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
The ambassador displays his Israeli passport in Bradford