saved. In­stead,the­rock­etscon­tin­ued.

To­day, 75 per cent of Is­raelis, over five mil­lion peo­ple, must live their lives in reach of bomb shel­ters. We also un­cov­ered a mas­sive net­work of un­der­ground at­tack tun­nels, stretch­ing up to a mile into Is­rael, for the sole pur­pose of mur­der­ing and kid­nap­ping Is­raelis.

The de­ci­sion to re­spond was not easy, but it was sup­ported by the en­tire spec­trum of Is­raeli pol­i­tics. We all know what this con­flict is about.

The con­flict is not about set­tle­ments: we pulled all our 8,000 set­tlers from the Gaza Strip. It is not about block­ades: there are re­stric­tions on cer­tain things go­ing into Gaza – not on food, or medicine or humanitarian sup­plies, but ma­te­ri­als that can be used for ter­ror­ism. Yet there was no block­ade when we pulled out of Gaza; the block­ade is a more re­cent re­sponse to Ha­mas rocket at­tacks.

And it is not about whether there will be a Pales­tinian state; it’s about whether there can be a Jewish one.

Whether there is room for a state of Is­rael at all in the Mid­dle East. Ha­mas is con­vinced that there isn’t. Its char­ter states clearly: “Is­rael will ex­ist and will con­tinue to ex­ist un­til Is­lam will oblit­er­ate it.”

This lat­est con­flict is an­other round in a war waged against the ex­is­tence of Is­rael since its birth. For years that war was fought, in 1948, 1967, 1973, by states us­ing armies. But then the states re­alised they could hide be­hind ter­ror­ist groups like Hizbol­lah and Ha­mas. Just as Iran hides be­hind Ha­mas, Ha­mas hides be­hind the civil­ians it claims to be fight­ing for.

When the Greek Ortho­dox Archbishop in Gaza de­scribes how his church has been used as a launch­ing site for rock­ets, or the head of the UN in Gaza ad­mits that UN schools have been used to store weapons re­peat­edly, it’s hard to grasp how any­one could do this. In the sick cal­cu­lus of Ha­mas, this is a win-win sce­nario: ei­ther they will be left to per­pe­trate at­tacks or they will reap a macabre PR ad­van­tage from civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

There is no sim­ple re­sponse. While de­fend­ing our own civil­ians, we do ev­ery­thing we can to pro­tect Pales­tinian civil­ians. To this end, we take pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures which may well be un­prece­dented in mil­i­tary con­flict: is­su­ing warn­ings be­fore at­tacks, abort­ing at­tacks at the last minute, send­ing in ground troops to avoid the need for heavy aerial bom­bard­ment – even at the in­creased risk to our own troops.

MORE than ever, the vast moral gulf between Ha­mas and Is­rael is strik­ingly ap­par­ent. While Ha­mas is in­structed by the mul­lahs in Iran and its fun­ders in Qatar to in­ves­ti­gate why it didn’t suc­ceed in mur­der­ing more Is­raelis, Is­rael con­ducts painstak­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into its op­er­a­tions to see if there are ways that more Pales­tinian lives could have been saved.

This is a crit­i­cal bat­tle for ev­ery coun­try con­fronting ter­ror­ism.

Ter­ror­ist groups ev­ery­where are watch­ing what hap­pens in Gaza and it’s vi­tal that they don’t con­clude that they have found the Achilles’ heel of democ­ra­cies: that if only they set up shop in­side a school or a hos­pi­tal they can act with im­punity.

The sec­ond bat­tle is the one within Gaza, over the future of Pales­tinian so­ci­ety.

When Ha­mas redi­rects con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als into ter­ror pro­jects, and or­ders peo­ple to run on to the roofs of ter­ror­ist head­quar­ters to shield them from at­tack, it robs them of their future.

When it stops Pales­tini­ans from reach­ing the field hos­pi­tal Is­rael set up be­side Gaza, and when it blocks the en­try of 3,000 units of blood and other med­i­cal sup­plies, Ha­mas wages war against the future of the Pales­tinian peo­ple.

SO it was shock­ing to hear Ge­orge Gal­loway, MP for Brad­ford East, say: “The big ques­tion is — if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? Prob­a­bly, yes”. Is it not an in­sult to the Pales­tini­ans of Saa­jiyeh who demon­strated against the ter­ror­ists who had taken their neigh­bour­hood hostage and were sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted by Ha­mas? Prob­a­bly, yes. Is it not an in­sult to the Pales­tinian chil­dren forced into slave labour to dig Ha­mas’ ter­ror tun­nels, 160 of whom died in the process? Prob­a­bly, yes.

Isn’t it an in­sult to ev­ery Pales­tinian par­ent who tries to raise their kids to be­lieve in the sanc­tity of ev­ery life, to re­ject vi­o­lence, to re­ject the Ha­mas lead­ers who say “we de­sire death as you de­sire life”? Prob­a­bly — no, def­i­nitely — yes.

Com­pare Is­rael’s Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence with the Ha­mas Char­ter. While Is­rael’s dec­la­ra­tion is for­ward-look­ing, Ha­mas’ Char­ter has no pos­i­tive vi­sion. It glo­ri­fies ter­ror and calls for the an­ni­hi­la­tion of Is­rael and the West. That strug­gle between forces seek­ing to pull us back into a prim­i­tive past, and those try­ing to build a bet­ter future is also a bat­tle be­ing waged through­out our re­gion, in Syria, in Iraq, and be­yond.

That strug­gle is play­ing out here in the UK as well, in the tweets and on the streets. When I see de­mon­stra­tions against Is­rael, there’s always a strange as­sort­ment of peo­ple. I see red, green and black flags — Com­mu­nist, Ha­mas, and Isis flags. When they say whom they op­pose, the coali­tion hangs to­gether. But when you ask: “What are you for? Are you for women’s rights? Are you for gay rights? Are you for free­dom of ex­pres­sion?” that coali­tion sud­denly falls apart. If you can ar­tic­u­late no pos­i­tive vi­sion, you have no moral com­pass. Ev­ery­one who shares your ha­tred is your ally in an axis of hos­til­ity.

We must ask: are we for the axis of hos­til­ity or the al­liance of the future? That is not just a ques­tion in Gaza or Mo­sul or Da­m­as­cus, but in the UK and in Brad­ford. What will we ex­port to the Mid­dle East: tol­er­ance or big­otry? Are we on the side of the past or the future?

When Ge­orge Gal­loway in­sists that Brad­ford is “an Is­rael-free zone”, it is clear which side he is on. He ig­nores the 170,000 Syr­i­ans who have been butchered by As­sad’s regime, and Iraq where the bru­tal ex­e­cu­tion of hun­dreds of Christians con­tin­ues, to fo­cus in­stead on the one coun­try in the Mid­dle East where ev­ery mi­nor­ity can vote and sit on the Supreme Court; where women can be­come prime min­is­ters, where ho­mo­sex­u­als can live with­out fear; where there is not just free­dom of speech but free­dom af­ter speech; in short the one coun­try in which Gal­loway could speak as ob­jec­tion­ably as he does and still live to see an­other day.

It’s not an Is­rael-free zone Gal­loway is ad­vo­cat­ing, so much as a future-free zone.

The way to bring change and hope to the Mid­dle East is through the in­cred­i­ble joint sci­en­tific and med­i­cal re­search done between Bri­tish uni­ver­si­ties and Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties, cre­at­ing jobs in both coun­tries – and jobs for Pales­tini­ans too, while dou­bling our bi­lat­eral trade in the past four years. We must har­ness the awe­some power of Bri­tish de­ter­mi­na­tion and Is­raeli in­no­va­tion.

I think of the talented Pales­tini­ans that I’ve met over 20 years in our ne­go­ti­a­tions to­gether. I think of the Is­raeli young­sters – in­clud­ing two of my own sons – do­ing their army ser­vice, know­ing that they are Is­rael’s line of de­fence.

One day, please God soon, peace will come to our trou­bled re­gion. On that day we will all of us have to ask our­selves what we did for peace. Did we cap­i­talise on the con­flict for po­lit­i­cal gain or did we con­trib­ute some­thing of value to give hope to the re­gion? Did we build boy­cotts or bridges? Did we pull peo­ple into a dark and prim­i­tive past, or help them en­vi­sion a bet­ter future?

When that day comes I pray that we will be able look our­selves in the face, and to say with con­vic­tion: Yes, I helped make it hap­pen.

Daniel Taub is Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to the UK

PHOTO: COLIN AP­PLEBY

The am­bas­sador dis­plays his Is­raeli pass­port in Brad­ford

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